A lot of folks need this answer it seems, because they’ve got kids who are shooting 20ga and there might be geese in the mix. When you’re talking about an adult, the easy answer is to just use a 12ga- but every adult hunter starts out as a kid, and if they’re lucky enough to learn to hunt while still young, there’s likely a period there where they CAN’T heft the 12ga. So this need for a “20ga Youth Goose Load” is real, and of course it’s just as useful for anyone who for whatever reason has decided to shoot a 20 after geese.
First, let’s review what it takes to kill a goose: one or two pellet hits that penetrate to reach a “vital”. That’s head/neck which require less penetration, or heart/lungs/other which require more penetration. To GET those one or two vital hits, not relying on the “golden BB” single pellet, you’ll statistically need to hit the bird with 5 or more pellets… and to hit the bird with 5 pellets, geese require 55 pellets in a 30″ pattern for consistent kills per Tom Roster’s CONSEP table summarizing mortality test results.
So in THEORY any load that delivers > 55 pellets to a 30″ pattern at the max range you’re shooting at geese, with a good evenly distributed pattern, and the pellets can penetrate to the vitals, should work. That doesn’t sound too bad- a lot of guys report good results with 7/8oz loads of #B (74 pellets) or #BB (62 pellets) at high speed from a 12ga, and there are 7/8oz and heavier loads in the 20ga going 1450 fps or so. So the payload and speed ability exists in the 20ga. You need to pick your ammo from a pellet count/penetration stance, info below, and then go shoot and pattern it to ensure you’re getting a good even pattern with enough pellets in the 30″ circle.
A problem in any gauge is that large pellets can be difficult to get a good even pattern with, and you need a good even pattern. So you may be driven to use smaller pellets both to fill in an uneven pattern and to get an even pattern. This drives you to the “more small pellets and aim for the head” method vs. the “large pellets to penetrate a goose body” method, which many adult shooters espouse anyways, but isn’t a given ability for a young beginner- you’d like the pellets to work wherever you hit the goose, for a young hunter. That means limiting range to whatever the pellet size you’ve picked will penetrate to reach a vital.
In the comparison below, we’re going to use penetration of 2.25″ in ballistic gel at 1000’msl, 32F as our “standard for comparison”. I’m not saying that’s what’s needed to kill geese, or that it ALWAYS kills geese- but it’s a generally accepted parameter that’s CLOSE and should work for killing geese, and we HAVE to pick some testable/repeatable parameter so we can actually compare shells, and it’s always best to use the same “standards” as everyone else in the discussion, which this is. While 2.5″ gel is more commonly used for geese, I think with this 20ga discussion we’re probably looking at most shooters actually shooting incoming, decoying short range geese with a good frontal presentation, so 2.25″ should be a decent approximation for body shots on canada geese. Of course if you or your youth can head-shoot geese every time then you could use #6 steel, but you could use a BB gun too if you were that good… 😉 I always have to throw this blurb in above, or someone will say “that’s a Dirty Lie, I done killed geese with #5 shot at 40 yards before!”. Yeah, Ok, now let’s continue using this calculated number for comparison.
Hand-loading Option, high-density, absolute BEST choice: This is what I’d load, and have used for my sons: HW13#6, 7/8oz, 1500fps- 48 yards, 166 pellets, 26.7 ft-lbs <<<< this is what I loaded up and used for my sons in youth 20ga guns. 166 pellets, great for ducks or geese either. It’s about $1.13 of shot per shell, and $1.25/shell total. Total shells shot < $20 of supplies. Total outlay to take my boys goose hunting several hundred, so I’d say the HW13#6 is the way to go, if you have the ability to hand-load. HW13#4, 7/8oz, 1500fps- 74 yards, 101 pellets, 26.7 ft-lbs <<< better range, but goose-only due to lower pellet counts.
Commercial: High Density: Bismuth, Tungsten Matrix, Hevi-Shot By FAR the best answer to shooting a goose with a 20ga is to use a high-density pellet. There are a few made commercially, and if you can at all afford them that’s what you want. Generally the cost of taking some kids goose hunting will vastly outspend the cost of a box of high density ammo- so it’s a smart move to bite the bullet and don’t scrimp on this few bucks that can drive the whole success in bagging a goose!! I’m unsure of the prices of the Hevi offerings, that may drive your choice amongst several that will work.
There’s a ton of offerings below from Hevi-Shot and various bismuth. I’ll make it easy for you: Hevi-Pheasant #4 7/8oz @ 1250fps, best one for youth and all you need. But if you want one round you can shoot at ducks OR geese then the exact same Hevi-Duck with 1-1/4oz of pellets in #4 would do the trick. Or Tungsten Matrix in #3. Here are the numbers below.
Hevi-Shot has a lot of high-density offerings, they’re just hard to find: if you select “goose” as your target in their product chooser, they actually remove most of the best offerings, which caused me at first to miss them. But if you instead select “20ga” only as your filter, you will see that they offer some great loads, the best commercial perhaps.
