Dave In AZ

Video 20ga for ducks

Many folks choose for one reason or another to hunt waterfowl with a 20ga. Of course, if you use a high-density pellet, it’s no limitation at all- you can easily fit more than enough HeviShot or HW13 (or even bismuth and of course TSS) pellets into a 20ga to achieve good penetration out to 40yds as well as enough pellets to get sufficient pattern density to achieve lethal hits (I use the consep guidance published by Tom Roster). However, when you use steel shot as your non-toxic pellet of choice, the 20ga 3″ hull size limits payload enough that there can be a trade-off between large enough pellets to penetrate at a usable range, and having enough of those pellets to fill your pattern densely enough to achieve sufficient hits to get a lethal hit.

If you’re purchasing commercial non-handload ammo, you are limited to what the factories supply, and not all of them make this trade-off between pellet size and pellet count to match a range you may want. Let’s look at the commercial loads available.

With a good-patterning load, you’re not too much limited from the 12ga. Many folks like the “Lightning Steel” loads for 12ga, which are all 7/8 or 1oz loads, which are both doable in the 20ga. If you’re handloading, you can do a full 1oz at 1485fps; it looks like you’re looking to buy commercially however. In that case, the speed is much less. In all my analysis below I’m assuming 1000’msl 32F and using KPY ballistics.

You need to decide what range and pellet size/count you want. Here’s an article I wrote on choosing between #3 and #4, a common issue for the 20ga: https://pipesf16.wordpress.com/steel-sh … and-range/

Here’s an analysis I wrote for what’s needed to kill large ducks, which you state you’ll need to do, in pellet size/count: https://pipesf16.wordpress.com/goldeney … tic-needs/

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Here’s an analysis I wrote for what’s needed to kill small ducks in pellet count via an analysis of consep data: https://pipesf16.wordpress.com/small-du … nd-ranges/

Basically you can purchase 1oz commercial loads or 7/8oz for 20ga. I personally want 1400fps minimum, so that takes a lot of 20ga loadings out of it for me. I’ll list them all below. But let’s just look at pellet count for 1oz: 123 #2, 152 #3, 190 #4.

Since you’re shooting a 20, it’s likely you’ll be TRYING to get close in shots, so that drives us towards an IC or M choke probably so you get some pellet spread by 30yds for viable close patterns… which means you’ll get 60% pattern with Mod (definition of Mod performance) which means you’d need 150 pellets to achieve the 90 “required” by consep for large duck consistent lethality. That right there means you’d need #3 pellets, just for pattern density. Even if you went with a Full 70% choke performance, which might be tight for standard over-decoys closer in 20ga work, you’d need 129 pellets- still slightly more than the #2 1oz load. Since I want to optimize my 20ga patterns for 30-35 yds, that drives me to an IC/LM choke and #3 pellets. #4 pellets don’t achieve the penetration I want (1.5″ gel) beyond 30 yds, and #2 don’t have enough pellets for Med/small ducks for sure in 1oz, unless I waay overchoke for my more-expected 25-35yd shots.

It all adds up for me to this: 7/8oz of #4 for < 30yds. 1oz #3 for out to 40yds. 1oz of #2 with a tight choke giving 75% or better pattern out to 45yds- I can do this and still be ok for in close with an O/U 20ga.

Here’s a chart showing the required pellets to achieve the consep minimums for various sized ducks, using various choke performances:

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consep w chokes consep required pellets with various chokes

Here’s the actual commercial loads I’ve been able to find by looking at all the manufacturer’s sites as well as ammo selling places like Cabelas, Rogers, Able’s, Graf, etc. Of note, the Fiocchi offering only comes in #4,5,6 per their website and 2016 catalogue, as well as what’s available at all the online places. Second, the actual speed for Fiocchi is 1500fps per their catalog as well as box pics I’ve seen, but several websites erroneously list it at 1300.

20ga commercial steel Aug16 20ga commercial steel offerings Aug16

As you can see, there is only 1 load bigger than 1oz, the 1-1/8oz blindside, which is only going 1300fps- I would totally discount this load. The patterns are known to spread, the pellets to penetrate less, and the speed is low: all that adds up to a short rang over-decoys spreader load, and for THAT you don’t need 1-1/8oz! Any #4 shot will do.

Next are the 1oz offerings. Of them, only 2 are 1400fps or better: Rem NitroSteel #4, and Rio BlueSteel #2-5. As detailed above, I think #4 is a < 30yd load and so wouldn’t use the Rem. The Rio BlueSteel #3 is the best 20ga commercial load out there at 1400fps, from a “consep analysis” viewpoint. If you’re OK accepting lower MV of 1350/1330 (which only loses you 1.3yds from 37 yds down to 35.7 or so!), Estate #3, and Win Drylok #3 become players. Hevi-Metal #3 is also a player. HM would be good if the actual pellet sizes/counts were as advertised but they unfortunately aren’t, too much size variation such than a good portion of the HM pellets are small and won’t penetrate even as well as the matched steel shot. However I think #3 would be OK. Here’s my ballistic analysis of 20ga HM#4 after dissecting a shell, which you should read if you’re thinking about buying HM: https://pipesf16.wordpress.com/hevi-met … -analysis/

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Next are the 7/8oz offerings. That Rem Hypersonic #4 at 1600fps actually achieves 34.4 yds for 1.5″ gel penetration, within 1 yd of the 1oz 1330 #3 offerings above, so it’s a solid player if you want to use #4 steel for 7/8oz pellet count of 166. And of course Kent FastSteel at 1550 is very close, just a yard less in #4 at 33.2 yds… still, I’d want #3 myself using a 7/8oz load unless I was limiting myself to 35 yds instead of 40… I really like the option of shooting that extra 5 yards though for follow up shots. Rio #3 in 7/8oz would be my third choice in this payload.

If you’re very confidant in your shooting and can choke up to 75%, #2 shells could be a player for you. If you’re sure to stay within 30 yds, or slightly more with all good presentations (incoming), #4 would work in 3/4oz loads too. Flyndutchman uses 3/4oz of #3 and reports great success with this, and so does azdukhuntr and goosepit2007- so with good shooting, the field reports I hear from 20ga shooters with this light load are solid. Since I CAN achieve a 7/8oz or 1oz load (handloading), and I’m using 20ga mostly with my young sons, I elect to go with the most pellets I can stuff in there to aid in their early success at the sport.

Hope that helps you… if you got confused, my short answer is buy a case of 1oz Rio #3 BlueSteel! However, any of the 1oz #3 offerings would be next- whichever patterns in your gun best would be the one go get. Then 7/8oz loadings. Best regards, Dave

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>