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Shotgun Ammo: Choosing the Right Shot Size for Geese

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January 09, 2013

Shotgun Ammo: Choosing the Right Shot Size for Geese

By Phil Bourjaily

We all get used to our favorite loads and shot sizes and assume they are the best. Sometimes, though, a run of bad results in the field shakes your confidence in your pet load.

All three of the geese in this picture were shot at 20 yards over decoys. They were fatally hit but none crumpled in the air. All three hit the ground with their heads up, and the one that had been hit the hardest was walking. I blamed my shooting and assumed I was just breaking wings until I dressed the birds. They had been hit much more solidly than I thought, two with my pet HeviShot 4s and one with some prototype high velocity steel 2s.

That led to a few observations:

1. HeviShot is great stuff if you can afford it, and it is more lethal than lead ever was, yet I hammered two geese with it and they hit the ground alive. What that says to me is that old-time hunters who remember killing everything stone dead with lead shot have selective amnesia. No question lead was lethal, but we sailed birds with lead, too.

2. Late season geese are big, tough birds. While steel 2s and HeviShot 4s kill them at decoy ranges, bigger shot penetrates deeper and kills better. Bs, BBs, and 1s are the way to go.

3. I reserve the right to change my opinion on shot size next time I have a day when the birds don’t fall dead as they are supposed to.

Comments (20)

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I shoot only BB and BBB for Canada and Snow Geese. I have hammered early season snow's with 1's and 2's also. Some of the guys use T and F steel shot.

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from ejunk wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

haha, #3 made me chuckle, thanks Phil.

I shoot #2 black clouds for geese and #4 black clouds for ducks. I use a tighter choke (mod) on geese than I do for ducks (IC). In all honesty, I've largely given up on hail mary (ie, greater than ~35 yards) shots at geese. if they don't decoy or pass low, then I don't shoot.

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from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I found geese tough to kill with large shot when the birds are in coming straight to you. That breast is BIG even after getting through the feathers.

The good geese shots I've seen use small shot aiming at the head and neck. I like #2 and go for quarter and crossing shots.

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from idduckhntr wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Since I am a trap shooter I love tight chokes. I use improved mod and full for ducks and geese with Winchester Expert #3s and 2s for everything and haven't had a problem.

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from hermit crab wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I shoot steel, and feel like switching from #2 to BB, I was getting much better results on big honkers, and also the benefit of less feathers being pulled into the breast meat.

Nothing like my wife biting into a hunk of goose meat and pulling a feather out of her mouth to sour her taste for wild game!

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from vasportsman wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Phil, were you using 3 inch or 3 1/2 inch? Shot size is only part of the equation.

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from Dave Wabeke wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

When it comes to geese I'm a firm believer in bigger is better. These are tough birds and my 40 years of hunting experience has shown me that geese need BB or BBB. I just came off a goose hunt 2 weeks ago and my 3.5 inch BBB Blackcloud ammo folded every goose that came to my end of the blind. I've been in blinds with guys swearing by their HS #4s but I'll challenge everyone shooting them on those 2nd and 3rd shots at decoying geese that are now 40 yards out and moving 40 mph with the wind.

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from duckdog07 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I use BBB's and sometimes T's 3in 12 ga. I still can't kill geese at 60 yds, like they do on TV but I do alright at 35 yds.I also use an improved cylinder as large steel shot seems to pattern tighter then say a 4 or 6. I also reserve the right to change my mind should my hunting partners start dropping them like they were hit by lightning

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from Tom-Tom wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

You bet that we had several geese sail on us when we used lead #2's. Today I use BB in a modified barrel field grade Model 12 early on but switch to the BBB in a modified 10 ga. when the migrating birds arrive. My old lab appreciates not having to chase them very hard.

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from ejpaul1 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

We got an expensive lesson a month or so ago about choice of ammo. First waterfowl hunt, guided, I used 12 guage 3" BBB steel, my wife, limited to 20 guage, used no 2's. She had a hard time knocking down teal, let alone any geese. She has a 12 guage now and we'll be shooting black cloud or something similar next year when we go. The difference between the the geese I hit and the guys that had black cloud was noticable. I did drop my limit but my shot to kill ratio wasnt 1-1.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

