1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Old Shell Game (101)....

Discussion in 'Shotguns' started by Dave McCracken, Apr 13, 2007.

  1. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Our global economy has a lot of different shotgun ammo turning up here.

    Last count, 20 some makers now compete for our money. Sources range from Federal, Winchester and Remington to stuff from Third World and former Soviet Bloc countries. The offerings vary widely in quality though all will produce some sort of pattern and serve some purpose.

    And, quite often the phrase "You get what you pay for" applies.

    Let's take a look at a shell and see the variables that can be changed and what happens when we do....

    Let's posit a 12 gauge, 2 3/4" load of 1 1/8 oz, 1200 FPS. Let's make it a cheap import, using the technology we left behind in the 50s.

    And let's imagine we're shooting it in a Cylinder bore with an old style forcing cone in front of the chamber. Let's also imagine we have X ray vision and can slow things down so we can really see what happens.

    Our basic load has some fiber wads between powder and shot but no cup shielding our soft, quasi round pure lead shot from the bore.

    So, there's ignition, and as the launch starts we see the back pellets are squashed under the weight of 60 Gs of acceleration. As the crimp unfolds we see the shot scrape against the bore, further deforming the shot as they carom down the bore. The shot charge leaves the bore and begins to expand as air resistance slows the leading pellets.

    A pattern sheet at say, 15 yards, will show nice density and decent spread.

    One at 40 yards will show large gaps in the coverage and all those deformed pellets way off where they do no good.

    Now let's look at a better load, one with a shot cup that protects the shot clear out past the muzzle. This one has a bit less spread at 15 yards, but that 40 yard pattern looks a bit better.

    Kicking it up, let's see a load with not only a shot cup, but a one piece plastic wad that has collapsible sections to blunt the forces at launch a bit. This one has even less spread again, but that 40 yard target is getting much more in the center, increasing effect.

    Next,add hard lead shot alloyed with antimony from a maker that takes pains to make sure the shot is round and uniform. At this point, the 15 yard spread's maybe half that of our starter load, but the longer pattern's looking much better.

    Plate that hard, round shot with copper or nickel and note again that the 15 yard spread shrinks and the 40 yard pattern gets better, if more pellets near the center means better.

    Add a buffering agent like Grex to that and again,MORE pellets stay in the pattern.

    Round shot, all else equal, loses velocity at a lesser rate than nasty, deformed shot. Not only do deformed pellets leave the pattern, they carry less energy to the target. On a clay target, that may spell the difference between an X or O on the score card, but on game that may be the difference between a humane kill and a critter suffering for hours or days.

    Other things that can tighten up patterns include dropping the velocity, adding some choke and using a longer forcing cone to ease transition into the bore.

    However, upping the quality of the load is the best way to up performance.

    And, while it may sound wierd, using the so called "Dove and Quail" loads on clay targets and using good quality Trap loads on Dove and Quail makes a lot of sense.
  2. sm

    sm member

    Excellent post as always.
  3. evbutler462

    evbutler462 Well-Known Member


    Please be more specific as per brand. You have posted a very informative primer. Could you please get more specific as to what you use?

    Example, I have used Estate brand ammo in my 20 gauge, 1oz. loads in both 6and 7 1/2. Since estate is hard to find, I sometimes buy the el cheapo 7/8 oz loads in the Rem, Winchester, and Federal brands. The $3.88 a box loads. The Estate loads cost twice that. Are they worth it?

    What I am asking is this: What components are you looking for regarding performance? What brand, etc.

    What ammo can I buy that will give me top performance? Since I shoot very few boxes of ammo per year, I would like to buy good performing ammo if I have to pay more.

    I hunt mostly dove, quail, squirrel, rabbit, the usual upland game. I don't hunt waterfowl or anything that requires steel shot.

    So today I am going to my dealer with your teachings in mind. What should I ask for and what brand? I will buy say 6 boxes of 7 1/2 and 6's. Give me some advice as to what you would buy.

