New Shotguns and
Environmentally Friendly Shotshells
by: Tom Armbrust
Early in September, just before I sat down to write this column, it dawned on me that fall is around the corner. In our area of northeastern Illinois the cottonwood trees are loosing their leaves, as a few maples are just starting to turn a few isolated shades of yellow and red colors. Lengthening shadows now come earlier in late afternoon, plus the chirping of crickets during daylight hours are all sure signs of fall coming on.
If you are at all like me, this time of the season, early fall, kind of gets me into a minor dilemma. Should I head out to the local trap and skeet club on the weekend, or start thinking about the fast approaching various bird hunting seasons. As I imagine many of our Trap & Field readers will also do some hunting, I will now take the liberty of touching on a few new shotguns and shotshells that can be used both at the traps and in the field with great satisfaction.
Winchester's new AA Super Handicap Heavy Target load pushing 1-1/8 oz of high antimony 7-1/2 or 8 lead shot, at 1250 FPS. Offered in the new and improved High Tensile hull design really does a number on smashing difficult handicap trap targets plus a great pass shooting dove load. Another plus for this straight-walled hull configuration with its radiuses base wad, tailored to fit existing AA wads. I was impressed by its lessened felt recoil due in part to the load's mild breech pressure, resulting in dense even shot patterns. Winchester's Morris Buenemann, spent many months of hard work in their research and design facility at Winchester, perfecting the exact interior dimensions of the new AA hull. So that you, the reloader, can use the exact same reloading data and components that have been used in the previous AA shells without fear of changes in ballistics, regarding velocity and or pressure. Plus an extended reloading life with this new hull design, as I have reloaded some up to fifteen times. Smaller upland game birds like grouse, woodcock, and doves better keep their distance this fall from this new AA offering.
Let me tell you, in the past couple of months have I gotten some strange looks when I toe up to the 27 yard line with the new Winchester Super X2, 12 GA 3-1/2" Magnum in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass camo pattern. She may not exactly be a beautiful trapgun in that camo pattern garb, but in the field it will naturally blend into any type of background with ease. To date, I have fired just over 500 rounds of target loads and heavy non-toxic hunting loads without a hitch, not one ejection problem. Even target loads as light as 1 oz and 7/8 oz shotloads have functioned flawlessly. Shotcharge point of impact is a winner with the Super X2, as my sample gun shoots about 70/30 for me on paper. It's a real plus for fast rising trap targets or game birds.
My hide was a half dozen rows of corn out in the middle of a 80 acre harvested field. Three dozen duck decoy shells and my poor attempt of calling these wary mallards into the decoy spread, so far had been in vain. But the fowl weather was in my favor with a strong northwest wind gusting to 35 miles per hour plus a rain snow mix. Hard to believe it was the first week of October in south eastern Wisconsin. Flock after flock of mallards would hang on the outer edge of gun range at 60 yards curious of the decoys below, then quickly slip out of range on the strong wind. In desperation, as shooting hours end was fast approaching, I let drive with Federal's Premium Tungsten-polymer 12 GA 3-1/2" load pushing 1-3/4 oz of Size 4 buffered shot at 1275 FPS. This loading proved very effective in the next few minutes harvesting three beautiful greenheads with just six rounds. A Labisky Terminator full choke tube was screwed into a Remington 1187 Supermag shotgun. A deadly combination printing 85 percent patterns at 40 yards and 45 percent patterns at 60 yards with 105 pellet hits in the 30-inch circle at this long range. Yes, I did say a full choke, as these Tungsten-polymer loads can be used in any gun or choke that lead shot can be used in, even fine older side by side double guns. Federal's new Tungsten-polymer shot is the same density as lead pellets so its ballistic effectiveness is equal to high quality buffered lead shotshells with the added benefit of being non-toxic. Federal's Premium Tungsten-polymer loads are also available in 10 GA 3-1/2", 12 GA 2-3/4" and 3", and 20 GA 2-3/4" and 3" offerings in Size 4 and 6 shot with velocity levels up to 1375 FPS.
