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Spectra Shot 20-Gauge Load Review

spectra_fOver the past several years, I have twice lost a band on a coin toss. Not just a run-of-the-mill band, but one from an Atlantic brant and the other from a speck. If I'd had some Spectra Shot, I might have been able to claim both. On other occasions, hunting next to Joe Blowhard, who claimed every difficult shot, a quick necropsy would have revealed the true dead-eye.

Spectra consists of standard steel pellets, coated with a proprietary color — blue, green, orange and yellow — that does not rub off or shatter when fired. Apparently, the folks at Spectra have been submarined by a few too many shot claimers too, and decided to do something about it: Issue everyone a different color, and let the knife determine who shot what.

Though I am a firm believer in the Nash Buckingham doctrine, "Don't send a boy on a man's errand," (i.e. stick to the 12-gauge), there are times when a smaller-gauge will do the job. Women, youngsters, and those of us older hunters who have had various parts replaced, often need to back off the firepower.

Spectra loads a 3-inch 20 with 1-ounce of shot, so I decided to give them a whirl at the patterning board (our season was still a ways from opening). My shotgun of choice was the Benelli Cordoba, designed for high-volume dove shooting, it's a basic Benelli 20-gauge with a ComforTech stock, ported barrel, lengthened forcing cone and a couple of other bells and whistles.

I shot a Briley Light Modified choke at 30 yards and then the Benelli Crio Modified at 40. The 30-yard LM patterns were impressive with an average of 83 percent of the 189 pellets inside the 30-inch circle. There was some central thickening with 55 percent of the pattern within the center 22-inch ring and 27 percent in the outer ring.

By dividing the pattern into these concentric rings, there are two equal size areas to compare results. What impressed me was the evenness of the patterns across the 30-inch circle. Not many ducks or geese could fly through these killer patterns and survive.

The Modified choke at 40 didn't fare quite as well. Not surprisingly, the additional 10 yards contributed to the thinning pattern. There's an old wives' tale that small-gauge patterns are smaller in diameter. Not true, but they are thinner due to the lighter shot charge.

Our Modified patterns averaged 57 percent, just a shade below expected 60 percent Mod patterns at 40 yards. The outer ring had an average of 22 percent with the inner ring averaging 35 percent; again, quite even, but thin with several areas devoid of pellets, which is expected as yardages increase.

After 10 shots over my chronograph, the shells averaged 1,342 fps; darn close to Spectra's published 1,350 fps. Since steel loses energy fast, the maximum range is about 35 yards. At 40, the retained energy is right on the ragged edge of lethal at 2.19 ft/lbs.

Checking recoil with the KPY ballistics program, the 6-pound 8.6-ounce Cordoba's recoil velocity was 15.71 fps, and the recoil energy (what it feels like on your shoulder) was 26.08 ft/lbs. A 1,200 fps 1-ounce target load generates a recoil velocity of 14.76 fps and a recoil energy of 21.98 ft/lbs, which is one reason why 20-gauge duck loads are appropriate for those who are sensitive to recoil. Also, when the ducks are decoying close, all you need are open chokes and a small-gauge shotgun.

Take 'em as they come is still 12-gauge territory, but more and more hunters are eschewing heavy recoil when conditions allow.

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