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Shotgun Point Of Impact And Shotgun Sights

The Scattergun Trail:
Shotgun point of impact, Shotgun sights, aiming at a turkeys head, and other important lessons in life.

By Larry Case

Be prepared and be honest” John Wooden

My brothers in camo, maybe you know by now that I always try to be honest with you. I say this because I was just a little nervous to start this month’s offering. One reason being I think I have probably talked to you before about the importance of being prepared, knowing where your shotgun hits, and having it sighted in. (Yes, I said “sighted in” for a shotgun.) I hope that you don’t think I am harping too much on this subject.

The second reason is we have a new editor at Western Shooting Journal and after hearing about her background and experience I thought if I didn’t get this right, well, she might just whip my butt. O well, it has been whipped before, so here goes.

As we are speeding into the month of March many of us as shotgunners are thinking about (or should be) preparing for the spring turkey season. I want to caution you about merely grabbing the shotgun off the wall and hitting the turkey woods. Success comes from having confidence in your weapon, and we achieve this by doing some shooting and knowing what the gun will do.

First, remember that this turkey shooting deal in the spring has evolved into something more like rifle shooting than shotgunning. Ideally we are aiming, not pointing, the gun at a small, stationary target (the turkeys head and neck). Almost any kind of sights we put on the shotgun, more than just a standard bead at the end of the barrel, will help us.

The first level of improvement is installing an additional bead about halfway down the rib, this gives you a “rear sight”, the shooter puts the rear bead on the front bead, front bead on the target and squeezes the trigger. A bead or a rear sight is to keep us from making the big mistake, the blunder that saves more turkeys lives every year than any other factor in our shooting. Ready? Here it is.

When we do not put our head down on the gun and look squarely down a level rib, we shoot high and we miss. I know, I’ve done it more than once, (a lot more). The front bead is in fact on the target, but your cheek is not down on the stock. The gun is tilted up and you sit there with your teeth in your mouth and watch the turkey fly off. No amount of cursing and/or praying will bring him back. Again, I know.

Next level of improvement is rifle sights, (check out what HizViz has to offer, , also Dead Ringer at ), an open, rear sight gives you an even better, precise way to aim the shotgun. Red Dot style scopes and other optics are an even more sophisticated way to aim the shotgun. An inexpensive Red Dot scope can make a shotgun very deadly. The reason is simple, if the Red Dot style optic is properly sighted in and the dot is on the target when the shooter pulls the trigger, he will hit the target. This takes the cardinal sin of not keeping our head down out of the picture. (Now remember, we are talking about aiming the shotgun at a mostly stationary target, any wing or clay shooting instructor will have a stroke if you ask him about putting any of these sights on your gun.)

Alright, now that we have a decent way to aim the shotgun, let’s talk about point of impact. One of the hardest things for some people to learn is that all shotguns do not “shoot where they look”. If we fire the shotgun from a bench rest, the target may tell us the gun is shooting right, left, high, low, or whatever. Let me make it even better, many shotguns will shoot differently with different loads or chokes, you have to put them on paper folks!

Basically what we are talking about here is sighting in your shotgun, and you knew I would have some pointers on this. First, do this on a day when you are not in a hurry, if you are pressed for time, go home and watch Swamp People or something else on TV. To do this right you need a large target holder, (30” or better) a bench rest, sandbags or suitable shooting bags, ammo, targets, and stapler.

Have the loads you are going to hunt with on hand, but we are not going to start with them. To begin, let’s shoot any low brass, target loads that you have on hand. No need to shoot the heavy stuff yet. Your first shot will be from 10 yards, (that’s right, 10 yards). You don’t need a turkey head target for this, a large piece of blank paper is better; darken in about a 4” circle in the middle to give you an aiming point.

All we are doing here is seeing where the pattern is going. Mark a straight line vertical and horizontal through your aiming point. Is the pattern evenly placed on either side of the lines? Is there about 50% of the pattern above the horizontal line and 50% below? Now do this at 20 yards, and 30, and then 40. Use a new paper every time, don’t be cheap. If it looks like you are OK, the gun is shooting where it looks, now try one of your hunting loads at 20, 30, and 40 yards.

Now you know where the gun is shooting, no question. If the pattern is significantly off and you cannot adjust it with your sights, either rifle or optical, you are getting into an area where you need to speak to a qualified gun smith. We are talking about straightening or bending a barrel here. Don’t let that scare you; a good gunsmith can do this in his sleep.

Well that’s about it till next time folks. Hope this is OK with the new editor. Man! That woman scares me…….