Photo and Pattern by Gary Carver
The Johnny Stewart Grey Fox Pup in Distress tape echoed across the pasture in the cold night air. A pair of eerie bouncing eyes came out of a cedar thicket and started cutting across the edge of a grassy cactus flat to the downwind side of the truck. I kept the eyes just inside the lower glow of the red beam of light and asked my calling partner if he was ready. I heard a faint guttural “drop it” which told me to drop the beam on the grey fox to illuminate it for the shot. I dropped the beam full on the fox at about 40 yards and was amazed to see dust from the shot kick up under and behind the bouncing fox. The second shot rolled the grey but was still too far back and the animal had to be subdued when we ran out to pick it up. I have seen this happen too many times before and have come to realize that many hunters are not prepared to hunt predators with shotguns. Hunting after dark or in low light conditions just multiplies the problems of hitting your target with a shotgun. My calling partner that night was an experienced hunter and is not a bad wing shot when we go bird hunting, yet the fox he had problems hitting was much larger than a dove and it almost got away. I would bet that in a year of hunting he only takes a few shots at night with a shotgun in the type situation in which he shot the fox. Some of us use a shotgun for predators much more than that but few practice to be an effective predator shotgunner.
There are tons of articles out there that will help you pick shotguns, chokes, shells and shot sizes to use for predator hunting with a shotgun. Just like anyone else I have my favorites, but it is not my goal to convince you to use the same equipment as me. All sorts of companies now market special predator ammo and chokes for shotguns, most are excellent. We are even seeing special models of shotguns marketed for the predator hunter. Many of these products are as good as it gets, but none will work if you can not hit your target. I want to enable you to hit your target at any reasonable range, in the brush, in the dark, with minimal light or in other adverse conditions. Most predator hunters shoot shotguns with magnum loads and very tight choke patterns with large sizes of shot. This fact alone makes shooting the shotgun effectively much more difficult in predator hunting than shooting birds on the wing with open chokes and large dense patterns. Have you every wondered why many turkey hunters use scopes and special sights on specialized shotguns for hunting turkey? They do that because it is very easy to miss a turkey’s head with such tight chokes and the dense patterns they shoot. The same is true of predator hunting yet we shoot in conditions where the shot must be made instinctively without time to take careful aim, often in poor light and without special sighting systems. Our targets are not slowly strutting around a decoy but are often running full out, bouncing and turning at every step. If you can miss a strutting turkey at forty yards imagine how much easier it would be to miss a fox or coyotes vital kill area on the run at forty yards. This is farther complicated by the fact that most predators are moving much faster than their gait appears to propel them across the ground.
Very few of us go out and practice shooting clay birds with a super full choke yet that is exactly what kind of practice is needed to become deadly on predators. The sporting clays shooters have a perfect target for practicing predator shooting. It is a super tough hard clay target called the rabbit that is thrown from a high powered trap along the ground at speeds up to fifty miles an hour. If you have a sporting clays range near you, go out and get them to let you practice shooting rabbits with your predator hunting shotgun. I always get strange looks for shooting a camo shotgun with a strap and a twenty two inch barrel on the sporting clays course, but I can hit predators on the run better than most because of such practice. One can learn more while spending an hour shooting bouncing clay rabbits than in years of shooting running targets while hunting, it will open your eyes and make you a better hunter.
In order to become a good predator shotgunner the first thing you must do is establish that your shotgun shoots where you look. Draw a three inch bullseye on a large piece of cardboard and place about fifteen steps away. Put in a tight choke and quickly shoot several shots without taking careful aim by simply mounting the gun and shooting while keeping your eyes focused only on the bullseye. Again focus only on the bullseye, do not look at the front bead on the shotgun. The shotguns front bead should be visible only in your peripheral vision. Do not readjust the gun position to line up the bead or this exercise will not tell you where your shotgun shoots. The goal of this test is to find out where your shotgun prints the center of the pattern when you don’t have the time to take a bead or adjust your hold. After four or five shots you should begin to see where the center of your pattern is striking on the cardboard. If after shooting, the center of your pattern is not mostly on the bull or just to the top of the bull you will need to adjust your shotgun until it shoots to the center or just a tad high. Many shotguns have shims in the stock to make these adjustments, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions to adjust the stock. I won’t go into shotgun fit here as it would take another article to cover it, but you will never shoot well instinctively unless your shotgun fits you. With a shotgun that shoots where you look, you will only need to see your target to hit it. You will also become much more efficient at night shooting and those shots where you only have a moment to fire.
The next thing you need to do is learn an efficient method of shooting and practice until it becomes a habit. The method I use is called Pull Away or Move, Mount, Shoot. What this means is you will swing the shotgun along with your target at the same speed as the target in the ready position, but not mounted to the shoulder. When the target is in position to shoot you simply mount the shotgun on the FRONT of the target, pull away or out in front of the target and fire. The gun should go off only a heartbeat after touching your cheek. At night you focus only on the animal’s eyes, not the whole animal, not the fluffy tail of a fox or coyote. In daylight or under good lighting conditions focus only on the head of the animal so that if it is running you can simply go to the front, pull away and drop your quarry. You must concentrate your focus on the head of the animal as it is easy to look at the whole animal and not the head. Remember the goal of shooting moving targets is to shoot where the target will be when the shot gets there. Unless the target is standing still you will have to lead your quarry thus the pull away or pull to the front to fire. If your shotgun fits or you have adjusted the stock to fit, you will not have to worry about shooting over or under the animal or where your front bead is at the moment of firing. Everything will be where it is supposed to be and you will not be wondering why you missed or end up trying to track a wounded animal at night.
I have seen a hunter stand in the back of a truck, with marginal lighting, engage multiple running coyotes busting into a brush clearing and make a kill with each shot of the shotgun while a screaming predator call was blaring in his ears the whole time. We have all had those moments when everything works just like it is supposed to work. It just seems to happen a whole lot more when your shotgun shoots where you look and you have practiced sufficiently to be able to shoot well when those special opportunities come around. A good predator shotgunner is an amazing thing to watch and it is a very efficient way to take predators. With a little practice it may become your favorite way to hunt. Good gunning, Wild Ed