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GUNS Magazine March 2013 Digital Edition - Page 28

sHot seleCtion For Bird Hunting Handloading gives tHe Hunter more options in types and weigHt of sHot. he big motivation for shotshell reloading used to be economics, especially for target shooters who couldn’t afford thousands of practice rounds a year Eileen Clarke used No. 4 Hevi-Shot to bag this without reloading. These days, however, 20- and 12-gauge mix of ducks and geese in Alberta. shells can be purchased almost as cheaply as you can load ’em. Why spend the time to reload when you can just pick BB for 0.18" shot, BBB for 0.19", T for 0.20" and F for 0.22". (See chart.) up lead-shot practice ammo for $5 a box? Quite a few pheasant hunters prefer A decade ago I used to be able to As an example of the different find a decent selection of wads and characteristics of lead shot, let’s use shot in several local stores, but not now. pheasant hunting, enormously popuInstead shotshell reloading has become lar among wingshooters, whether for an increasingly specialized, Internet- preserve or wild birds. If you ask 100 order market, primarily fueled by shoot- pheasant hunters what load they prefer ers who insist on using 28- or 16-gauge for roosters, 95 will respond with a shot guns, often “vintage” doubles with size, and nothing else. This is because thin barrels and fixed chokes, or guys 95 percent of pheasant hunters don’t who simply want the very best perfor- know lead shot varies in other ways. mance possible. I know this because In America, a birdshot size is desigI’m one. Instead of reloading to save nated by numbers and indicates diammoney, 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 abun- John handloaded hard, copper-plated No. 6 shot for a late-season dant and hence pheasant and sharptailed grouse hunt in eastern Montana. relatively cheap, and also heavy enough to fly through eter: Subtract the shot’s designated the air and penetrate birds. It’s also number from 17 and the result is the easily formed into round balls, and shot’s diameter in thousandths of an alloyed to produce different ballistic inch. As an example, popular No. 6 results. Plus, even the hardest lead shot shot is 0.11" in diameter. Above 0.17" doesn’t harm shotgun barrels. in diameter an arbitrary system is used: 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. T JoHn barsness HOW HARD? Lead shot is hardened by alloying with tiny amounts of antimony, a metal far more expensive than lead, and also often plated with copper or nickel. This doesn’t actually harden the surface much, as many shooters believe, but it does allow shot to flow through the barrel of a shotgun more easily, resulting in less deformation and tighter, more consistent patterns—and both help in cleanly killing birds. Essentially hard, plated shot acts like a premium big game bullet, increasing penetration more through the construction of the projectile rather than mere size. Naturally, both hard-alloy and plated shot cost more. However, there’s also a tendency for larger shot to resist deformation, the reason so many hunters who don’t 28 W W W. G U N S M AG A Z I N E . C O M • M A R C H 2 0 1 3

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