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Measuring a Shot String With High-Speed Video

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August 17, 2011

Measuring a Shot String With High-Speed Video

By Phil Bourjaily

This week’s Gun Nuts clip features some high speed photography in an attempt to answer the question, “How long is a shot string?” The high-speed videos allow us to measure shot string either by comparing them to the hashmarks on the wall, or by measuring the interval in milleseconds between the first and last pellet strikes. The answer, in both cases, is around 6-8 feet.

http://ak.c.ooyala.com/NlOHEwYzqJ-i1JH5NGVHhF1WngXS3wOg/Ut_HKthATH4eww8X4xMDoxOjA4MTsiGN

As I mention in the clip, the system is a huge improvement over the one used by my predecessor Bob Brister, who built a target stand on a boat trailer and had his wife tow it past him at 35-40 mph while he shot at it. The 18-foot long sheet of paper often showed lead payloads strung out from one end to the other. Pictures of the trailer and of many of the patterns Brister shot can be seen in his classic book, Shotgunning, The Art and Science, and are well worth a look.

Most of Brister’s work was done with lead, while these two videos show hard non-toxic shot in flight. Because steel and tungsten iron pellets aren’t deformed by the acceleration of being blasted out of a gun barrel the way soft lead pellets are, the strings are much shorter as the pellets are more uniform when they encounter air resistance flying downrange. Even so, they string out as they travel downrange because the pellets at the rear of the payload are drafting behind the ones in front and so retain velocity better.

The belief persists that a long string is an advantage because the trailing pellets can hit a bird if you shoot too far in front. Maybe every once in a while it happens, but I wouldn’t count on it. Remember, it’s the width of your pattern that gives you margin for error, not the length of the string.

Comments (22)

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from hutter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

What part does barrel movement play in this measurement?I once saw another person do the same experiment by slinging the shot gun sideways as he fired. The results showed a nice round pattern.In other words the shot exited the barrel too fast to make any difference

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hutter -- these were shot from stationary guns on rests.

We did the same "slinging" experiment you're talking about on a different episode of "The Gun Nuts" and the result was a nice round pattern when the gun was stationary or moving as fast as I could swing it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I wonder how these new hexagon shaped loads string out. Would a short stringing load cause more misses? Just a thought. I love the high velocity 1550-1575fps steel loads for passing shots for duck hunting, but if you practice a lot with target loads it takes a few shots to refigure your leads when your hunting. You can't go wrong with "butt, beak, bang". When you're just allowed 15 shots in the Bayou Meto WMA you better make 'em count to get your limit.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Phil B.,
Great post. You may want to replay it in a couple weeks. Dove season opens in Missouri Sep. 1!
PS, this hasn't been mentioned much but for those that can't use private land and lead shot must use state land and outrageously price steel shot. What a crock

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Steel dove loads cost $5.99 a box here, same as lead. Maybe you should make a run to Iowa and stock up!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Interesting stuff. I would like to hear more about pattern width.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Here's a question for you, Phil: What is the proper way to lead a duck or goose when pass shooting? How much lead is enough?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

WA MTNhunter...I think I know that answer...you can not answer it. Lead is an individual thing according to how fast a person moves the barrel, and you can't, and do not want to quantify it. It's an individual feel that the mind makes as to how much lead for each particular shot, and angle, and how fast the target is moving.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

WA Mtn Hunter -- Sayfu is right (I've noticed he's usually right when it comes to wingshooting questions). I would add that the trick -- for me anyway -- seems to be to move the gun as slowly as possible as I swing past the bird on long shots. I don't know why it works, but it does.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I always thought shotgunning is move of an art than rifle shooting.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

that is more of an art...sorry for the bad spelling

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Phil, and here is why it works on several fronts.(I think) First, your barrel remains in the kill zone longer than a quick movement of the barrel, and the need for the precise timing of when to pull the trigger. Secondly, the eyes go to the fastest moving object in their view. A problem can be the birds wings that are moving fast, and as the barrel approaches them the signal is to fire rather than move out ahead. But the biggest problem is the eyes go to your barrel because it is the fastest moving object, and that causes the barrel to stop. If you chase the bird with the barrel the barrel tends to move fast, and the eyes go to the barrel. That is why the mount, and insertion of the barrel near the bird is critical for most. Then the eyes can stay focused on the bird, for just a short period of time, and the barrel can slowly move ahead, and fire when the mind says to fire. Easier said than done unless you shoot a lot. I find my eyes moving to the barrel when it moves ahead sometimes, and that causes the barrel to stop, and you shoot behind. I tend to believe that happens when my mount is poor, and I jump the gun up to my cheek, and chase the bird with the barrel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I am now wondering if this is the final word on the length of a shotstring.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

So basically this proves what most of us knew - that even the longest stringing patterns don't string that long, or long enough, and therefore can't help make up for our bad shooting. Right?

When it comes to WAM's question, Sayfu's answer is spot on as is Phil's, as is Sayfu's explanation of Phil's good advice about the slow swing through.

