Non-Toxic Pheasant Loadsby L.P. Brezny
Shot size matters a whole lot.
Opening day of the South Dakota resident pheasant hunt was full of optimism. The weather was great, even though the winds were building all morning, and had reached almost gail force gusts by high noon. Our party of four hunters had rolled east from Rapid City, which was located three hours west of the real pheasant belt as it were. We had reached the large state game management area we had intended to hunt with about 30 minutes to burn before shooting time. Everyone was excited to get that first drive moving and those first roosters up and into the stiff head wind for that going away trap shooters shot.
I had hauled along a case of Enviornmetal Inc. Hevi-Steel in a 3" 1 1/8 oz load of #4 shot. These loads were second generation ammo in that Enviornmetal had redesigned this load from its first introduction in 2004. This was a fold crimp package with new wads, powder, and higher terminal ballistics. However, I was a bit concerned by the #4 pellet size as I had found these small iron balls to get quite weak very fast much beyond 40 yards down range. If these ringneck roosters were going to flush to any point much beyond say 35 yards I felt the loads could be less than effective.
At the jump off point we were not at all alone. With at least 15 or 20 other hunters deciding to take on the same section of food plot and prairie grass, I felt sure that when the show started it would be somewhat of a confused mess to say the least. While everyone was more than willing to help out in terms of not trying to hog the ground they walked on, those large numbers of hunters was an indication that only the guys with the best dogs would win this event.
At the strike of noon we started forward, and within less than a minute birds started erupting from all sides, which included both high grass and the standing corn. Being young roosters the bright sun it was difficult to identify a crossing bird on the high wind, keep track of the guy next to you, or the fellow on the sky line, and still get off an accurate shot.
As an old, and quite bright red rooster peeled past me at about shoulder high, and moving like a guided missile down wind, I spotted a slot that was a safe clear shot, and promptly emptied my right barrel on the BSA Classic 12 bore. At the shot, which I judged to be about 45 yards the rooster folded up, but only to be rolled over by a pair of black labs before I could take a step. Oh well I thought, there are more than enough to go around with this endless stream of over-head, and slide slipping targets.
Now a bit later, with five rounds dispatched and three birds on the ground, I still stood watching the onslot with an empty game vest. I was not sure if the loads were the problem, or all the dogs in the area were just beating me to the punch. We had dogs in our party, but they were occupied working retrieves for their owners. What I did decide right there and then was never to listen to anyone that says don’t bring your dog, because "we can handle anything you drop with ours". Obviously they could not handle the problem, and it was showing up in spades. Secondly, I was less sure than ever about the effectiveness of the loads. On two occasions I had reached an area well ahead of any dog only to find nothing more than feathers.
Time to regroup
After that first pass across the quarter section everyone started to thin out and go their own way. I was grateful for that, because I had spent a considerable amount of time just trying to keep from getting greased by a load of steel shot. Now it was time to set a new plan, and I was pleased to learn that we were going to hunt well away from anyone else on that piece of state managed land.
The guys with the dogs had done the best, and when the count was completed the group had connected on eight birds which put us to over half of the days limit for four hunters. On the next drive we posted blockers and two of us pushed a food plot which yielded one bird. What I was observing now was that birds that had broken legs or head shot were being recovered. However, enough birds were not recovered when hit so as to give me reason to further regard those light #4’s in a grade of shot that was only a step above standard steel as suspect. This load much like its predecessor during the testing of the first Hevi-Steel shot loads on Kansas mallards the previous winter. The new loads in the lightweight shot were not showing anything special in the bird harvesting department. In my estimation, we had shot far too many birds in taking the limit of 12 roosters home to west river South Dakota.