Winchester AA Light Loads (2000)
by: Tom Armbrust
It is hard to believe Winchester introduced their first 12 GA AA target loads in 1965, 35 years ago. Where does the time go? Reloading target loads just before the introduction of the AA target shells was a labor intensive time consuming chore. Take it from me, as I had reloaded hundreds of Federal paper shells that summer with Red Dot powder and Alcan card over powder nitro cards, plus two fiber wads, then the 1-1/8 oz shotcharge of 7-1/2 pellets. To make matters worse, case life was short with the paper hulls, two or three reloads at best, as pinholes appeared just above the brass head and crimps gave out. Ballistics Iam sure were not near as uniform as factory target loads, as my crimps were something to be desired, plus my wad pressure was something of a by guess by golly routine. As a 15 year old kid, my interest was growing by leaps and bounds towards perfecting my mediocre target reloads. When I first got my hands on a box of Winchester AA trap loads, I was truly amazed with the excellent crimp quality on that red compression formed hull. I had spent my whole weeks grass cutting money on this box of shells wanting to see if I was getting my money's worth. To my amazement these AA target loads utilized a one piece plastic wad and shotcup, with extra hard high antimony shot. I remember really working hard to cut through the very strong compression formed AA shell to examine its components. I thought now if I could earn some extra money with a second summer job I could afford a few extra boxes of Winchester AA shells to have a supply of these hulls on hand for reloading. I thought I died and went to heaven reloading this new hull, plus the one piece AA wad. I doubled my shell output per hour to eight boxes on my Mec 600 Jr. reloading press. No more card and fiber wads to fool with, plus my hull reloading life was so far ahead of the paper tube, it was amazing. In one test I reloaded a number of AA hulls up to 20 times each before retiring them to the trash can.
Dad and I had so much fun reloading shotshells back then, as we shared much quality time together. Dad was amazed with the simplicity of the one piece plastic AA target wad, plus the fact it formed a much more perfect gas seal versus the nitro card and fiber wads. Barrel leading was eliminated and pattern density increased by about ten percent.
At first we mounted the Mec 600 Jr. to a wood base and put together target loads right at the kitchen table after dinner. Looking back mom was a saint, as dad and I spilled shot pellets onto the table and floor, yet my mother never directed a cross word towards us. That following winter dad built me a reloading bench and we moved our reloader and various reloading components into the "reloading den". Just a small 10 x 12 room yet I thought then that it was really something. Many evenings after dinner dad and I would retire to the den to concoct some new target loads or some 10 bore Roman candle magnums for duck or goose hunting. My burning desire to learn more and more about shotguns and shotshells was very much starting to take off. Mom also was very pleased about getting her kitchen table back for keeps! She was concerned about my spending so much time in the den reloading shells, shooting and counting patterns, or burying my head in some very interesting gun book or reloading data manual. She said, "Thomas, if you studied that hard in school you would be an A student. Well mom was very close, as I was a Winchester AA student. As I look back on that very exciting time in my life, the mid 1960s, I guess I did not realize that was a great time to get introduced into shotshell reloading. As that was just the start of a multitude of new plastic shotshells and wads being introduced, plus many other new reloading components were getting a foot hold into the market.
Dad had gotten me a brand new 12 GA Remington 870 with a 30" full choke barrel with vent rib for Christmas. I was one happy 16 year old. I started to conduct pattern tests with the AA factory target loads at 40 yards. All my buddies thought I was crazy spending hours counting thousands of tiny pellet holes in butcher paper. Early on I found I could not come close to the high pattern performance of those AA target loads using my reloads. Usually my many different combinations of reloads never came within five to ten percent pattern density of their factory counterpart. Kind of Disappointing to a kid that thought he knew something about reloading. It took me some rime to realize that the high antimony extra hard shot was the big secret of the AA loads pattern success story. At that time I was buying the cheapest shot I could find on my meager summer income. Not realizing my bargain pellets were very soft being deformed by pellet setback and acceleration up the bore. I finally robbed the pellets out of the Winchester factory AA loads substituting them for my bagged shot. Like magic, my reloads were throwing beautiful dense even patterns at 40 yards averaging near 80 percent just like the factory AA loads. I was now on my way for my quest of "Ballistic Research".
A great shooting friend of mine, Hunter Needham, told me of very good sporting clay's shooters being able to break crossing or quartering clay birds out to a full 60 yards without a lot of choke constriction. My skepticism got the best of me, as 60 yards is a long way off and most shooters are unaware of the rapid pattern degradation after 45 yards. More on this later. It did make me think of the long range trap shooting target opportunities such as the 27 yard AA shooter back at the fence or Anie Oakley competitors trying to break their target on the second or third shot, a distance of 48 to 52 yards. Breaking a 50 yard clay target seemed more reasonable to me. So I decided to conduct a pattern test series starting at 30 yards shooting five rounds at a time, then moving back in five yard increments, stopping at 60 yards. A lot could he learned from this pattern test series. Like what is maximum clay target breaking distance, what is the optimum long range, what is the rate of pattern loss for each five yards of range.
