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GUNS Magazine July 2011 Digital Edition - Page 26
• J O h N b A r S N E S S • LIGhtEr 12-GAUGE LOAdS Sometimes less power is just as useful. ight now American shotgunning is caught between R two opposing trends, the aging of the shooting population, and hyper-velocity in shotshells. Older shooters tend to prefer lighter shotguns, especially for hunting, a marketing trend that’s gathered momentum over the past decade. Lighter shotguns kick more. At the same time many modern shotshells also kick more, due to the great velocity race. This trend started with the outlawing of “toxic” lead shot for waterfowling. The cheapest non-toxic shot material proved to be iron, usually called steel. The problem with steel shot is it’s a lot lighter than lead, so slows down much more rapidly than lead shot. The solution turned out to be larger shot, driven at much faster velocity. Eventually the speed race spilled over into lead-shot ammunition as well. This was at least partly due to the insistence of many gun writers that ammunition companies drop the absurd “drams equivalent” method of expressing shotshell velocity. This This wild, public-land pheasant was taken at almost 40 yards with a handload using 1-1/8 ounces of nickel-plated Fiocchi No. 6 shot, from the modified-choke barrel of John’s Merkel 47E. had its origins over a century ago, in the transition between black and smokeless powder. What’s A dram? Turn of the 20th-century shotgunners used to black powder had a good idea of the zip of a 12-gauge shell loaded with 1-1/4 ounces of shot and 3-3/4 drams of black powder. (A dram, by the way, is 1/16th of an avoirdupois ounce, or 27.344 grains.) To avoid confusing these shooters, ammo makers rated the velocity of smokeless shotshells in dramsequivalent. This practice continued long after the last hunter who bought blackpowder shotshells went to the big duck marsh in the sky. Unless a modern shotgunner was really serious about finding out exactly what 3-3/4 drams-equivalent meant, he remained ignorant of exactly how fast the shot charge left his 12 gauge—and didn’t really care, as long as the ammo went bang and killed birds. But the outcry among a minority of gun writers (including, in a small way, me) eventually convinced ammunition manufacturers to start listing muzzle velocity. Unfortunately, this had the side effect of average shotgunners buying shotshells based on extra muzzle velocity, due to the American attitude that more is always better. faster, faster The fastest lead-shot 12-gauge loads of the drams-equivalent days— the 1-1/4 ounces, 3-3/4 dram “duck load”—got about 1,300 fps at the muzzle. Today there are 1-1/4 ounce lead-shot loads that get 1,500 fps at the muzzle. I was sent a couple of boxes to test a couple of years ago, the ammo advertised as specifically designed for pheasant hunting. I patterned two of them in a 7-pound over-under with a new miracle-fiber recoil pad. That was enough punishment, and the 48 other rounds are still resting on a shelf somewhere. According to the recoil calculator in Sierra’s Infinity Ballistics Program, a 1-1/4 ounce load of shot at 1,300 fps from a 7-pound gun generates 29.3 foot-pounds of energy. This isn’t too bad for pheasant hunting, where only 26 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • JULY 2011