By Tom Roster
If you’re going to be a good shot, practice is imperative. Lots of practice. To make lots of practice comfortable and positive, the wise shotgunner uses low-recoil practice loads. This is especially important for those practicing with the same light double guns they intend to use when hunting.
The accompanying table lists what I would classify as the currently available low-recoil factory lead loads that would be of most benefit. If you push around the free-recoil equation (Shot Talk, May/June ’08), it soon becomes apparent that in any shotgun weighing less than 7 pounds, free recoil has to be kept below 18 foot-pounds to be comfortable. This means that in 12 gauge, no load heavier than 1 oz at a velocity higher than 1,100 fps would be tolerable for sustained practice in light guns. Lighter shot charges—7⁄8 oz or even ¾ oz—would be better yet for 12-gauge loads at no higher than 1,200 fps and still better at 1,100 to 1,150 fps.
If you are a 16-gauge shooter, there are currently only two loads—a 7⁄8-oz Polywad and ¾-oz RST—that fit my definition of light recoil. In 20 gauge I’ve found four loads from four manufacturers featuring ¾-oz lead-shot charges at velocities of less than 1,200 fps and one 7⁄8-oz Winchester AA load at only 980 fps. In 28 gauge I have found only one—an RST 2¾", ¾-oz load at 1,100 fps—that would be even lighter-recoiling than the standard 28-gauge ¾-oz lead load at 1,200 fps.
Worry not that practicing with velocity levels at about 1,100 to 1,150 fps will negatively affect your shooting when switching to 1,200-fps-or-faster loads. From tests I have conducted with thousands of shooters worldwide, the data show that learned forward-allowance sight pictures are not significantly altered until the velocity differential between practice and hunting loads exceeds 150 fps. For this reason I caution hunters who shoot 1,200- to 1,300-fps loads against excessive practice with loads slower than 1,000 fps.
If you’re after the absolutely least-expensive low-recoiling target loads, your best bet always will be to reload.
For practice on clays where gun-to-target distances are no greater than about 35 yards, lead No. 8s would be the best all-around pellets. Certainly No. 7½s and 7s will get the job done at these distances even in the light-shot-charge weights listed in the table. The No. 10s in the two RST woodcock loads will break clays reliably at less than 30 yards as well.
A last thought: Several of the loads listed in the table are specialized hunting loads and thus sell for a pretty penny. The least-expensive factory load that qualifies as low-recoiling in my table is the Herter’s 12-gauge load, followed by the Fiocchi and Winchester loads. But if you’re after the absolutely least-expensive low-recoiling target loads, your best bet always will be to reload.