My Remington 1100 shotgun was used for pattern testing. This gun has a 30 inch barrel with a bore of .728, and a long forcing cone. A Briley 25 ML after market choke tube was installed in the Remington 1100 barrel. Choke constriction ran .033 or full choke, overall choke length measured 2.750 with a parallel section length of O.760. The full choke tube was selected by the author as I figured I needed all the help I could get for the long range pattern tests at 40 yards and beyond.
Before we review the patterns, let's see what components were made up in these Winchester AA 1ight target loads. Its load code is AA127, of course the hull was the one piece compression formed tube, with a Winchester 209 primer. This powder was a flattened ball propellant, charges for five samples averaged 17.36 GR with a .02 variation on my Denver Instruments Accurate Load III Electronic scale. This minimal powder charge variation speaks very well both for the quality control and loading machine people at Winchester's East Alton facility. Winchester's WAA12 wad was used in this load. Average wad weight on the five round sample was 39.0 OR. with a 0.3 GR variation. Outside diameter of over powder gas seal section of the wad measured O.704. This wad does a fine job providing an excellent gas seal in back bored guns due to its flexible and deep over powder skirt. Even Dave Ennis's, 90-T trap gun, with an over bore diameter of .751 shoots great patterns showing minimum pattern variation with these AA loads. Dave Ennis is also the owner of Darien Sporting Goods trap club in Darien, WI. Dave has shot thousands of rounds of Winchester AA target loads posting many great scores from the 27 yard line in AA class. Cushion section height of the wad measures 0,615 with a very slight downward set of the four cushion support straps. Shotcup height measures 0.785 with four equally spaced full length wad petal slits. Shot cup wad petal thickness measures .036 at the bottom tapering to .022 at the top of the shot cup.
On closer inspection the quality of the 7-1/2 high antimony extra hard lead pellets was very good, averaging 493.3 GR on a five round sample with a 10 GR variation, or just 9 pellets. A hand count came up with 402 pellets per shell. Winchester can keep very close tabs on their shot quality having their own shot tower on site at the East Alton plant. In this way, they do not have to depend on an outside shot manufacturer. High percentage shot patterns out of a number of different trap guns reflect Winchester's high quality standards put into these shot pellets. Mike Jordan, of Winchester, assured me that the same high antimony extra hard shot pellets put into Winchesters AA target loads are available to the hand loader in Winchester's bagged shot.
Ballistic tests were carried out at Ballistic Research in a 30 inch test barrel. Its bore measures 0,726 with a skeet choke. Velocity was measured at 4 feet using an Oehler M35 P chronograph in conjunction with Oehler M-55 photoelectric screens. Velocity averaged 1154 FPS. Running very close to their 2-3/4 dram velocity equivalent with an extreme variation of just 12 FPS on the five rounds tested. Pressure was measured in PSI using a PCB M-167 A02 Piezo electronic transducer, averaging 11,200 PSI with an extreme variation of 600 PSI. This very minimal velocity and pressure variation reflect the time proven ballistic quality put into Winchester's AA target load lineup. Winchester's shot shell quality control assurance is carried out by firing tests of many thousands of rounds annually under very stringent test conditions. This assures you, as a clay target shooter, a very excellent competitive shotshell.
I for one, really enjoy the lack of felt recoil from these Winchester AA light target loads. Added velocity translates into more recoil tiring a shooter more quickly. Trap, skeet, and sporting targets are no match for these loads. Plus I have harvested quail, doves, and grouse with this Winchester loading having great field harvesting results.
After 35 years Winchester AA target loads are still going strong. At the historic 100th Grand American, AA target loads once again won many events as clay target shooters will shoot thousands of AA target loads with a great sense of confidence and optimism as many have done for the last 35 years!
For more information on Winchester's extensive shotshell and reloading components or a free catalog contact Steve Meyer at: Winchester, 427 N Shamrock Street, East Alton, II 62024, phone 618-258-2648.
Don Zutz once commented in an article appearing in Trap & Field his thoughts on how many pellets it took to break a clay target in trap shooting. If my memory is correct, he concluded that three pellets were the minimum number of hits required at whatever range the shooter's gun, choke, and target load combo would meet that requirement.
When I first started trap shooting at our local gun club to earn extra money for reloading components, we could help by pulling and setting targets. After a days shooting, we kids would pick up unbroken targets to be reused by the trap kids so we could shoot free practice rounds. That was right up my alley, as a kid on a tight budget. I was kind of surprised to notice how many clay targets that had received one, two, and even sometimes three pellet hits without being broken. Looking back I wish I could have told you how many clays had received one and two pellet holes right through the target, but it was more than a few. The question is how many of these targets would have been lost birds, as no visible chips would be noticed by the shooter or score keeper.
