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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Last season myself and two of my most trusted hunting partners, my dad and brother, conducted a bit of an experiment, or unofficial test if you will. Instead of using our usual waterfowl ammunition, Hevi-Metal, we used the much cheaper standard steel Federal Speed Shok loads often referred to as Federal blue box. I will discuss our findings later.

This whole thing came about when the price of tungsten started rising. We watched Hevi-Metal rise in price from around $20 when it first came out to now where a box is close to $30, which is a bit rediculous. About the same time, all three of us got involved in competitive trap shooting. Not just for fun, but registered targets, leagues, and state shoots with potentially lots of money involved. Now, each of us probably shoot around 150 shells a week on average for 10 months of the year. We obviously shoot trap, specific guns, a Caesar Geurini Summit, a Browning XT ultra trap and a Browning BT-99. These guns are fit to us. They have adjustable combs, pad plates, even adjustable ribs. My point is, we shoot these, "high tech" guns and we still miss targets. Targets that fly straight as an arrow, that we know exactly where they are coming from. Misses come from multiple reasons, head raise, misjudge the angle, not properly shouldered, mental reasons, i.e., shoot before you are to the bird. As you can see there's multiple reasons, sometimes more than one at a time. So being hunters as well as competitive shooters, we began to think, it's a wonder that anybody can hit any bird. No wonder people miss, they don't shoot 150+ rounds per week, they don't have guns tailored to them, they don't know exactly where the bird is coming from, you don't have your gun shouldered and ready with the safety off when it's time to shoot. So many little things that can make you miss. Something as simple as raising your head off the stock just a bit, especially on those overhead passing shots, can be the difference in a hit and miss.

All that thinking had us scratching our heads. It's no doubt that people miss ducks, and geese. All the time for various reasons. Buttttttt..... Something that people consistently blame is that awful steel shot. I'm not going to lie, I've done it myself a time or two. I'm sure lots of people have. Really though, what makes people think they actually hit the bird and not just strait missed? I suppose a feather could fall out or the bird may wobble in flight neither not necessarily meaning a hit. I think the real reason people blame the shell or steel shot in general is because they simply missed and can't blame themselves. Not Very often have I heard fellow hunters say wow, ya know I raised my head on that one and shot right over him.

So as we talked about this all trap season we decided to shoot the standard steel all season instead of Hevi-metal. Now I'm sure we as everybody else had a less than good season last year bird wise. Very few birds were around in our area. Everybody was busy in September for goose and I think we only got out twice. So the first real test was the first day of the south zone duck season. And we made out well. We shot well, the ammo performed well. We produced a three man limit of woodies and teal using 3" 1 1/4 oz of #4 steel. All shots were within 40yds using Browning a5's 28" barrels with Carlson's close range extended steel chokes. Nobody blamed the steel for missed shots. There were two cripples, which follow up shots were needed for. But I don't think the shot played a factor in those. The rest of the season was slow as it was for many of you. No time throughout the season though did any one of us blame the shot for a miss. Not once. Shooting as much as we do now, we can usually tell why we missed. I myself, sometimes raise my head, or rather in the heat of moment don't ever get my head completely down. When we miss, we miss. It doesn't matter if we were shooting lead, we would still have missed.

So with that being said we have came to the conclusion in our less than scientific observation, that steel shot really isn't that bad. If you do your part, and the shot is in the effective range of the size pellet you are using, you WILL kill the bird. Saying that, you have to know the effective range of the size pellet you are using. I know that the max effective range of a steel #4 is approximately 40 yds. Yes, I know that will change some with velocity.

So some final words. I now believe that standard good quality steel shot is very effective on game within reasonable shooting distance. Hunters, especially duck hunters like to complain about things, but never want to blame themselves. I bet a fair amount of money that if some one is blaming steel shot, they either straight up missed or the bird was out of range of the size pellet they were using and simply bounced off. It's probably a good idea for all hunters but particularly waterfowlers to dust off the gun before the season and shoot at least a few rounds of sporting clays or trap or something. I've told how much I shoot and I unfortunately still miss birds made of clay and of feathers. As far as I know we will shoot all blue box again this year and keep an eye on the results. I don't think they will change much.

Thanks for reading,

PA Waterfowler
 

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Very good post PA Waterfowler. I tend to agree with you. A couple years ago when I started to get serious about watefowling a couple buddies of mine and I bought about 9 different boxes of shells and patterned each of our respective shotguns. Most shells patterned well and about one or two patterned extremely well and one our two patterned very poorly, each gun liking a different shell than the others. Armed with this knowledge we went out and started to "in our minds" miss less than we had in previous years. Luckily mine preferred the cheaper Kents and that is what I have been shooting ever since. I've hunted with guys who shoot black cloud, hevi shot and various other high dollar shells and we tend to shoot better than most of those other guys. Now I understand there are a lot of variables involved here, but I tend to believe that atleast 90% of misses are do to two things... The first being like you said the shooter and a poor patterning load. Lead is definitely better than steel but I'm not convinced steel is as bad as we think.
 

