Hunting season is coming up quick, and it’s time to load up on plenty of shotshells for the season. In the course of a fall hunting season, hunters will take aim at doves, upland birds, fall turkey in some areas, and waterfowl with their shotgun, and they’ll need a variety of shell types to get the most out of each hunt. This is not to mention deer slugs, which is a topic in itself. Let’s take a look at the basics you need to know as well as some boxes to order from 1800GunsAndAmmo now.
There are several aspects to pay attention to when buying a box of shells. Most importantly don’t mix and match gauges and don’t try to shoot a larger shell (i.e. 3 1/2 in.) than what your shotgun can handle. You need to stick to the manufacturer’s specifications on what your shotgun can handle, both shell length and gauge. Using any unauthorized shell is inviting disaster. A few other terms to pay attention to:
Lead Shot Size Number
This is a ranking system from shot size 9 to shot size 1, BB and BBB. The higher the shot number size, the smaller the diameter of the shot in the shell. For example, shot size 9 pellets are the smallest mainstream option available, and they are generally used only in target and clay shooting scenarios. As you get higher in shot size, the load becomes better suited for hunting. For example, shot size 7 1/2 is a good small bird / dove load, while shot size 4 is a good turkey load. The largest shot like BB is designed for large birds like geese. Be sure to match your shot size to your intended application.
Steel And Buckshot Shot Sizes
Steel and buckshot specific shot is measured in a different scale than lead shot. Steel shot starts at number 6 (because anything smaller would be impractical for waterfowl hunting) and goes past the large BBB loads to include T and F loads, the largest available for waterfowl hunting. Buckshot also has its own rating system from buckshot #4 to the largest buckshot 000 (a step larger than the well-known “00” buckshot). Pay attention to these changes in rating when shopping for specialty loads.
Load Weight (Shot Ounces)
Another number to pay attention to on the box is the shot ounces (denoted as just ounces or oz.) on the box. This number refers to the amount of shot in the load. The basic load weight is usually somewhere around one ounce, but there are lighter and heavier shot loads available. For example, if you’re hunting big birds like geese, you’ll want more shot load, like 1 1/2 ounces. One other note, the larger the load weight, the more powder it will take to fling the load. So expect a heavier load to be a bit more taxing on your shoulder.
The velocity of a shotshell is also important, and it is measured in feet per second (FPS). The faster the shot, the more likely it is to catch a bird while pass shooting. This is just a general rule, but be sure to get a fast load if you’re trying to hit flying birds like doves. The need for a super fast load lessens when you’re hunting birds like turkey, although velocity is still important as you still want plenty of force behind your pellets.
Steel And Buckshot
Dove / Smaller Upland Loads
You’ll have the most luck with shot sizes between 8, 7/12 and 6, and you’ll want some serious FPS behind those loads.
Fiocchi Hi Velocity #8 12 Gauge Hunting Loads
The Fiocchi Hi Velocity 12 Gauge Hunting Loads are a universal option for all 12 gauge shotguns and small game birds. Although the 8 shot size is a bit smallish for some birds, it will cover game like doves and quail fine. The 1330 FPS and 1 1/5 oz. shot are perfectly suited for small game birds as well.
Fiocchi Golden Pheasant #7 1/2 20 Gauge Shells
The Fiocchi Golden Pheasant 20 Gauge Shells are a great option for anyone hunting birds with a 20 gauge shotgun, and these 3″ shells with 7 1/2 shot size are great options for the gambit of dove, quail, partridge and grouse. They can also be used for rabbit in a pinch. Realistically, these loads are too light for pheasant, even though the have pheasant in the name. You’ll have better luck with birds like pheasant with shot sizes around 6. The 1245 FPS is more than adequate for most shooting scenarios even though it’s not at the top end of the spectrum. The added nickle plating of Golden Pheasant line encourages faster barrel exit and smoother flight, and it is a nice upgrade, although the shells will run you a bit more because of it.
