October 29, 2013
Waterfowl Hunting: Don't Worry About Shotshell Velocity
By Phil Bourjaily
It’s pretty common advice that you should practice with steel shotshells of the same velocity as your hunting loads to get a “feel” for shooting steel shot before waterfowl season. That way you learn to lead birds less at close range and more at long range to make up for the fact that steel starts out fast and sheds velocity quickly. If it makes you feel more prepared to practice with your steel hunting loads, go ahead and do it. You probably should.
I never do. I practice almost exclusively with 7/8-ounce lead reloads at 1,150-1,200 fps, then load my gun with whatever and go hunting. Yes, I pattern my gun first, but honestly, when it comes to velocity I can’t tell the difference in how I lead a target, whether the pellets leave my gun at 1,150 fps or 1,550 fps, or whether they are made of lead, steel, tungsten or bismuth. If I had to think about how much forward allowance to put on a bird every time I switched shells, I would never hit a thing with any ammunition.
When you break it down, the difference in lead actually isn’t that much when you switch velocities, especially at normal hunting ranges and angles. For instance, Remington points out that their 1,700 fps Hypersonic steel loads reduce the lead by eight inches on a 40-yard crosser over 1,450 fps steel. No doubt that’s true. How many people take true 40-yard crossers regularly, or, frankly, how many can even make that shot? Meanwhile, for every yard closer and every degree more or less than 90, the need for lead diminishes. Most shots at game are taken at closer range and gentler angles where the difference in lead between a very fast load and a slower one might be a couple of inches at most. That’s why I don’t worry about velocity. I just shoot.
High velocity loads do hit birds and targets harder. You can see that. And I would even concede that fast loads do help shooters hit birds in the front end. But, I also believe the only “feel” you need to get for steel or any shotshell of any speed is a feeling of confidence, whether you practice with it before the season or not.