November 15, 2012
Shotgun Ammo: How To Choose A Pheasant Load For Your Style of Hunting
By Phil Bourjaily
I mentioned in a previous column I had shot up over a box of 3-inch pheasant loads as an experiment on a preserve hunt a couple weeks ago. That ammo was Federal’s 3-inch Pheasants Forever-label “Prairie Storm” magnums which contain 1-5/8 ounces of lead shot at 1350 fps. After a few shots we renamed them “Pterodactyls Forever”* loads. They are deadly at both ends of the gun, and, in my experience, way more shell than is necessary to kill a pheasant.**
However, experience can be deep but narrow. While I have done a ton of pheasant hunting, aside from a handful of hunts in Nebraska and South Dakota, most of my birds have been shot in two counties in Iowa. I hunt alone or in the company of one or two people and we run pointing dogs and/or close-working flushers. I try to be selective with the shots I take. I won’t shoot at a bird going straight away past about 35 yards, for instance.
So what I think of as the perfect pheasant load may only be perfect for the conditions I encounter in the fields near home. Some pheasant hunters have to take long shots or they take no shots at all. With that thought in mind I shot the Prairie Storm ammo for a day to see if I could expand my horizons.
I definitely expanded my effective range. I held my fire with the 3-inch Federals on anything close for fear of blowing it up and focused on the long shots. The ammo was up to the job and I killed birds at 45 yards and more. Prairie Storm uses Federal’s Flitecontrol wad to hold shot together out of the barrel for tighter patterns downrange so I expected good longrange patterns when I tried them on paper. I wasn’t disappointed. From my Beretta 391 with a Modified choke it put 200-plus 6 pellets into a 30-inch circle at 45 steps and the pattern cores were tightly packed with pellets. Some may disagree but from my field experience, 6s hit hard enough to kill birds at that range.
The downside is recoil. My shoulder and jaw told me this ammo kicks, and a recoil calculator told me how much: in a 7 pound gun a 3-inch 1-5/8 ounce, 1350 fps load generates over 50 foot-pounds of recoil. Unless I am reading tables wrong, that puts its recoil at the level of a .416 Remington magnum, which is, frankly, ridiculous, unless you really are shooting pterodactyls, which, I can only imagine, make very angry, dangerous cripples.
If you hunt where 40-45 yard shots at pheasants are the norm, and you shoot a gas semiauto that can soak up recoil, Prairie Storm magnums are worth a try. That’s doubly true if you hunt where wounded pheasants charge.
*”Pterodactyls in Perpetuity” is the name Federal’s Ryan Bronson suggested for a pterosaur conservation organization. I like it.
**Although I shoot 12 gauges now I shot a 20 for a long time. For the way I hunt, 1 ounce to 1-1/4 ounces of 5s or 6s in lead or in Kent Tungsten-Matrix (my favorite non-toxic) is all the pheasant load I need. In steel I shoot 1-1/8-1-1/4 ounces of 3s or 4s. I favor IC or IC /Modified chokes.