Steel Shot Traget Loads
by: Tom Armbrust
Posted: 05/27/2008

Don Zutz talked of a number of trap skeet and sporting clays facilities being shut down in Wisconsin due to noise or environmental problems.   Many environmentalists have a problem with lead shot pellets after being fired from our shotguns at clay targets, having ill effects on soil and water, or ingestion by waterfowl.   Well, an alternative to this problem can be steel shot target loads.   This is not a recommendation that all trap clubs switch over to steel shot target loads, but if it's the only other alternative then let's give them a shot.

On a recent trip to Precision Reloading, Inc. (PO Box 122, Stafford Springs, CT 06076-0122, phone (800) 223-0900) Peter Maffei, owner, and his right hand man, Mark, told me a number of trap clubs in California have ordered sizable amounts of steel shot.   I believe one order was 10,000 pounds..   Mark was very concerned about many of these reloaders using shotshell components designed for lead shot, and substituting steel shot in place of lead..   This is a very dangerous reloading practice.   Fast burn rate powders such as Red Dot, Clays, 700-X, Nitro-100, etc. have no place being used for steel shot reloads.   Their peak pressures are much too high for a proper velocity level of say 1200 FPS.   In one test, Mark conducted at Precision Reloading with their pressure gun, a fast burn rate shotshell powder was used behind 1 oz of steel shot, with a steel shot wad.   Pressure was above S.A.M.M.I, proof limits at over 22,000 PSI!   So please follow steel reloading data to the letter, without any component substitutions.   Always check powder and shotcharges on an accurate scale before reloading.

For maximum barrel protection when shooting steel pellets through your trap gun, a high density plastic shotcup like the Steel Tuff wad available from Precision Reloading, will completely eliminate pellet rub through preventing barrel scratching or forcing cone erosion.   Two other excellent steel shot wads plus steel shot are available from Ballistic Products, Inc. (20015 75th Ave. North, P.O. Box 293, Corcoran, MN 55340. phone: 888-273-5623).   They are called Cushion Steel Drivers.   The CSD 078 wad will hold 7/8 oz of steel while the CSD 100 will hold 1 oz, and the CSD 118 will accommodate 1-1/8 oz.   They also have a STS Steel Shot Special with a shotcup capacity holding 1 oz of steel shot.   All of these wads seat well over the powder charge in a straight walled hull like the Federal Gold Medal.   Compression formed hulls like the Winchester AA, and Remington Premier with their tapered interior, pose a problem.   Without excessive wad ram pressure, the wad's over powder gas seal was too large in diameter to properly seat over a powder charge, leaving an air space between the powder charge, and wad's gas seal-an unwanted condition.   When a high bulk density powder was used this problem was eliminated.   Most of my load development was carried out in the Federal hull, due to its large case capacity and excellent wad fit. Four different powders were used for this article:   Green Dot for 7/8 oz steel loads, IMR SR-7625, Hodgdon Universal Clays, and Vihtavuori OY N3SM for 1 oz steel loads.   All of these powders were clean burning and very consistent with regards to both velocity and pressure, when fired in the pressure gun during load development work.   Contact Mr. Ron Reiber, Hodgdon Powder Company (P.O. Box 2932, Shawnee Mission, KS 66201, phone: 800-622-4366) for a copy of their newest leather bound Hodgdon shotshell data manual.   It lists a number of steel shot target loads.

One of my favorite steel shot target reloads to date is the 7/8 oz steel load which was deadly on l6 yard targets just leaving balls of smoke, if I did my part.   Loaded as follows:

Hull: 12 GA 2-3/4" Federal Gold Medal
Primer: Win-209
Powder: 26 GR IMR SR-7625
Wad: Cushion Steel Driver CSD 078
Shot: 7/8 oz  7-1/2 stee1  (428 pellets)
Volocity: 1,375 FPS
Pressure: 9,640 PSI

Very little powder residue was left in the bore with SR-7625, plus felt recoil was almost non existent even though the velocity level was high at 1375 FPS.   The SR-7625 is an excellent powder for steel shot target loads as good velocity levels are not a problem with 7/8 oz and 1 oz shot charge weight at normal pressure.

Pattern tests were carried out at 35 and 40 yards with a Browning BT-99 trap gun, 34" full choke barrel.   These distances approximate the average shooters target breaking ability at the 16 yard line and mid range handicap.   The bore on the Browning ran .7415 with .O40 choke constriction.   Much has been written about how well loose chokes pattern steel shot.   This may be true with the larger pellets.   Trapshooters should experiment with modified, improved modified, and full choke barrels.   Remember many choke tubes and barrel choke constrictions have been relaxed due to the fear of steel shot damage by the manufacturer.

