Ask Phil: Small Shot Size for Waterfowl Hunting

Q: What is the smallest size of steel shot one can ethically and realistically use on ducks?

I know with a lucky size 7 pellet could drop a bull canvasback at 80 Yards. But that hardly seems like the most efficient or responsible way to go about it. I live in the great state of Florida so towards the end of season shots can range from teal at 10 yards to blue bills at 40 yards. We might also be the spoonie capital of the world. (I doubt this little security breach will lead to our swamps being over run by out of state hunters.) I ask this not to win a beer from my friends or justify me being a cheap skate and using white box #7's from Wally World all season, but because I am a certified recoil wimp. I have learned from you and Mr. Brister that as shot size goes up so does pattern density. The logical conclusion is to increase the weight of the shot charge.

The problem is that a busted clavicle from a 3 1/2 inch load of 2s ends a day of duck hunting faster than leaky waders. I have tried loading Ecotugnston's "nice-shot" and the #6 is positively lethal. Sadly it costs more than one of my student loan payments to order more than a box of shells worth of it. So Mr. Bourjaily, your insight would be greatly appreciated.

—Andrew Wolter

First of all, aversion to recoil is a sign of intelligence, not of wimpiness. Do not be ashamed, but put the Wally World 7s aside for doves, snipe or rails.

Second, unless you are hunting sea ducks or divers on big, rough water, there is no reason to shoot 3 1/2-inch shells at anything other than big geese, and even then, 3 1/2s are rarely necessary unless you are taking long shots. A 3 inch shell containing 1 1/4 ounces of shot launched at a moderately high velocity (1450-1500 fps) kills ducks just fine. Fired through a gas gun, such a load is hardly a clavicle-buster. You could even drop down to 2 3/4-inch, 1 1/8 ounce shells if you can find them.

As for an all-around shot size, which seems to be what you’re asking for, during the regular duck season I shoot 2s—either Winchester DryLok or HeviMetal—at everything from teal to mallards to the occasional Canada that visits my duck spot. I am especially impressed at the way HeviMetal folds birds, even though it looks terrible when you put it on paper. Size 2 shot neither tears teal up nor does it cripple them, although for September teal season I’ll shoot 4 or 5 shot because it seems more appropriately sized.

Size 3 pellets might make a good all-around load for you, too, since you’re not shooting big ducks or geese. By the way, you are probably shooting ducks in full plumage by the time they get to Florida. I envy you the chance to see colored-up bluewings drop into the decoys. Even a drake shoveler is, in its way, a handsome duck in full plumage. Good luck to you and your tender clavicle.

Send your questions to fsgunnuts@gmail.com. If we use your question, Cabela's will hook you up with your choice of S.T.R. Max Hearing Protection ear muffs, an Xtreme Range Bag, or an Interchangeable Shooting Glasses 3-Lens Kit.