Bourjaily: Winchester Small-Gauge Steel

For years, every time I talked to any shotshell maker, I put in my plug for small-gauge steel loads. They would tell me it was impossible to make a wad thick enough to protect barrels and still hold a meaningful amount of shot. But, they were lying to me because as of now we have steel 28 and .410 loads. For 2009 Winchester announces 28 and .410 steel loads in 6 and 7 shot (roughly equivalent to 7 1/ 2 and 8 1/ 2 lead).

The 28 gauge loads contain 5/8 ounces of shot; the .410s have a 3/8-ounce payload. In terms of pellet count, 5/8 ounce of steel 6 shot equals 196 pellets; 5/8 ounce of 7s contains 249. In the .410, 3/8 ounce of 6 and 7 shot works out to a mere 117 or 149 pellets, respectively.

Granted, both should work only within extreme limitations on small gamebirds and clays. That said, I would love to go rail hunting with a .410 and 3/ 8 ounce of shot. The flight of a rail is usually so short that if you wait long enough not to blow it up with a 12 or 20, it lands before you ever get a chance to shoot. But, I doubt these are a good idea for youth duck hunting although I'll have to withhold judgment until I've had a chance to try them. These are not, in my opinion, youth loads but ammo for serious small gauge nuts. They should be fine for skeet and some sporting clays, and maybe teal right in your face.

The good news is, the industry is no longer pretending that they can't load small gauge steel. Now, when (not if), a lead ban comes to your area, you'll still be able to shoot your small gauges.