Pheasant Loads For Tough Birds

Dear Bruce,

My name is John and I live in SD. I discovered your site while searching the web for trap shooting tips. It’s extremely informative, thorough, well written and most entertaining. Your letter writing skills – formatting, punctuation and spelling – are also great. As you can already tell I’m not a “Capt. Keyboard”; but you certainly are. Please add this to your already impressive credentials. Shotgun Report is the 3rd site I check in the morning, behind investments & weather. Using your recommendations along with all other info and options, & lots of additional practice have improved my ATA average to 96+ on singles. For this I thank you. Yet , I believe I posses even more “hidden talent” and continue this endeavor.

We have a small 2 house trap club here in Platte. Since your info is so valuable, I print each response which pertains directly to shooting or reloading and take it down to the club for all to review and absorb. Some love it, some ignore it and some feel it’s excellent bathroom material. For sure those who do read, absorb, and follow have scores to reflect a distinct improvement. All those responses about expensive guns are just over our heads and probably incomes as well. A new 870 is really big news around here.

I get the impression from several previous responses that you very much enjoy hunting SD pheasants. I’m just curious if you would share with me where, when and with whom you hunt. If we are close, I’d sure enjoy meeting and talking with you.

In regards to a universal pheasant load, I shoot a Benelli SBE 26″ 3 1/2″ full or mod., my personal favorite is – Winchester 12 ga., 2 3/4 ” High Brass #4, 1330 fps or equivalent/reload for all occasions. There are many factors to consider when selecting loads as you have correctly pointed out. I am the main dog handler and usually push the center behind 2 flushing English springers when group hunting . Most of my shots are straight away or angle away. When I choose to shoot, I want to kill the bird cleanly and quickly and humanely. #4’s do the job. If I must take a close bird he is usually rising like a straight away clay target and I just purposely pull up and shoot high. Very seldom have I ever destroyed a bird shooting over his back or side. Of course, now I’m already prepared for some longer distances as these loads are very effective in this situation.

I chuckled to myself when you tried the Federal tungsten loads as I felt these were overkill. So too when others were using 1 1/2 oz mags. Although some of us will load a 3″ shells one or two deep in the magazine for extreme late season, cold weather, spooky birds. Please continue to discourage use of less than anything other than 12 ga.for wild birds. Unless you are an extremely consistent accurate shot, this only results in too many additional wasted crippled birds. Even the best dogs don’t recover all cripples out here. Looking for cripples usually slows down the line when birds are being driven out the ends and sides to the blockers. Some excellent shooting opportunities are generally lost because birds have been given time to escape.

You referred to SD pheasants as “monsters”. Do you feel they are bigger than pheasants in other states? I grew up in Illinois. Those wild pheasants are definitely larger and slower than SD birds. SD birds are constantly chased by coyote, fox, coon, badger, hawks, owls, and hunters. They’re lean and fast – Olympic class flyers. Our strong winds help too. Well, that’s it for tonight. I hope I didn’t bore you.

Appreciate your columns once again. I have some other questions for you at a later time if you will accept them. The more I learn, the more questions I generate.

Thanks for your time,


Dear John,

I was out in SD for “Shooting Sportsman” magazine writer/reader hunt in November. We hunted at Firesteel Lodge in Isabel, SD.

Most of the pheasants seen in the East are pen-raised preserve stuff. We don’t have many wild pheasants in the Northeast. Over a good dog, many guys kill all the preserve pheasants they want to with 28 gauge guns and #8s shot. No kidding. Their eyes really get opened when they shoot your SD wild birds.

I often wondered why the local guys in SD would run after the pheasant just after they shot it and pick it up immediately, rather than wait for someone to call the dog over. Then I found out. I shot a quartering in pheasant at about 30 yards. Not a real hard shot, but it had some wind behind it and was moving along. When those #4s hit him, his head dropped and he did a sort of somersault in the air, like head-shot ducks sometimes do. When he hit the ground, he banged across some furrows in hard earth, whacking each furrow top before he skidded to as stop, upside down. I figured that you can’t kill ’em deader than that, and devoted my attention to another bird. When I looked back at the spot where the first bird had fallen a minute or two later, it wasn’t there. The dog found it hiding in the milo about ten yards away. I would have bet a fancy dinner that I had killed that bird deader ‘n dead in the air. I learned a lesson that time.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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