In the past 30 years, waterfowler's guns and ammunition have changed drastically for the better. There's better barrel boring and attention to chokes for maximum patterning. Advancements in ammo have driven these changes. Non-toxic shot wasn't exactly embraced by duck hunters, but it was law and we had to compensate. The onus was on the ammunition companies to produce shotshells equal to the task.
Steel shot is lighter than traditional lead — 7.8 grams per cubic centimeter (gr/cc) for steel versus 10.9 to 11.1 gr/cc for lead — and the only way to make steel perform with the lethality necessary to consistently bag ducks and geese was to make it faster.
Lots of tradition went by the wayside on the trek to the lethality of today's loads. Take Winchester's Blind Side, which uses a flat-sided hexagonal-shaped pellet that stacks in the shot cup, allowing more pellets per charge weight than round pellets.
Normally, a 1â…›-ounce shot charge has 141 pellets. I counted 147 in Blind Side, not a lot more, but consider it takes four pellets with sufficient downrange energy to kill a duck and five to drop a goose, those six extra might just give you an edge on the birds.
This year, hunters will have a new Blind Side option — High Velocity. The original load has a velocity of 1,450 fps. High Velocity loads boast 1,675 fps. I tested 3-inch, No. 2s, calculating the retained energy with the standard of three foot/pounds (ft/lbs) of energy as the threshold of lethality, and discovered High Velocity is deadly out to around 55 yards, perhaps 60.
But at that range, we're at 2.83 ft/lbs, just below the minimum. The danger is, of course, in believing any high-velocity shotshell is a death ray — it isn't.
Of course with flat-sided pellets, you have to wonder how well they actually pattern, as a shot string full of gaping holes is a friend to neither hunter nor fowl. Beyond about 1,200 fps, the added velocity tends to scatter patterns.
Blind Side HV is loaded with a two-piece wad; an over-powder disk that is concave on both sides, one to seal the propellant gasses and the other tailored to hold the shot cup. Using Winchester's Diamond-Cut wad, which has three pointed petals that open in flight to retard the wad, the purpose is to retain the shot in the cup to about 30 yards at which point the petals open and the wad strips off the shot. In testing, the spent shot cups were found between 32 and 34 yards, as were the over-powder disks. By holding shot longer, the less aerodynamic flat pellets have a better chance of staying together.
Using a 12-gauge Remington VersaMax with ProBore chokes, I first shot from 30 yards with the improved cylinder tube with a measured constriction of .009, and the patterns averaged 63 percent, with the inner circle showing some central thickening, but even distribution in the outer circle. Moving back to 40 yards with the light modified tube, .0135 constriction, pattern averages dropped to 35 percent. Pretty thin, with several fairly large holes through which a duck could easily slip.
For the past couple of years, I have been shooting Jimmy MÃ¼ller's lightweight sporting clay chokes. More recently, he has developed a line of waterfowl chokes. His UFO has a measured constriction, compared to the VersaMax's cylinder bore, of .045, thus killing the myth that we can't shoot steel through full chokes (yes, I'm aware that there are other full-choke constriction tubes on the market).
With the UFO, my 30-yard averages were 71 to 82 percent and at 40 yards about 55 percent. All were evenly disbursed 30-inch patterns with no escape passages.
Finally, I chronographed 10 rounds, and of the 10-shot string the lowest velocity was 1,515 fps, a high of 1,597 with an average of 1,550, a little slower than advertised, but not enough to matter. Bottom line, the ammunition manufacturers have about hit the wall around 1,700 fps, beyond that chamber pressures become too extreme.
Do these hot loads provide an advantage? Perhaps. But steel is ballistically inferior to more dense pellets, and the fast drop off in energy is only partly mitigated by a fast start.
Ammo: Blind Side High Velocity
Shot Size: 3-inch, No. 2
Velocity 20 yds 30 yds 40 yds 50 yds 60 yds
1,675 fps 9.66 ft/lbs 6.71 ft/lbs 4.90 ft/lbs 3.69 ft/lbs 2.83 ft/lbs
1,550 fps 9.07 ft/lbs 6.36 ft/lbs 4.67 ft/lbs 3.53 ft/lbs 2.72 ft/lbs