If you are like myself, getting ready for duck hunting season can be a little chaotic trying to get everything in finished up like decoys, dog training and scouting for birds. Even though these are all important aspects to duck hunting, one key concept is missing: patterning your shotgun.
Now I had owned a Remington 870 for 15 plus years and never patterned the gun. This was the first gun I had ever owned and from my limited experience it performed great and harvesting many ducks and geese over the years. This thought process changed for me in 2011 when I decided to upgrade to a semi-automatic shot gun. I was starting to do more blind hunting and pass shooting and the speed of the semi-auto was enticing. I wanted to be able to keep my eye on the ducks as I fired and move from bird to bird. After I had tested a few different shotguns, I settled on a Benelli M2.
This gun fit me well and in the range shot very smooth. I have to admit I was excited for opening weekend in Northern Wisconsin; I wanted to see how much easier it was going to be to get on the ducks. As the first flock of ducks made their approach to the pond I fired away but nothing happened. Then the next flock came in and the same result. By the end of the afternoon I was lucky enough to harvest a few ducks but not anywhere what I had expected. My shooting was horrendous but there was no reason for shooting so badly. After talking about my opening day woes a few people the idea of patterning this new gun seemed important. I still had a hard time believing a gun or shell could be so different.
To pattern the shotgun I simply hung a piece of cardboard off of a metal stake and paced off 25 and 35 yard markers. I set up a gun stand first at the 25 yard marker and fired the first shell. I was astonished that at 25 yards I only had a few pellets hit the target. I moved back to the 35 yard marker and shot again and even less pellets made contact. I was using an improved modified choke like I have been for years with my 870 but in this case barley any pellets were making contact. Switching over to a modified choke I shot again at the 25 yard marker. This time the target was filled with pellets. The 35 yard test was the same, great results. For fun I thought I would use up some old shells and just get in some target practice and to my amazement they all patterned very differently. One key point for all bird hunters to know is that every time you switch guns, chokes or ammo you need to pattern your gun. If you want consistent results don't leave it to chance and take the time to test your setup.