by : Tony Peterson
Last year when my hunting partner and I embarked on a public-land upland adventure to Nebraska, we brought a lot of shells. We planned to target quail, sharptail grouse, prairie chickens, and pheasants.
Halfway through the trip we were pretty locked in to our ammo choices. For quail, it was simple. They are tiny, fast, and don’t take much to knock out of the sky so we hunted them with 2.75-inch target load 7 1/2s. Sharptails and prairie chickens tend to get up at much farther distances and while they are usually in the wide open, they are tougher to bring down than quail.
We ended up shooting 3-inch loads for both, mostly to have a little extra cushion pattern-wise when they flushed at the far end of our shooting range. They mostly did, but they mostly didn’t fare too well either. It’s amazing what quail hunting in thick timber does for your ability to hit a much larger bird with nothing between it and the end of your gun barrel.
But then we hunted pheasants. I’ve hunted ringnecks my entire life, so you’d think I’d know better. I started out the trip loading a 2.75-inch load of 6s for my first shot. That leadoff shell was followed by 3-inch 5s and lastly, 3-inch 4s. Maybe it was too much confidence in my dog’s ability, or just the consequence of a poor memory, but I never should have started with a 2.75-inch load of 6s.
We were hunting wild birds that had been harassed for an entire season, which meant we didn’t get too many close flushes. Not-to-mention the fact that roosters are simply tough, and they are Usain Bolt-level sprinters.
We shot a few the first day we targeted them that hit the ground hard and never made it into our game bags. I hate that, so much. We ended up switching to harder hitting loads right off of the bat, and the results were much better.
That lesson hasn’t escaped me as I pack for a return trip to Nebraska, where we’ll target some Minnesota pheasants on the way down and back. This year, I’m shooting top-quality loads with every shot, and will only load a shorter shell when I’m in quail habitat. I’m not taking any chances when one of those cagey, public-land birds flushes wildly in front of my Lab this year.