About 20 years ago, I was part of a group of ballistic types that set out to develop and test the fastest shotshell ever loaded. We loaded a special 10-gauge, 4-inch hull with a very small amount of lead shot driven by a very large amount of powder. When fired, this hotshot super load drove 1¹⁄₈ ounces of buckshot to a muzzle velocity of 1,700 feet per second. We were successfully shooting passing geese at 100 yards.
Then, the development of non-toxic shot — steel — caused so many ballistic problems that achieving super speeds moved down the priority list for ballistic engineers. However, as steel shot loads evolved, they started to pick up velocity and perform a bit better downrange. Still, steel shot seemed trapped in an impossible situation in terms of gaining ultra-high velocities.
Kent Cartridge, a small Canadian company, broke through barriers with Fasteel, which moved at 1,530 fps. A short time later, Federal Premium Ammunition turned loose loads that pushed 1,600 fps out of the muzzle.
I was sure shotshells had hit maximum performance limits years before, so why was it happening?
Advances in powder.
In addition, better delivery systems — wads — resulted in far better downrange performance. Smaller pellet sizes and smaller payloads were doing the work of the old big-ball loads that had been so trusted in the days of lead shot waterfowling.
Velocity and Pressure Tests
I tested a significant sample of Remington HyperSonic steel against pattern boards and chronograph screens. I used my Oehler Chronotech Model 33 velocity recording system, the same basic system used to record the velocities at the muzzle and downrange for the M1A1 Abrams tank and other military-related anti-tank and aircraft guns.
Four feet beyond the shotgun’s muzzle, the recorded velocity for three shots averaged 1,813.5 fps. The book velocity, according to Remington, is 1,700 fps. However, because the load loses massive amounts of speed over the first yard of flight, it can be assumed HyperSonic’s payload is close to 2,000 fps at the muzzle sent down a 28-inch test barrel fitted with an extra-full, long-range waterfowl choke. Additional data supplied by Ballistic Research of McHenry, Ill., an outfit run by Tom Armbrust, indicated an average velocity of 1,810 fps.
The chamber pressure was high, running an average of 13,850 pounds per square inch. That’s a hot chamber burner. I recorded the data using a Krieger 198 test barrel of 30 inches with a skeet choke.
Firing 1¼-ounce loads of No. 2 steel shot through a Remington 887 shotgun fitted with a Carlson’s extra-tight .069 choke, the patterns inside a 30-inch circle at 40 yards ranged 95 percent to 100 percent. With a change to a Remington modified-choke test barrel, Ballistic Research pulled a uniform 64.2 percent average that didn’t vary more than 3.3 percent across a total of five test rounds.
Ballistic Research noted stiff recoil. My test shooter, Ed Dunnigan, experienced the same while running tests at Ballistics Research & Development in Piedmont, S.D. After just getting out of the hospital for injuries suffered in a motorcycle wreck, I was not in the greatest shape to shoot heavy 12-bore super loads. With extra shoulder pads, I did manage to touch off a few shots, but thought better of it in short order. This load is no starter project for a new 12-gauge shooter, or for a guy with a broken collarbone and ribs.
Loaded Up in Alberta
Early fall of 2010 brought with it the usual migration of ducks and geese all across Alberta, Canada. I joined several writers and Remington staff smack in the middle of the early fall Canadian waterfowl flights. We shot new Remington Versa Max 12-gauge semi-automatics loaded with HyperSonic 3-inch, 1¼-ounce steel shot loads.
Shooting modified choke, I found the 1¼-ounce payloads of ultra-high velocity No. 2 steel reacted as though they were much heavier BB or larger pellets inside of 60 yards. On the first day of the hunt, we were planted right in the middle of two major resting areas that held a massive number of ducks and geese. The mixed bag, with large ducks and all sizes and types of geese, helped us learn what the load would do on a variety of waterfowl.
Later, back at the lodge, I conducted an examination of several geese and duck carcasses. In effect, I found the No. 2 steel had penetrated deep into even a large goose body and disrupted bone and tissue in the process. In some cases, bone had slivered into small stems within the wound channel — evidence of effective energy being dispersed, even at longer ranges. Several medium-size geese I opened up that had been killed outside of 55 yards were found to have received major damage, with shot imbedded deep into the birds’ bodies.
Test data indicates that at 60 yards, HyperSonic steel pellets are still moving at 600 fps, enough velocity to deliver lethal energy to a duck or goose. Our cripple rate was less than 4 percent for the entire hunt.
Hot Rod Loads
HyperSonic is offered in 1 1/8-ounce and 1 1/4-ounce in shot sizes BB, No. 2 and No. 44 in a 3-inch hull, and 1 3/8-ounce BB in a 3.5-inch shotshells. A box of 25 shells retails for $19 to $25.
HyperSonic steel represents another important advance in the development of non-toxic waterfowl loads, and could spell the end of tungsten designer loads. I’ll certainly be running more of it down my barrel at ducks and geese.
L.P. Brezny is a ballistics expert from Piedmont, S.D.