    Thanks for your advice.
  4. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Thanks, Steve.

    Ev, I shoot little 20 gauge, when I do I use the 7/8 Winchester AA load.

    1 oz loads are often less, not more effective than the 7/8 oz ones.

    It's not the number of pellets in the shell, it's the number that ends up in the target that determines effectiveness.

    Patterning is your friend. Usng your shotgun and the choke you hunt with, try some loads at the average distance you get your shots at a given target, say a squirrel. Shoot a few of each brand and compare. You don't have to count hundreds of holes, look for gaps in the pattern, clumping,etc. Patterns are denser in the center, so look for density in the fringes.

    It's easier than it sounds and as essential as oxygen.

    The Estate ammo I've fired is not a huge amount, but it performed at least as well as the valupacks. YMMV.

    As to what to buy, the top brands are pretty close as near as I can tell. Buy top quality ammo for live game and whatever you want for casual clays,

  5. sm

    sm member

    Agree 1000%!

    Please forgive me, I was asked to -"well dummy, post something".

    It does not matter what a fixed choked barrel is marked as being "choked" , it does not matter what a screw in choke "says" it is, either by actually having "Skeet", "Improved Cylinder" , "Modified", "Full
    , etc, or if it has numerical markings such as ".725," ."715" ( for 12 bore).

    It does not matter what Teem Seel uses, What Will Fennel Uses, What Dave McCracken , PJR, TrapperReady ...etc., uses either.

    It does not make a difference what a Box says a shell will do, the guy / gal down the street, and for darn sure what someone posted on Internet.

    Shell Game
    is also a term to refer to a Confidence Game [Con Game].

    Bottom Line:
    A person is going to get beat of out their money if they think they can beat a Con Man at his own game.

    Well...folks are getting beat out of their money, getting frustrated by falling Prey to all the all the Marketing Hype in regard to Shotguns/Shooting firearms Period!

    Shotgunning : The Art & Science
    - by Bob Brister is so chocked full with information, beginning with the book title, as shotgunning is truly a Art and Science.

    If everyone read that book, this forum - Shotguns, and other Shotgun forums would have LESS traffic - as most questions repeatedly asked, are answered in that book.

    Chokes and loads, Patterning, Hard shot, buffer, components of shells, hulls...etc.

    Two guns can come off the assembly one right after the other. Both Guns can shoot the same load, and quite possibly shoot differently in regard to POA/POI, and Pattern Density.
    I have stood right there and shot a pattern board, more times than I can count, and seen it with my own eyes!

    Forever I shot 18.5 grains of 452AA in the OLD true compression AA hull with 1 1/8 oz of hard shot, AA wad, Win 209 primer for skeet, and dove/quail.
    I mean I/we had anywhere from 25K to 100k rds of this load , reloaded, and ready to go.

    FWIW, some of my/our loads are still "out there" and they still work, still pattern great!
    Ditto for these "old" loadings for 20 , 28, and .410.

    Now, I have taken that same load, and substituted Chilled shot (soft) and opened up patterns on purpose, for a particular task, and gun.

    I have taken the same chilled shot, and run over it by various methods on concrete to flatten it.

    Stacking loads.

    Gun was "marked" Full choke on the barrel.

    "Flat shot" - threw Cylinder bore patterns.
    "Chilled" threw IC patterns.
    "Hard shot" threw between Mod and Full Patterns (keeping it simple here).

    Quail hunting.
    With a 30" barrel marked "Full" and load up the "flat shot" for the flush at the feet.
    Pick one bird ,one bird only and fell it.
    Chilled shot was for the double, as it was "out" a bit further.

    We did not take 3 shots. The third shot was for assisting another hunter, usually a new shooter, to fell a cripple, "on out" in distance.