Just thinking about all this is giving me more confidence. Look out, doves.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

shane, When I have done it like Phil explains works so well for him, it also works so well for me. I have trouble moving the gun barrel too fast, and that causes the eyes to go to the fastest moving object, and that is the gun barrel. I can remember two roosters that flew out of a tree, wind row some thirty yards in front of me and crossing. I did everything right. My body swung with the gun moving in the direction of the pheasant, but not mounted yet. When the gun was mounted it was near the bird, and like in slow motion my eyes were able to stay focused on the bird, and the barrel moved ahead slowly and fired...dead on impact, and several minutes later the second rooster did an instant replay, and the same results. But I have a hard time duplicating that motion. The key is to not have that gun barrel lined up for a very long time or the eyes will have a hard time staying focused on the bird...they go to the fast moving gun barrel. Some of the worst misses happen when you see the bird coming towards you, or into your range for sometime, and now you calculate, and the conscious mind takes over, and that ain't good. When it is mount, move ahead and shoot, the subconscious makes the decision, and that is good.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Anhinga wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

All you questioners regarding leads should get a copy of Brister's book -- and read it. He goes into great detail regarding leads relative to various shot/bird/angle situations.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Never read the book, probably would help. But I do know this...You have to judge the speed, and the distance of the object from practice shooting at the objects speed and distance. Many can't judge a crossing distance, or speed of say a big honker. They move much faster, and appear much closer. One has to have experience dealing with it. Tom Knapp tells of a technique he uses for specific birds as to distance...the front sight, and how much it covers the bird when the gun comes up tells him if the bird is within killing range. I'd have trouble with that. I don't want my eyes going to the barrel, but Knapp can see it, and yet stay focused on the bird. I see it too, I guess, just don't want it a focal point.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from FirstBubba wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hopefully, I've learned some more and may try some dove this Sept.
The 4B's, (butt,belly,beak,BOOM), works for me, sometime. What Phil and Sayfu said "finally" makes sense.
BTW, angle makes no difference with the 4B's. Imagine a straight line running through the bird from tail feather to beak. Remain on that tangent with your follow through.

Bubba

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I'm buying your 4'B's Bubba. At one time I took the stance that for long distance crossers the sustained lead works best. If you use 4B's the most, best to stay with it. Here's where the problem happens. Instead of swinging with the bird, and the barrel moving at the near speed of the bird before mounting the gun, and before the barrel is in your sight picture, you mount quickly, and chase with the barrel, and expect to apply the 4B's..often doesn't happen. The fast moving barrel was in your sight picture for two long, and your eyes go to the fastest moving object, the barrel. I watch those water fowl videos on tv. and watch some outstanding shooters, and when that gun is mounted the barrel doesn't move much, because they are mounting the barrel near the bird, and a short move from tail to beak in a short period of time, and they fire.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RandyMI wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

When I saw the title for this article I immediately thought of Mr. Brister and his crossing linear-motion target experiments.....that was good stuff, as is this!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Dot wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Great post and video. Nice to see how shot string length is not dropping the last duck out of the flock!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Welderman wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Very nice, but I think there are some pieces missing to thoroughly characterize the shot string. It would be nice to know the frame rate and other details. You may be interested in my youtube video on clays breaking at 10,000 frames/sec.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from hutter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

What part does barrel movement play in this measurement?I once saw another person do the same experiment by slinging the shot gun sideways as he fired. The results showed a nice round pattern.In other words the shot exited the barrel too fast to make any difference

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hutter -- these were shot from stationary guns on rests.

We did the same "slinging" experiment you're talking about on a different episode of "The Gun Nuts" and the result was a nice round pattern when the gun was stationary or moving as fast as I could swing it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I wonder how these new hexagon shaped loads string out. Would a short stringing load cause more misses? Just a thought. I love the high velocity 1550-1575fps steel loads for passing shots for duck hunting, but if you practice a lot with target loads it takes a few shots to refigure your leads when your hunting. You can't go wrong with "butt, beak, bang". When you're just allowed 15 shots in the Bayou Meto WMA you better make 'em count to get your limit.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Phil B.,
Great post. You may want to replay it in a couple weeks. Dove season opens in Missouri Sep. 1!
PS, this hasn't been mentioned much but for those that can't use private land and lead shot must use state land and outrageously price steel shot. What a crock

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Steel dove loads cost $5.99 a box here, same as lead. Maybe you should make a run to Iowa and stock up!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

WA MTNhunter...I think I know that answer...you can not answer it. Lead is an individual thing according to how fast a person moves the barrel, and you can't, and do not want to quantify it. It's an individual feel that the mind makes as to how much lead for each particular shot, and angle, and how fast the target is moving.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

WA Mtn Hunter -- Sayfu is right (I've noticed he's usually right when it comes to wingshooting questions). I would add that the trick -- for me anyway -- seems to be to move the gun as slowly as possible as I swing past the bird on long shots. I don't know why it works, but it does.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I always thought shotgunning is move of an art than rifle shooting.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from FirstBubba wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hopefully, I've learned some more and may try some dove this Sept.
The 4B's, (butt,belly,beak,BOOM), works for me, sometime. What Phil and Sayfu said "finally" makes sense.
BTW, angle makes no difference with the 4B's. Imagine a straight line running through the bird from tail feather to beak. Remain on that tangent with your follow through.

