The Technoid Gets Shot…
The most important single ingredient in a good shotgun pattern is high quality shot. No matter what modern refinements the shotgun and ammunition manufacturers come up with, high quality shot has more to do with reducing flyers and filling out a pattern than any other ingredient in the ballistic equation. Shot can differ tremendously in quality in both factory shells or bagged shot. You want the good stuff. What should you look for? Let the Technoid escort you down the garden path while he explains everything in the usual excruciating detail.
The quality of shot can be measured in four areas: 1) hardness 2) roundness 3) size uniformity and 4) surface texture. Each one of these qualities is important, although hardness is the one most commonly discussed.
1) Hardness: When reloaders buy shot, they are often confronted with a choice between two grades of shot, commonly called “Chilled” and “Magnum”. The names do not have much meaning in themselves, but they are supposed to indicate the relative hardness of the shot. “Magnum” shot is claimed to be harder than “Chilled” and thus produce better patterns. It normally does.
“Chilled” shot usually has the minimum amount of the hardening element antimony (about 2%) required to facilitate the manufacturing process. “Magnum” shot usually contains somewhere between 2% and 6% antimony, depending on shot size and the scruples of the manufacturer. There are no real industry standards and no list of ingredients, so you are taking the contents on faith unless you test for yourself (read on McDuff). In factory shells, you can be relatively confident that major brand target grade shotshells in trap sizes #7 1/2 and #8 contain the practical maximum of 5.5% to 6% antimony. You can also be pretty sure that the promotional “dove and quail” 1 ounce, 3 1/4 dram loads from the same makers contain the absolute minimum. At current world market prices antimony costs about $2.00/pound and lead costs 40õ/pound. Usually the larger a pellet is, the less antimony is needed to maintain its shape. #7 1/2s and #8s are best at around 6%, hard #9s are usually around 4% as are hard #6s, #5s and #4s. Larger shot, even the hard grade, often has less.
How do you test shot hardness? First obtain some known high quality shot to serve as your control sample. The control and test shot must be exactly the same measured size. The most expensive handicap trap loads from a major manufacturer are quite reliable and would make a good control sample. The Technoid uses shot taken from Federal Handicap Trap loads which were specially made for the Grand American trap shoot. Winchester silver bullets also have good shot as do most competition pigeon loads, especially the Italian ones using Aguila shot.
To test hardness, you will need to build a delightfully complicated little machine. Junior Technoids to the fore! From case hardened steel construct a pair of levers pivoting about a central trunion pin. The forepart of each lever should be formed into a gradual 11 pointed taper, flattened on the inside. The rear part should be spatulate in form and coated in a tactility enhancing polymer. If this sounds like a medium sized pair of needle nose pliers available from K-mart, so be it. The Technoid never does it the easy way, but you can.
Take a pellet from your high quality control sample and give it a little squeeze with the tip of the pliers. Repeat with a pellet from the test sample. Do this a dozen or so times and you will develop a surprisingly accurate feel for the comparative hardness.
Hardness can also be guesstimated by weighing equal volumes of each shot on your powder scale. Antimony is lighter than lead. If the samples weigh the same, they probably contain about the same amount of antimony. If one sample is lighter than the other, the lighter sample contains more antimony and is harder. This should confirm the results of your pliers test.
2) Roundness: Shot must start off round if it is to end up round. The shell that repairs shot in flight has not yet been invented. To test, simply put a pellet on a pane of glass or a large dinner plate and roll it around under strong light. If it is not round, it will wobble. Repeat several times. Visually check in a larger sample for any obviously distorted pellets. Good shot is round- all of it.
3) Size uniformity: You will need a micrometer. No, do not try to build one. Measure a couple of dozen pellets from your test batch to see if they are the size they claim to be. Shot sizes are based on the Rule of Seventeen. This states that subtracting the shot size from seventeen will give the measured diameter omitting the decimal. Example: 17-#8=.009″ measured size, i.e. 17-8=9. A #8 pellet is thus .009″ in diameter, #9 is .008″ and #7 1/2 is .0095″. A normal sample of shot will contain pellets of 1/2 a size variance either way. More than that is bad, less variance is good. High quality shot is quite carefully graded.
4) Surface Texture: High quality shot is usually mirror bright. It almost has the appearance of perfect shiny little ball bearings. Lower quality shot does not have this polished appearance and appears dull. The outer surface, being less smooth, has less lubricity as it moves down the barrel and through the air. The result is more deformation in the barrel and more drag in the air, hence a lower quality pattern. This is why the highest possible quality shot is nickel plated. A few makers graphite coat their shot, hoping to improve lubricity without going to the expense of a polished finish. This is not as good. At the lowest end of surface quality is grey shot. As lead shot ages, it oxidizes and becomes coated with a powdery, pale grey “rust”. This makes for a very rough surface and subsequently poorer patterns. High quality shot should not have any grey pellets mixed in.
That is all there is to it. If you know that you are using high quality shot, you have eliminated the greatest cause of poor patterns. Get the lead out and test for the best. It absolutely can be worth a bird or two.