February 23, 2023
By Foster Bartholow
Killing Geese With All Shotgun Gauges
Pro shooter Foster Bartholow proves that modern shotshell technology is giving hunters more consistent patterns and longer killing ranges.
One of my main passions is hunting waterfowl, and this year I had a goal: To complete a “Gauge Slam” and harvest Canada Geese with shotguns from the .410 bore on up to the 10 gauge. My arsenal of Browning firearms included: a 725-field grade O/U in the 410 and 28 gauge, the ever-popular Browning Silver 20 gauge, a loveable Sweet 16 gauge, the new Browning Maxus ll in 12 gauge, and the powerful Gold Light 10 gauge semi-auto. All guns that have a solid reputation in the field as dependable and smooth shooting, each with their own pros for the game.
In addition to shooting the gauge slam, I wasn’t going to check a gauge off until I got solid video capturing the shot with the ShotKam. For those who haven’t seen a ShotKam, it is an incredible tool that attaches to your barrel that you can use to correct problem shots, learn leads and have some fantastic video clips to share with family and friends.
Hitting the Field
The start of the year was warm, and we had no moisture. Rather than pushing the limits with the sub-gauges, I opted to start with the trusted Maxus 2.
We had a few great hunts the last part of October into the first of November that helped check off the Maxus 2 from the list. One hunt in a cut alfalfa field hunting the edge with the A-Frame, another early morning in a cut corn field, and finally an open water loafing pond hunt. The loafing pond was a hunt to remember— watching the excitement with my dad, brother, and two military friends as birds cupped up and maple-leafed right to the SX decoys. It truly was a sight that left us adrenaline junkie waterfowlers excited for another day in the field. On top of that, I got to watch my black Lab, Shadow, do some great retrieving work as we finished up a five-man limit and were quickly out of the field before the majority of the birds started coming to the loafing pond.
A great piece of advice that many experienced hunters would tell me growing up (and I have since made gospel in my hunting tactics): “Photos can wait, get in and out of the field as fast as possible to save the field for another day”.
Goose Hunting with a .410 Shotgun
Fast forward to December. Finally, some cold temps, migration pushing in, and fresh snow to make the fields white. With 1,000 honkers hitting the recently snowed on cut cornfield, I knew this hunt would be a perfect opportunity to get the .410 checked off, but I didn’t realize how much of a challenge it was going to be.
My ammo of choice for the .410 is Browning Ammo TSS #7’s. Non-toxic and almost 60% heavier than lead, there’s some great knockdown power in each shell... however, it’s still #7 shot and the birds have to be in close with the thick down each bird has. A quick disclaimer: I had friends with 12 gauges backing me up along on this hunt to take down any cripples.
We got the decoys set just perfect, and the right opportunity presented itself when a single dropped out of thin air straight down to the fully flocked SX Decoys and into the landing pocket. One shot and the .410 was checked off. The day was perfect, so I continued to use the .410 and ended up shooting my limit with this sub gauge, and what I personally felt like was a huge accomplishment in general. I did use the .410 for a couple more hunts, noticing that it makes for the toughest challenge of the gauge slam to harvest a limit.
One of the main reasons is with only a 13/16 oz payload of TSS, there’s simply less room for error in your pattern and effective range. Another challenge to the hunt: the .410 payload is travelling from the barrel at 1,000-1,100 fps. If you’re used to the leads required when using a 12-gauge shooting 1,550 fps, you’ll be shooting behind geese all day long with the .410. Learning new proper leads can make for a challenge if you’re not used to it.
28-Gauge Shotgun: A Home-Run Killer
With the .410 completed, it was onto bigger and better things... well, maybe not better, but for sure bigger.
I grabbed the Browning 725 in 28 gauge next. This shell looked like a big protective brother to the 410... so I had no worries that the 28 gauge would be a delight to shoot effectively. Out of all the gauges, the 28 gauge won my vote for the most fun while keeping a realistic eye on knockdown performance.
We targeted an area to hunt after a fresh dusting of snow, mixed with new birds that were very relaxed in a cut alfalfa field. This hunt was going to rock!
We had birds landing all around us in the SX Decoys, so the shots were fairly simple. The tough part of this hunt was the lack of wind...a typical day-killer that will have birds landing throughout the spread compared to into the landing zone. Regardless, the birds locked up great and gave us some good decoying action where the ShotKam got great footage of the bird folding.
What stuck out for myself on this hunt was my Lab, Shadow, not breaking from his blind with around a couple dozen geese in front of him ranging from 8-30 yards. He was frozen solid just waiting for me to say his name, which is his “go” word.
A Deadly 20-Gauge and a Sweet 16-Gauge Shotgun
Next in line were the 20 and 16 gauge. My wife and I have both shot several geese with the 20-gauge Silver shotgun, so I was not worried one bit. I was very excited to shoot the Sweet 16 as this hunt would be the first time for me shooting the gauge.
