Shot Size, Choke For Pheasant

Hi Bruce,

I have really enjoyed reading your posts, many of which contained partial answers to my questions, but I wanted to put them together in one place.

I have some old injuries (head and shoulder) that make heavy recoil into a bad day, so for years I have shot a semi-auto. I have always wanted an over/under, and just got a nice Italian 20 gauge (6-1/2#) as a retirement present (to myself). It fits me like a glove, I really love the handling, and the break action is much better for safety drills when watering the dog, helping my companions over a fence, etc. I dont think I will ever go back, but I dont want to shoot anything heavier than 1 ounce loads out of it. I hunt exclusively upland, with an excellent close working flushing dog, and either solo or up to a couple of companions. While 1 ounce is perfect for grouse, woodcock, quail, dove, etc., its stretching things a little for pheasant, which I hunt extensively, both preserve and wild in South Dakota (you get invited more when you have a good dog 🙂 !). So that is where I have all of my questions.

Shot Size: 1-1/4 ounce #5 is the universal answer when you ask about pheasant. #6 is derided as only good for giving your dog cripple practice. But the reduced pellet count in 1 ounce of #5 means either a shorter range, a tighter choke, or both. So it seems worth asking whether #6 makes any sense at all under any conditions? I do reload, so what about the #5-1/2 (200 pellets/ounce) recommended for pheasant by one supplier?

Choke/Range: Given an ounce of #5 (and also accounting for the answer above), how would you choke the two barrels, and to what range would each be effective? I am trying to balance not being over choked for close birds, and not arbitrarily limiting my range either. Would that answer be different for the wild birds, which often do get up a little further ahead of the dog?

Thanks very much for your time and advice!



5 or #6 for pheasant in a 20 gauge one ounce shell? Darned if I know. Opinions seem to be evenly divided. So much depends on the distance at which you will be shooting. It also depends on how you choke and how your gun patterns those particular shells and which chokes you use. Considering the distances at which pheasants can get up, and the fact that you want to eat them afterwards, you want enough choke to do the job, but not so much that you mulch the bird. Most of your shots over a good dog should be within 30 yards and one ounce of either #5s or #6s will work fine with an IC choke. #5s will put a few less pellets in the parts you want to eat. Over 30 yards, maybe out to 35 yards, a Mod choke might be best. Of course that depends on how your gun patterns the particular shell. Shells pattern differently and so do guns. For shots over 35 yards, I’d really think twice about shooting if it is a going away bird where the shot has to penetrate the entire body to reach vitals. Driven birds, coming towards you with their breasts exposed are different as are crossers.

Bottom line: pattern your gun at 35 yards to see which shell/choke combo works best. If you aren’t sure, why not start out with IC and 1 oz of #6s in the bottom barrel and Mod and 1 oz of #5s in the top. Change as necessary. Pulling the feathers off the bird you have just shot will allow you to see just how many pellets brought it down.

I wish I could be more exact in my recommendation, but there are so many variables in preserve birds vs wild birds and the distances at which they will be shot, that each shooting situation is unique. The lighter load of the 20 does require some slight limitation in distance and the hunter has to be aware of that. If the bird is too far out, pass up the shot. But you know that.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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