Last year's season has long passed, but if your dreams are haunted by freshly-detached feathers drifting in the morning breeze and your trigger finger twitches unpredictably, the only cure is to start poring over new gear and planning fall hunts.
New shotguns are well and good, but you can only justify a new one every so often. What you do need a fresh supply of every time you trudge to the swamps is ammo, and the right choke.
Trends are tilting towards specialized, niche-purpose shells and higher velocity shot, reducing lead length. Here's a look at some of the best waterfowl shotgun ammo for 2013. Good luck with the finger twitch.
Hevi-Shot Speed Ball
The only thing Hevi-Shot Speed Ball
will get you high on is pattern density and the consistent energy impacting passing mallards. A double layer of pellets — trusty Hevi-Shot backed by steel pellets plated with 22 times thicker impact-deforming copper than the industry standard — are boosted to 1,650 fps by a pressure-reducing elastomeric ball in the wad. Now available in 20-gauge.
Price: $23 to $27
For you gorillas that think a 10-gauge is barely adequate for high-flying geese, and you primadonnas that can barely stand to shoot a 20-bore, Big Green has expanded its smoking-fast HyperSonic line
to include your favorite fowling piece. The 3½-inch, 10-gauge load coughs 1½ ounces of BBB, BB, or No. 2 shot out at 1,500 fps. Kept in a bird-killing pattern by Remington's Xelerator wad, the load turns your Christmas goose into a protein colander. As for the 20-gauge load, there's nothing girly about it: The 3-inch, 7/8-ounce hull is available in Nos. 2, 3, or 4 shot, screaming out of the barrel at 1,600 fps.
Price: $25 to $36
Black Cloud Close Range
Ducks are like relatives — when they get too close they can be hard to stop. If you're decoying tight river inlets or hunting wooded swamps, try stoking your scattergun with Federal's Close Range version of the legendary Black Cloud
. Carrying a payload of 100 percent FLITESTOPPER steel delivered by FLITECONTROL wads; it's engineered to achieve full, dense patterns on decoying birds. Available in 3-inch hulls for 20 and 12 gauges.
Blind Side High Velocity
Shred the skies with faster-than-ever hex-shaped Winchester Blind Side
. Bumping muzzle velocity up from 1,400 fps to almost 1,700 fps, Winchester's new high velocity shells make for more forgiving leads and greater per-pellet impact energy, resulting in more ducks and geese for your trusty Lab to retrieve. As always, a Diamond Cut wad launches shot consistently for nice even patterns, and Drylok construction minimizes duds.
Price: $24 to $27
There's nothing that sounds quite as sinister as tungsten, and few words are more evocative than Tundra. Pair the two into a duck-slaying load, and you have migration-stopping panache of Fiocchi Tundra
. Housed in a charming European hunter-green hull with a high-brass base taller than Hessian riding boots, the 3-inch, 12-gauge load delivers 1³„8 ounces of BB-No. 3 pellets at 1,300 fps.
Ever get in an argument over just who dropped that wood duck in the decoys? Now you can prove you're the top shot. Spectra Shot
builds debate-ending waterfowl loads stoked with colored pellets. Your choice of orange, blue, yellow, or green pellets are coated with a non-toxic color coat that won't leave residue in the chamber or bore, or flake off on impact. Shotshells push 1¼ ounces of shot at 1,400 fps.
We dedicate special seasons to teal, so why wouldn't we want a special load engineered just for shooting them? Ever in tune with our fowler emotions, Kent TealSteel
has introduced a zippy 3-inch, 12-gauge load that punches 1¼ ounces of No. 5 Fasteel out the muzzle at 1,350 fps. The load has also proven its mettle on close-working, smaller birds like woodies.
We killed cupped up Canadas and giant honkers at 40 yards last fall with Hevi-Shot Hevi-Metal
. The loads, available for 20, 12 and 10 gauges, performed flawlessly whether the birds were working tight or skirting the edges of our spread. Hevi-Metal combines steel shot with a layering of Hevi-Shot to produce an absolutely lethal load.
Price: $22 to $26
Rio BlueSteel Super Magnum
Rio's new BlueSteel
3 ½-inch load works magic on distant, spooky birds. Choose either 1³„8 ounces of your favorite pellet size at 1,550 fps, or a thumping 1¹„‚‚† ounces at 1,300 fps. According to Rio, it takes conservation and preserving the environment very seriously, touting research that has paid off in clean, efficient cartridges as well as consistent shot patterns. And at such a low cost, it's tough to beat, especially with the way we shoot.