Big Shell Vs Little Shell On Pigeon

Dear Technoid,

Thanks for all your recent help and ideas. Great web site. Now I want to take you to task.

I agree that on the pattern board the 1 1/8 oz loads look denser and pattern better than the hot 1 oz loads. Could be you didn’t go light enough.

I sometimes shoot an international trap load 7/8 oz or some damned metric weight. Nobody ever went to the moon on metrics. These don’t pattern nearly as well as the 1 1/8 loads, however, something is going on out there. We use them for dog training shooting pigeons. These loads make rag dolls out of pigeons. Lots of broken bones like they were hit with 6s. We use 7-1/2 and sometimes kill 150/200 a week. Try to kill most at 45 to 50 yards.

One thing I did notice is, when you can see the shot in the air, it doesn’t seem to string the way heaver loads do. Most of these shots are going away, but it has the same effect on right to left birds — I never hit a left to right bird.

Anyway on the drawing or pattern board, I’ll buy the 1 1/8 load but something happens out there on live game with the fast, light loads. Killing vs knocking off a chip is a different deal. By the way, my bet the money pigeon load is Winchester Super Pigeon, copper plated shot. Hard to shoot 3 or 4 hundred a week of that load.


Dear RL,

Shell selection is like cooking chili. It gets subjective. The shell is an important part of the shooting equation, as is the gun, but it pales in comparison to where the shooter places the shot. If you think that you do better with a particular shell, if you have confidence in it, if it is comfortable to shoot, then you may well do better with that shell.

The standard 24 gram (7/8 oz) International load seems to run about 3-1/4 drams or 1325 fps. When they were first mandated, they fooled around with all sorts of speeds, but seem to have settled on that. At least that’s what Remington and Federal are running right now.

Let’s compare those to a typical 3 dram 1-1/8 oz target load from Federal or Remington. That load will have a velocity of about 1200 fps. According to my well-worn Lyman’s “Shotshell Reloading Handbook, 4th ed”, at 40 yards a #7-1/2 pellet started out at 1330 fps will be going 715 fps and have 1.4 ft/lbs of energy. A #7-1/2 started at 1200 fps will have 675 fps and 1.3 ft/lb energy at 40 yards.

That means the pellet from your 24 gram 7/8 oz international load will have 35 fps and .1 ft/lb more oomph than the pellets from a 3 dram 1-1/8 oz target load at a distance of 40 yards. That’s nothing. Nada. Zip. Shell to shell variation within a box can be 25 fps or better. Velocity and energy isn’t the answer here.

BUT, the Federal International loads are copper plated. Standard target load are not. Lots of people believe that plating on a shot aids in penetration on a bird. I believe this. I notice that when I shoot birds with standard hard lead shot, the pellets pickup little grey feather balls. When I shoot the birds with copper or nickle plated shot, the pellets pick up less of a feather ball and seem to “grease” into the bird better and further. This may be important on a going away bird where penetration is a factor. I doubt that it would be a factor on a crossing bird with the cross section of a pigeon.

In theory, the 1-1/8 oz load has to be ballistically superior. After all, it has 29% more pellets. That’s a big difference. Also, there’s a 7/8 oz load riding on the front of every 1-1/8 oz load. That extra 1/4 oz of pellets have to go somewhere. They don’t just all wander off into the next county. The difference in velocity and energy isn’t meaningful at 40 yards. Yet, you say you shoot 7/8 better so there has to be a reason.

Maybe it’s the copper shot. I wouldn’t argue with that. But, I’ll bet that’s not the main reason. I think it’s recoil. Let’s say you are using an 8# target gun for your shooting when you train dogs. That’s what I use- a Mod/Full 30″ FN B25 bunker gun. With 24 gram 1325 fps loads, you are taking 13.1 ft/lb of recoil. With a 1-1/8 oz 1200 fps load you will take 17.6 ft/lb. With a 1-1/4 oz 1220 fps 3-1/4 dram pigeon load you take 22.6 ft/lb recoil. If your gun is lighter than 8#, the recoil is more in all cases.

It might possibly be the time of flight. A 1330 fps load of #7-1/2s arrives on a 40 hard target in .129 seconds. A load of #7-1/2s starting at 1200 fps arrives in .139 seconds. On a pure crosser flying at 35 mph, the difference is 1/2 a foot in lead. For comparison, a mistake of 5 mph in speed estimation or a mistake of 5 yards in distance estimation will put you off one whole foot. If you consistently shoot behind your crossers with the heavy load, the extra 6″ of lead might make the difference. But this is on a pure crosser. As the bird starts to angle, the difference shrinks. Difference becomes zero on a straight away. I don’t think that this is the real answer, but it’s a consideration.

Recoil is where the little 24 gram metric load really makes sense. There is nothing magical about it ballistically. It’s clearly inferior ballistically. All other things being equal, has to be, got to be. It’s soft recoiling characteristics are what make up for it and may well put it ahead of the other loads for your uses. After you shoot 300 or 400 of the little darlins in a week, you could really get to like them. Terminal ballistics aren’t everything. If doesn’t matter if you launch boxcars at the birds if you can’t hit them. You may just flat shoot the more comfortable load better.

It makes perfect sense to try to balance ballistics and shooting comfort. There are a number of ways of doing this. If your gun kicks you too much with a heavy shell, going to a lighter load is pretty standard practice. Another perfectly legitimate approach is to keep using the most efficient (ie, largest, fastest) shell available and switch guns. Many people find that using a modern gas gun or an O/U with a hydraulic/pneumatic stock reduces recoil to such a point that heavy shells are viable. Whether or not you want to carry a gas gun or butt-heavy trick stocked O/U while you dog train is up to you. I don’t think I would, especially a gas gun with all the loading and loading you have to do when working dogs.

So, those are the two main reasons I can come up with for your success with the lighter loads: 1) greater penetration with copper plated shot, and/or 2) greater accuracy due to greater comfort. I doubt that the slight difference in lead is a major factor. Whatever it is, if you shoot one shell better than another, then that’s the one to use. Ballistics be damned. (I can’t believe I said that.)

Best regards,

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

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