Spreader Loads

Hi Bruce,

Could you explain how spreader loads work and what applications they are good for, if any.

Thanks Robert

Dear Robert,

Spreader loads increase the size of the pattern by disrupting or otherwise artificially enlarging the shot cloud. Clear? Of course not.

The purpose of a spreader load is to “spread” the pattern. Today, when we want a bigger pattern we just screw in a more open choke. Fine if you have screw chokes, but what if you have a really oldy moldy gun without these little marvels? You have to get that more open pattern with the shell.

There are lots of ways to make a shell print a more open pattern than usual. One of the easiest ways is to use cheap soft shot. In my tests, I can open a pattern one full choke (say, from a 60% modified to a 50% improved cylinder) just by changing the shot in the shells from hard, high antimony “magnum” shot, to that really cheap soft Peruvian stuff. The cheap shot distorts more during the trip down the barrel. Distorted shot doesn’t fly as straight as round shot, so the pattern is bigger. Some spreader loads “plombe dispersante” used lead squares, not round lead pellets to spread the pattern. I’ve also heard of “plomb disco” or slightly flattened pellets. I think that Orvis used to sell spreader loads with flattened shot.

Another way of making a spreader shell is to use conventional shot, but add a spreading mechanism to the shot column inside the shell. There are all sorts. One method was to cut cardboard discs and build up the shot column inside the shell the way you would make a layer cake. First you load the powder and the overpowder wad, then a little shot, then a cardboard disc, then a bit more shot, then a cardboard disc, then more shot and the final crimp. When the shell was fired, the discs would disrupt the cloud of shot as it left the muzzle and make the pattern bigger than it would have been.

You could also do the same thing with a vertical “X” made of cardboard so that the shot was in four little compartments. I even tried to make a spreader load using a plastic wad with the fingers cut off with a Life Saver candy at the bottom and a McDonald’s plastic soda straw stuck in the candy with shot all around it. The soda straw was very elastic and springy. I felt that it would contract as it went through the choke and then spring out to spread the shot. Not everything works, but you gotta try!

There are all sorts of pre-manufactured spreader wads you can buy. Remchester used to make a “post” wad for full choked trap guns. It was a regular plastic wad with a post up the middle that was supposed to work sort of like my McDonald’s soda straw to open a full choke pattern a bit more for 16 yard shooting. It relied on the pressure applied by the constriction of the full choke to work properly. It didn’t work as well when shot from an open choke. Gualandi (the Italian wad maker) has made a number of really imaginative spreader wads with all sorts of convoluted plastic compartments and hollow tubes. I’m sure that there are others I haven’t mentioned.

I think that the best spreader setup that I have tried is Jay Menefee’s Polywad Spred-R. It’s a plastic disc with a little post in the center. It looks like a flat umbrella. You just load the shell in the normal way and stick this disc on top before the crimp. The “tail” is pushed down into the shot with the disc over the top of the shot. He makes two 12 gauge models, one with three holes and a solid one. In my experiments, the solid one opens a pattern two full chokes (i.e. from a 75% full to a 50% improved cylinder). The disc with the holes is supposed to open the pattern a bit less. I haven’t tested that one.

One of the complaints about spreader shells is that they can be erratic. Sometimes they open. Sometimes they don’t. You have to be realistic when you use them. A normal shotgun shell from a standard box of factory ammo will vary 10% on average. That means if you shoot a box of your favorites at the pattern sheets, you may “average” a 50% pattern, but your patterns may go from a low of 45% to a high of 55%. That’s just the way it is in the random world of multiple spheres in an unfriendly aerodynamic world. So if good normal shells vary 10%, you can expect at least that much variation from spreader loads and probably more.

For reloading, I’ve had the best luck with the Polywad system. They are easy to load and have worked well for me. Besides, Jay is a nice guy and fun to talk to. Polywad Spred-R, http://www.polywad.com/index.html . You can also order the Polywad Spred-R inserts from Precision Reloading, http://www.precisionreloading.com.  They come in 20/28 gauge too. They also make factory spreader shells for those who don’t reload.

There are lots of uses for spreader shells. Say you have a solid choke gun with IC/Mod chokes and you want to hunt ruffed grouse in heavy cover. That Mod is too much. Just use a spreader load in the Mod barrel and set the barrel selector to shoot that barrel first. That should effectively give you a Skeet/IC choke combination, ideal for most ruffed grouse hunting.

Though they are against the rules for use in FITASC, I often use a spreader load in conventional sporting clays. A lot of time I shoot a single barrel gas gun so I only have one choke. If a double presentation has a near and far bird, I choke appropriately for the far bird and use a Polywad Spred-R spreader to open things up for the near bird. Works great. They would be equally efficient in a SxS if you can just remember to go to that back trigger first.

Best regards,

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

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1 Response to Spreader Loads

  1. Potlicker says:


    I have used the Polywad and the Ballistic Products XStream Spreader Insert for NSCA events (not FITASC). Have also used Fiocchi’s Spreader in like events. Of the 3, the XStream by Ballistic IMHO is superior – I’ve used it on rabbits with 1 1/8 oz. 7 1/2’s and close sporting with 1 1/8, 8 1/2’s.


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