Big Loads/Little Loads- Which Wins?

Dear Technoid,

I shoot international skeet and I have always been puzzled that the vast majority of the American Skeet shooters use 1 1/8 oz loads. As you know, international type targets are faster and harder, yet break magnificently with the mandatory 24 grams loads. I once shot int. skeet (in training) with 32 gram loads and there were 3 things worth mentioning. One, the recoil difference was more than apparent. Two, my scores went down (I can only blame recoil fatigue) and three, the targets broken were turned to smokeballs. Is the choise of the heavier loads purely aesthetic (impressive black puffs of clay smoke sitting in the sky) or is there a technical advantage to it?

Thanks for your reply,


Dear Leo,

IntSk was my game too. During my shooting career we used both 32 gram (1-1/8 oz) and 28 (one ounce) gram loads. I retired in 1988, so I never competed with 24 gram loads, though I have shot them a great deal.

Any shell is a balance between recoil and pattern. The proper solution varies with the individual and with the gun being used.

Consider the following: there is a 24 gram ( 7/8 oz) load riding on the front of every 32 gram load. That extra 8 grams or 1/4 oz of shot has to go somewhere. Also, when 32 gram loads were legal, ALL world records were set with 32 gram loads. It was perfectly legal to use 28 or 24 gram loads, but not one record was set with these lighter loads.

The UIT reduced the amount of shot permitted to toughen the game after a number of perfect scores had been shot. They reduced the shot because it made the game HARDER. Less shot equals a smaller effective pattern with the same pattern density.

The 28 gram loads didn’t last long, but the 24 gram loads really knocked the scores back for a while. On average, IntSk scores are still lower than they were 20 years ago. This could be due to the additional double and/or to the smaller shell. Maybe a bit of both.

It’s hard to judge because shooters keep getting better the same way they do in every sport. Olympic records fall every few Olympiads. People run faster. People shoot better. It’s not necessarily equipment. It’s people.

If recoil fatigue is a factor, I am quite sure that you would shoot better with lighter loads. I prefer to do it another way. I always shoot the heaviest (most shot) load that the rules permit. I adapt my shotgun to lower the recoil so that I can perform efficiently. I refuse to use a shotgun that requires me to use an inferior load. I’ll change the shotgun before I change the load.

As to the 32 gram loads you shot being “overkill” and having excessive density, don’t hold that against them. You had set your gun up for 24 gram loads. If your gun had been set up for 32 gram loads, you can get a nicely distributed pattern that is 1/3 or 33% LARGER than the pattern you get with 24 gram loads. That’s because a 32 gram load has 33% pellets more than a 24 gram load. The math is immutable (unless I screwed up the calculations, which I often do).

Some people will argue that there is something magical about the lighter loads. They say that the pellets from the light load pattern perfectly, while the shot from the heavier load is so distorted by setback that it flies off and doesn’t contribute to the pattern. If you have done your pattern work you will know that is not true. Far, far more development work over the years has gone into the 32 gram load than has ever gone into the 24 gram load. An optimized 32 gram load will pattern very, very close to the same percentages as an optimized 24 gram load.

In American-style Skeet, not International, many of contestants use 12 gauge semi-automatics with 1-1/8 oz loads in the 12 gauge event. But an equal number use the 20 gauge tube set with 7/8 oz loads in the 12 gauge event. Both seem equally successful. Does that mean that the 32 gram 1-1/8 oz load is no better than the 24 gram 7/8 oz load? Of course not. It means that the advantage of staying with one gun, the tube set, for all gauges outweighs the shell advantage of switching to a different gun and using the larger load. It’s that simple. It’s not a matter of ballistics.

The goal of any shotgun match is to break as many targets as possible. If the gun that you shoot best happens to be a hard recoiling gun, you may well shoot better with light loads. That doesn’t make the light load better ballistically. It makes it the better compromise for you.

Best regards,

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

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