A Few Words About Buckshot

A basic understanding of buckshot can help you hunt better.

Regular reader Jim in NC recently suggested I write more about buckshot, adding that I should not dismiss buckshot deer hunters as "a bunch of knuckle dragging rednecks who should be shooting driven pheasants with Holland and Hollands." Hardly. One of the best features of the shotgun is its versatility. With a 12 gauge shotgun and a selection of ammo from 9s to buck and slugs you can shoot anything on Earth that walks or flies.

Coming from a "slugs only" state I have shot plenty of deer with shotguns but none with buckshot. But, I have always been intrigued by buck shot and have a shot a bunch at paper to see how it acts. Here is what I have observed:

  1. If all my shots were going to be in thick brush, I would be tempted to shoot 1 buck. There are 24 pellets in a 3-inch 12 gauge load and with an IC choke you get a nice-sized pattern at 25 yards.

  2. Buckshot size and speed doesn't matter as much as buckshot quality. Premium, buffered loads of hard pellets are worth the price you pay for them for shooting at longer ranges (40 yards). Modified choke, by the way, shoots very good patterns with many different loads.

  3. Buckshot patterns fall apart quickly. The load that is a sure killer at 40 yards may be a crippler at 50.

  4. For really long range shooting, Federal's 00 buck loaded in its Flitecontrol wad is hard to beat for tight patterns. Check out the video above. It's amazing how tight a pattern this load shoots into the zombie target's chest at 50 yards. If Federal made their heavier than lead "Heavyweight" pellets in buck sizes and loaded them with a Flitecontrol wad, who knows how far away you could shoot deer with them.

Admittedly, there is a lot more to say about buck shot, but I will leave it to the voices of experience to chime in and agree with me or set me straight.

The Boar Blaster, from Trulock Chokes, did a good job of patterning cheap buckshot loads.
The Boar Blaster, from Trulock Chokes, did a good job of patterning cheap buckshot loads.Trulock Chokes

What You Should Know About Patterning Buckshot

Ask for advice on chokes for buckshot and you’ll get every answer from IC to Turkey Full. Big pellets don’t always follow the same rules that apply to smaller shot. Last time I patterned a bunch of buckshot, an extended Modified choke worked best for me. And by “best” here, I am talking about 40 yard patterns for deer, not across-the-bedroom patterns for home defense.

At SHOT Show, George and Scott Trulock of Trulock Chokes showed me their new "Boar Blaster" buckshot choke tube. It's an extended Full choke, and inside you can see five rings indicating steps down from bore diameter to Full. Scott said they experimented with different numbers of steps and five proved to be the best for 00 and 000 buck although he didn't know the reason why. I have never seen a choke quite like it.

I tried it with the basic cheap, unbuffered, unplated 9-pellet load of Winchester 00 buck (George said it worked on all buckshot from cheap to premium) and it definitely outshot my Modified choke at 40 yards, putting 4-6 pellets of a 9-pellet load into the vitals of a deer. The Trulocks claim a 20% tighter pattern with the Boar Blaster, which is about what I saw. Incidentally, as often happens with buckshot, one of the nine pellets seemed to miss the big piece of cardboard I was shooting at entirely. What often happens with buckshot, strangely, is that two pellets will fly through the same hole. I’ve watched it happen in super slow motion at the Federal test lab, where engineer Erik Carlson told me had witnessed the same phenomenon many times and concluded that pellets fall into line because of a drafting effect. He also said these “missing” pellets drive LE range officers nuts when they have to account for every projectile fired in training.

But, I digress. The Boar Blaster seemed to corral enough of the pellets and put them into the vitals to be a worthwhile buckshot choke option. It would no doubt perform even better with high quality buffered loads. In my experience patterning buckshot, premium loads pattern better and, not surprisingly, 12 and 15 pellet loads of 00 buck put more hits on the target than does a 9-pellet load. One of my favorite buckshot loads, Remington’s 3-inch Premier 00 with 15 pellets is, of course, no longer made. But, it was a dandy. That leaves Federal’s Vital-Shok buck, which uses Federal’s FliteControl wad, as the tightest-patterning buckshot load I’m aware of, and it performs in almost any choke so long as it’s not of the ported or wad-stripping variety.