Jim Heggeness, (Ballistic Research, 2406 9-1/2 Street North, Fargo, ND 58102, phone 701-219-4550), used Ed Lowrey's new ballistic program "Shotshell Ballistics for Windows" (available from Ballistic Technologies, PO Box 29375, Bellingham, WA 98228) to compute the number of pellet hits on a clay target represented by his graph at 35 yards. It will be seen that a clay target gets hit hard by my 12 GA Remington 1100 and Briley full choke tube. This would be the distance that an average trap shooter would break 16 yard targets. Winchester's AA 12 GA 2-3/4 dram equivalent 1-1/8 oz 7-1/2 shot loading put 346.4 pellet hits in the 30 inch circle for 86.1 percent and 228.6 hits in the 20 inch core for 56.8 percent, and 117.8 hits in the 5 inch annular area for 29.3 percent. Pellet velocity at 35 yards is 655 FPS. Per pellet energy is 1.20 foot pounds. Pellet hits on the clay target is 4.19, resulting in 5.02 foot pounds of combined pellet energy striking the clay target. Moving back to 45 yards the distance an average 27 yard shooter breaks their target pellet hits in the 30 inch circle averaged 266.8 hits for 66.3 percent. The 20 inch core contained 147.8 hits for 36.8 percent. The 5 inch annular area contained 119 hits for 29.6 percent. Note in moving back 10 yards, the distance from the 16 yard to a 27 yard line, patterns fell off by 19.8 percent in the 30 inch circle and the 20 inch core deteriorated by 20 percent. Pellet velocity at 45 yards is down to 567 FPS, pellet energy is 0.90 foot pounds. Pellet hits on the clay target are down to 3.43 for a multiple pellet hit energy of 3.08 foot pounds. Now we can all begin to realize why 27 yard targets are very challenging to say the least. Now remember this data was calculated from perfectly centered clay targets. The odds for clean breaks would be further stacked against the 27 yard shooter if his target was more than a few inches out of the patterns center. A margin of aim error can be figured in. So 50 yards seem to be the end of the line for breaking targets due to the loss of pellet velocity, energy and pattern deterioration. So the next time a shooter posts a 100 straight from the 27 yard line with Winchester AA target loads we can now realize this is no easy feat with much practice plus a very high level of shooting skill, shooting thousands of rounds of practice!
Great news from Winchester! At the Shotshow, outdoor writers from all over the country got to shoot the new 12 GA AA target loads incorporating a new straight walled configuration designated High Tensile (HT). The new hull's integral base wad has a curved interior so the AA wad forms a snug fit on its insertion over the powder charge, eliminating any possibility of powder migration past the wads over powder cup, even with fine grained ball propellants. Morris Buenemann, the engineer on the AA hull design change, assured me that existing reloading data for the new Winchester hulls will not change in any way from the existing compression formed hull data. So the same primers, powder charges, wads, and shot charge can still be used without fear of any ballistic changes.
Reloading life of these new AA shells has really been extended by the updated case design process. We were shown AA shells that had been reloaded up to twenty times in the test lab. Crimps and case mouths still looked very good after all those repeated firings! This increased reloading life with the new AA shells will be a welcomed cost saving advantage to the reloader on a budget. These new Winchester AA target loads should be available by the time readers see this story.
In closing, I would like to take the time to thank four of Winchester's people that have over the years supplied me with Winchester shotshells, reloading components and taken the time out of their busy schedules to answer my many and varied shotshell ballistic questions. Mike Jordan, has provided Winchester with many great years of service. He has worked in shotshell ballistics formulating the reloading information in their catalog and is now manager of public relations and affairs. Mike is one heck of a competitor in a clay target race be it trap, skeet, or sporting clays, and he is no slouch in the field either. Each year Mike travels with various outdoor writers from around the country to evaluate new Winchester ammo and related development products. Whether it be in the game fields or at the traps, it is a tough job but someone has to do it! Good shooting friends of Mike's, Larry and Cathy Wehinger said, "Mike is a heck of a competitor in a clay target race. No matter if he wins or loses, he is a true gentleman in every sense of the word."
Alan Corzine is very busy overseeing Winchester R & D projects. Morris Buenemann and Steve Meyer, research and development engineers for Winchester, have also been a great help to me regarding questions and test data relating to Winchester shotshell and reloading components. Morris and Alan are avid wildfowlers putting much time and effort into evaluating Winchesters non-toxic hunting loads. They, as I, are fascinated with the clean killing harvesting ability of Bismuth shot on wildfowl. With the many years of dedicated service by the Winchester employees, they really have a handle on their products being experts at the traps and in the field. Not just marketing people selling a product with no shooting experience or field experience. It is easy for me to see why Winchester shotshell ammo is such a big hit with its large following of shooters throughout the country.