Early on the idea of the 12 GA 3-1/2" shell did not appeal to me as I thought the guns would be too heavy and the heavy shot loads still will not compete with the larger bore diameter of the 10 GA. How wrong I was, as I would later find out both in the field and at the pattern board.
Having shot a Remington 1100 at trap targets for more than 25 years, transition to the new Remington 1187 12 GA 3-1/2" Supermag felt just like an old friend in my hands. Not only on clay targets, but also very fast handling and deadly efficient on last spring's snow goose hunting trip to South and North Dakota. My goose hunting partner, Jim Heggeness, was shooting his Remington SP-10 bore commenting, "I had two geese dead in the air with the quick handling Remington 1187 Supermag before he even had his big heavier 10-bore into action". On that same trip Dave Nickalson, retired Chicago White Sox ball player from the nineteen sixties and one hell of a clay target competitive shooter, put the Remington 1187 Supermag through the paces on snows one morning. He thought the gun handled very well and really packed a punch on tall geese with the new Kent 12 GA 3-1/2" shotshells loaded with 2 oz of Size 1 and 3 Tungsten-Matrix pellets. Kent's new Fast Steel in the 12 GA 3-1/2" loading, pushing 1-9/16 oz of Steel BBB shot was also hard on light geese at sensible distances.
Kent has not forgotten the often overlooked 16 GA shooter either, offering both non-toxic Impact Tungsten Matrix in a 1-1/8 oz loading in Sizes 5 and 6 shot. Kent's new velocity target loads are available in 12 GA. with shot charges from 7/8 oz to 1-1/8 oz, and velocities from 1150 to 1350 FPS. This well rounded line up of Kent's shotshell loadings should please both the clay target shooter and hunters afield alike. With the Remington turkey super full choke tube screwed in place the Remington 1187 Supermag went crazy with the Winchester Supreme 12 GA 3-1/2" turkey loads with 2 oz of size 4 and 5 shot shooting the densest 40 yard patterns to date in my pattern tests at head neck turkey silhouette targets. Remington does not back bore the Supermag barrel as my test sample ran 0.730. A very long forcing cone is used that goes a long way in reducing felt recoil with heavy loads and enhancing pattern performance. Heavy target loads with 1-1/8 oz shot loads posed few problems regarding ejection in the Remington 1187 Supermag as I shot 100 rounds of Federal's Gold Medal handicap target loads with only two malfunctions. The idea of having one shotgun design to handle light target loads hosting 1-1/8 oz shot loads all the way up to the Roman candle 3-1/2" shell, pushing 2 to 2-1/4 oz of shot for turkey hunting. It's an innovative design idea to say the least. Yes, you do feel recoil from these heavy shot loads but it is not the punishing heavy jab experienced from a fixed breech or recoil operated 3-1/2" shotgun. The gas system extends felt recoil over an elongated time pressure curve, making fast accurate follow up second and third shots possible if needed in the field.
Pattern tests conducted with various types of lead target and heavy non-toxic hunting loads in the 12 GA 3-1/2" guns have been outstanding to say the least. In fact, some polybead buffered Winchester No-Tox Bismuth wildfowl loads in Size BB and 2 shot, as well as Winchesters Supreme high velocity turkey loads in lead 4 or 5 shot, have rubbed past 90 percent at 40 yards with a full choke tube installed. So my worries about heavy shot charges not patterning well in the 3-1/2" 12 GA have been put to rest. With all the recent innovative ballistic technology incorporated into the latest 12 GA 3-1/2" shotshell offerings, such as ultra slow burn rate propellants, modern plastic wads, extra hard shot pellets, and high tech shot buffers.