Bubba

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Interesting stuff. I would like to hear more about pattern width.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Here's a question for you, Phil: What is the proper way to lead a duck or goose when pass shooting? How much lead is enough?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

that is more of an art...sorry for the bad spelling

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Phil, and here is why it works on several fronts.(I think) First, your barrel remains in the kill zone longer than a quick movement of the barrel, and the need for the precise timing of when to pull the trigger. Secondly, the eyes go to the fastest moving object in their view. A problem can be the birds wings that are moving fast, and as the barrel approaches them the signal is to fire rather than move out ahead. But the biggest problem is the eyes go to your barrel because it is the fastest moving object, and that causes the barrel to stop. If you chase the bird with the barrel the barrel tends to move fast, and the eyes go to the barrel. That is why the mount, and insertion of the barrel near the bird is critical for most. Then the eyes can stay focused on the bird, for just a short period of time, and the barrel can slowly move ahead, and fire when the mind says to fire. Easier said than done unless you shoot a lot. I find my eyes moving to the barrel when it moves ahead sometimes, and that causes the barrel to stop, and you shoot behind. I tend to believe that happens when my mount is poor, and I jump the gun up to my cheek, and chase the bird with the barrel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I am now wondering if this is the final word on the length of a shotstring.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

So basically this proves what most of us knew - that even the longest stringing patterns don't string that long, or long enough, and therefore can't help make up for our bad shooting. Right?

When it comes to WAM's question, Sayfu's answer is spot on as is Phil's, as is Sayfu's explanation of Phil's good advice about the slow swing through.

Just thinking about all this is giving me more confidence. Look out, doves.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

shane, When I have done it like Phil explains works so well for him, it also works so well for me. I have trouble moving the gun barrel too fast, and that causes the eyes to go to the fastest moving object, and that is the gun barrel. I can remember two roosters that flew out of a tree, wind row some thirty yards in front of me and crossing. I did everything right. My body swung with the gun moving in the direction of the pheasant, but not mounted yet. When the gun was mounted it was near the bird, and like in slow motion my eyes were able to stay focused on the bird, and the barrel moved ahead slowly and fired...dead on impact, and several minutes later the second rooster did an instant replay, and the same results. But I have a hard time duplicating that motion. The key is to not have that gun barrel lined up for a very long time or the eyes will have a hard time staying focused on the bird...they go to the fast moving gun barrel. Some of the worst misses happen when you see the bird coming towards you, or into your range for sometime, and now you calculate, and the conscious mind takes over, and that ain't good. When it is mount, move ahead and shoot, the subconscious makes the decision, and that is good.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Anhinga wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

All you questioners regarding leads should get a copy of Brister's book -- and read it. He goes into great detail regarding leads relative to various shot/bird/angle situations.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Never read the book, probably would help. But I do know this...You have to judge the speed, and the distance of the object from practice shooting at the objects speed and distance. Many can't judge a crossing distance, or speed of say a big honker. They move much faster, and appear much closer. One has to have experience dealing with it. Tom Knapp tells of a technique he uses for specific birds as to distance...the front sight, and how much it covers the bird when the gun comes up tells him if the bird is within killing range. I'd have trouble with that. I don't want my eyes going to the barrel, but Knapp can see it, and yet stay focused on the bird. I see it too, I guess, just don't want it a focal point.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

I'm buying your 4'B's Bubba. At one time I took the stance that for long distance crossers the sustained lead works best. If you use 4B's the most, best to stay with it. Here's where the problem happens. Instead of swinging with the bird, and the barrel moving at the near speed of the bird before mounting the gun, and before the barrel is in your sight picture, you mount quickly, and chase with the barrel, and expect to apply the 4B's..often doesn't happen. The fast moving barrel was in your sight picture for two long, and your eyes go to the fastest moving object, the barrel. I watch those water fowl videos on tv. and watch some outstanding shooters, and when that gun is mounted the barrel doesn't move much, because they are mounting the barrel near the bird, and a short move from tail to beak in a short period of time, and they fire.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RandyMI wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

When I saw the title for this article I immediately thought of Mr. Brister and his crossing linear-motion target experiments.....that was good stuff, as is this!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Blue Dot wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Great post and video. Nice to see how shot string length is not dropping the last duck out of the flock!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Welderman wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Very nice, but I think there are some pieces missing to thoroughly characterize the shot string. It would be nice to know the frame rate and other details. You may be interested in my youtube video on clays breaking at 10,000 frames/sec.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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