August 17, 2023
In my 46 years of shooting a shotgun, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve shot clay pigeons at a range. So, when the folks at HEVI-Shot asked if I wanted to shoot some clay birds, I was honest. “Not really, I’m good with the 40 yard paper test, I just want to go shoot ducks,” I said.
They ignored me. The automated thrower was turned on, 30 yards out. The first clay that flew by at a 90º angle from left to right, I missed. But the limbs in the trees, 80 yards from where I stood, right in line with the bird I’d just missed, dropped like they’d been instantaneously pruned. That caught my attention.
The next clay that sped by, I barely led and it disintegrated in a puff of dust. The next bird did the same. I moved back to 40 yards, then 50 yards. I hammered 24 birds in a row after that first miss, and was shocked.
The following morning I took the same shotgun and the same HEVI-Shot load duck hunting. It was the first time I’d hunted with that gun, a Browning Silver 20 gauge. I was also among the first people in the country to hunt ducks with the new HEVI-Metal Xtreme, the one that impressed me at the range. That morning on the river I fired eight times and killed a limit of seven ducks, all mallards. My buddy, Austin Crowson, who was shooting a 12 gauge with the new Xtreme loads, fired nine times to kill his seven birds.
From that first box of 25 shells I killed 19 ducks. The next two hunts after that, I fired 15 shots and killed 14 ducks.
I consider myself a good shot. Not great. But this new combination took my shooting performance to a level I’d never known. Was it the fact I was shooting a lighter weight 20 gauge, something which I immediately noticed the difference in when compared to the 12s I’d been swinging for decades? Or was it the new HEVI-Metal Xtreme load? Or both?
Over the course of the season I learned a lot. The first thing I noticed when shouldering my little 20 gauge was how quickly I acquired flying birds. I shoot with both eyes open. I shoulder the gun and shoot, fast. I don’t like aiming or tracking birds on the wing. I raise up when they’re in range and shoot.
I never see a bead when I shoot. I couldn’t tell you the colors of any of my beads on my shotguns. I watch the bird, raise the gun, shoot and follow-through. The lightweight, quick-handling 20 made me a better shot, period. I shot other loads throughout the season to confirm it was the gun. I liked the performance of Browning’s Wicked Wing XD shells; the plated steel is consistent and hits hard. I loved Federal’s Black Cloud loads, too. But I was blown away by the accuracy and lethality of HEVI-Shot’s new HEVI-Metal Xtreme.
HEVI-Metal Xtreme became available in January. I’d shot a lot of HEVI-Shot’s steel, bismuth, bismuth/steel blends, and tungsten. I love tungsten loads, but face it, being a freelance writer I don’t have the funds to afford shooting five flats of tungsten during the season. So when the HEVI-Metal Xtreme launched, I begged to try it.
HEVI-Metal Xtreme loads consist of 70% of their precision steel, topped with 30% of their original HEVI-Shot tungsten. This 12 g/cc of tungsten in size 6 shot has the same density of the precision steel shot in size 3 in the 20 gauge loads I shot. This combo’ flies fast, accurate and tight. Driving the load is Federal’s famed FLITECONTROL FLEX Wad. In my opinion, this wad revolutionized turkey hunting, and is a big reason Federal’s Black Cloud FS Steel is so effective. In fact, the first time I hunted with Black Cloud in my 20 gauge, I fired seven shots and killed seven greenheads, confirming the effectiveness of this load.
When Federal purchased HEVI-Shot in February of 2021, shotgun shells forever changed. Now, HEVI-Shot’s famed bismuth is being loaded by Federal and they’re using their FLITECONTROL FLEX wad. At the same time, It’s also being used in HEVI-Shot’s new HEVI-Metal Xtreme loads. The ratio of tungsten to steel, along with the specialized wad, makes the HEVI-Metal Xtreme the best performing shotgun shell I’ve ever fired. Mind you, I’ve not shot everything on the market, but have shot a lot. You should also know, I kill a lot of birds before drawing conclusions. I don’t just shoot one box and report in. I shoot several boxes, preferably multiple flats, in a range of conditions at a variety of fowl from early in the season all the way to the end when their feather density is maxed.
Last fall I visited the HEVI-Shot factory, less than an hour from my Oregon home. They’ve been there 20 years; it was my first time to the facility. While I learned a lot about all their specialized loads, it was the attention to detail in the pouring of their high-end tungsten shot that caught my attention. The end product is closely inspected by hand, and if it’s not perfect, it’s re-poured. Their goal with the tungsten–and all their loads–is to put the most consistent shooting shells into the hands of hunters. If it’s not perfect, it’s re-poured.
Last season I shot the HEVI-Metal Xtreme at numerous decoying ducks and geese. I pass shot puddle ducks, thick-skinned divers, honkers and cacklers. I shot in high winds, extreme cold and calm conditions. On a diver hunt I fired eight Xtreme loads in my 12 gauge and killed two canvasbacks, two scaup, two bufflehead and a ruddy duck. The size 4 tungsten and size 1 steel was a lethal combination in my Browning Maxus II.
A quality load that results in more kills, fewer cripples and less shots fired excites me. Even if it costs a bit more than I’d like to pay, if I can pull multiple limits from a single box of shells with consistency–or close to it–then I know I’ve got the right combination gun and load.
Scott Haugen is a full-time author. Follow his adventures on Instagram and learn more at scotthaugen.com