    Now, one had better know their gun, as this hard shot has to come out of chamber, and be inserted into magazine in "correct order" , or else you will tear up a quail at feet flush distance.
    [Flat in chamber, Hard is loaded second ( into mag), then Chilled inserted third ( into mag)]

    Take a barrel marked "Improved Cylinder, Fixed choked barrel, and I used to get Copper-plated and Nickel-Plated extra hard shot, add buffer and I would get Modified to between Mod and Full Patterns (depended on bore diameter - etc.)

    This is why I still say for many folks these screw in chokes are a "crutch". I still prefer to start out a new shotgunner with a fixed choked barrel.
    If cannot, we leave whatever choke in the gun, and pretend it is a fixed choked shotgun.


    To me, the biggest problem with Shells and Performance is still what it has always been, Chamber end, not muzzle end.

    Dirty Chambers cause[d] more malfunctions.
    Waxed Paper hulls didn't / do not leave a plastic, gritty chamber as Plastic Hulls do.
    Still if one did not / does not have the chamber end taken care of, the gun will not feed, or extract correctly.

    Re-sizing hulls.
    Chambers vary between guns. Shoot a shell in a repeater, and not re-size it "all the way down" and that shell may not even go into a Single shot, O/U, or SxS... heck, it may not go into another Repeating shotgun (pump or semi)!

    Now I am "not happy" at all with the poor Quality Control of Shot Shell Mfgs.
    Bad enough they have gone to poor quality base metals, Being of OUT OF Specifications does not help at all.

    Shell game? As Dave said the Better Shells used for Trap, Skeet, Sporting Clays usually have Better QC, are In Spec, have Better Components ( hard shot, etc) and can be reloaded which means one can duplicate this better loading for what a box of "promo" loads cost.

    I miss a Old Pathetic looking 870 in 12 gauge with plain barrel with a fixed choke marked "Modified".
    It was stolen.
    I say this gun at a gun store closing up as the folks were retiring, and going to make/ did make a mint off selling building and property.

    I gave $75 for this thing. It had been used, it had done farm/ranch truck and tractor duty, and every kind of hunting this fella did. I wanted this gun, he had passed on and some idiot kid kinfolk sold it ...

    Steel shot was being mandated for Waterfowl...I patterned the gun with a variety of loads.
    I was out patterning this gun as I always did anyway...
    Serious Use [ before "tactical" really caught on as a buzzword] and folks sending in guns - spending money to have all sorts of Marketing Hype done to them.

    Old boy spent ~$200 to get a gun to shoot waterfowl...
    Another old boy spent ~ $350 on this "buzzword" of the month, to get a shotgun to shoot buckshot, not any other loadings, just buckshot for "serious use".

    I had $75 in a old gun, I added a better recoil pad I had, and just spent time at the pattern board.

    My gun out performed ,and had the nicest pattern with waterfowl loads, and really ticked off the guy that had spent money on his for waterfowl.

    Old boy with the "buzzword" gun with buckshot set up. He had an "attitude", bad one.

    There was about ~$225 "laying on a table for some reason" and folks were watching a "comparison" between his buzzword gun and others.
    I was watching...and "somehow" got pushed up front and asked to "shoot my gun".
    About this time is when this table "somehow" ended up with ~ $225 on it...

    Short version is, the old boy left a bit upset, but he had real nice logo's on gear to match his "buzzword" gun stuff.
    Money "fell off " the table I guess, some pockets folks "say" a bit fatter, after they left...
    I was offered $150 for that shotgun and "your shells for dove, quail, serious use, waterfowl...we want to buy them too, or the recipes".

    I chose to be invited to places and let folks shoot the gun and loads...I was piddling with another something...*smirk*.

    Gun was stolen, could never prove it, still too many folks suspect why and how.


    I don't care, I don't worry about it. I did my thing.
    Gimme a shotgun, Gimme some loads,and I am going to be picky about chamber end.
    Eyes not like they used to be, still, if I can see it - I will fell it.