The speed of the pellets is at least, if not more, important than the size, especially when shooting steel. I usually don't get a lot of 20 yard shots because of the way I hunt (hedgerows with decoys set out 35-50 yards away depending on the lateness of season). I'm shooting a fixed full choke 870 and steel 3" BB loads moving at 1550 fps. Any steel shot moving slower than 1500 fps is pretty much money in the wastebasket. I took a young fella hunting with me this year (once and only once!) who was using the new 1700 fps Remington loads. He offered me a couple but I was afraid to use them with my gun's fixed choke barrel. He had a fancy auto and those shells were still pounding him hard. He didn't bring down much with them but I give the credit to operator error. My brother hunted geese with me after my wife's funeral two years ago and I let him use my Browning A-5 Light 12 with fixed modified choke. He did very well using 1 oz 1500 fps 2.75" No 1 shot. I tried using #2 this year when BB was not available and did poorly so just saved them for ducks. Went with #1 and found they worked about the same as BB. I can now afford to shoot hevishot but I usually do okay with steel so I'll stick with it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Hey, OH, you said more than a mouthfull when you said " I can NOW AFFORD to...but....I'm right there with you. I can finally afford an African safari for lion and elephant, a dream ever since childhood; however, those same dollars would be better spent helping a couple of grandkids be able to graduate college without the burden of debt. Seems like a no-brainer. I'll be content to read Ruark and the others.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from JCB wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Late season geese and ducks are big, strong, and wear heavy feathers. The key to bringing them down is to not shoot at the body. Just like in turkey hunting, go for the head and neck shot. On those big Canadian geese, that is what the white patch on their head is for. It is the aiming point. Mount to the white spot and pull away with your lead from there. Not from the body.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I use a Browning Gold 10 ga. with an extended Mod. choke.
The ammo I have used for years is Remington 1 3/4 oz steel "T's". Most birds centered even at longer ranges are DRT (Dead Right There). Also, I have been able to find the loads on sale after season for about $14.00 for a box of 25. However, I haven't seen these sales in the last two years!
MG

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from yanzi wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Grew up in the so-called, originally valued underestimate the importance of that original underestimate the importance of something important bit..
www.lilydating.com

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from troll53 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I gave up worrying about what size shot to use, once I killed and ate one. Have given up goose hunting for life!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cb bob wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Timely article Phil,
I'm going on my first goose hunt in February. It will be Guided, over decoys. so, it sounds like 3" steel BB's is the way to go.

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from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

VAsportsman -- 3 inch shells for me. If I want to shoot heavier loads I will buy a 10 gauge as 3 1/2s beat me up. I do agree with OH that velocity matters along with shot size although I would say 1450 fps-1500 fps is fast enough.
Troll53 -- someone cooked your goose wrong. Sorry you didn't like it. Done right, it tastes like roast beef.
cb bob -- BBs should work. I hope you have a good hunt!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from vasportsman wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Thanks for clarifying Phil, definiely agree with you about 3 1/2's, if you have time check out a question of mine about shotgun chokes, (specifically the lack thereof), produced a lot of differing opinions and may be a good topic to address in the blog sometime.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

My gun is a Benelli SBE loaded with Kent 3.5 in. fasteel BB or BBB for geese. The local 10-13 lb honkers seem to have great respect. My hunting buddy Billy D. uses an old Ithaca mag 10 that weighs at least 10 lb with the heavy stock he added. He says recoil is insignificant and is deadly with that thing. Last year I watched as he shot a 13lb 15 oz honker stone dead with one shot a good 45 yds up. He uses BB and BBB's in the 3.5 inch load.
One year I took my rangefinder out on the goose line at Cheyenne Bottoms. It's a place where you can get pass shooting as the birds leave a refuge to feed. Many of the locals use 3.5 in 10 ga. guns and reload with T shot. I watched a guy drop geese that were a scary long way up with one. Won't say how far because don't want to encourage sky busting. The key is a large payload of high velocity shot and a long lead. Still I did see one yahoo shoot at a flock that was 154 yd up as the passed over my head. Of course he did no harm to the geese at that range.

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from ejunk wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

haha, #3 made me chuckle, thanks Phil.

I shoot #2 black clouds for geese and #4 black clouds for ducks. I use a tighter choke (mod) on geese than I do for ducks (IC). In all honesty, I've largely given up on hail mary (ie, greater than ~35 yards) shots at geese. if they don't decoy or pass low, then I don't shoot.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from JCB wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Late season geese and ducks are big, strong, and wear heavy feathers. The key to bringing them down is to not shoot at the body. Just like in turkey hunting, go for the head and neck shot. On those big Canadian geese, that is what the white patch on their head is for. It is the aiming point. Mount to the white spot and pull away with your lead from there. Not from the body.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I shoot only BB and BBB for Canada and Snow Geese. I have hammered early season snow's with 1's and 2's also. Some of the guys use T and F steel shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I found geese tough to kill with large shot when the birds are in coming straight to you. That breast is BIG even after getting through the feathers.

The good geese shots I've seen use small shot aiming at the head and neck. I like #2 and go for quarter and crossing shots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from idduckhntr wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Since I am a trap shooter I love tight chokes. I use improved mod and full for ducks and geese with Winchester Expert #3s and 2s for everything and haven't had a problem.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hermit crab wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I shoot steel, and feel like switching from #2 to BB, I was getting much better results on big honkers, and also the benefit of less feathers being pulled into the breast meat.

