The Feng Shui of Shotgun Shells


If you decide which shells you’re going to use for your shotgunning pursuits based solely on what’s least expensive at the local sporting goods emporium, there’s no reason to read any further. Go about your shooting and hunting. You’ll get the same results you always have. But remember: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity.

To improve your shooting, bring more game cleanly to hand, and expand your understanding of shotgunning you must try something different—perhaps in your technique, practice, or gear. This time, we’re talking shotshells.

CloseRange_300x250The Yin and Yang of shotshells are payload and velocity. Given a specific gauge and shell length, as the weight of the shot charge goes up there will be a corresponding reduction in the speed at which the shot is launched. It takes more energy to launch a heavier load, and the space available for powder charge is reduced. Different formulations of powder impact the energy available for launch, but there are limits on the pressure the chamber can handle. Additionally, when payload or velocity increases, so does recoil.

In selecting shotshells for hunting, you must analyze the balance between payload and velocity. Is it better to have more shot in the air, but moving more slowly, or is it better to send fewer pellets to the target at higher velocity? Of course you can impact the absolute number of pellets you’re sending down range by going with a smaller, or larger, shot size, but there are tradeoffs here as well.

Given identical velocities, a larger (aka heavier) pellet is going to retain more energy over a greater range. Energy equals power. However, given an equal volume, there will be fewer larger pellets in the pattern.

When it comes to shotshell patterns, it’s too often forgotten a pattern is three-dimensional as it travels down range. The pattern has height and width, but it also has length. The term for that length is “shot string.” When you analyze the holes a pattern produces in a paper target you must not forget that all the shot did not arrive at the paper at the same time.

campchef abmAnd thank heaven it didn’t! Imagine how difficult it would be to hit a flying target if your pattern had the dimensions of a flying plate. You would have to perfectly time the arrival of the pattern on the target to score a hit. Because the pattern has length, there is margin for error allowing the target to fly into it. However, too much of a good thing is no longer good. A pattern stretched out too long will have “holes” through which a target could fly without being hit—despite what the patterning paper looks like.

Another fact about shotshells is that the longer cylinder in which the shot begins its journey, the longer the shot string tends to remain. This, coupled with the unjustifiable recoil, is the primary reason I don’t shoot 3-1/2-inch 12 gauge loads. The Yin is out of whack with the Yang in a 3-1/2-inch 12. You don’t gain much—if anything—for the extra hit to your wallet or shoulder.

My experience leads me to believe in speed over payload. I like a balanced shotstring to arrive on target as fast as possible, but with minimum recoil. When it comes to shotgunning, we all want it all!

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