Shot Size


Having grown up with a 20 ga. Win. M 12 I like 20 ga. guns, except where 12 ga. is obviously needed, such as duck hunting with steel shot.

When shooting a 20 ga. O/U marked IC/M that throws about that based on my nonrigorous patterning I am wondering which shot size is indicated as the best bet according to the prognostications of Herr Gauss.

Patterns will be inevitably thin down range, there is no getting around this. Over the years, on game and clays, I have switched around, indecisively, between shot sizes. Sometimes I use #7.5 or #6 (if it is not a registered shoot I feel free to use whatever I might use in the field; after all that is what Sporting Clays was supposed to be all about) for dove and clays (sporting, skeet) thinking that I want a kill with a one-pellet hit.

Other times I may use #8 or even #9 thinking that filling in the pattern may be best. Then I think, “Why is 3 or 5 small pellets bouncing off the target better?” To confuse matters further I enjoyed reasonable success using #4 shot in 3″ .410 bore (M 42 & Fox SxS) on dove and quail; I knew I could not depend on the pattern, only the “Golden BB”.

Now that my Federal brochure lists Gold Medal 20 ga. sporting loads in #8 and #8.5 only and 28 ga. and .410 bore in #8.5 only I am doubly confused. Apparently Federal does not abide the Golden BB Rule and feels that patterns must be fleshed out to help insure multiple hits. If this were some other ammo maker I would not be bothered, but Federal’s Gold Medal brand stuff is legendary not only for quality control but for the science and engineering behind the product specification.

What is the Technoid’s opinion?


Dear Jay,

Well, I dunno. Gaussian distribution and the bell shaped curve don’t really care about pellet selection. All pellet sizes follow the same laws of distribution. Pellet selection is as much personal preference as anything else. Here’s a story:

I was down in the Cauca Valley of Colombia some time ago shooting dove. This was when they still had LOTS of dove and hadn’t changed crops. At times the dove were really high and I was shooting to #7-1/2s. I was getting a lot of “gliders”, birds that were hit but glided for a good distance. They didn’t fall right down they way they should.

At lunch I asked one of the other shooters whom I had seen shooting really well. He was taking dove at awesome heights. He said that he used #9s exclusively. He had been making this trip three times a year for quite a number of years and had experimented. His conclusion was that #9s worked best because the dove was a very “soft” bird, but also had a small vital zone. It was more important to get one small pellet into exactly the right place than a big pellet in the wrong place. The far greater pellet count of the #9s gave him a better chance of doing this.

Since shooting several cases of ammo per day was no problem with so many birds, I experimented with a case of #9s and found that he was exactly right. In spite of shooting at considerable heights (shots I had been passing up the first day), I killed more birds and I had a far larger percentage of dead in the air birds.

Today when I shoot #9s in American dove fields, people look at me as though I were crazy. They all want #7-1/2s or even #6s because the birds seem so far away. Dove always look farther away than they are. I stick with the #9s and have not been disappointed. The smaller the gauge, the more attractive the #9s are for dove because pellet count increases in importance as shot load decreases.

However, it all depends on the bird. On ruffed grouse (my favorite game bird), I use #7-1/2 in my open first barrel and #6 in my second barrel. I do this in 20 gauge or 12. Over the years I have found that this is the combination that works best for me and provides less work for the dog.

With pheasant, it is #5s and occasionally #4s. I was shooting at a FITASC parcour one day and shared the squad with an excellent shooter whom I had not met before. We got to talking and I commented on how much I admired his shooting, but also on the fact that I hadn’t seen him around. He said that he mostly went around the country shooting for springer trials and didn’t shoot many clays. Springer trials generally use pheasants and those dog handlers want that bird to fly a bit to show the dog off and then dropped DEAD for an easier retrieve. He said that he shot 1500 to 2000 pheasant a year. His Perazzi was choked Improved Modified and Full and the shell he and the other trials guns used was a Federal #5. If Federal #5s can reliably stone a departing pheasant at 35-40 yards, then that is the shell for me. This springer trial stuff is serious work and there is a lot of pressure on the guns to perform well. If there were a better shell than the best Federal #5s, they would use it.

The bottom line is that different birds can take very different shells. On clay targets, I switch around a good bit too, but if I were limited to only one pellet, I would take #7-1/2 in 12 and 20, #8 in 28 and 410. I am not a big fan of #8-1/2s for longer shots.

When we shoot sub-gauge sporting, we do so on a standard sporting course, not on some little dinky one with skeet shots. We equalize the little guns by giving them a handicap that we have worked out over the years. Everyone knows what a 410 can do on a 20 yard skeet bird, but you might be surprised what they can do at 35 yards with the right pellets. Like you, I shoot an old Winchester M42 in 410. When the moon is in the right phase and my biorythms are in sync, it can do surprising things at distance with #8s.

I reload all my sub-gauge ammo and shoot mostly factory shells in the 12. Reloading the sub-gauge makes sense in two areas.

1) I can get any size pellet I want and

2) you save a ton of money.

It costs less than $5/box to reload 28s and 410s, but they cost close to $12/box new. If you reload sub-gauge, it means that your round of 25 clay targets is pretty much free compared to buying the ammo. Modern reloaders are so good that you really can load quickly. I like the MEC Grabbers in 28 and 410 and can easily load 15 boxes per hour and probably 20 if we bet a beer on it. Besides, if you had your own reloader, you could experiment with all the different shot sizes. You can usually get high antimony #8-1/2s if you order them from your shot dealer. A lot of the skeet guys like them for doubles and I have seen more than one 16 yard trap shooter use them.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid at <>
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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