    Further back from the Chamber, is another REAL important factor on Shotgunning.
    Person holding the darn shotgun.

    Somewhere, divided up amongst folks, are the jars of shotgun shells cut apart, in 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 28, .410 and 24 and 32 gauges.
    We cut apart shells, new offerings, any changes, comparing lot numbers , bought from various regions around the country, from other other countries...you name it.
    We had some special tools, they used to sell, might still do.
    We made our own special tools as well.

    Just something to do, interesting, educational, seeing what NILO testing was all about, what Brister was sharing, some other old works out there...

    Shell Game, do not let it be a con game.

    Pattern Board is how one beats the con games.
  6. evbutler462

    evbutler462 Well-Known Member

    Thanks gents,

    I have Brister's book and O'Connors book. Both great learning experiences.

    My mainmost question is: Brand and load for a 20 gauge. It has a Polychoke that shoots prtnear what you dial in.

    When you guys go to the gunstore to buy ammo, what brand do you buy? Also, do you buy heavy loads or light. As I stated, I am an upland hunter. Let's assume that you want a good performer that is versatile with patterning. What is my best bet in the shotshell market?

    Your theories are great. They don't tell me what shell I need to buy. I understand that there are lots of variables, but surely there is one load that you consistently buy for general purpose. Can you give me an answer, such as: We get good results with Remington Long Range, or something like this. What brand do you normally buy. As stated I hunt quail and dove with 7 1/2 and everything else with 6's.

    Can you narrow your favorites down to a brand and load for each? I have been using Estate brand for years but am sure that there is a better answer.

    I do not reload. I don't shoot enough to pay for the equipment.
    I try to buy a good shell when I know what to buy. Opinions from experts that have more experience than myself are what I need.

    I also used a 12 gauge on occasion.
  7. PTK

    PTK Well-Known Member

    Basically what it boils down to is that you need to buy a few boxes of many types and pattern them in your gun.
  8. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Thanks, Steve, I well recall loading cheap soft 8s in an 870 chamber, with a trap load of 7 1/2s next and a finisher of hard 6s for a GP upland setup. Choke was Full in theory. Ate a lot of birds taken like that.

    Funny how expertise beats gadgetry all day long....

    Were I limited to a 20 gauge only, and hunting upland stuff, I'd probably get the Winchester premium stuff in 7/8 oz, and split between 7 1/2s and 6s. Last time I sectioned one of these, it had nice hard shot.

    I'd probably check out Remington's and Federal's offerings also, with Fiocchi and Estate to round out the selection.

    Practically any load with the proper shot size will do the job at 15 yards. Once past 25 yards better loads do much better. As said, patterning is needed for you and your shotgun.

    Sure, we can add some choke, but deformed pellets still don't have the same moxie as round ones.

    I do little hunting these days, but my handloads of 7/8 oz with hard shot do the job. I use hard 7 1/2s for most birds, 6s for squirrels.

  9. sm

    sm member

    2 3/4 " shells are all I use with the exception of 2 1/2" for .410 and sometimes 3" in .410.

    I shoot a lot of Fiocchi personally in 20 bore for clay and bird.

    2 3/4" Fed or Rem slugs for serious use
    2 3/4" Brenneke is a great load, if you can find them.
    2 3/4 " 12 ga 9 pellet 00 buck , just the old standby I like. When I do 12 bore buckshot.
    2 3/4" #3 buckshot, I rarely use buckshot, seems to me I have box of Rem someone tossed my way...

    I personally do not see a need for anything longer than 2 3/4" ( except some .410 , rare for me)

    Bismuth loadings for Waterfowl are great. I have no idea what I last used, these were reloads, and I just did worry about writing down the recipes.
    12 and 20 ga, and I was using a old Beretta 303 20 ga with a fixed IC barrel.

    I honest to Betsy have no idea what some loads are I am shooting.
    Five and Ten gallon buckets of loads with "skeet/bird" on a slip of paper and I just grab what need and shoot, with whatever gun I happen to be handed, or snag to use.

