Speed Kills?

Dear Bruce,

I have heard different arguments from my friends about the advantages of magnum 12 gauge loads. I shoot 11/4 oz. 3 3/4 drams high brass loads in #5 or #6 for pheasants. My friends say magnum loads are better because you can put more bb’s into the target. I counter with the magnum load being a slower load and what kills is accuracy and velocity. Please share some technical information and your opinions on what is a better load for pheasants.

Thank you.

Dear Dick,

These are pretty deep waters. EVERYONE shoots pheasants and EVERYONE has his/her own opinion as to what is best. Naturally, The Technoid’s opinion counts more than the others. Right? Uh huh.

For what it is worth, I am not a fan of high velocity. I am a fan of large pellets in the largest practical loads delivered as frequently as possible. Now I had better start qualifying, waffling and side stepping.

I generally use hard #5 shot, but will occasionally use #4s if I am backing up a slower shooter. I don’t push them too fast (about 1200 feet per second). The extra speed really doesn’t mean much AT THE BIRD. A #5 starting out at 1200 fps has 3.1 foot pound energy at 40 yards and 2.2 at 60. Starting at about 1300 fps that #5 has 3.5 and 2.4 ft lbs. That is only a 10% increase. On the other hand, a #4 starting at 1200 fps has 4.2 and 3.0 foot pounds. I think that going to a larger pellet is a much easier way of getting more knock down power than speeding the load up. Working to the same pressures, if you lower speed, you should be able to increase shot charge to partially make up for a bit of the difference in pellet count.

Also, though barrels differ, it is usually easier to get a good pattern out of a lower velocity load than it is out of a higher one. The lower velocity generally is a bit easier on lead pellet deformation.

Because I prefer large pellets, I use the largest practical amount of them that my gun can comfortably handle. If I am using my old SxS, I use a modest load of 1 oz of #5s. The gun is old and I really don’t want to beat it up. If I am using my Browning Superlight, I will go up to 1-1/8 #5s or perhaps even 1200 fps 1-1/4 #4s in the top barrel. Those old Brownings are strong as tanks and can take any standard length shell, but the Superlights are fairly light and I don’t want all that recoil. Maybe the gun can take it, but I can’t. If I were to use my 390 gas gun for pheasants (which I don’t often) I would feed it my favorite load of 1-3/8 oz #4s and #5s at 1200. The only reason that I wouldn’t go to 1-1/2 oz is that I can’t get that payload to pattern as well as the 1-3/8 oz loads that I use. If I could, I would use 1-1/2 oz.

I am not really sure what you mean by the term “magnum”. If you are referring to 3″ shells, then I would probably pass those up unless there were extraordinary circumstances or steel shot was required. Emotionally, I just don’t associate 3″ shells with upland hunting, though as a practical matter, I don’t see why not. I have just never used them. I suppose that if my life depended on killing a pheasant, I would fill my auto up with all the 3″ #4s it would hold. But my life doesn’t depend on it so I can shoot what I enjoy shooting. If the bird is too far away for the gun/choke/shell that I am using, I just don’t shoot. That glass of single malt at the end of the day tastes just as good.

Now, to put all of that into perspective, I can’t tell you how many bushels of pheasants my pal with the good pointer has killed with his 28 gauge and #7-1/2 shot. Works for him. He thinks my big pellet theory is akin to a Neanderthal using a club.

One thing is for sure. Shot size and velocity aside, the best shell is the one that you shoot the most accurately. Pellet placement is far more important that pellet energy. I tailor the shell to the gun that I am using, not the other way around. If you are having good luck with the shell that you are using, and not getting too many runners, then stick with it. If you are making your retriever chase down more than he should be, then perhaps experiment with some other loads- and spend a bit more time at the skeet range. I learned long ago that the cause of most of my running pheasants was usually a flaw in my shooting, not the shell.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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