Shot Selection For Bird Hunting

Handloading Gives The Hunter More Options In Yypes And Weight Of Shot.

The big motivation for shotshell reloading used to be economics, especially for target shooters who couldn’t afford thousands of practice rounds a year without reloading. These days, however, 20- and 12-gauge shells can be purchased almost as cheaply as you can load ’em. Why spend the time to reload when you can just pick up lead-shot practice ammo for $5 a box?

A decade ago I used to be able to find a decent selection of wads and shot in several local stores, but not now. Instead shotshell reloading has become an increasingly specialized, Internet-order market, primarily fueled by shooters who insist on using 28- or 16-gauge guns, often “vintage” doubles with thin barrels and fixed chokes, or guys who simply want the very best performance possible. I know this because I’m one. Instead of reloading to save money, we’re handloading for better performance.

Such handloading revolves around shot selection, since shot is what breaks clays and downs birds. Let’s start with lead shot, since even today, when quite a lot of bird-shooting legally requires non-toxic shot, the vast majority of shot expended is still made primarily of lead.

Lead is abundant and hence relatively cheap, and also heavy enough to fly through the air and penetrate birds. It’s also easily formed into round balls, and alloyed to produce different ballistic results. Plus, even the hardest lead shot doesn’t harm shotgun barrels.

As an example of the different characteristics of lead shot, let’s use pheasant hunting, enormously popular among wingshooters, whether for preserve or wild birds. If you ask 100 pheasant hunters what load they prefer for roosters, 95 will respond with a shot size, and nothing else. This is because 95 percent of pheasant hunters don’t know lead shot varies in other ways.

In America, a birdshot size is designated by numbers and indicates diameter: Subtract the shot’s designated number from 17 and the result is the shot’s diameter in thousandths of an inch. As an example, popular No. 6 shot is 0.11″ in diameter. Above 0.17″ in diameter an arbitrary system is used: BB for 0.18″ shot, BBB for 0.19″, T for 0.20″ and F for 0.22″. (See chart.)

Quite a few pheasant hunters prefer No. 4 shot. A mature rooster pheasant is a relatively large and tough bird, often shot while flying away. The pellets have to penetrate deeply and break relatively heavy wing bones. But many other pheasant hunters prefer relatively small No. 7-1/2 shot, though these hunters almost always add “plated” or “hard” to the number.

This is because shot performs differently according to its hardness. The cheapest shot is just about entirely lead. Pure lead is soft and deforms easily, both inside the barrel of our shotgun and when it hits a bird. Deformed shot doesn’t fly consistently or penetrate as deeply, so doesn’t work as well for most wingshooting as harder shot.
By John Barsness

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