—FIRST, some words on Hevi-Shot brand’s densities and marketing————- Figuring out the actual density of EMI loads is always a chore, they’ve changed formulations several times, without clearly labeling the change. I called the company today and asked to speak to someone who could give me an official answer on the density of their products. They put me with “Mike”, who said he wasn’t in marketing and could tell me 100% for sure what the Oct 2016 densities were. He was a pleasure to speak with and was clear that the “naming” of things was a marketing thing, and didn’t reflect product differences. Here’s what he said: 1. The highest density load they produce is 12.0 g/cc, which they term “Hevi-shot”. Most of their named products are just THIS pellet, in various sizes and payloads and speeds, targeted against a specific animal. SO: Hevi-Goose, Hevi-Duck, Hevi-Pheasant are ALL 12.0g/cc and the same product. 2. Of even MORE interest is this: “Hevi-13” is THE SAME 12.0 g/cc pellet! He was absolutely clear that it was NOT a 13 g/cc density, that the “Hevi-13” term was purely a marketing name, and that it was just normal “Hevi-shot 12.0 g/cc” pellets in heavy slow loads marketed for turkey shooters. While Mike himself was forthright and clear on this, the marketing name and advertising of Hevi-13 without anywhere stating it’s not 13g/cc but really just 12, shows what I’m talking about concerning EMI’s duplicitous marketing behavior. Anyone looking at high density shot knows that Hevi-shot claims to be 12 g/cc, and that the competitor products from Remington, Federal, and handloading are 13 g/cc. So calling your new product “Hevi-13” and claiming it’s just a name, not an inference of pellet density, then carefully ensuring all numbers for actual density are removed from the product and marketing materials… well, would you buy a used car from them?
They use their “Hevi-Shot” brand name above everything to infer it contains their hallmark 12.0 g/cc pellets, when often it doesn’t. Their ads often have errors and actually claim “Hevi-shot” pellets when they intend the less-dense “Hevi-Metal” pellets, pictures of those ads are posted here. There was an issue several years ago where they claimed Hevi-Duck and Hevi-Goose where the same, but had reduced the “Duck” versions to less dense than the “Goose” versions without telling folks. Since that time, while claiming to have fixed it, they STILL don’t specify what the density is anywhere on these loads, and with a history of being duplicitous on this, I don’t trust it’s actual Hevi-shot 12.0g/cc without testing it. ———-Back to the range calculations now!———-
Hevi-13 is absolutely misleading in name, it’s really just 12.0 g/cc hevi-shot, standard EMI marketing skirting outright false advertising. However, they do offer a massive 20ga load of 1-1/4oz in #4, 5, 6, 7 shot, going 1090fps. This is the exact same product as Hevi-shot Duck and Hevi-shot Pheasant below, except going slower, there is zero reason to purchase this version unless you’re wanting a 1-1/4oz payload with lower recoil from the slow speed, 26.8 ft-lbs recoil. Probably harder to hit with, longer leads required.
They also make a “Hevi-Shot Duck” 1-1/4oz, 1250fps in #2, 4, 6, which would likely do well in 2 or 4. Hevi-Duck #2 1-1/4oz @1250fps: 74.6 yards, 101 pellets, 34 ft-lbs recoil Hevi-Duck #4 1-1/4oz @1250fps: 50.8 yards, 156 pellets, same recoil
They make a “Hevi-Shot Pheasant” load which is the same density as the Hevi-Duck or Hevi-13 above, but in a 7/8oz load of #4 or #6. This looks like a great load and as close to my hand-loads as you could get: Hevi-Pheasant #4 7/8oz @1250fps: 50.8 yards, 109 pellets, 19.4 ft-lbs recoil. I wouldn’t go with the #6, it’s 180 pellets and only 29.2 yards. But the #6 load of this would be my choice for ducks!
The poorest of the EMI offerings usable for geese, but the only one that shows up in the 20ga when selecting “geese” as the target strangely is “Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles”. It’s not as good as their above offerings. Density is “26% higher than steel”, which comes in at 9.8, barely above Bismuth’s density about, and the largest size is #4 going only 1150fps. That translates to a 2.25″ ballistic gel penetration (simulating large geese from the front coming into decoys) of only 21.6 yards.
Both Rio and Kent are making Bismuth shot. It’s density is around 9.7 g/cm3, better than steel but not as good as Tungsten Matrix below which is around 10.7. The Kent Tungsten Matrix is the best choice if you don’t use a Hevi-Shot product above, and it’s a great one:
Kent Tungsten Matrix #3 shot 3″, 1-1/8oz loading: 53.1 yards 122 pellets http://kentgamebore.com/products/bismuth-premium-shotshells.html#product-150
Rio bismuth with 3 shot actually American #4 shot: 24.3 yards This would be much better if it was actually #3 shot, but reviews from folks who have bought and measured it show it strangely to be “English sized” despite being made in either Europe or America, which both use the same shot sizes. http://www.rioammo.com/rio_bismuth.html
Kent Bismuth only comes in #5 and #6, that’s just too small, penetrating 2.25″ gel to only 17 yards or so, which any steel would do, so I’d pass on that.
