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Wingshooting Wisdom 101: Shot Size Selection

by Bill Hanus

Choosing shot sizes

You can forget shot size recommendations found on ammunition boxes. Shot size is a function of distance, not game. Twenty-yard targets require #9 hard shot. Number 9 shot puts 43% more pellets in your pattern than #8’s, increasing your opportunities for multiple hits and/or lethal head/neck shots accordingly. On small targets, the number of hits isn’t the significant factor -- any kind you can get is what counts. You can go to school free on the experience of thousands of skeet shooters, whose 21-yard target is about four square inches (the edge view of a clay pigeon) going 60 miles an hour! Small, quick targets require large, dense patterns; that’s what No. 9’s are all about! And the necessity for their use becomes more obvious as the gauges get smaller.

Pellet Counts
No. 8460409358307205
No. 9658585512439293

Hunters who use small shot in their small gauge gun end up cleaning more birds -- and are always pleased when they clean a bird that died of no apparent reason. Weak on penetration (lead-free birds are delicious), big on shock/impact (good dog work counts), small shot is the hunter’s secret weapon in all gauges, but the essential one in the small gauges. Hard or “magnum” shot -- usually found in target and better shotshells -- with a higher percentage of antimony is vastly superior to chilled shot. Always use the best ammunition you can buy.

Distance changes everything

Shooting 20-yard targets and hunters working behind good dogs shoot a lot of 20-yard birds -- is the closest thing I know to an instinctive reaction. Who remembers what the front sight looks like when a covey flushes? But a 30-yard target takes twice the lead that a 20-yard bird requires and a 35-yard bird calls for twice again the lead of a 20-yard bird. Tight chokes and a rigid stance are a handicap on 30 to 35-yard targets for most hunters. Open chokes (with a four-foot pattern) and a four-foot lead are big medicine for crossing shots at 30-35 yards. Try loading #9’s for your first shot and #7-1/2’s or #8’s for you second.

The proof is in the eating!

The support for the effectiveness of this theory is my wife. She recently thawed two Nebraska pheasants, combined them with mushrooms and other magic ingredients, then served them with Minnesota wild rice to the culinary delight of a few deserving folks living here on the left coast. In the cooking and boning process of both birds for this recipe, she encountered only one pellet! The secret is, of course, that these birds were “swatted” with a #9 flyswatter.

Swatted with a # 9 flyswatter?

Yep. Now we cannot be the only ones who have enjoyed pellet-less, lead-free game bird dinners. How do you explain this phenomenon? The full, rich patterns of #9 shot makes for lethal head/neck hits on big birds, like pheasants. Multiple hits from dense #9 patterns impart great shock and will put the bird down with minimal pellet penetration and provide your dog with the experience he or she so richly deserves. If you refuse to accept that they were “swatted”, then we are down to beginner’s luck, road kill, lightning or Divine Intervention -- a rather short and depressing list of unacceptable explanations of how these birds came to be on the menu.

So, basking in the reflected glow of your good wife’s favorite recipe for quail, grouse, pheasant or chukar; busy yourself with the wine bottles and adopt a modest demeanor while accepting the well deserved compliments that come your way for sharing the bounty of a well stocked, semi-lead-free freezer...

And a tip of the glass to your forfeited partner, who’s in on the secret of the # 9 flyswatter.

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