Beretta's new AL 391 trap gun was put through a test series with an assortment of target loads as light as 7/8 oz all the way up to heavy 12 GA 3 inch hunting loads pushing up to 2 ounces of lead shot without a hitch.. As 1500 rounds were run through the gun without any cleaning, and not one malfunction. Now that's reliability! New features of the 391 vs. the older 390 are: the recoil dampers at the rear of the receiver to cushion the breech bolt, and limit vibration from heavy recoiling magnum loads, and in the fore end cap which limits barrel vibration. A self compensating gas valve that uses the gas necessary to operate the action and bleed off excess gas pressure. Other nice features are an enlarged trigger guard for shooters with gloved hands in colder weather. The forend is very slim and the pistol grip has been redesigned for better shooter control. Another great idea for stock adjustments is the set of stock drop and cast spacers for fine tuning shotcharge point of impact. My trap shooting buddy, Hunter Needham, had no problems dialing in the Beretta AL 391 trap. This is usually not an easy chore as Hunter is a right handed shooter who likes his shotcharge impact about 80/20 for fast rising 27 yard handicap targets. I shoot from the port side and like a more flat shooting gun. Yet in a matter of minutes the stock can be removed and the proper stock drop or cast spacers installed to suit either one of our shooting styles.
With the tide now turning more and more towards non-toxic shot requirements for most all of our shotgun sports, I would like to touch on a great new Winchester Expert 12 GA 2-3/4" steel shot 1 oz load, pushing Size 7 steel shot at 1300 FPS. This loading in the Beretta trap gun really did a number on clays. Even back at the 27 yard line, targets were broken well. Both Federal's Classic steel shotshell line and Remington's fine Nitro-Steel loads keep both the clay target shooter and upland bird hunter in mind. Offering 12 GA 2-3/4" 1 oz and 1-1/8 oz steel shot loadings at 1300 FPS in Sizes 4, 6, and new size 7 shot. They also offer a 20 GA 2-3/4" 3/4 oz steel loads, in Sizes 4, 6, and 7 at 1300 FPS. Plus Remington's Premier steel target loads in both 12 GA and 20 GA at the traditional velocity level of 1200 FPS in the Remington line up.
Right now in northeastern Illinois our Woodstock Sportsman's Club is in the process of taking core samples in our lead shot fall zone to determine if lead shot is a problem at our club. Also the possible mining and cleaning up of the club grounds of lead pellets if need be. This would be a costly undertaking to say the least; or worse yet, the closure of our local trap and skeet club. Due to a possible alleged lead shot toxic problem, Trap and Field readers keep your fingers crossed that our Woodstock Gun Club will not be closed. I have been an active member there since 1968 with many great memories and friendships shared at our club through all those long years! Due to the continued closures of other clay target clubs throughout the country, non-toxic shotshells may be the answer in the near future if lead shot target loads are a problem or issue due to environmental concern. Hunters are also feeling the squeeze, as both federal and state areas are now requiring the use of non-toxic shotshells for upland bird hunting in ever increasing numbers. Yes, I realize steel shot has its problems, such as higher price, somewhat reduced on target performance due to its reduced pellet density versus lead shot, regarding velocity and energy. Plus the unavailability of a variety of target type steel shot wads for reloading. Last the fear of bore and or choke damage that I have never myself witnessed after firing many hundreds of rounds of steel shot loads through many different shotguns. Fellow clay target shooters it beats the alternative if your gun club is in jeopardy of closure due to the use of lead shot. So just maybe in the future a non-toxic shotshell load may not be just a choice for clay targets. So the more we clay target shooters can learn about non-toxic shotshells the better, and help educate fellow shooters from our learning experience by their usage, both at the traps and in the field.
Yet another very interesting non-toxic shot. A new guy on the block called Hevi-Shot produced by Environ Metal Inc., (3227 Countryman Circle NW, Albany, Oregon 97321, phone 541-791-1819, FAX -1790). Daryl Amick, the inventor of Hevi-Shot and Federal's Tungsten Iron shot, told me Hevi-Shot pellets are made of tungsten, nickel, and iron and formed into pellets by a priority process resulting in a pellet that is approximately 10 percent heavier versus a same size high antimony lead pellet. Fellow handicap trap shooters just think of that enhanced pellet density for a minute. You could drop down a shot size say from traditional size 7-1/2 lead to Size 8 Hevi-Shot and yet still maintain higher pattern density, velocity, and energy for these handicap 27 yard targets versus the traditional 7-1/2 lead pellet.