Nothing like my wife biting into a hunk of goose meat and pulling a feather out of her mouth to sour her taste for wild game!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from vasportsman wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Phil, were you using 3 inch or 3 1/2 inch? Shot size is only part of the equation.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Wabeke wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

When it comes to geese I'm a firm believer in bigger is better. These are tough birds and my 40 years of hunting experience has shown me that geese need BB or BBB. I just came off a goose hunt 2 weeks ago and my 3.5 inch BBB Blackcloud ammo folded every goose that came to my end of the blind. I've been in blinds with guys swearing by their HS #4s but I'll challenge everyone shooting them on those 2nd and 3rd shots at decoying geese that are now 40 yards out and moving 40 mph with the wind.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from duckdog07 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I use BBB's and sometimes T's 3in 12 ga. I still can't kill geese at 60 yds, like they do on TV but I do alright at 35 yds.I also use an improved cylinder as large steel shot seems to pattern tighter then say a 4 or 6. I also reserve the right to change my mind should my hunting partners start dropping them like they were hit by lightning

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

You bet that we had several geese sail on us when we used lead #2's. Today I use BB in a modified barrel field grade Model 12 early on but switch to the BBB in a modified 10 ga. when the migrating birds arrive. My old lab appreciates not having to chase them very hard.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ejpaul1 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

We got an expensive lesson a month or so ago about choice of ammo. First waterfowl hunt, guided, I used 12 guage 3" BBB steel, my wife, limited to 20 guage, used no 2's. She had a hard time knocking down teal, let alone any geese. She has a 12 guage now and we'll be shooting black cloud or something similar next year when we go. The difference between the the geese I hit and the guys that had black cloud was noticable. I did drop my limit but my shot to kill ratio wasnt 1-1.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

The speed of the pellets is at least, if not more, important than the size, especially when shooting steel. I usually don't get a lot of 20 yard shots because of the way I hunt (hedgerows with decoys set out 35-50 yards away depending on the lateness of season). I'm shooting a fixed full choke 870 and steel 3" BB loads moving at 1550 fps. Any steel shot moving slower than 1500 fps is pretty much money in the wastebasket. I took a young fella hunting with me this year (once and only once!) who was using the new 1700 fps Remington loads. He offered me a couple but I was afraid to use them with my gun's fixed choke barrel. He had a fancy auto and those shells were still pounding him hard. He didn't bring down much with them but I give the credit to operator error. My brother hunted geese with me after my wife's funeral two years ago and I let him use my Browning A-5 Light 12 with fixed modified choke. He did very well using 1 oz 1500 fps 2.75" No 1 shot. I tried using #2 this year when BB was not available and did poorly so just saved them for ducks. Went with #1 and found they worked about the same as BB. I can now afford to shoot hevishot but I usually do okay with steel so I'll stick with it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Hey, OH, you said more than a mouthfull when you said " I can NOW AFFORD to...but....I'm right there with you. I can finally afford an African safari for lion and elephant, a dream ever since childhood; however, those same dollars would be better spent helping a couple of grandkids be able to graduate college without the burden of debt. Seems like a no-brainer. I'll be content to read Ruark and the others.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I use a Browning Gold 10 ga. with an extended Mod. choke.
The ammo I have used for years is Remington 1 3/4 oz steel "T's". Most birds centered even at longer ranges are DRT (Dead Right There). Also, I have been able to find the loads on sale after season for about $14.00 for a box of 25. However, I haven't seen these sales in the last two years!
MG

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from yanzi wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Grew up in the so-called, originally valued underestimate the importance of that original underestimate the importance of something important bit..
www.lilydating.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from troll53 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I gave up worrying about what size shot to use, once I killed and ate one. Have given up goose hunting for life!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cb bob wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Timely article Phil,
I'm going on my first goose hunt in February. It will be Guided, over decoys. so, it sounds like 3" steel BB's is the way to go.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

VAsportsman -- 3 inch shells for me. If I want to shoot heavier loads I will buy a 10 gauge as 3 1/2s beat me up. I do agree with OH that velocity matters along with shot size although I would say 1450 fps-1500 fps is fast enough.
Troll53 -- someone cooked your goose wrong. Sorry you didn't like it. Done right, it tastes like roast beef.
cb bob -- BBs should work. I hope you have a good hunt!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from vasportsman wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Thanks for clarifying Phil, definiely agree with you about 3 1/2's, if you have time check out a question of mine about shotgun chokes, (specifically the lack thereof), produced a lot of differing opinions and may be a good topic to address in the blog sometime.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

My gun is a Benelli SBE loaded with Kent 3.5 in. fasteel BB or BBB for geese. The local 10-13 lb honkers seem to have great respect. My hunting buddy Billy D. uses an old Ithaca mag 10 that weighs at least 10 lb with the heavy stock he added. He says recoil is insignificant and is deadly with that thing. Last year I watched as he shot a 13lb 15 oz honker stone dead with one shot a good 45 yds up. He uses BB and BBB's in the 3.5 inch load.
One year I took my rangefinder out on the goose line at Cheyenne Bottoms. It's a place where you can get pass shooting as the birds leave a refuge to feed. Many of the locals use 3.5 in 10 ga. guns and reload with T shot. I watched a guy drop geese that were a scary long way up with one. Won't say how far because don't want to encourage sky busting. The key is a large payload of high velocity shot and a long lead. Still I did see one yahoo shoot at a flock that was 154 yd up as the passed over my head. Of course he did no harm to the geese at that range.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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