Recoil from years of shooting upland birds with heavy payloads of shot at speeds as fast as possible finally knocked some sense into me. Now I recognize that a light load of shot at a standard velocity cleanly kills birds ranging in size from quail to big blue grouse. The benefits of these light shotshell loads include reduced recoil, quicker follow-up shots, and better shot patterns.
Most shots at upland birds are no farther than 30 yards. In September, leaves are still on the brush and shield ruffed grouse like a church door. While blue grouse are a more open-country bird than ruffs, they hold tight. And early in the season, Huns and sharptail grouse flush close.
The logic behind the effectiveness of light loads might seem counterintuitive, but the science is sound. As a bonus, I’ve added three of my favorite (and most effective) light loads for 12-, 16-, and 20-gauge shotguns that won’t beat you up, yet are deadly on birds.
You Can Slow Your Roll
The faster an already aeroballistically inefficient lead pellet is fired, the quicker it slows. A No. 7 ½ pellet that starts out at 1,295 fps has slowed to 705 fps by the time it has traveled 40 yards. But that same pellet fired at 1,135 fps has only slowed to 650 fps at 40 yards. True, the faster pellet always remains faster. However, the faster pellet carries only an additional 0.4 ft.-lb. at 20 yards and 0.2 ft.-lb. at 40 yards than the slower pellet. Shoot a larger pellet if additional pellet energy is needed. Out at 40 yards, a No. 5 pellet fired at 1,200 fps carries more than twice the energy (3.1 ft.-lb.) as a No. 7 ½ pellet fired at 1,330 fps (1.3 ft.-lb.).