Hunters too will reap great rewards from the use of Hevi-Shot pellets. Two new world records were set at the World Still Target competition in Forsyth, Georgia, sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The object is to place the highest possible number of pellet hits into an orange three inch circle superimposed over a turkey head neck silhouette 40 yards from the shotgun's muzzle. Jay Menefee (Polywad Spred-R Fame, PO Box 7916. Macon, GA 31209, phone 912-477-0669) is loading the Hevi-Shot shells at his facility. Jay worked very hard developing the prototype Hevi-Shot turkey loads pushing 1-5/8 oz of Size 6 buffered shot at modest velocities to meet the very close deadline of the World Still Target Shoot. His great effort and hard work paid off as a new world record of 36 Hevi-Shot pellet hits on the 3-inch circle target clinched the hunter class record. Stock type shotguns and choke tubes are limited to this event. Unlimited open class was won again by Hevi-Shot setting still another world record registering 42 pellets on the small target, with very high tech shotguns and choke tubes.
This new Hevi-Shot is just the answer for me as I very much enjoy putting my wits up against wildfowl such as mallards and geese under adverse hunting conditions such as cold weather, strong winds, and rain or snow, and at times at longer ranges. Again the added down range pellet velocity penetration, energy, and pattern density should be just the ticket for those longer range shots. Some of the other non-toxic offerings just will not get the job done due to their diminishing returns,regarding inferior pellet density. To date Ballistic Research, my outfit, has developed 10 GA 3-1/2". 12 GA 3-1/2", 3" and 2-3/4", 20 GA 2-3/4" and 3" Hevi-Shot reloads. Flighted mallards and pheasants have been harvested at a local game club with both the 12 GA and 20 GA Hevi-Shot loads. If I told you the distances of some of my shots verified by Bushnell Compact 600 Yardage Pro Lazer Rangefinder with a Remington 870 Magnum 20 GA with its 1-3/16" oz Size 5 Hevi-Shot loading, you would think I was crazy. Jay Menefee even developed 28 GA and .410 bore Hevi-Shot loads with excellent pattern test results. All shotgun gauges will be stepped up in efficiency with Hevi-Shot loads as I found out so well using the Magnum 20 GA. They will now out perform the 12 GA with steel shot loads by a wide margin at extended ranges. The 20-bore will once again be a very effective game harvesting shotgun appealing to younger shooters, women, and older hunters greatly benefiting from a fast handling lightweight shotgun without the fear of crippling or heavy recoil.
Daryl Amick, Hevi-Shot company spokesman, told me the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the thirty day public comment period regarding Hevi-Shot on October 30th. If no problems arise, Hevi-Shot should be a legal non-toxic alternative for harvesting migratory game birds by December of this year. I for one am keeping my fingers crossed that the legalization happens soon. So I can put together an ultimate wildfowl load of Hevi-Shot together at Ballistic Research and start field testing as soon as possible as the sky is the limit!
A most interesting test was carried out by this writer and fellow shotgun writer of Double Gun, Sherman Bell of Cheteck, WI. Sherman was kind enough to test the muzzle strain exerted on my Remington 870 Magnum full choke barrel, using his Oehler Model 43 personal ballistic lab. A strain gauge is attached to the muzzle of the shotgun barrel. Important information such as barrel stress at the point of the strain gauge is recorded, plus a time pressure curve is shown, also a shotcharge velocity reading is put into the data base. Winchester's new AA Super Handicap heavy target load with 1-1/8 oz of 7-1/2 lead shot, recorded a velocity of 1259 FPS and muzzle pressure of 1314 PSI. Next we tried a Hevi-Shot load in a 2-3/4" FIOCCHI factory shell, pushing a 1 oz shotcharge of unbuffered Hevi-Shot Size 8. A velocity of 1313 FPS, and muzzle pressure 1500 PSI was recorded. Note that the velocity of the Hevi-Shot load was 54 FPS faster versus Winchester's Super Handicap load and muzzle pressure was only 186 PSI higher. So the fear of choke expansion with the smaller size pellets of Hevi-Shot versus lead shot has been put to rest by this test. The Gualandi wad also does a very good job of protecting the interior of your gun barrel and choke from pellet rub through in the larger sized Hevi-Shot pellets. Incorporation of Precision Reloading's PSB Spherical shotshell buffer, very nearly eliminates pellet imprint damage to the wad. The buffer works wonders with ultimate wad protection also when reloading steel, Bismuth, or Hevi-Shot pellets. For a copy of their reloading catalog contact Keith or Mary at Precision Reloading, (124 South Main Street, Mitchell, SD 57301 phone 800-223-0900 fax 6788). The non-toxic shotshell future looks very bright indeed!
