Hot #9S For Quail

Dear Technoid,

I am a fond follower of shotgun trivia and enjoy your writings immensely. I consider myself a certified junior technoid based upon the fixture that I built for patterning: I routed semicircular grooves into 1/4 inch plexiglass, allowing me to quickly mark 100 square inch concentric cylinders and check shot density throughout the pattern.

This let me compare .410 wads to determine which provided a 1/2 inch increase in the diameter of the circle having a shot density greater than 0.5 per square inch. Great stuff, huh?

Anyway, I have seen many discussions in your archives concerning the use of small shot in faster loads and you clearly seem to prefer larger shot and lower velocities. For 40+ yard shots I would completely agree.

However, last year I shot quail with 7/8 oz of nickel plated #9, leaving the barrel at 1450fps, and I thought that they were incredible. I don’t think I lost a bird all year – nearly all were DOA.

My personal theory is that these loads do well for quail because:

1) They are fast, so it’s easier to catch up to the bird,

2) The shots are short, mostly 10yds to 20yds, so the shot keeps much of its velocity advantage,

3) The small nickel plated shot penetrates well on going away birds. The high energy gets through their boney backs.

Anyway, I’d be interested in learning your opinion on this very specialized use of faster muzzle speeds. And since it is 6 months until the season opens I’m not in much of a hurry for an answer.

Thanks for your time,


Dear Pete,

Different strokes. I don’t do too much quail shooting. Maybe one of my southern pals takes pity on me once or twice during late February and invites me down to save Charleston from quail predation, but I don’t do it as much as you must. Of course, the fact that I don’t do something doesn’t stop me from giving advice about it. Sometimes a little knowledge just gets in the way.

Great minds and great shots can disagree on what is best. I do a book reviewing column for Shooting Sportsman Magazine and just finished up Mulak’s “Wings of Thunder”, a modern sequel to Foster’s famous “New England Grouse Shooting”. Both Foster in 1942 and Mulak in 1998 prefer #8s for grouse, feeling that the shock of multiple hits takes them down better than the penetration of larger pellets.

My experience (and that of the late Don Zutz) has been that grouse hunting is best done with #7-1/2s up close and #6 for the longer 30 yard stuff. With #6 shot, I just go over and pick my grouse up. Leaving my self out of it, Foster and Mulak certainly know what they are talking about, but so did Don Zutz. I also find that I don’t eat any pellets with the #6s.

So now to quail: Grouse is a “soft” bird for its size and not too hard to kill. Quail, being smaller are even easier to kill (if you can hit them). I have absolutely no problem with #9s on quail. Nor do I have a problem with pushing them so fast. For myself, I would prefer #8s at 1200 fps because #9s tend to get caught up in the meat of the bird more than #8s do, but perhaps the high velocity or the plating takes care of that .

#9s are a strange game shot size. I remember once I was in Colombia shooting dove. There were a whole bunch of them in the Cauca Valley then (though not now since they changed crops). I was banging away with my #7-1/2s at the high flyers and was getting a bunch of “gliders”- hit birds that flew into the next field. I just attributed it to my lousy shooting.

That evening I had a few drinks with the best shot in the party. He was knocking dove down at fearsome distances with doubles and triples all the time (Beretta 302 with Cutts Compensator, Full choke tube and every recoil reducing add-on device ever known to man). I asked him what he used for those long shots and he told me “Strictly #9s. You’ll kill more of them cleanly with #9s than with any other pellet because the dove is a soft bird and a pellet doesn’t need much penetration. What it does need to do is to find some vital spot and the higher pellet count of the #9s give you a better chance.” I switched to #9s the next day and before I was into my second case (not a misprint, I assure you), I noticed that I had far fewer “floaters” and more “spinners” coming straight down dead.

Bottom line, if #9s can work on 40+ yard dove, they ought to be able to grass those quail. If your high velocity load of #9s is doing the job, why on earth change? It is true that #9s need all the help they can get and perhaps the high velocity makes them just that much more effective. It’s for sure that the nickel plating helps them slide through the bird a bit better and may save you a dentist’s bill. I certainly noticed how copper pellets went deeper into my pheasants than unplated shot, which just collected that little grey feather ball.

My only hesitation about the high velocity is that I use a pretty light gun in the field and I don’t think that I want all that recoil. Perhaps you are made of sterner stuff, or at least have a gun that is. The best advice I can give you is “If it ain’t broke…” If the quail you shoot drop dead every time and you don’t end up eating too much lead at dinner, you have found the answer and shouldn’t listen to people like me try to confuse you.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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1 Response to Hot #9S For Quail

  1. brian kruse says:

    For the last couple years Ive been shooting 28ga 7/8 oz nickel #9 at 1540 fps. (BPI load manual) Works great on doves over decoys and quail. I have yet to recover a nickel 9, but I have recovered several lead 9s from quail.


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