Loads For Light, Open Game Gun

Dear Technoid:

Two questions:

1. What is your opinion of shooting 7/8 oz loads of 7.5s at 1200 feet/second out of a 12? The purpose is recreational shooting of sporting clays. It seems to me that is essentially a 20 gauge load, but I have heard from various and sundry sources that in a 12, the pattern is better. It supposedly has something to do with the column length of the charge, but just offhand, I can’t see why that would matter. Have you any experiences along these lines?

The reason I ask is that I have a new AYA SxS that weights 6.5 pounds and kicks a lot with a heavier load. The gun is choked skeet and IC. I haven’t been able to find much about 7/8 oz loads, except that they (whoever they are) shoot them in international competition at much higher velocities. Doing that to reduce recoil would seem to be taking one step forward and then one step backward.

2. What load would you recommend for that gun for hunting wild and/or released pheasants in Iowa?

I thank you.


Dear Bob,

I think that light 7/8 oz loads are ideal for game gun practice. My light grouse gun is a 12 gauge 6#4oz Webley & Scott SxS from the ’20s. I shoot 1150 fps 7/8 oz loads in it all the time for clay target practice before the hunting season starts. Like you, I also prefer #7-1/2 shot for all my clay target shooting. It certainly isn’t ideal for skeet, but it works fine for sporting clays and low gun trap (great pheasant shot practice). This way, I only have to worry about one size of shot and, since 7/8 is strictly for fun, it’s ok for skeet too.

In theory 7/8 oz from a .729″ 12 gauge barrel ought to be slightly better patterning than the same load from a smaller 20 barrel. That’s what the whole overbore deal is about. In practice, I don’t think it matters a whole bunch, but no one says that the 7/8 is worse out of a 12 than a 20.

You are very wise to shoot standard or lower velocity in your 7/8 oz loads. There’s no need for more and the large #7-1/2 size pellet retains energy better than the smaller sizes, even though it might be started slower. You might choose to experiment with 1150 fps 7/8 oz loads or even ones in the 1100 fps range. They will work fine. Just remember to use a fast powder and a tight sealing wad to keep pressures adequately high for proper ignition and powder burn. I have found the Federal 12S0 wad (and its Claybuster clone) to be marvelous for 7/8 loads in Remchester cases. There is plenty of 7/8 oz reloading data available on the Hodgdon, Winchester, IMR and Alliant powder company web sites.

Our Olympic shotgunners do not actually use 7/8 oz loads, though it’s close. The International Shooting Union, which governs international shooting rules for International Skeet, Bunker Trap and Double Trap (the shotgun games that the rest of the world plays), mandate a load size no larger than 24 grams. That’s actually a little bit less than 7/8 oz, though more than 3/4 oz. These loads are usually run at about 1350 fps to pull every possible bit of performance from the little shell. Plated shot is also quite common. These international games are far harder than our domestic versions. 100 straights are uncommon, almost unheard of.

You don’t need anywhere near 1350 fps for your 7/8 oz loads in order to have fun and exercise your nice new game gun. You are definitely on the right track with #7-1/2s at moderate velocities. Both you and the gun will live longer.

As to what you should use for wild Iowa pheasants? That’s a decision between pain and pleasure. You have a light gun with open chokes. This is ideal for closer, quicker shots, but everything is a compromise. You give something up for longer shots. Spanish guns are quite strong and can certainly reasonable modern shells. It’s more a question of what you find comfortable yourself. Your gun probably has 2-3/4″ chambers, so you have a lot of options.

Let me give you some recoil numbers first:

In a 6.5# gun, a Heavy Pheasant load of 1-1/2 oz at 1260 fps would produce a bone-jarring 43 ft/lb of free recoil. A more common pheasant load of 3-1/4 dram 1-1/4 oz at 1220 would have 28 ft/lb. A 3 dram target load of 1-1/8 at 1200 fps would have 22 ft/lb recoil. A one ounce load at the same speed would have 17 ft/lb. A 7/8 oz practice load at 1150 fps has 13 ft/lb free recoil.

Obviously, what you shoot in the field a few times doesn’t seem to kick as much as what you shoot 100 times in a row at sporting. Last year I shot wild birds in South Dakota and had absolutely no problem with recoil using 1330 fps 1-1/4 oz loads of the new Federal Tungsten/Polymer in my 6-3/4# O/U Superlight. That generated about 33 ft/lb of recoil. My gun fits properly and I didn’t shoot it all that much (three bird limit), so it wasn’t an issue. If I were you, I’d just pick a shell that you can live with for a dozen shots a day and let it go at that.

There is a big difference between what it takes to kill a preserve hen pheasant at 20 yards and a wild rooster at 35 yards. You must also consider that your Sk/IC chokes are set up for closer shots. IC is generally considered right out to about 30 yards in the 12. If you want to fill in the pattern for longer shots, you will need smaller shot or more larger shot. It’s always a compromise no matter what you do. If you choked long, you’d give it up on the short stuff.

Pattern your gun and see how it does with 4,5 and 6 shot at the distances at which you expect to do your shooting. Lots of people just love #6 for pheasants, but I like #4s and #5s for the wild birds. It really all depends on the distance and the hardiness of the birds. That 1-1/4 oz of #4s whipping along at 1330 fps wasn’t any too much for those SoDak monsters. The guys who were using 20 gauge guns with #6 shot had to shoot fast or watch them fly off. Don Zutz and Ed Mantuas both were fans of the 1-1/2 oz load of #4s for wild pheasant. Then again, on preserves I have friends with good dogs who shoot all the pheasants they want to with 28 gauge guns and #7-1/2 shot.

Bottom line: I think that a good compromise for your chokes and weight of your gun, considering the birds you will be shooting, would be 1-1/4 oz of #5 shot at 1220 fps. There, I’ve rolled the dice and committed. Of course, I’ve rolled YOUR dice and committed YOU. I still haven’t figured out what I’ll use.

Best regards,

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

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1 Response to Loads For Light, Open Game Gun

  1. jon bastable says:

    Very informative dialog, Bruce. Thanks! SD birds look good so far!


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