By Richard Bogath
Hunting with a shotgun is about as cliche as you can possibly get.
No, it’s true. From those of you who remember who Elmer Fudd is to the quintessential red-plaid, red-necked, beaver-capped representation of hunters in America today (especially portrayed by anti-hunters), hunting with a shotgun is eye-rollingly plaid out as far as the imagination can stretch…
…And that’s precisely why so many hunters still use shotguns today for any and every hunting activity. Few hunting tools can compare to the versatility and simplicity of the modern shotgun and what it can offer the modern hunter. In many cases, it’s the same versatility offered to hunters of the past from when shotguns were little more than metal tubes stuffed with powder, wadding and a metal ball or chunks of jagged metal, ignited from a flash hole while “aimed” with little more than gritted teeth and a prayer before ignition.
It’s the same solution today, to the same problem of yesterday. How to quickly and efficiently put down a target with as little effort or equipment as possible. I give you—the modern shotgun.
To shotgun hunt or not to shotgun hunt?
- Easy to transport even the heaviest of shotguns.
- Versatility in ammunition for any kind of hunting.
- In many cases—even fewer accessories than rifle hunting.
- Unsurpassed “knockdown power” at shorter ranges.
- Easy to clean and maintain—even out in the field.
- Relatively inexpensive until you start adding accessories like optics.
- Not every shotgun is the perfect shotgun for you, Many need to be “fitted” as with a bow.
- Realistically about the same effective range as a bow. Many modern shells will hit accurately much farther than that, but without modern optics aiming can be limited in a hunting situation.
- Extremely, penetratively loud.
- Requires practice for accuracy.
- Dedicated, specialized ammunition for certain game types is getting more and more expensive. For example: “Dead Coyote” or “Black Cloud” shells can be upwards of $10.00 per shot.
Selecting the right shotgun for you.
As mentioned above, not every shotgun will “fit” every shooter right off the rack of your favorite gun store. In many cases you need to have the gun fitted to your particular body, factoring in and including arm length, height, neck length, hand size, etc… While this is not absolutely necessary, it can mean the difference between comfort while shooting and a bruised shoulder after three shots.
This does not mean that you will be paying hundreds of dollars for a gunsmith to modify your off the rack shotgun (although you could), but it means that an experienced gun seller will try different sizes and configurations to try and find the one that’s perfect for you. You’ll hear terms like length of pull (distance between the front of the trigger to the middle of the buttpad), pitch (how the gun fits into your shoulder pocket), cast (a slight bend in the stock that will help you in mounting the gun). All these put together will allow the seller to “fit” you properly, provided he/she has enough varying inventory.
It’s for this reason that I rarely purchase a multi-use shotgun (hunting and target shooting) from a big-box store like a Cabelas or Gander Mountain. While they do have good prices and selection, I find that their gun counters are so busy that the representatives rarely have the time to spend with an individual customer to give them the proper fit. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I still prefer a smaller local shop that has been open for a hundred years, staffed by shooters who know their stuff.
Things you will also consider will be the gauge of the shotgun (the lower the gauge, the more powerful and more felt recoil), the barrel length, weight and the types of ammo you will be shooting.
As always, my advice is never to start blind. If you have the capability to shoot a friends shotgun then do so if only to determine what you don’t like. Some people are lucky enough to point at a gun on the rack and say “That one”, hitting it right on the head the first time, but I would have to believe that this is rare.
Obvious choices of game for shotgun hunting:
Let’s not be coy here. You can hunt anything with a shotgun. Literally anything. From the lightest of loads for hunting a squirrel or a dove, to enough power to take down the most massive elk or even an African elephant. That being said, the question is, can you handle the kind of power you will need to take down the game you are hunting for?
Hunting with a shotgun is not like shooting sporting clays (even though the premise behind sporting clays is just that). Taking down larger game (ground animals) will require practice and “patterning”— seeing how your shot or slugs act on paper to give you an idea of how they will hit your game target.
Consideration should also be given to more specialized shotguns for non-flighted game like slug guns—shotguns with rifled barrels designed exclusively for the use of slugs and not shot. A slug is literally a shaped chunk of metal of varying designs that fly faster, hit harder and with greater range than anything you can shoot from a shotgun. Hunting with a slug gun is literally the closest you can come to hunting with a rifle—without hunting with a rifle. Slugs are expensive so it does hurt the wallet to practice with them, but you MUST practice with them to become accurate.
Versatility and power is what shotgun hunting is all about. From the daintiest feather-laden bird to the down and dirty of a charging cape buffalo, your shotgun can handle it all. Shoot as many as you can before buying, buy from someone who knows what they are talking about and practice…a lot.