Some gun writers claim that although it is known that there is a shot string, it has no effect on the shot as it flies so much faster than the duck that there is little effect. Although there is some truth to this, the problem of shot string is the loss of pattern due to diluted shot loads. the shot in these loads is strung out over many feet and make for dreaded holes in the patter that can not be detected on a typical conventional pattern board.
Below I will show in a easy to understand 3D, non-computer or other technological device what I believe happens when we shoot at ducks. l won't use a high-speed digital camera or chronograph that seem from my research often to confuse the problem more than they show true light on the subject.
My pattern I use for all the photos is one I spent considerable time to make as a typical duck pattern shot from an average shotgun, using a common modified choke in a 26 inch barrel. To get this pattern to show a shot string like most gunners will experience was probably the hardest part of the test. I believe I came fairly close if there even is an average shot string to begin with. Until something better comes along, this pattern has to be taken on a degree of faith. But, then, to be a scatter gunner, and especially the waterfowler, one must have a great degree faith to begin with.
Arguments have raged around the duck club fires since the 1920's concerning shot strings. Pellets from a scattergun do not hit a flying duck all in one bunch like you see displayed so nice and neat on a pattern board which is usually a 30 inch circle at 40 yards.
The force of the choke, the amount of shot and powder, the wad, length of barrel and other factors all play a part in the stretched out shot pattern we throw at birds.
In the early part of the 20th century it was common and in vogue to advertise "Short Shot Strings" on a number of major shotgun manufactures ammo boxes. It was no different than later "Nitro", "Express", and other names to get the hunters attention. Today the advertising words are ones like "Fastshot", "Heavy shot" and shot that is ultra round.
Contrary to other writers that today downplay the effect of shotstring, I feel it is still more important than the other advertising names given above. Some may find it hard to believe that indeed, not only does a shot load not hit in the same 30 inch circle, but with modern heavy metal shot loads extend out as far as 14 feet. Think fire hose, not a circle of shot.
Now, common sense tells us that that long of a shot load has to have an effect on how often we hit or miss ducks. I believe that the very real phenomena of shot string has been discounted by modern gun writers so that the other less important aspects of shot gunning that ammo manufactures want to sell, like fast, heavy and round are put front and center at the expense of what is really going on when we let loose a shot load at a duck.
or Why Duck Hunters Miss Ducks
This photo shows where the rubber hits the road, or rather the shot hits the duck. by being just 6 more inches to the right and rising, the duck is stone dead knocked right out of the sky. It has received a deadly high number of #2 shot directly in the head, neck and frontal body. If the Canvasback was just 6 inches higher or lower, a similar strike rate would have taken place...maybe. There are so many variables in that 6 inches! Just 6 inches to the right again and 6 inches down and it may have been a complete miss as it would be in a pattern holes caused by the shot string effect. This is why so many times you think in vain "HOW DID I MISS THAT DUCK!!!"
I believe that many ducks move at least 6 inches at the sound, vibration or force of the shock wave concussion of the shotgun blast. Since this all is in 3 or more dimensions, this is often hard to see. Ducks can be anywhere most of the time somewhere in the shot string on passing birds, especially pass shooting. Shot strings in effect can improve your shooting score on ducks, if you USE ENOUGH SHOT!
NEWS: as of Fall 2017... The last few years I have been experimenting with Steel No. 6 shot for early fall waterfowl. The results have been spectacular! In fact almost unbelievable. These tests fly in the face of many untruths and myths about wildfowl shotgunning. Shooting for inexperienced and young gunners has improved as much as 200%. I am amazed by my own shooting also as I have witnessed clean kills up to 50 or more yards. Pattern density is the secret. Penatration has surprised me also with pellets found on the opposite side of shot entry just under the skin. Years ago I remember reports of Native guides in Hudson Bay, Canada using light, small shot on Geese. They believed that instead of larger shot that seemed to bounce off tough Goose feathers, light, small shot entered between the feathers and also made more head shot kills. This plus the fact that even a light 1 1/8 oz. load has up to 150 more pellets than a similar no.4 load seems to make no.6 the new load of choice for some of us. I am doing this because I really do believe it will go far to stop the missing and wounding from large shot. This is my contribution to waterfowl conservation for this season and hopefully for the future, even if and when the word gets out, it may drive up the current low price of no.6 shells we have been enjoying. Try it and you will be rewarded with hits that you believed were misses. The density tells the story every time!
