Dear Guru of Gear:
Last weekend my buddies and I did some practicing on a really tough, long-range teal shot on the 5-stand at Sporting Clays. It is a standard target, with the entire top side exposed to the shooter at a range I would guess to be 45 yards. It angles lightly to the right, which makes it deceptive. I was shooting with modified chokes and no. 7 1/2 shot, but a AA shooter was breaking it with IC and no. 8 shot.
I have noticed that some sporting clay shooters use no. 7 1/2 shot at every target that is beyond arm’s length, while others almost never use them. In Gary Phillips’ video, he says he relies chiefly on no. 8, only occasionally using no. 7 1/2. When I checked my “Choke Chooser” for recommendations on chokes and loads for a few selected target presentations, I found that no. 8 shot generally gives better results than no. 7 1/2, even at fairly long range. It appears that the greater number of pellets in a charge of no. 8 gives it an advantage in effective pattern size. Still, there must be some range beyond which the greater retained energy of the larger shot becomes an advantage.
What is your recommendation on when to switch to the larger shot?
While I have great respect for Warren Johnson’s “Choke Chooser” (it is one of the all time great desk reference tools), I prefer a bit more pellet energy than he finds necessary. Warren has set his parameters to accept the use of #9s out to over 30 yards, but not at 35. Unless I can see the full bottom of the bird, I seldom use #9s much beyond 20 yards.
My standard rule of thumb, which I have stated often in the Technoid archives, is to use skeet choke and #9s to 20 yards, light modified choke and #8s from 20 to 35 yards and full choke and # 7 1/2s beyond 35 yards. Shot and choke are always paired up and selected by distance.
Obviously, there are exceptions to the above, such as edge on rabbits and the like, but on the usual targets the above selections seem adequate without getting too complex.
If I only had one pellet size I would pick #8s, but I don’t have only one pellet size. That is why my vest has four pockets- three for different shells and one for my extra two chokes.
Remember this little bit of a factoid: #9s at 20 yards, #8s at 32 yards and #7 1/2s at 40 yards all have the same pellet energy. Don’t ask me where I read that (Lyman’s Shotshell Reloading Handbook???), but I did and it sounds about right.
As to your 45 yard teal, the fact that the experienced shooter broke them all with IC and #8s just goes to show you that putting the shot where the bird is counts more than having the exactly correct choke and pellet size. On a teal of that distance I personally would have picked Full choke and #7 1/2s. Andy Duffy and I have often chatted about teal. He noticed that it usually paid to choke up for teal. He is right and I think that there are some sound technical reasons for it: 1) visually one measures the distance to the teal MACHINE, but you are actually shooting the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle. A squared = B squared plus C squared (remember 5th grade math?). If the teal machine is 45 yards away, the chances are that the bird up in the air is closer to 50+ yards off. 2) If you have ever trapped teal targets, you know that your really don’t want them going straight up and then straight down- right on top of you, the trapper. Usually teals are “leaned” back a bit so that they don’t hit anyone when they land. This means that if you decide to take one of your teal dropping, it is likely to be a loooong way off. Yet another reason to choke up.
And remember too, the fact that a good shooter can whack them all with IC and #8s does NOT mean that it is the ideal combination with the largest possible killing pattern. You can break targets at amazing distances with Cylinder Bore and #9s if you can center them. The reason that you use the proper choke and shot is to maximize your chances. It is definitely not a “use this or miss them all” deal.
If you play the percentages, you will choke up for teal. Trust the Technoid. Honest.
Shotgun Report’s Technoid