Bismuth Cartridge has introduced two new environmentally friendly No-Tox shotshell loadings. ECO ammo is a traditional 12 GA 2-3/4" 1-1/4 oz Bismuth paper shell, lacquered for moisture protection. The wad column consists of a card over powder and fiber stack being completely biodegradable in the environment. This should be a great load for shooting over water, no more plastic wad debris. Bismuth Cartridge's new 10 GA 2-7/8" Sporting Specialty load arrived on the last weekend of our early Canada goose season. I was pleased to harvest two Canada's with my English W & C Scott "Unique" side lock double. This beautiful old shotgun built in 1887, has the short 10 GA 2-7/8" chambers, nitro proofed for 1-1/2 oz of shot. Many fine old American and English 10 GA double shotguns were chambered for the short 10 GA 2-7/8" cartridge pushing shot charges of 1-1/4 oz to 1-5/8 oz. Gun weight running 8 to 9 pounds, at least a pound or two lighter than the 3-1/2 magnum 10-bore belching out 2 oz to 2-1/4 oz of shot. These older short chambered tens are very pleasant to shoot with the new 10 GA 2-7/8" Bismuth cartridge loading of 1-1/4 oz of Size 2 or 5 buffered Bismuth pellets in conjunction with modern plastic hulls and wads. Velocity runs 1210 FPS and pressure is mild at 8300 PSI, as checked in my 10 GA pressure barrel. This spells reduced recoil for older vintage 10-bore guns. These loads will prove very deadly both on waterfowl and upland game birds as pattern density will run high and shot strings short. As my W & C Scott gun's full choke averaged 67 percent patterns at 40 yards. So once again after a many year lull, a short 10 GA shell that is non-toxic can again be chambered into that fine old 10 GA double. Then with pride taken afield to be enjoyed and again become alive in our hands. Thanks to the Bismuth Cartridge Company for breathing life into these grand old shotguns so that a younger generation may very much appreciate the call of wild geese on a crisp clear autumn morning or the grand sight of a flock of ducks disappearing into the sunset as grandfather did many bygone years ago with his beloved Ithaca, L.C. Smith or Parker short chambered 10-bore. This may be of interest to our younger readers that countless glass balls, live pigeons, and early clay targets were shot with these 10-bore shotguns. Plus untold numbers of game birds from the 1870's to around the turn of the century, before the 12-bore became the shotgun of choice. Both at the traps and in the field the 10-bore guns set many trap shooting records and game harvesting feats.
So now whether we are clay target shooting or game bird hunting, a number of new non-toxic and environmentally friendly shotshells are waiting for us to try them out. Give them a shot as I think you will be surprised at their effectiveness.
In closing, I would like to thank all the great people in the shooting sports industry who loan on consignment shotguns and shotshells for testing and load development work to make my column possible in Trap & field. Without their great generosity and support we outdoor writers would be in a bad way.
Catherine Williams, (Beretta USA Corp, 17601 Beretta Drive, Accokeek, MD 20607, phone 440-834-1668, FAX 1018), was kind enough to send along the Beretta SL 391 trap gun for evaluation. Then when I was completed with it, she again went the extra mile sending it onto my co tester and trap shooting partner, Hunter Needham in Virginia. She also has sent along a new youth 20 GA SL-391 for the kids at our local gun club so they can acquire, with qualified adult shooting supervision, hands on shooting experience with this fine scaled down 20 GA.
Thanks again Cathy!