    Folks think I am kidding, I really do don't care, and 99% of the time just show up without a gun or ammunition. I show up to assist, even out hunting...
    Never was about me, never will be about me.

    I picked up a 5 pack of Rem 20 bore #3 buckshot not long ago, simply because they were at this gas station and some elderly person I know said she needed to rotate her home load. These work in her 1100 skeet gun.
  10. sm

    sm member

    Ya know...
    Getting harder and harder to find a Street Rolling machine guy to let you run out in front of him with 25# bags of Lawrence Chilled shot and get them to run over the bags...
    "You want me to back over them too?"


    Tip: get some old heavy canvas bank bags, or use heavy canvas tarp to put these bags of shot in first.

    Tip 2: run to the house getting new sod down the street, bring sodas, and let the sod guys take a break while you borrow that "sod flatter outer" [mini-steamroller dealie] and "mow" them pellets flat.

    BTDT and got flat shot.

    Had to, source for cubed pellets was no more...;)
  11. USMC - Retired

    USMC - Retired Well-Known Member

    Great post with great info. One question: Is there any way to determine the length and shape of the shot string? Paterning provides great info but there is no way to tell when those individual pellets reached the target and in what order. This could be very valuable info on the skeet field and in a hunting situation but I have never found a way to mesure it. I know a bunch of folks are gonna come up with high speed cammera ideas and such but I'm looking for a way that someone with limited funds could do it. Any insights?
  12. sm

    sm member

    NILO, Brister and others did some testing on "arrival of pellets".

    Note: Brister tested on Moving targets, which did a LOT to reveal "arrival of pellets".
    Stationary Pattern Boards only reveal on part of this Art & Science.

    28 ga for a fact has short shot strings, meaning more shot arrive at target at the same time. This is why the 28 ga hits as hard as it does, and works "better than it is supposed to".

    Matter of bore - not choke
    - Brister

    Another part of this "equation" has to do with payload to bore diameter.
    How many pellets are getting slammed upon ignition and being forced down a bore and out any constriction.

    Hence the reason "More is not better", a lot of times.

    Interesting things come out:
    10 ga is very effective in payload to bore diameter, and no matter what, a 3.5" 12 ga is NOT going to match what a 10 ga will do with same payload.

    28 ga is phenomenal.

    #6 hard shot tends to work in 12 gauge gun, no matter the choke , barrel length, "Across the board" best in pattern density, and "arrival times" being shorter.

    .410 is going to have longer shot strings (longer arrival times) due to again, payload to bore diameter. Only 1/2 oz, still trying to survive pressures and bore dia, and any choke.

    Best visual example is to take a garden hose with adjustable trigger sprayer.

    Adjust and "shoot" a spray and watch how the "shot" arrives to a "target".
    Repeat using a moving target.
    Get scrap cardboard (boxes) and attach a cord and use the clothes-line outside and have someone pull as fast as can this cardboard.
    Compare to stationary "pattern board" with the water.

    Not only patterns, also other things like lead, swing, follow through will be revealed.

    This will explain some of the same principles of shotgunning.
    Piddle with pressure of water, how much choke, distances...ll of this, really educational!

    I do this with new shooters all the time still...

    My pet:
    #5 shot.
    Hard #5 , especially when I could get copper-plated or nickel-plated was something great! Add Buffer, and really nice!
    I felled many ducks and geese with loadings of #5 before non-toxic was mandated.

    Ducks : Felled them with .410, and 28 ga, lots and lots of duck as we restricted ourselves to nothing bigger than a 28 ga for some duck hunting areas.
    Bing Crosby and others did this restriction as well where they hunted too.

    For assisting with new duck hunters, and my deal/role was felling cripples, I used 1 3/8 oz of #5 plated hard shot with buffer in a 2 3/4" hull. AA Compression formed or Blue Peter's hull using
    "Mod" choke if you will.
  13. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Retired Jarhead, I don't have any method of determining shot string.

