Field & Stream
The Speed Trap Image Credit: Field & Stream
The Speed Trap Image Credit: Field & Stream

The Speed Trap

High-velocity shells drop more ducks and geese, right? Not so fast…

Phil Bourjaily

WHILE I’D NEVER DRUNK deeply of the high-velocity shot shell Kool-Aid, I had sipped enough over the years to be concerned when I saw the ammo selection for our three-day Saskatchewan waterfowl hunt. We could shoot anything we wanted, so long as it was 1 3/8-ounce Rio steel loads at 1,300 fps. How would we kill anything with pellets so slow? We might as well throw marshmallows.

Those shells dropped everything. Big ducks, little ducks, geese, and cranes fell to our dawdling pellets. I kept on shooting slow steel throughout seasons at home and had no problems at all, even with fat, 12-pound giant Canadas in the bitter cold.

We’ve all been told that speed kills when it comes to shotgun loads. The idea has been sold to us for decades that velocity is the best way to make steel shot more effective on ducks and geese. I always thought “fast enough” meant north of 1,450 fps. Now I wonder. In an effort to come up with some concrete answers about shot velocity, I joined Federal’s engineers in shooting various steel loads at gelatin blocks last spring, and I pored over data generated by the late Ed Lowry’s shotgun ballistics program. Spoiler alert: Speed does kill. But slower, bigger pellets are just as effective, and in ballistics, there is no such thing as a free lunch. When you blast pellets downrange faster, there are trade-offs you have to consider.

Here are my top four lessons learne


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