At 35 yards this above mentioned 7/8 oz 7-1/2 steel load and the Remington 90-T were a deadly combination on 16 yard targets.   Patterns averaged 80 percent with 342 pellet hits in the 30 inch circle.   Two hundred twenty-one pellet hits were in the 20 inch core for 51.6 percent, and 121 hits in the 5 inch annular area.   A second load combination that broke targets with authority at mid range handicap distances was:

Hull: 12 GA 2-3/4" Federal Gold Medal
Primer: Win-209
Powder: 22 GR IMR SR-7625
Wad: Cushion Steel Driver CSD 100
Shot: 1 oz  7 stee1  (412 pellets)
Volocity: 1,215 FPS
Pressure: 10,080 PSI

Patterns averaged 70.7 percent at 40 yards with 291.6 pellet hits in the 30 inch circle.   One hundred seventy-four hits were in the 20 inch core for 42.3 percent, and 117 hits in the 5 inch annular area.

More than a few trap shooters shoot new factory loads as they do not reload their own.   Factory loaded steel target loads are available.   Remington loads, a 1 oz shotcharge of size 6-1/2, 7, or 8 steel in their STS Premier hull.   Fiocchi, of America, loads a high velocity 7/8 oz load of 7 steel at 1425 FPS.   Winchester loads a 1 oz 7 steel shot target load in their fine AA compression formed hull at 1200 FPS.   Mike Jordan and Morris Buenemann at Winchester Research and Design, worked very hard on this load and its unique wad design.   This AA target load patterns very well out of my BT-99, patterns running as high as 80 percent at 40 yards.   A number of very good trap shooters were pleasantly surprised at how well long handicap targets were broken with the Winchester Steel AA Target load.

In closing, the ATA may have to review some rule changes regarding shot sizes and velocity levels for the handicap shooter.   A size 6-1/2 pellet or 7 is needed for extra target breaking energy past 40 yards.   Plus velocity levels in excess of 3 dram equivalent may be needed for added down range velocity and energy.   Alter firing over 2500 steel target loads to date, both factory and reloads in my BT-99, not a bit of barrel or choke damage has occurred.   Reloading tables are enclosed.   These steel shot reloads may be a hard transition for many died in the wool experienced trap shooters but they do work, and it's a better alternative than hanging up our trap gun at your local club!  

All steel shot reloading development work was carried out on a MEC Steelmaster Press.   Steel shot conversion kits and bars are available from MEC to Retro fit both single stage, and progressive loaders.   Many thanks to Ron Freitag at MEC for answering all my questions regarding steel shot reloading with the Steelmaster Press.   He also fine tuned my press through his careful adjustments.   Final crimps were excellent, fully as good in quality as factory loads.   For further info on MEC loaders to reload steel shot or steel shot conversion kits contact Ron Freitag of Mayville Engineering Co. Inc. (715 South Street, Mayville, WI 53050, phone: 414-385-4500 extension 6228).

Dove season is around the corner for many states with a September 1st opener.   Many state and federal land opened to dove hunting will allow only nontoxic shot, meaning steel or Bismuth, no lead shot loads.   A steel Number 7 pellet will approximate the down range velocity and energy of a lead 8 pellet, out to about 40 yards.   I have had very good luck on doves with 1 oz 7-1/2 steel shot reloads, and the 12 GA Winchester AA Steel Shot target load, 1 oz 7 steel.

Shots taken under 30 yards using a Remington 870 and 28" Hastings barrel equipped with a Clearview choke tube with .015 constriction.   For longer shots under pass shooting conditions, I used a Clearview tube with .035 constriction.   Excellent patterns are produced and deadly results are to be had on doves to 40 yards.   Contact Mr. Larry Nailon at Clearview Products Inc. (3021 North Portland, PO Box 12160, Oklahoma City OK 73107 phone: 405-943-5753).   This outfit has a very interesting new book out titled, Shotgun Recoil an electronic analysis.

Small steel shot pellets are more affected by wind drift as shooting distance increases, so you may want to experiment through pattern test load development work with your own gun and choke combination with Steel 6 shot.   A great swatter load for a crippled duck or goose on water is a fast 1-1/8 oz load of Steel 6 or 7 shot.   It simply smothers the head and neck with multiple hits, for very humane quick kills.   Good luck with these steel loads, both at the traps and in the field.

Copyight @ Tom Armbrust, USA 2008
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