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The best shotgun for a beginner

| Friday, Oct. 29, 2004

I'm often asked, “What is the best shotgun for a young hunter?” F or many years, the .410 bore was the ideal choice. The tiny shotshell was picked for just one reason – it did not have much recoil, and recoil is what many young or new hunters fear.

It's true the 410 doesn't have shoulder bruising recoil, but it's just as true that the .410 bore lacks ballistically as the best choice for the new hunter. I'm not going to get into the .410 bore's drawback except to say it does not have a large enough shotcharge for making a dense pattern, and this is doubly true when large shot is used. In the hands of an experienced small game hunter, the .410 bore holds its own, but there is a wide gap between a new hunter and the veteran.

You might have noticed that I haven't call the .410 bore a gauge. The reason is that it is not a gauge. The bore is 410 thousandths, and the .410 is called a bore instead of a gauge.

Pattern density is what brings success in the field. As the shot charge moves out of the muzzle, it begins expanding, and this expansion is called a pattern. Not contrary to popular belief, the pattern is not a sheet of shot. Actually, it is a fairly long string of shot. When a shot is fired at a paper target, there are several hundred holes in the flat sheet of paper. It may appear that the pattern was formed instantly, but it actually formed over a period of milliseconds. The first pellets in the shot string (perhaps no more than 10 or 15 pellets) hit the paper target and were followed by the remainder in the string. If this could be seen in slow motion, it would show the pattern forming a few pellets at a time – not in a fat sheet of pellets.

The shotstring of the .410 is fairly long due to the smallness of the bore diameter. This means that on a moving target, some of the shotstring will either pass or not reach the target, and it's ballistically true that pattern density is what produces quick kills. The more dense a pattern is, the more pellets will hit the target.

The ideal shotgun, in my book, for the. young or new hunter is a 20 gauge single shot hammer outfit. There are several reasons why this type of shotgun is best for the beginner. First and foremost, there is just one shell involved. Once it is fired, the shooter must manually break open the action, remove die empty case and install a live shell, When a single shot is fired from a double barrel, the other barrel is still loaded and ready to go. The same holds true with the semi automatic shotgun. When a shot is fired, the gun automatically reloads in the twinkling of an eye. With either outfit, there is always the danger or accidentally firing the second shot. It's true there will be complaints that a “perfect” second shot could have been taken with a double or semi outfit, but this is rare and the safety factor is more important that the possibility of a second shot. You might ask, “What about a pump shotgun?”

The pump shotgun similar to the semi automatic is mostly too long for a young hunter. The receivers on both pumps and autos are long which makes the shotgun a few inches longer than a double or single shot. Normally, the bulk of the pump rules it out as a beginning shotgun for a young hunter.

Since most single barrel shotguns are bore full choke, new hunters must learn to hold their fire until the target is at least 20 yards distant. This gives the shotcharge time to spread into a winder pattern. This can be learned by practicing at home. Believe me, shooting several boxes of ammo in practice sessions will pay off in the woods. Keep in mind, you don't learn. to shoot well by just hunting. Practice sessions at home or a trap range will iron out many problems that simply can't be learned while hunting. For instance, shouldering the shotgun quickly and smoothly must be learned long before opening day of small game season.

The young or new hunter will be far more successful with a single shot 20 gauge, and especially one that he or she has fired many times in practice sessions. That's not just an idle statement; that's the truth.

(Don Lewis is a long time outdoor writer for the Leader Times and other publications as well as the author of several books. His column appears each Friday on the Armstrong Afield page of the Leader Times.)

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