No. 6 has been total suicide for Pintails coming into the decoy rig or even on pass shooting. believe it or not.
In the above Photo we have the Classic shot string as described by various test labs and experts over the years. In their tests the shot string us usually shown coming out of the shotgun barrel from the side. the shotgun barrel is fixed. The expansion of the shot from the choke is evident.
This view of the shot string is an actual test pattern fired from the right side at an angle. This is the reverse of our depiction of a swinging shotgun leading the duck from the left. This gives the best representation of the shot string, and the center of the pattern that is on the left could be on the right. In either direction you would have the center of the pattern and the leading sparse front edge of the pattern and the trailing very sparse "flyer" shot. This has been described many times in various articles you can find on the internet. All of this depends on the speed and angle of the birds flight, the amount of wind and the speed of the swing of the shotgun barrel. This board depicts pass shooting on a fast Canvasback. Shots taken on slower moving ducks over decoys would not display such a wide swathe of shot that is being dispersed in at least three dimension's all at the same time.
I am a decoy carver and made this hollow very light Canvasback duck for this test. It is hanging from a 6 lb. test mono fishing line. The actual shot has been painted to give an approximation of a given shot load to show the bunched up and scattered shot. In a static shot test on a 30 inch circle there can be some shot that goes thru the same hole. That is less likely to happen with a moving representation the way this test pattern was constructed.
In Point of fact, what I'm trying to show here Is that Shot gunning for waterfowl is a game of physics. What I mean is that all of it is constantly in flux. It is not a one dimensional measurement on digital instruments, but always 3 or maybe even more dimensions going on constantly at all different angles.
The above photo shows the dispersion of shot caused by the shot string and other factors. This is why it is always important to USE ENOUGH SHOT!
Red lines show the holes in this pattern. Even though the duck is very close to the center of the pattern, this could be a clean miss or a winged bird.
This photo shows about the standard 80% of the pattern. In the first photo even though the duck is at a different angle, the shot has mostly missed the duck also.
Chronograph tests have shown that at about 40 yards, a given bird will only move about 6 inches by the time the fired shot load will hit the bird. Claims that because of the speed of the shot load, shot string is mostly irrelevant. This is not the case by any means.
This photo shows that the duck is actually in the third blown hole of the pattern. That is why it is mostly a missed or winged duck. This hole is outside the 30 inch circle, but how many sportsman do you think can hit in the 30 inch circle most of the time?
I believe that as many as 80% or more of all duck hunters hit outside the 30 inch circle most of the time. Especially a Can at 40 yards going almost 60 M.P.H.
The length of this shot string is about 8 feet. It shows about 90% of the shot load. Many manufactures test show 80% of the load and so will most of the following photos below. The shot load is regular steel shot, 1/14 ounce, size 2. The 14 foot shot string described at the beginning of the article is from heavy type shot. Testing has proven over the years that the lighter the shot, the shorter the shot string. This follows standard physics.
After years of the fad of fast shot and light loads things have changed almost overnight. Remington Nitro is now pushing slow loads and lots of shot. On the box it states: Full Loads - Full Patterns - Full Limits I have stated that this is the way to go all along. Even very well known shotgun and shot experts are beating the drum of Load over speed now. Shotshell manufactures actually shortchange both duck hunters and the ducks by providing cheap affordable shells with not enough shot in them. Less shot increased the speed so that they can tout speed as powder costs less than shot and they make more profit.
The hypocrisy really reaches the limit when a premium company now charges huge sums for low speed shells. A 3 in. load at 1300 fps. and 1 3/8 oz.of shot. I could buy off brand shells of this same exact load for half the price. They even want a large sum for a 2 3/4 in. load at 1250 fps. and 1 1/4 oz. of shot. (a nice effective load BTW)
BTW : Want to turn your public waterfowl refuge into a waterfowl nitetime roost where the good ducks fly out of the refuge 1 hour before legal shooting and fly back 1 hour after dark? Then be sure to shoot 3 1/2 inch shells. Scares the hell out of em'. (happening on the Hay Flats)
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What This test shows is that even if the duck only moves 6 inches (the measurement between the lines on the test board) there are infinite possibilities in time and space that the duck can move at different angles in the given 6 inches. This will determine either a hit, miss or wounding of the duck. Even though the Canvasback here is in a dive, it is still almost a complete miss. By diving it has changed the 3 dimensional angle even more.