Steel shot far from ideal for shooting geese, but it's the law


November 22, 1992|By LONNY WEAVER

"Get ready, we're going to go after this bunch," Ray Marshall warned me between blasts from his goose call.

I grabbed my 12-gauge Ruger and spotted the four big Canada geese circling our shore blind off Trappe Creek. They seemed to be working both sides of our rig -- a big spread of decoys in the creek and a smaller rig of silhouettes set in a harvested cornfield to our rear.

Finally the geese set their wings, dropped their legs and committed themselves to the cornfield.

I stood in the ground-level blind, brought the long-barreled smoothly to my shoulder, tracked the lead goose and slapped the trigger. I saw feathers fly from the goose's breast, but the bird never missed a beat.

Pulling the gun down in recoil, I got the muzzles ahead of the

same goose and sent a second 3-inch magnum load of BBs ahead of the departing goose. An instant after my shot, Marshall sent a couple of backup loads in that direction, and I saw the Canada dip to the right, out of sight of our position.

In a flash we were out of the blind, following Marshall's 8-year-old Lab, Pepper.

Nearly 100 yards away, I spotted the goose as it tried to get up from its hiding spot in the cut cornfield. At the same time, Marshall commanded Pepper to retrieve. The smallish black Lab caught up with the mortally wounded goose, grabbed it by the neck, performed a practiced shake and the bird was in the bag.

"Damned steel shot," Marshall noted when Pepper laid the goose at his feet, and I nodded in total agreement. It looked like my entire 1 3/8 ounces of BBs had hit the goose exactly as I had first called the location -- squarely in the breast, covering an area about the size of a volleyball. Still, the lawfully mandated stuff did not produce an instant, humane kill. I have seen this happen time after time on ducks and geese.

If we had been using lead No. 2s or BBs, that bird would have crumpled on the spot. I firmly believe, based on actual field experience, that mandatory steel-shot regulations are the dirtiest tricks ever played on waterfowl in this country.

It has been my experience that the only time steel kills as quickly and efficiently as lead is if the shot charge is centered in the head and neck area.

Unfortunately, in real-life hunting situations, few gunners are able to put the charge in such a precise area. More common body shots almost always mean a long-distance recovery or total loss of the goose or duck.

I believe that because steel is so hard, it does not deform like lead shot, but instead travels completely through the bird, causing minimal damage unless a vital organ is accidentally hit. The effect would be exactly the same on a deer if it was hit by a non-expanding, solid hunting bullet, and such a bullet is illegal to use on deer in Maryland.

In learning to make the best of a terrible situation, I have given up on large shot such as T, which simply does not have enough shot to fill out a dependable killing pattern. For geese I have settled on magnum loads of BBs and pass up any shot beyond 40 yards. Most geese taken over decoys, which is how most Maryland geese are hunted, fall well inside that distance.

For large ducks I generally switch to No. 2 or No. 3 steel 12-gauge magnum loads, which translates into the performance levels turned in by No. 4 and No. 5 lead shot, respectively. I know some hunters go as small as No. 6 steel on the smaller ducks, such as teal, but I seldom drop below No. 4 steel.

Steel shot also has caused massive hunter confusion concerning shotgun chokes. The traditional full choke of lead shot seldom works. Instead, you often will get "blown" patterns -- a shot pattern with a large hole in the center of it, when using steel.

I've done a lot of testing with various loads and shotguns and believe that for geese over decoys, modified choke is best in a single-barrel gun; modified and improved cylinder is best in a twin-tubed shotgun. Skeet and improved cylinder is about right for decoying ducks inside 35 yards. Under no conditions would I trust steel shot beyond 40 yards.

As for this year's Canada goose season, I think it will be at least as good as last year when I have been told hunters bagged 82,000 geese. The greatest concentration appears to be on the lower Eastern Shore, though Kent County should do reasonably well and Harford could be a sleeper.

Marshall, who guided me Tuesday, tells me that his bookings are up from last year. This is excellent news for an industry that has been taking it on the chin for some years.

"I've had to work extra hard these past few years and expand my services in order to stay in the business. A couple of years ago I began offering released mallard shoots, for example," he said.

This year, in part because of the expanded deer season, Marshall is offering a free deer hunt to anyone booking a goose hunt with him that last week of the gunning season. He can be reached at (410) 745-2060.

Deer season almost here

The new, expanded firearms deer season gets under way Saturday and will continue through Dec. 12. This is the most popular of all deer hunts, and more than 100,000 licensed hunters will be afield attempting to bag America's most prized big-game animal.

Ed Golden, who manages the state's deer herd, expects a statewide kill to total between 45,000 and 50,000. Maryland's herd is estimated at close to 200,000, and Golden says it's doubling in size each year.

Last year, Anne Arundel hunters bagged 518 whitetails during this hunt compared with 259 bow kills and 99 by muzzleloader hunters. Look for a bag of about 550 this time.

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