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Author: Don Gasaway
An explosion of vividly colored feathers rises from the grass. A cackle is emitted as if to say, "You can't get me!" A report from the hunter's gun and the air is filled with smoke. The hunter peers through the smoke to see if he has taken one of our favorite game birds.
Smoke pole pheasant hunters usually find that they prefer to hunt over dogs that work close. At the approach of danger, pheasants can drop their head and tail to the ground and sneak off. They disappear even in the thinnest of cover. Pressured by a dog that works far out, pheasants can be seen zipping down a fence row like so many road runners.
In addition to hunting close to the dogs, it is advisable to work slowly and stop often. Pheasants are nervous birds and if you stop, they seem to think they have been spotted. These kings of the prairie just can't stand to sit tight if they think they have been spotted.
An advantage of hunting pheasants with a muzzleloader is the lack of recoil. Due to the relatively slow burning of the black powder or Pyrodex®, the recoil of such a gun is significantly less than with modern firearms.
Problems can appear when hunting with other partners. There is the rib about the amount of time it takes to reload, even though it is just a matter in minutes. Using speed loaders, one can reload rather quickly, but still not as fast as with shotgun shells.
Another problem is with the amount of smoke emitted by the muzzle loader. The hunter has problems seeing if he hit the bird and where it went down. That's where a good dog comes in handy. When the wind is blowing, that is not a problem, but on quiet days, it can be a challenge. On windy days, the hunter who shoots into the wind, should remember to keep his mouth closed. The smoke tastes terrible.
Modern muzzleloaders add a new dimension to pheasant hunting. Hunting pheasants with a Cabela's 10-gauge double-barrel muzzleloader proves quite effective. The factory installed choke tubes work well in all kinds of small game hunting. Finding the right shot pattern and load for a black powder weapon to hunt pheasants is not difficult. It just takes a little time.
The three chokes that come with the gun are: Extra-full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder. Other chokes are available for mail-order from the company. Having various chokes can present a need for preparation in that one sometimes has to develop a different load for each choke. Each choke presents a different pattern with the same load.
Patterning a shotgun goes a long way toward hunting success. It allows the hunter to know where the shot is going to hit. Patterning is a simple and inexpensive way to make sure that the gun is shooting where your aiming.
What is needed, in addition to the gun, powder and shot, is a sheet of plywood, some large target faces, safety glasses, and hearing protection. A bench rest, or sandbags, are helpful in being consistent from one shot to another. Target faces should be about 3 foot square so as to help see where all the shot is going.
The mix of pellets from different sizes and different chokes quickly become apparent as one shoots. If the shooter is aiming at the center of the target and the bulk of the shot is consistently hitting off to the side, then perhaps the fit of the gun is incorrect. A gunsmith can quickly fix that problem.
If the bulk of the shot is just a little off from center, then the hunter can adjust his point of aim to compensate. Although a few pellets can kill a pheasant, the goal is to deliver the bulk of the shot in a pattern that will humanely down the bird.
By experimenting with the various chokes, the hunter can see quickly which choke delivers a pattern required for the type of game he is pursuing. For example, an Extra-full choke works very well when hunting turkeys. But, it is not as effective on pheasants. Extra-full chokes have a .040 constriction of the barrel and is good for 55-yard shots. Improved-modified has a .015 constriction and is most effective at 30 yards. The Improved cylinder has a .010 constriction and is for shots at under 25 yards, which are frequently encountered by upland bird hunters.
A good combination for the double-barrel shotgun shooter could be the Improved cylinder in the first barrel and Extra-full choke in the second. In that way, the close shot can be taken at the rising pheasant and more time can be taken in aiming for the second shot at a greater distance, if necessary.
In patterning, the hunter should pattern the barrel with the chosen choke at the distance mentioned above. Each choke/barrel combination can be shot with varying loads of powder and shot. Every gun comes with charts of recommended loads of shot and powder in a range. There are differences between black powder and Pyrodex® data. For instance the 10-gauge with Pyrodex® might be recommended with 1 ½ ounces of lead or steel shot and 88 grains of powder. The same gun using black powder and the same amount of shot might require 110 grains of powder.
Muzzleloader shotguns are usually percussion guns. That is, the ignition of the powder is achieved by the hammer coming down on a percussion cap mounted on a nipple. The resulting fire passes through the nipple into the barrel of the gun causing the powder to ignite. The resulting explosion forces the shot up the barrel and out the muzzle. With double-barrel guns there is a slight problem with the cap on the second barrel being knocked off the nipple by the recoil of the first shot. This can be solved by slightly squeezing the caps before mounting on the nipples. The slightly tighter fit will help to keep the cap in place.
Modern muzzleloading shotguns allow the pheasant hunter to take birds for the table and still enjoy the romance of using a weapon from the past. Give it a try and you'll find that the birds are somewhat sweeter to the taste when taken by a smoke pole. Oh, there's no difference in the meat. It's just the added savor of a laudable accomplishment that makes the difference.
Leading birds with a muzzleloader requires a solid follow through. Remember that there is a slight lag time between pulling the trigger and ignition. Also, when hunting in very dry areas, it is not advisable to use paper wads. They will sometimes smolder for several minutes and can cause a brush fire.
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