Little guns and fast loads seem to be the direction in advanced shotshell designs for 2013. Hevi-Shot is at the forefront of sub-gauge development with its newest Speed Ball offering, giving waterfowlers who love 20 gauges a high-velocity option. Right about the time I became aware of the load from Hevi-Shot, the folks at Mossberg sent along the new Silver Reserve side-by-side, a perfect match to run some test samples downrange.
Before burning some powder, I cut open a few of the 3-inch shells to see what made them tick. The payload mix consisted of 217 No. 5 blended tungsten and steel pellets, producing a 1-ounce load. Standard steel in this offering has a higher pellet count of 243, however, Speed Ball’s payload contains about half tungsten, which is heavier. When you factor that in with the added energy of the load, it makes up for the loss in pellet count, according to the tests I conducted.
An elastomeric ball sits in the wad at the base of the shot column, and acts like a decelerator, helping keep chamber pressures safe. Because both steel and tungsten can’t compress like lead or bismuth during detonation, the energy normally absorbed by a soft pellet surface must go somewhere. In this case, the energy travels directly to the breech via the case head, or chamber walls. The elastomeric ball will compress or at least start to flex at a measured five pounds of stress (tested by scale as a rough estimate), absorbing the raw energy. Thus, the load can work with higher pressure to move more shot faster. The book velocity indicated this load will produce speeds of 1,400 fps at the muzzle, but barrel length would also be a factor in this final figure.
An interesting element of the Speed Ball system is the use of flax seed as filler material, which is used over the top of the payload. Why, you ask? Well, back in the day, Cream of Wheat and even common kitchen flour made excellent filler, keeping lead shot round and improving patterns. There is some evidence the seed possibly absorbs some raw energy at the moment the round is fired, cutting back on chamber/breech pressure. If you want more detailed data covering this subject check out my book Modern Shotguns, coming out in early 2014.
The quality of the tungsten was typical for Hevi-Shot, in that all the pellets were not the same size. Standard 5s measure .12, but I found some samples that just made .10. The steel shot was a special plated copper, and as such tended to retain a bit more weight per pellet than black or polished iron shot. Copper plating may seem like a small thing, but I saw a difference in energy transfer first-hand during an offseason bird hunt for starlings, black birds, pigeons and crows.
On two different occasions, I tested 20- and 12-gauge Speed Ball along with several other brands in 28 different load weights and shot sizes on these “pests.” This made for an outstanding and very unique comparison during our shoots at commercial dairy farms. Speed Ball shined on crows a bit later in the warm weather, and held its own against a few lead loads. The 20-gauge shell was a killer out to 45 yards, judging by the amount of dead birds we removed from the feedlot’s floor.
For the most part, Speed Ball 20 is a soft shooter, at least from the Silver Reserve. The 61/2-pound gun was well stocked and retained a fine-working recoil pad. I had actually been in a major car wreck in central Wisconsin two days prior to test shooting the new loads, and even with a very stiff upper body recoil was not an issue.
Pushing your range beyond 40 yards with this load should be approached with care. I have shot a significant number of large geese with 20-gauge non-toxics at longer ranges, but always depended on Hevi-Shot’s pure tungsten loads (No. 4) to do so. I do believe this gun/load combination is best suited for mid- to close-range work.
Clean kills were sometimes difficult on pigeon and larger crows when extending my range over 50 yards. If you’re going to be shooting at longer distances, a custom ultra-tight choke from Patternmaster or Hevi-Shot’s Hevi-13 could put some added pellets on-target, resulting in more dead birds. Of course, Speed Ball is going to perform differently from gun to gun, so remember to test-pattern your sub-gauge and know its limitations—it will make for better days afield.
At the Range
Speed Ball 3-inch No. 5s tested with Mossberg’s Silver Reserve SxS (full chokes) averaged 75.7 percent inside the 30-inch circle at 40 yards. This table is an exact percentage count against paper targets based on the 217 pellets inside the shotshell.
Target 1: 162 hits = 74.6%
Target 2: 158 hits = 72.8%
Target 3: 173 hits = 79.7%
I was blown away with the three chronograph tests on the chart below. You will note these three test shots are all within two feet per second of each other, which is just about impossible. I have not seen numbers like this for nearly 25 years from a few special hand loads. You just don’t see a pair of 1,408 fps shots back-to-back, then run a 1,406 fps. It’s possible Speed Ball is taking up an exact amount of chamber pressure and that could be contributing to the uniform results obtained with the velocity recording equipment. One thing’s for sure, lead isn’t going to require much adjustment once the load’s performance has been blue-printed in your mind.
Load 1: 1,408 fps
Load 2: 1,408 fps
Load 3: 1,406 fps
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