Fall Turkey Loads
As the birds get bigger, you’ll want bigger pellets in shot sizes 6-4 generally. Loads in 6 and even 5 shot can be used for larger upland birds like pheasant as well.
Fiocchi Optima Specific Hi Velocity #5 12 Gauge Loads
The Fiocchi Optima Specific Hi Velocity #5 offers a good deal of number load weight (1 3/4) with enough FPS punch (1330 FPS) to handle larger birds. A great pheasant round, these shells also fall in the mid range of turkey load weight.
Hornady Heavy Magnum #5 12 Gauge Turkey Loads
Hornady makes excellent nickle plated turkey loads in the Heavy Magnum #5 line, and again these shells offer #5 shot for the purpose of turkey hunting and a similar FPS of 1300. The advantage here comes in the addition of nickle plating which will encourage a tighter pattern, something that is extremely important when you’re trying to take down a turkey.
Hornady Heavy Magnum #4 12 Gauge Turkey Loads
For a little more wallop, check out the Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey Loads in #4 shot. The shot weight (1 1/2 oz.) and FPS (1300) are the same as the #5 loads, but you do get slightly larger nickle coated pellets, an advantage some may prefer even though you’re flinging a little less shot at the bird.
Steel is lighter than lead, and since it is your only option when waterfowl hunting, you’ll want to go with larger pellets to make up for the reduction in weight. Serious FPS is also desired in waterfowl rounds, especially if you’re pass shooting. When it comes to goose loads, the 3 1/2 inch shell really shines.
Fiocchi Golden Goose #2 12 Gauge 3 1/2 in. Loads
While the #2 shot size in the Fiocchi Golden Goose 12 Gauge Loads isn’t the biggest you can get, the advantage of having a higher pellet count can make a difference in some situations. These loads are lightning fast as they should be at 1430 FPS, and the weight of 1 5/8 oz. is right for geese. These are 3 1/2 inch shells, and should only be used in shotguns chambered for the longer shell.
Fiocchi Speed Steel #2 12 Gauge 3 in. Loads
If you don’t have the advantage of a super magnum shotgun, the Fiocchi Speed Steel #2 12 Gauge Loads are a viable option for your shotgun only chambered for 2 3/4 and 3 inch shells. These Speed Steel loads are as fast as the name suggests at 1550 FPS, but they do lack in shot weight compared to the 3 1/2 inch shell at 1 1/5 oz. Still this is a great pass shooting load for ducks.
Fiocchi Speed Steel BB 12 Gauge 3 in. Loads
For extra punch out of a 3 in. shell, check out the Fiocchi Speed Steel BB Loads. These shells still fly at the 1550 FPS speed, but you’ll get the large BB shot size suited well for waterfowl hunting.
If you’re big on varmint hunting with your shotgun, you’ll want loads that pack a lot of punch with something like #4 buckshot or BB loads.
Hornady Varmint Express #4 Buckshot Loads
The Hornady Varmint Express #4 Buckshot Loads are 2 3/4 in. shells that offer 1 1/4 oz. of shot in the #4 buckshot load. FPS typically drops down in varmint loads like this at 1350 FPS, but that’s more than suitable for any varmint hunting situation. This is a great, lighter predator hunting load.
Sellier & Bellot #4 12 Gauge Loads
Sellier & Bellot’s #4 Loads are a similar option to the Hornady Varmint #4 in most regards except for velocity, which is at a modest 1190 FPS when compared to other high velocity loads. Still, that’s plenty for any varmint hunting situation, and ultra-fast isn’t always as important as it sounds.
Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote 3 in. BB Loads
The extra wallop of the Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote BB Loads, plus the addition of Hornady’s nickle plating, makes this a serious predator hunting load. You get plenty of shot in a 3 in. 1 1/2 oz. load, and the 1300 FPS isn’t too shabby either.