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A great post and it reflects my experience.

I'd like to make two points:

1. When steel shot first came out it was really bad. It has improved significantly over the years. I would never use factory steel, only reloads. About 10 or 15 years ago it started getting a lot better. Now I use mostly factory.

2. You shoot trap. I do too in addition to other clay games. I get in slumps and so do my friends. When we do we watch each other and we'll tell each other "your lifting your head" or "your stopping the gun". In a hunting situation no one is looking at you. The others are concentrating on the bird. There is no one to tell you what your doing wrong. Now throw in adverse weather, heavy clothing, awkward positions, improperly fitted shotguns and its a wonder we kill any birds.

I hope you have a great season! I can't wait.
 

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I would like to chime in about Tungsten Matrix. I have over 100 rounds left and purchased years ago for 15 to 17 a box which is a deal in today's world. This stuff patterns well, anchors the ducks and makes me look good in the field. When these are gone It'll be the blue feds for sure and thanks for an outstanding post.
 

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Get used to one shell, with one choke, and shoot only that combo, it will work. I"m a true believer in that, Charlie hates me for never ever patterning my gun, I pattern it in the field. I know what combo works on geese in the field, I know what combo works for early ducks, late ducks, and sea ducks. They are all different for me, but I never change. Sometimes the "cheaper" shells work better for me, even some of the slower shells work well. I think it has a lot to do with your consistency in what you are shooting. If you go out one day and shoot 1 3/8 #1's (about 1350 fps), out of your SBE with a mod choke, everything will change if you mess with one little thing. Shoot a faster shell, different gun(just because it says mod choke, doesn't mean it's the same in all guns), faster shells, etc. Everything will change. I stick with what I feel like I have had good success with in the past, and don't change any of the variables. When the birds stop dropping when i'm shooting at them, then it's time for a change.

Great post
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks guys. Appreciate the feedback.

Dm, I agree with your last post to some extent. I feel like the change in shot weight, and velocity, may only play a significant role with farther ranges.

Just a trap example here for you. I will shoot the cheapest load I can at the 16 yard line for practice. I don't care if it's 7/8 oz, 1 oz, or 1 1/8 oz, anywhere from 1050 fps up to 1200 fps. They all break targets if you do your part. I shoot all the loads the same with the same leads etc. Now at handicap,I'm at the 27 yard line so I want a faster shell. I shoot 1 1/8oz hand loads at 1250 fps. I won't shoot anything else, not even for practice. At the 27 I'm not going to be breaking the birds until beyond 40 yards. That is when lead changes can mess you up.

I can see why people want to see the pattern, and why they do it, but people fail to realize that's not what it is going to look like in the field, on a bird. The shots in a string and unless you are water swatting the birds going to be flying. The duck is going to get hit with the portion of the string. So is it good to see what the general pattern looks like, yes but take it with a grain of salt.

Good points. Thanks for reading.
 

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You're thinking Pa Waterfowler, I like that.

There's no doubt the Ammo companies have made big strides in producing a better steel shot shell. Almost to the point of if you can hit the bird at 40 yards or less, you'll kill them. Using round steel shot in the right size for your target seems to be the best way to go. No need for any of that odd shaped stuff.

So, steel is good but shooting paper is a very important step in the process of making sure you have what it takes to kill the bird. It's more important than just a grain of salt.
From what I've read the shot string for steel is very short and is negligible for the hunter.
But when you shoot paper you count the pellet holes at different distances to make sure you have enough of pellets inside the 30 inch circle to make a clean kill.
Then you go to about the only chart available and see if you have enough pellets in the pattern to cover the bird.
Roster's Pellet Chart is a good guide to get this info.
Pay close attention to the heading, "Minimum Pattern Count Needed At Any Distance For Clean Kills (# of pellets in the 30 inch circle)"
Roster's Pellet Chart
 

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I'm always amazed when I hunt with others that they have no idea how or why they miss. I spent a lot of time in my younger days shooting trap and bullseye pistol. I can call a shot at the report. Pistol especially taught me to take a mental snapshot as the trigger breaks.

I took the tact two years ago that I was going to maximize my shooting. Best day was 5 birds for 6 rounds, all with Winchester cherry bombs and an over under(yep 2 shots). I've got to agree with the previous, my first year waterfowling was the year steel was made mandatory. I remember hearing pellets bouncing off geese. Thankfully quality has come a long way.

