Deer season opens on Monday. Or rather, that’s when the shotgun season starts. Archery season is already open, but I’m not even close to being able to go out with a bow and arrow.
Unfortunately, I don’t even feel close to going out with a shotgun.
My shotgun is a 20 gauge Remington 870 with two interchangeable barrels. One is for hunting birds with shot. The other for hunting larger, four-footed animals with slugs.
When I first hear that you could go hunting with slugs, I wondered how that worked. I know you can go hunting with dogs, and they flush the birds for you. You can go hunting with falcons, which will actually go kill your prey and bring it back to you. But slugs?
No, not those kinds of slugs. The kind of slugs that are like bullets, only housed in a shell that fits it to a shotgun rather than a rifle.
It was only about fifteen minutes ago that I learned the difference between a shotgun and a rifle, so let me show off my shiny new knowledge by explaining it to you. The inside of the barrel of a shotgun is smooth, and the ordinary projectile is a pack of little lead or steel balls (shot) that disperse as they leave the muzzle of the gun.
The inside of the barrel of a rifle is, predictably, rifled. That is, it has grooves that run in a spiral down its length. They give spin to the projectile, which is a bullet, and the spin imparts both speed and accuracy.
For reasons that have more to do with gun laws than ballistic science, a shotgun with a rifled barrel is still a shotgun. The walls of the barrel are thinner than that of a rifle, and the slugs that come out of it don’t have the long-distance range that rifle bullets have. They are, however, accurate at distances somewhat north of 100 yards – in the right hands.
Mine, I found out last week, are not the right hands.
For the first time, I put the rifled barrel on the gun and went to the range. We’d bought sabot slugs, which are designed for use in rifled barrels (the sabot is the plastic case around the slug, that engages the rifling and keeps the slug in the middle of the barrel), and are very expensive. On sale for half price, a box of five was ten bucks. By contrast, a box of 25 shotgun shells can be as little as six dollars.
At the range, we put targets on the board that’s fifty yards from the shooting bench. I loaded one slug and took aim. I carefully lined up the front and rear sights, and tried to stay as still as possible. I squeezed the trigger, willing the slug to hit the target.
When the gun discharged, I was stunned. The noise was so loud, and the recoil so strong, that I felt as though I’d been physically assaulted. I was expecting the standard-issue bang I was used to from shooting shot shells. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t anything close to the same.
Kevin thought I was hurt. “Are you okay?” he asked.
He had to ask twice before I told him I was fine, just really, really surprised. So surprised that I violated the first rule of gun safety. I pointed the muzzle in an unsafe direction. In this case, at the guy sitting a few feet away, aiming his 22. My gun wasn’t loaded, but that’s not the point.
It took me a couple minutes to recover. The shot had set adrenaline flowing, and I needed to wait for it to dissipate before I tried again.
The good news was, I hit the target. By which I mean the piece of paper that had the target printed on it. I was a good six inches away from the center, where I’d been aiming. Six inches off at fifty yards isn’t good.
All my shots but one hit the target, but none was as close to the center as I’d like. We tried to get back to the range to practice earlier this week, but it was closed for police training. So I’ll be headed out at the crack of dawn, first day of deer season, with very little confidence in my shotgun skills.
What that means is, I’ll take only a wide-open shot, at very close range. It’s highly unlikely that such a thing will present itself but, if it does, Kevin, who is a very good shot, will be there to back me up. We have no qualms about having a second hunter bring down a deer that the first hunter has wounded.
Given that our hunting camera (also known as the VarmintCam, now employed in the pursuit for which it was intended) has turned up not the faintest trace of a deer at our chosen site, the odds that I’ll have an opportunity to take a shot on the first morning are slim. And I’ll have a chance to get to the range again before we go out again.
But that’s not the only reason I approach deer season with trepidation. The bottom line is that, despite having taken many hours of gun safety instruction, shot trap and skeet, practiced at the range, and gone pheasant hunting, guns still scare the bejeezus out of me.
Does that ever go away?