If you’ve done any goose hunting, you’ve probably heard the term “skybusting.” You may know it means shooting at birds that are out of your shotgun’s effective range, but do you know if you’re guilty of it?
You can set up your decoys to minimize the risk of shooting at birds when they’re too far away by putting your farthest dekes at a point you know you can’t shoot beyond. This makes it easy to keep your shots reasonable when the birds are working the decoys, but what if they’re just passing through and fly overhead?
There’s a simple guide to estimating range in your late migratory game bird regulations. The guide tells you how to use the barrel of your shotgun as a reference. As you’re drawing a bead on the birds, pay attention to how much of the goose the end of your barrel covers. The closer the goose is, less of the goose will be covered by the barrel. If the goose is fifty-five yards out or farther, the barrel will completely cover the body. If you can’t see any body, the goose is too far away.
Keep in mind these guidelines were developed for single-barrel or over-and-under 12-gauge shotguns with twenty-eight- to thirty-inch barrels. If you shoot a side-by-side or a gun with a shorter barrel, the goose’s body will be covered at shorter distances. With a longer barrel, the goose will be farther away when the body is completely covered.
To be effective, your gun should consistently put fifty to fifty-five pellets in a thirty-inch circle at the distances you intend to shoot from. Pattern your shotgun to make sure it can do that. If you’re not getting that many pellets in the circle, go to a tighter choke, if you have the option, or shoot from closer distances.
So practice some distance estimation and pattern your gun. You’ll bring home more birds and leave fewer cripples.