One thing I will counter with though is confidence, you have to have confidence in what you are using. If you don't have confidence in your weapon, gear or ammunition you should have just rolled over when the alarm went off. For instance, I tried Kent years ago and while it patterned great on Sept. 1 I was burning through shells with no result on feet down geese. You've never seen a fat guy running for a truck so fast as I was that morning for a box of Remingtons. It was new ammo to me so there are a number of things that could have been going wrong. But to this day I have zero confidence in Kent shells.

The last thing I'll add is practice. You said it yourself that you shoot trap 10 months out of the year. You're always ready. Yeah, by December everyone's a crack shot, because you've been practicing for the last month plus. My harvests are like a roller coaster, mostly because I'll forget my trap basics. My buddy even commented the one day dove hunting that he watched me drop into my trap stance as I was pulling up on a birds.

I have to agree with you wholeheartedly PA. If you're missing birds pull out a mirror, cause there's the reason... With very few exceptions.
 

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Some years back I received a Browning synergy for my 50th birthday and wanted to really make this gun my go to gun for the rest of my waterfowling days. so we purchased sigle boxes of different brands of shells and made a summer project out of it. came to the conclusion that Faststeel in 3" #2 shot worked the best over decoys and 2 3/4" #2 worked the best for our ducks over decoys as well. our group has 5 synergy's amongst the group as well as 2 super black eagles. recoil wasn;t bad enough to cause flinching, and if we paid attention to our shooting, the dogs didn't get much cripple work. it was work wel done as some of the shells just didn't print well at all.
 

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I agree that hevi-metal is a not worth a premium versus regular steel, and that steel within limits can be effective.

Two things suck about steel shot, and cannot be changed.

1. To be effective at longer range the same as lead, you need a fast payload since steel is less dense. Effective steel shells are much stouter and louder than comparable lead shells. This is hard on ears and body, and is the big reason heavy autos are so popular now for waterfowl when light doubles work fine for upland.

2. Steel shot is extremely hard and can cause serious tooth damage much easier than soft lead shot. This is the reason a majority of hunters cut out the breasts and toss the rest on waterfowl, whereas a pheasant or grouse can be safely utilized.

Unfortunately, I found steel shot in a pheasant last year. I was semi-prepared for it when I found a bunch of fasteel empties on road/trail through the SGL. Sure enough, one of cockbirds we killed that day had #4 steel in the legs. I'm sure we killed a score of birds last year that had been previously shot with lead, but steel or other hard shot is like pollution in that regard. Previously, the only upland bird I found hard shot in was a jake killed with lead that was carrying some slob's tiny pieces of hevi-shot all over the breast.
 

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TEALHNTR said:
I would like to chime in about Tungsten Matrix. I have over 100 rounds left and purchased years ago for 15 to 17 a box which is a deal in today's world. This stuff patterns well, anchors the ducks and makes me look good in the field. When these are gone It'll be the blue feds for sure and thanks for an outstanding post.
That Kent ITM 1-3/8oz #5 was a heck of a good duck load. I used my O/U with it and averaged I think 1.5 shells per duck. I approached that shooting an auto with RemHD #6, but never with steel. Like you I got the ITM (and RemHD) before ammo inflation went nuts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Instead of going with a faster payload, I would rather go up in shot size. A given size pellet can only kill so far, I don't care how fast it's going. I don't need to pay more for Remington hypersonic or something like it when all you really need to do is switch from 4's to 2's and shoot the same shell. I guess you might be giving up some pattern density, but if you regularly shoot long you should be using a tighter choke anyway.

I don't really think steel shot is a main reason why people breast out waterfowl either. I think it comes down to time cleaning and the small amount of meat that's on waterfowl legs. Once in a while we will keep ducks or geese whole, but more often than not we breast them out. We would probably do the same thing regardless of type of shot.
 

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Hey waterfowler,we use and don't wast the leg and thigh. Confit recipe for goose legs and thigh is a awesome way to cook the leg and thigh. Makes the meat fall off the bone. You guys should all try it.
We call them goose lollipops! You will never throw away leg and thigh again.

 

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I agree 100% w/ DMDECOY as well as original post. dont just pick something off the shelf and shoot it. a little range/field time checking patterns...just like turkey...and you'll get better results. for me and my Franchi...its 3" Kent BB for honkers and kent 2 3/4" 2 shot for quackers...(btw, we decoy hunt, no skybusting). Been rather effecive....and affordable.
good luck this season to all. It cant be worse than last year.

Nut
 

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"It can't be worse than last year". I have been saying that the last ten years and every year is worse than the one before it.

When I first started to hunt a Canada was a trophy, now a mallard is a trophy in my area.
 
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