Bourjaily: Rethinking Pheasant Loads

Anyone who has ever shot at a ringneck holds strong opinions as to what constitutes the best pheasant load. I have my ideas on the subject, too, but recently had cause to rethink them.

I am just back from Seneca, SD, pop. 50, where I spent three days shooting pheasants in the strange hybrid of wild and preserve hunting that is the South Dakota pheasant lodge experience. The lodge was R&R Pheasant Hunting which gets very high marks from me for friendliness, food and insane numbers of mostly wild birds.

Because it was an industry-sponsored hunt, I had no say in the guns and ammo I used. We were issued Winchester's "Super Pheasant" 1 3/8 loads of 4 shot at 1300 fps to shoot through Modified choked autoloaders. This is more choke and ammo than I normally use on our wild birds at home, where I go with 6 or occasionally even 7 1/ 2 shot through IC/M chokes.

After seeing a lot - and I do mean a lot - of roosters shot over the last three days,
I was impressed with the way the heavy loads of 4s anchored them. Few of the birds budged after hitting the ground and we didn't lose many cripples. I asked R & R owner Sal Roseland what ammunition he usually supplies to his hunters. "Early in the year we shoot 1 1/ 4 ounce loads of 4s, but late in the season we go to Fiocchi Golden Pheasant 1 3/8 ounce loads of 4 shot. They are heavy loads made with excellent pellets. A couple of years ago I tried some lighter loads of 1 1/8 ounce 5s from another manufacturer. We had too many birds fly away after being hit, so we switched back."

Roseland sees 6,500 pheasants shot every year, so it's entirely possible he knows what he's talking about. It's equally possible some of you have favorite pheasant loads of your own to suggest.