November 03, 2010
Does speed kill? Or is there more to it?
Kent Cartridge's ultra-high velocity 3.5-inch Fasteel loads burn at 1650 f.p.s. right out of the barrel.
How effective are those newer ultra-fast shotshotshell loads?
Speed kills, right? I pose the question only because speed has seemingly become the law in terms of advancing steel shot waterfowl ammunition. With this thought, I took some time and set out to prove (or disprove) whether or not the speed thing is more of a myth versus being a working tool when harvesting ducks and geese.
With the start of the 2007 waterfowl season, the folks at Kent Cartridge saw fit to send out a couple of test packs of their new ultra high velocity 3.5-inch 1650 f.p.s. screamers. As loaded in both 11„4-ounce #2s and BBs, these new fast movers could be the final answer to the question as to whether or not a massive amount of additional velocity will greatly increase the performance level of steel shot pellets.
I know for a fact that when large steel pellets reach a velocity of more than 1600 f.p.s., strange things can happen down range.
With the exception of loads I put together for testing some years ago, I have just not seen these kind of payload velocities from factory-rolled fodder.
In a project dealing with high velocity shotshells during the 1980s, I built loads that only retained less than 3„4-ounce payload and packed them into a 3.5-inch, 10-gauge mag hulls.
With a somewhat unstable powder charge, and with the guns locked to a machine rest, I fired them by way of a lanyard cord. Test firing the loads on targets to 100 yards down range, the whole project became very interesting.
With chamber pressure checks indicating that the loads were quite safe at about 12000 LUP, I continued my research and found that indeed steel shot as in #1, through F shot (21 caliber) would turn on the afterburners and deal out some deadly energy with those massive starting velocities.
It seemed at the time that about 1600-1700 f.p.s. was the threshold in terms of seeing some major improvements in performance. However, because of the low pellet counts in the light payload weight loads, and a lack of suitable powders at the time to offer commercial ammunition to duck hunters, no real interest from the industry came forth.
What I had done, however, (at least in terms of my own education) was to see that yes, very high velocity can cut lead time, and, to some degree, add more foot pounds of killing energy to a pellet of shot, and even give the hunter some margin of added confidence.
That being the case, I have sat back and watched steel shot ammunition manufactures steadily move up the horsepower in duck and goose loads year by year as they started to approach that seemingly magical mark of 1600-plus f.p.s. The big question today is simply this. With the added value of many more years behind the gun, and modern chronograph equipment, are we chasing a phantom, or is this new fast moving iron shot the real deal?
Asking The Computer
Ballistic computers (love them or hate them) help sort out some of the questions involving the real value of these new hot shot pellet speeds. Clicking on SHOTdata System in my computer address book I asked my old friend Mr. Ross Metzger to light up the old Ballistic PC and see what would roll out the other end in terms of solid information regarding pellet performance.
What SHOTdata found was that indeed velocities were holding up well, and you can see for yourself based on the fact that at 70 yards, BB steel was still humping along at a quick 579 f.p.s, or just under the threshold of my 600 f.p.s working velocity rule. In other words, a pellet launched at 1600 f.p.s is still a penetrating projectile at about 65 to 68 yards down range. The #2s (at 1600 f.p.s) will thump a mallard, at least in text book fashion, to a strong 55 yards down range.
Based on this information, what real gain is there with the fast loads versus slower moving fodder? Data would suggest that the BBs leaving a gun barrel at 1450 f.p.s. will generate 45 f.p.s. less terminal velocity at 70 yards, when compared to the 1600 f.p.s. figure.
With a move back to 40 yards, the edge really goes to the super speed load with a difference in the plus column of 62 f.p.s. The real gain here is not so much penetration or raw kinetic energy, but an apparent reduction of forward allowance, or basic good old fashion shot string lead. At least in theory, the new Fast Steel loads from Kent Cartridge should be easier to hit something with.
Forward allowance on a crossing duck that is moving at 45 mph (and that's not hard to duplicate in the real world) will require a lead of 10.1 feet at 50 yards with the new hot shot steel BBs. Again, by comparison, shooting a slower 1450 f.p.s. load that lead is still at 10.8 feet. A very small .7 savings in lead, but in my opinion, any gain is always a positive element when we are dealing with common iron shot pellets.
In The Field
With early goose season on the horizon, and a hunt on the books to central South Dakota, I hauled along the new Kent Cartridge loads. Testing by way of my Remington 870 Express, and my own special "wad stop" choke system ("Dead Ringer") I set up with my pals on a beaver gut that held a few non migrating Canada geese.
Dead Ringer is being designed to produce better down range performance with standard steel shot ammunition versus the new " designer" type loads. If we are going to stay alive in this business of shooting ducks and geese, we need to keep standard steel shot right in the working performance loop for many good reasons.
With the new ultra velocity loads we have now achieved a sort of maximum velocity, but more work is needed on harnessing that increased speed and energy in terms of pattern control. Super velocity loads will quite often result in blown core or inner 20-inch ring patterns. Some of these holes are large enough so as to allow a mallard to fly through them untouched.
Test shooting on paper at 40 yard by way of the prototype choke indicated that the BBs in the new Fast Steel were producing about 78-percent patterns, but with a very tight core that contained about 65-percent of that total payload.
Now as the first goose passed high and running with the wind, hitting a few goose calls turned the large bird, and as it locked onto the decoys, a crack from the Remington pump gun at the 50-yard mark rolled the bird over in mid-air. At exactly the same time I fired, another hunter in the group touched off his shotgun
with the same Fast Steel load.
A hand check of pellet damage was reviewed from both the rear and side of the bird regarding this first field kill with the new super steel shot load. I have to say that basic pellet penetration didn't seem to indicate much (if any) major advantage over the slower steel shot BB pellet size loads at the time. A broken wing and several pellets in the breast had slowed, but not killed the bird. I think we tend to call this condition down and immobile at best.
It took several weeks of additional hunting to gain other examples of the field performance results associated with the Kent Fast Steel shotshell loads. Several friends got into a major flock of Canadas on a cut wheat field and with a total of 33 rounds killed 21 larger race Canadas without loosing a bird. The gunning was all inside 45 yards over decoys, and good dogs were used in pairs to run down several cripples. For the most part, it was a dead bird flying when those dark geese got inside the 40-yard kill net.
Because these hunters had been testing a number of different loads for me over a couple of season at the time, I tend to trust what they were saying in terms of the bird reaction to the Kent Super Fast Steel loads. At the same time several other load types were being pressed to geese by these hunters, most of which have been covered here in the past.
The Kent quick movers held their own against some of the better grade load types being offered hunters currently.