Subjective Testing

Going afield gives a generalized impression of load capability

#1. Locating Warm Targets
I don't care how good a ballistic evaluator you are, but if you can't get your test product on real time targets you're in a world of hurt, as the time comes to complete an evaluation of a given load's effectiveness. This was my dilemma at the start of the 2008 spring snow goose season out here in South Dakota. I had no less then five brand new loads to put on warm targets, and as the date pushed into the second full week of snow goose activity on the eastern end of the state I had yet to fire a single shot at anything.

Field testing new ammo.

Change was in the wind however with a call from some friends who had been tracking and hunting snow geese all the way up the line from Missouri.

On the books at that time I had a new load being marketed by Bucks Run called American E shot, a new unique shaped round called Squrounds by Polywad Inc., a super tungsten load offered in a custom package by TSS in a pure tungsten #7 pellet, Federal ATK Black Cloud in a new BBB steel, and a final new entry into the market by Fiocchi in a BB steel shot load.

This filled out the 12 gauge load review schedule at five different and unique loads. This was a tall order for anyone wanting to cover all the bases on this many shotshell loads, but no one was at all upset by the challenge to find and get enough targets to commit to a decoy spread. Or, they were just a bit apprehensive he didn't show it at all as we glassed flock after flock in feeding fields until dark, and cell phones glowed with incoming and outgoing calls to farmers and from other hunters in terms of gaining permission to set decoy spreads.

#2 Harvest Enough Samples
Setting up for the next mornings hunt consisted of selecting one of two very good looking fields after getting permission from the farmers. The field we did select was boarded by a good high and dry dike system that would allow us to get well into it without burying the ATV's and trucks in a foot or two of spring black earth mud.

We hit the field hard at about 2 a.m. with a spread consisting of about 800 motion snow goose decoys, some flyers and additional motion decoys of a special design, and the best custom sound system I have ever heard over a snow goose set. With layout blinds in place and very well laced with corn stubble, at first light we piled in for the first shoot of a three day event.

We had almost hit the nail on the head in terms of location. However, the thought was that because we were hunting in a snow storm we were not going to do well at all. That turned out ot be less then factual. Geese arrived with the first gray of dawn, and as they clustered up then maple leafed down from 400 feet to ground level, our guns warmed up fast.

In my field bag I had hauled in a box of 25 shotshell covering each of the rounds being tested. Everything tested was in 12 gauge, and all but the TSS loads were 3-inch magnums. TSS at almost purte tungsten was not moving into the heavy weight magnum class fodder. Those 183 count .18 density pellets in the small #7s were able to still push 600 f.p.s. at 80 yards, with pattern densities levels that were off the charts in terms of usable pellet count down range.

"...American E takes top honors because of its density and pellet size. It is just a cannon ball delivery system in the sky"

With the outstanding electric calling setup employed, as well as those 800 decoys in the spread I am here to tell ya that we had geese right in our laps which took some terrible punishment from even the light #7 shot, not to mention the much larger pellets in American E, and Squounds steel shot ammunition. I had hunted the spring season from the very first year and never have I whitness such outstanding decoying by waterfowl. In effect, these snows were decoying like the fall birds of 1969 in west central Minnesota.

#3 Field Evaluations
With the outstanding gunning that didn't dry up, but lasted all three days of shooting, I got a pile of shot on target to be sure. However, as some have asked me in the past what's so great about just pounding some birds out of the sky? How can you learn much about the loads from just that method of testing?

The truth be known if I were just shooting birds to see them fall, the question has merit. However, when adjusting loads, range, chokes and other related field conditions there is a massive amount to learn about load behavior. This is exactly where a new load can pass or fail in my book. The real time event under real time rules. Wind, air temperature, humidity, and altitude all factory into a shotshell loads performance.

Target size as in greater snows, or juveniles that started to arrive the last day of shooting make a big difference from say hunting teal in the early fall, or even mallards late in the year. As conditions change, targets get tougher, and the weather gets mean, loads can turn from pass to fail over night.

With a grand total of 134 recovered snow geese during the hunt gaining some idea of how loads performed was a slam dunk. The heavy weights as in American E 20 caliber T shot didn't have any upper limit, and the BB steel shot loads developed by Fiocchi were solidly effective to 55 yards. Even the new and very different Polywad Inc. Squround pellets when used by my partners and I, tended to develop a good track record on birds inside 50 yards. This was going to be a big special steel shot pellet decoy load, and it showed.

#4 Static Testing
Depending on when loads arrive for review, static testing can be ahead of live bird shoots, or behind them, and as such after the fact. In the case of everything shot on the illustrated field hunt the range and pattern board work had been completed, and even written up in some cases prior to the hunt. All that remained was to get some samples of varied loads into re-shot dead birds at normal gunning range limits. Why do all that you ask? Because static re-shooting can at times bring up different problems from those that surface in real time hunting scenarios.

#5 Overview
When the total package comes together it is only after the static and field work have run their complete course. At that point I know more about that load then I care to at times, but all in all everything uncovered makes for a better understanding as to how and why shotshell loads do what they do when shot from your shotgun barrel.

In terms of the best energy delivering load, American E takes top honors because of its density and pellet

size. It is just a cannon ball delivery system in the sky. Secondly you have to go to Black Cloud in those big bad BBB pellet sizes. Here you have a state of the art sabot delivery system for core pattern control and velocity retention. Also a hard hitting iron shot pellet when it reaches its target at almost any positive and workable range limit.

TSS in even the #7 shot cuts a mean alley way into a flock of waterfowl with its massive pattern density and a 23⁄4-inch shotshell with 187 pellets contained in it. If anything slows this load as a top choice it would be specialization and lack of general availability on the retail level. Squrounds in 3-inch 13⁄8-ounce 17 caliber "B", and 3-inch 11⁄4-ounce BB Fiocchi run close to each other, but damage effect goes to Squrounds with those hollow shaped projectiles being used in the loads. Squrounds however like TSS shot must be a special order item at this time. For the most part all of the loads tested, and it does not surprised me at all, are quite effective as game harvesting systems.

More How-To


7 Ways for Improving Your Shooting Skills

Mark Romanack - July 05, 2016

In the glory days of waterfowling, sportsmen developed shooting skills in the field by firing...


Waterfowling Etiquette: Use Your Manners

David Hart - February 18, 2016

Crispin Powley has seen some pretty coarse behavior in the duck marsh, but nothing prepared...


Shoot Where You Look: Shotgun Stock Placement

John Taylor - July 29, 2016

Our eyes are the sights, but because of tradition, it is often hard not to aim a shotgun

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.