Bourjaily: A Shotgun Myth

One of shotgunning's enduring myths is that if you keep the barrel moving, you'll sling the shot in an elongated pattern, thus helping you hit targets you would otherwise miss by overleading. You hear this theory expounded all the time, even from some very experienced shooters. "Just keep swinging and shoot way out in front of them. Your pattern strings out so far at 40 yards that the bird flies into the shot," is how I heard someone explain it yet again last week. This concept is wrong on so many levels it's hard to decide where to start debunking.

Yes, your pattern does string out, but it doesn't hang in front of the target like a stationary lead curtain for the bird to crash into. It's moving very quickly. At 40 yards a 10 foot shotstring passes a given point in .016 seconds, which is enough time for a target going 40 mph to travel only about four inches. It's the pattern's width, not its length, that gives you a margin for error if you're slightly too far ahead of the target.

No matter how fast you swing your gun, you can't lengthen that shot string by "slinging shot." A shot charge is effectively a solid slug of pellets tucked inside the wad until it exits the muzzle and encounters air resistance. No matter how hard you swing the barrel, you can't spread that shot sideways as if you were Angelina Jolie in "Wanted." Prove this to yourself by shooting at the surface of the water, or a very wide piece of paper. Move the gun as fast as you can, but the resulting pattern will still be round.

Nevertheless, this myth won't die, in part because it encourages you to do the right thing - keep the gun moving - albeit for the wrong reason.