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Using a shotgun for varmint hunting

March 7, 2019 GMT

When my brother-in-law first told me to carry a shotgun while we were calling coyotes, I thought that he was nuts. But that morning we had two of them within shotgun range. The next year, I kept track and 40 percent of the coyotes we called were within shotgun range. I became a believer, and now if there are two of us, I make someone carry a shotgun.

I want to prick your memory. This past varmint hunting season, how many coyotes came within shotgun range for you? I bet a high percentage and this bet includes even those of you who hunt in wide open spaces.

So here’s my advice. If there are two or more of you calling, have one carry a shotgun. Even if you’re calling with no brush nearby, we’ve had coyotes zip in across 150-yard clearings in a hot second and reverse like a barrel racer when they got within mere feet of a decoy, never allowing a shot with a rifle.


I was probably one of the biggest naysayers of using a shotgun for varmint hunting. It almost seemed sacrilegious to do so, but after doing so on a few hunts I’m a believer.

So let’s say I’ve convinced you to give a shotgun a try while calling varmints. But if you don’t pattern your shotgun then you might as well take a bag of rocks and throw at them. To be successful, there are a few things that you are going to have to do.

You’ll want a tight choke so you have a tight pattern out at 50 to 65 yards so you don’t wound an animal. I don’t care if it is a varmint — you still want a clean kill. Tru-Lock and many other companies offer some excellent chokes for varmints and turkeys. It is imperative to have a tight pattern when shooting these distances. So at the least, you’re going to want to use a full choke and preferably a turkey choke. This will keep your BBs in the kill zone.

You’ll want to sight in your shotgun. I don’t use a red dot or scope but you could justify doing so. I noticed today that on most of my patterns that the bulk of the BBs were in about an 18-inch circle at 40 yards and that was with a full choke. Think if I had of been using one of my .62 chokes.

Here’s what I advise. Get some Birchwood Casey splattering coyote targets. Take a shot and notate where the bulk of the pattern is. Is it centered in the kill zone? If not, you need to adjust accordingly just like you do when sighting in your deer rifle.

It goes without saying but the 3 ½-inch loads have more shot that the 3-inch loads — and they kick like a mule. I remember years ago I was doing a turkey load comparison for Bass Pro Shop and tested shells from all of the popular turkey shell manufacturers. When I got to the 3 ½-inch HEVI-Shot loads I about cried uncle. You talk about kicking! Some of the 3 ½-inch 12 gauge shells have 2 1/4 ounces of shot.


Because of the recoil, I recommend that you use a Caldwell Lead Sled while sighting in your shotgun or you may develop a bad case of flinching. So as we close, hopefully I’ve prompted you to dig your shotgun out of the gun safe next time you go varmint hunting. Have fun.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.