Deeper into the season, the weather took a turn for the worse—or better for us crazy waterfowlers. It was a snowy, cold day with winds around 25 mph and temps at -4 degrees. When the birds started flying around midday, they wanted into the decoys, and quick.
We had what we like to call the “scouter” group come in and I was able to double with the 20 gauge. After waiting another 30 minutes with nothing moving in the sky, we grabbed the vehicle to warm up and sip some hot chocolate. While we had the vehicle out in the field, I checked the ShotKam footage... a successful double on film with the 20 gauge, so I switched to the 16 gauge.
After another hour of waiting (comfortably may I add) in the vehicle, we saw the first group coming our way in the far distance. We all bailed out of the truck with one hunter in the group driving the vehicle out, and just like that we were waiting for the birds we saw in the binos to come to us.
We got down, and here they come. The birds hugged the right side of the spread, a perfect shot for the two guys on the right. They sat up and each got 2 out of the group. When we hunt safety is the number one priority. Rather than ringing ears or worse, we really focus on keeping within our shooting lanes. I wasn’t worried as I knew my time with the 16 would come…
We made an adjustment to the decoys, and next came a single out of thin air. “Foster, this is all yours,” someone said. I couldn’t contain my excitement as the bird, completely fixed on the landing spot, never flared after I popped open the layout blind. I took my time thinking “You got this, no problem.” I squeezed the trigger... swing and a miss! Shocked, I pulled the trigger again, another miss! Finally, with the last shot I watched him crumple.
I learned a valuable lesson—always go pattern a new shotgun before you hunt. The 16 gauge was the only one I didn’t go out and shoot beforehand. After a quick replay from the ShotKam, I noticed I was shooting a little high. Add in a bird continuing to drop to the decoys and it was enough to miss him completely.
The next flock I picked out a single bird that dropped straight down like the previous bird, only this time I aimed at the mid-part of the body vs the head like before. He crumpled immediately. Success with the 16 gauge to finish off my limit for the day!
Bringing the Thunder: 10-Gauge Carnage
The next hunt was in a field we have had exclusive permission in for several years, so we have been able to control the amount of pressure on the birds and know the patterns of what the birds do in different conditions. After watching 36 birds hit the field consistently for weeks, their friends finally joined, and within a week there were a couple thousand birds hitting the millet/milo field. Now, all we needed was a break in the 40-degree temps, which was going to change mid-week.
The temps dropped to 5 degrees with 45 mph winds, for a real-feel of -20 degrees. We headed to the field for an afternoon hunt as birds were hitting the field around 2 p.m. We set up at the lower level of the field where the birds could get out of the wind and used around 150 fully flocked SX Decoys.
This day was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. We barely recognized the first flock skimming along above the grass, as they flew about six feet above the field in front of us and headed our way. The brutal wind had them flying lower than I’ve ever seen, but they didn’t hesitate to come bombing into the SX Decoys.
I yelled, “Take em!”and before you could get off a second shot the birds were opening their wings and sucking 30 to 40 yards further out in the wind like a parachuter pulling the cord. The first flock I dumped two birds with the 10-gauge Gold Light.
As with the previous hunts, we had a single drop in and I made a perfect shot on him. To finish the limit, I took one more bird out of a flock that decoyed in to 10-15 yards. It’s always a sight when you have to look over your blind doors to see where the birds are!
With the gauge slam completed, I had the opportunity to get some extra ShotKam shots with all the gauges which you can find on my YouTube and Instagram pages. As the season concluded, I have the opportunity to look back and reflect on some highlights, mistakes and what to improve on. Enjoy the outdoors, stay safe, and continue to fuel the passion. Treat every day in the field as a blessing with family and friends!
Takeaway Notes on the All Gauge Shotgun Goose Hunting Slam:
1) If you’re a serious waterfowler and would enjoy a challenge, try shooting sub gauges. It’s a great opportunity to pull that old .410 out of the safe, or to purchase that 28 gauge you’ve wanted. Use them for upland, turkeys and other small game as a great way to justify the purchase.
2) Learn from your mistakes and improve from them. The ShotKam has really changed my waterfowl hunting success to learn leads and work on headshots on birds. The way I look at it, every day is a new challenge, and a way to improve your skills. A brief history on myself: I’m a competitive trap shooter with the longest shoot-off in ATA history in competition (1,100 x1,100) and to this day continue to learn more about shooting. Never think you’ve hit your peak—always strive to be more successful.
3) Use consistent ammo. The majority of my hunting involves the 12-gauge Maxus ll, truly my favorite shotgun from Browning with the new Wicked Blend ammo, which is a 30% x 70% mix of bismuth and steel travelling at 1,500 fps.
Keeping consistent ammo with any gauge helps learn leads at several distances. If you’re mixing brands or types, it promotes inconsistencies in quality and performance.
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