Lately I have been doing a bit of shotgun work. The shotgun, much like the revolver for me, has a certain appeal to it that simply cannot be explained. I just like shotguns, and there seems to be no logical reason why that is.
Over the years of shooting shotguns, I have learned that there are certain shotgun shells that work better (read: pattern) than others. Why is that important? Most people think of the shotgun and consider it greatest weakness to be the capacity. I actually think a shotgun’s capacity is not really a weakness at all. Rather, the shotguns greatest weakness is the limited practical range of what the shotgun exceptional, multiple projectile rounds, specifically buckshot.
In a defensive context, it is necessary to have 100% accountability for everything that leaves the muzzle of any firearm. So in the case of the shotgun, I am responsible for all 8 or 9 pellets in a 00 shot load. If my target is only 6″-8″ across, I need all 8 or 9 of those pellets (depending on my specific load) to hit in that 6″-8″ space. If a pellet does miss, I am still responsible for where it goes. This need for accountability essentially limits my practical range with buckshot to whatever distance I can guarantee an approximately 8″ pattern or less. Depending on actual target size, that may be significantly shorter, or maybe a bit further.
When it comes to building a shotshell that can maintain a consistently tight pattern to maximize the practical range, there are some technology options available to the manufacturer. One of the things that causes a shot pattern to spread is deformation of the pellets being shot. Manufacturers can mitigate some of this deformation by using things like using hardened shot, usually copper or nickle plated. Having buffer material (small granulated plastic material called grex) in the shotshell with the shot load, and loading shells to a lower than normal velocity. All of those things worth to minimize the deformation of the pellets. Manufacturers can also use different wad designs. Some wad designs are meant to cushion the shot load from the forces applied to launch the load out of the barrel, mitigating some of that same pellet deformation that tends to occur. Other wad designs like the Federal Flite Control wad, or Hornady Versa-Tite wad are designed to hold the shot load together longer after it leaves the muzzle.
So how much difference does this stuff actually make? Well, to find out, I did a little experimenting. The test gun was a Winchester Defender with an 18.5″ barrel, cylinder bore. Just a bare bones, old beat up shotgun. Pretty much standard for what passes as a “tactical” shotgun these days.
I had four loads for testing. A generic 12 pellet 00 Buck S&B load. This load was representative of the super cheap and basic buckshot loads that are available out there, except it had 12 pellets instead of the usual 9.
I selected Remingtons “Reduced Recoil” 8 pellet 00 buckshot load to represent the higher tier loads that still use relatively basic shotshell technology. It has a buffer material and is low recoil, but uses a standard style wad, and unhardened shot. Fairly representative of the normal “tactical” loads that are available.
On a whim, I tried some of Winchesters Razorback 00 buck also. This is a load supposedly designed for use on wild boar, but has some of the design features found in higher buckshot loads. The wad design is not a standard design, it has hardened shot, and uses a buffer material. It is not low recoil though.
The final load selected was Federals 9 pellet 00 buckshot load with the Flite Control wad design. Federal also uses a buffer material and copper plated shot in these loads. These Federal loads are pretty well known in the shotgun world as being the tightest patterning buckshot out of standard cylinder bore shotguns.
The Federal and Winchester loads are the only loads tested that combined all of the available technology options for maintaining a tight pattern at moderate distances. Obviously Federal executes the concept a bit better with their more robust Flite Control wad design. The Winchester load, although a good attempt, had significant fliers, which is not acceptable in a defensive use load. If a tight pattern is what is needed, Federal loads with Flite Control is where to start looking.
Disclaimer: It is important to test loads in your specific shotgun. Don’t assume that just because load XYZ shoots well in this particular shotgun that it will in all shotguns.