DB’s Thoughts on Hunting: Modern Duck Hunting Loads

by david on June 15, 2012

Back in the late 1970s, when steel shot replaced lead shot in duck-hunting loads, hunters had a legitimate reason to complain about the ineffectiveness of the shotgun shells.  Today, duck hunters have very little room, if any, to complain about their hunting shells.  The only wiggle room I will allow is the cost, as even I have been known to lament about the ridiculous price of shells.  The bottom line is they work, and they work in one of three ways.  The first is probably the simplest way and all it involves is going up one or two sizes in shot size.  Since steel is less dense than lead, the larger shot size allows for the same kinetic energy or killing power.  The only drawback to this is, with the larger shot size, there is room for fewer pellets in the shell and fewer pellets can translate into missed birds.  The second option is to use metallurgical combinations to yield shot that are denser than lead.  These shells work great.  You still have lots of pellets in the air and they hit like sledge hammers.  Their only problem is the cost.  These rascals are up to $3.50 each, as opposed to the 50-cent cost of a regular lead shell.

The last option is a combination of the development of new wad cups to improve the pattern and new shapes of the shot itself.  I first tried Federal’s “Black Cloud” loads a few years ago and “devastating” is the only thing I can say about them.  The wad holds the shot until it is clear of the barrel, and then slowly falls away from the shot column leaving a long string of shot that will place lots of pellets into the kill zone.  The new pellet design does a lot of tissue damage, ensuring quick clean kills, if the hunter puts the shot where it needs to be.  Winchester’s new hexagonal shot offers increased pellet count with the larger shot size.  It has its own wad design, producing a uniform pattern, and is also an efficient killer if the hunter does his job.  OK, so, now, which shot shell should you use?  To come up with the answer, you have to have a little fun.  Hit up one of your duck hunting buddies for a few of each type of shell.  If they are like me, they have at least one of each type of shells (I am a sucker for something new and improved) loitering around their stockpile.  If you don’t have a buddy that can accommodate, you can break out the plastic and buy a box of each.  Next, buy a roll of 36” brown wrapping paper, put a 30” circle on it (you will need about a dozen of these).  Tape it to a piece of cardboard and fire a shell at it from about 30 yards.  Repeat this with improved, modified, and full choke (check your full choke and the ammunition box before shooting steel shot through a full choke).  When you change your target, be sure to write down the choke and distance if you shoot from more than one distance, then look over the shot pattern.  The load with the most uniform pattern will be the best one for you and your shotgun.  One last thing, remember that all loads do not perform the same in each gun.  If you have two duck guns (lucky you), be sure to pattern both, they probably will not shoot the same.

See you out hunting.

David B

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