I’ll add some HD loads that are usually listed for turkey that would work: Federal MagShok HD 15.0g/cc, 2.75″ 1-1/8oz #7 @1100fps: 38.5 yds, 247 pellets. Winchester apparently has something called “Supreme Elite Extended Range”, and various similar, intended for Turkey maybe, but you can’t find it on their website, or I wasn’t able to. But you CAN find it for sale if you google “Winchester extended Range 20 gauge”. And there used to be a Remington Wingmaster HD, but I think it’s not made now. If I ever get actual info on these I’ll add them. Here’s what I’d use to find them for sale in stock if interested: http://ammoseek.com/ammo/20-gauge?ikw=density
Commercial Steel So far as I know, I have every 20ga commercial loading offered in my spreadsheet, based on visiting every manufacturer website and looking at their product, as well as all the common retailers. Largest pellet in 20ga I’ve found is #1, from two maker, rest are all #2. Quite a few shooters report being unable to get decent patterns with #1 steel from a 20ga though, and while #2 pattern reports aren’t much better, they are better from the same shooters. So if you’re going to go with steel shot #1 or #2 from a 20ga, be sure to pattern to see if it’s usable.
I’ve only found 3 loadings of #1, the largest pellet offered, of which only one is 1 oz, the other two being 7/8oz. Again using the same calculation parameters for comparison’s sake as above (KPY ballistics, 1000’msl, 32F, penetrates 2.25″ ballistic gel a lenient measure for geese often used): -Fed UltraShok (redbox) 1oz #1 at 1350fps. 27.7 yards and 102 pellets. 27.3 ft-lbs recoil in a 6.5lb gun, std 20ga. -Hevi-Steel has a #1 steel load of 7/8oz at 1400fps. 29.2 yards and 89 pellets, 23.7 ft-lbs recoil. 89 pellets should be enough, this looks like a low-recoiling decent range load. -Fed SpeedShok (blue box) has #1 7/8oz at 1350. 27.7 yards again but 89 pellets, 22.2 ft-lbs recoil. No other #1 I’ve found.
You might consider using #2 instead of #1 for more pellets but smaller for more chance on head/neck shots, or perhaps because you can’t get the #1 to pattern. A LOT of folks report good success against geese using #2 shot as a 12ga load, so it’s not unreasonable if you hold to your ranges: Rio BlueSteel 1oz #2 at 1400fps. 22.6 yards and 123 pellets. 29.1 ft-lbs recoil Kent Fasteel 7/8oz #2 at 1550fps. 26.8 yards and 108 pellets. 28.27 ft-lbs recoil.
Geese require 55 pellets in a 30″ pattern for consistent kills per Tom Roster’s CONSEP table summarizing mortality results. So any of those above will do the job, and at < 30 yards it’s EASY to get every single pellet into the 30″ circle! So my choices in steel shot would be: 1. Hevi-Steel #1, 7/8oz @1400 for my kids- best range, good low recoil. 2. Fed UltraShok 1oz #1 if it were me shooting and I could pattern them. And could get them. 3. Fed SpeedShok #1, 7/8oz @ 1350 would be a good choice for kids also. 4. Kent Fasteel #2, 7/8oz @1550 would be my choice for #2s.
Steel, hand-loading If you have the ability and time to hand-load, I think you can produce a better load for geese than is available commercially. Since I’ve listed some penetration numbers and ranges up above for #1 and #2 commercial steel, you can use them to assess how the loads listed below might do- always assuming you can get a good pattern. I will not present the recipes or supporting documentation here, just that these loads exist, handloaders will research the details on other pages I’ve written or data sources.
The largest payloads in 20ga with steel currently are: 426gr #B shot @ 1420fps. BPI 160714-8214, csd203, unpublished, from BPI email. 420gr #4 shot@ 1500fps. BPI130729-4922, pt2092 wad. Shot too small on this.437.5gr #3 shot, 1485fps- private testing by Precision, roll crimp. 437.5gr #3 shot, 1422fps- private testing by Precision, fold crimp
Based on my own test results from loads sent in to Precision, I will load the following 420gr #B Copperhead shot (83 pellets), 1450 fps, SAM1 wad, 20ga 3″. 37.7 yards, 23.4 ft-lbs recoil.
You can fit 1 oz of #B into the SAM1 wad, with about 3/4 of a pellet sitting high-but I don’t have test results for #B, only #3, and the larger pellets would be higher pressure. Here’s a picture of 1 oz, 86 pellets, in a SAM1 wad:
By removing 3 pellets it all fits at or below wad lip, same or less volume as my tested 437.5gr loads, and with only 420gr that should easily give less pressure and more speed than my 1oz @ 1452 test results.
A lesser option, but with a solid published test history, would be RSI 116: 400gr #B (79 pellets, but #BB to #7 ok per recipe), 1350fps, 9900psi. 34.6 yards. This load patterns well, but with the almost the same components I can get 1500fps and 5 more yards; but for guys wanting a solid book reference, this would work.