    For some odd reason, Wonderful Wife declines to drive her car while I shoot at a trailer with a patterning board towed behind.

    A stationary patterning board only gives a two dimensional record of a three dimensional event.

    We can make an educated guess.

    Square loads are known to have short strings. That's a load where the shot charge is as tall as the bore diameter. In the 16 gauge, an oz does this. In the 28, 3/4 oz

    An oz load in a 12 gauge is slightly shorter than bore size, and most of the shot arrives very close to simultaneously.

    Bad loads can have shot strings up to 20 feet long, I'm told. Going by Brister, some efficient loads are less than 8 feet string length.

    Anyone seeing a 12 gauge 7/8 oz load smoke a target can tell that density at that place and time was more than enough for that presentation. If choke is correct for the distance and presentation, one can surmise that plenty of shot
    arrived at the same time.
  14. sm

    sm member

    I know this one!

    Yeah women are just flat funny about some stuff for sure...;)

    :D :D
  15. Oldnamvet

    Oldnamvet Well-Known Member

    Maybe I am behind the times but I just noticed that Dick's has Remington all-purpose shells on sale..which looked good until I noticed that they were boxes of 20! What good is a box of 20? Sure not handy for skeet or trap.
  16. sm

    sm member

    Re: Box of 20

    Some other folks have done this too, just makes no sense does it?
    "Yeah but- easier to carry 20 shells hunting than 25..." I had a sales clerk say once...:scrutiny:

    Always thought we should have gone back into that store, with a MEC shell stacker, 25 shells and one of them 20 rd boxes ..."Here, show me how I am supposed to use this box". :)

    I dunno, 25 rd boxes "just are" like "A is A".

    Another terrible thought I had was, well it takes some folks 2 boxes of 25 shells to fell 2 doves, with 20 rd boxes it would take 3 boxes to do the same thing.

    Sorta negates that "easier to carry 20 shells" now don't it?
  17. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Box of 20, supposedly is to help keep the cost down for those folks who only need a box or two to miss doves and such with.

    I note that the ammo contained in those short boxes is not made from top components. Soft shot, etc.

    Such has its place, but that place is not where I shoot.
  18. gezzer

    gezzer Well-Known Member

    Easy breakdown without all the paragraphs that make your head hurt.

    Hard shot will out pattern soft shot, no matter the shells makers or whatever.

    Note: they cost more.
  19. Milkmaster

    Milkmaster Well-Known Member

    Mr. McCracken's post prodded me to sacrifice two of my 12 ga shells to see the difference between two of my common buys here locally. Looking at the picture. Please help me to examine each and tell me why one is any better than the other. Which one you think patterns better day on and out? They are both the same brand at 1.125oz #8 shot, 3 dram EQ. I don't want to say anymore about them until I get some evaluations.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  20. sm

    sm member

    Older AA Compression formed hull that for 40 years was the hull all hulls aspired to be.
    Shot is hard shot, better wad.
    In specifications from the quality brass dimensions, to OAL.
    One could reload as many as 15 times depending on load and recipe.
    Quality Control and Consistency in MFG


    The target load most known for problems from training schools on down to occasional shooters.
    One pc hull design not condusive to reloading. Rinky-dink metal often out of spec, causing feeding, and extraction. Soft shot and the wad...it looks like a wad and made of wad material, about it...as design is poor.
    QC is not there, Mfg not consistent,
    Specs besides the metal...OAL length and diameter has been known to be out of spec as well.

    Price Point for MFG, not for shooter.

    Cut apart a Fiocchi Target Load, Rem Nitro, OLD AA Compression hull Magnum load [1 1/2 oz of #2 hard shot with Grex Buffer] ...

    The Fed 1 1/8 oz loads sold next to the Win Target load, is W-A-Y ahead of the Win load.

Share This Page