Steel Shot Review – Shotgun Pattern Information

February 13, 2009 by  

Just as each waterfowler has their favorite techniques to pursue waterfowl they also have their preference of shotgun shells. The selection is generally made based of several different factors that include: manufacturer reputation, availability, cost, past experiences, etc. Although each of these may hold some validity the best way to determine which is best for you to use is to take the time to pattern your shotgun and choke combinations with a variety of different shotshells. This process will help to ensure that your selection maximizes vital pellet concentration increasing clean kills and reducing cripples.

For those who reload their own shells, it is possible to tweak your reloads to fit your personal needs and also create loads that match the performance of your shotgun\choke combination. For others who do not reload the debate rages on about the best performing shotshell. In recent years the world of waterfowl shotshells has been constantly evolving. Each season is accompanied by new options for non-toxic loads. Recent emphasis on increasing speed has definitely improved the knockdown power of popular loads. However, speed is not the only indicator of what shotshell to choose. Each shell performs differently with different combinations of shotgun and choke system, therefore it is essential to pattern your shotgun with the shotshells you will plan on using in the fall.

I spent a recent Saturday morning testing some of the most available and most popular shotgun shells on the market. I tested each load at 25, 35 and 45 yards with a Benelli Nova using a factory Steel – Modified choke. At each distance I shot two shots of each manufacturer shells to ensure consistency and avoid any misrepresentation of the shell performance.

Listed below is a graph of the 3 ½ inch goose loads that I tested.

Steel Loads Tested
Federal Steel Classic Magnum 3 1/2 Inch BB 1450 FPS 1 3/8oz shot
Fasteel by Kent Precision Steel 3 1/2 Inch BB 1300 FPS 1 9/16 Load Charge
Winchester Supreme High Velocity Steel 3 1/2 Inch BB 1450 FPS 1 3/8oz shot
Fiocchi Speed Steel 3 1/2 Inch BB 1460 FPS 1 3/8oz shot

In this first test, the Federal Load performed the best and had the highest number of pellets in the kill zone at all three distances. The overall average for the Federal Load was 59.43 BBs in the target zone but a close second was the Fasteel by Kent with an overall average of 51.23 BBs in the target zone. In third was the Winchester load at 45.73 and finishing last was the Fiocchi load which averaged 42.34 BBs in the target zone.

The second test that I performed provided the opportunity to see the vital pellet concentration advantages of using a 3 ½ inch shot over a 3 inch load. Included below is the list of the shotgun shells tested.

Steel Loads Tested
Fasteel by Kent Precision Steel 3 Inch 1’s 1500 FPS 1 1/8oz Load Charge
Fasteel by Kent Precision Steel 3 1/2 Inch 1’s 1300 FPS 1 9/16 Load Charge

I knew that there would be an increased number of pellets with the 3 ½ inch load, but I was interested in how much of an increase there was. The 3 ½ inch shell provided an increase of approximately 30% over the 3 inch shell. These increased pellets definitely could equate to decreased cripples. However, you do sacrifice some speed with the particular manufacturer load that I tested.

I also tested some popular duck loads at 35 yards. Listed below are the details on the shotgun shells tested:

Steel Loads Tested
Federal Heavy High Velocity 3 inch 2’s 1450 FPS 1 1/4oz shot
Fasteel by Kent Precision Steel 3 Inch 2’s 1500 FPS 1 1/8oz shot
Remington Premier Nitro-Steel Magnum 3 Inch 2’s 1375 FPS 1 1/4oz shot

The Federal load averaged just over 89 pellets, Fasteel averaged around 68 pellets while the Remington averaged 73 pellets.

By no means is this study completely conclusive, however it did demonstrate that different shotgun shells perform differently than you may expect. The same test performed with a different combination of shotgun and choke system may produce completely different results. Therefore it is very important to take some time to test the performance of your shotgun.

The summer is a great time to prepare for the upcoming season, one thing that is often overlooked by many waterfowlers is testing the performance of perhaps the most important piece of equipment….your shotgun shell. Take advantage of a couple free hours this summer and test the shotshells that you are currently using, you will definitely learn something and it will also help you bag more birds and avoid cripples in the fall.


16 Comments on "Steel Shot Review – Shotgun Pattern Information"

  1. Mark Bailey on Sat, 21st Nov 2009 6:47 pm 

    I am planning for a duck hunt in South Texas. I have a 12 G 28″ White Onyx Berretta O/U can you please recommend the shells that I should use. Is it OK to use 3″ shells for my type of gun?

    Thank you,
    Mark Bailey

  2. admin on Mon, 23rd Nov 2009 11:32 am 

    I’m assuming the barrel says it can take 3″ shells?

  3. mike on Sat, 5th Dec 2009 7:10 pm 

    I am going goose hunting for the first time. Would #2 shot or the BB work best.

  4. admin on Mon, 7th Dec 2009 11:49 am 

    Normally I’d say BB – but really it depends on what patterns best out of your gun. Not all loads pattern the same out of every gun/barrel/choke.

  5. Richard Grinnis on Sun, 20th Dec 2009 2:19 pm 

    I have a winchester 12 guage pump and use 3″ but what is the best choke full,mod,or imp, please tell me the different patterns or why one is better than the other. I heard full choke was bad for steel shot thanks Richard

  6. Owen Wilson on Tue, 19th Jan 2010 9:18 am 

    mod and imp are best for waterfowl because you want your load to spread out more.

  7. Kurt Onstott on Mon, 1st Mar 2010 12:42 pm 

    I have been shooting Clever/Mirage Magnum Steel in BB,2,4 shot in 2 3/4 and 3″ sheels for years. These shell rival any that Kent, Federal,or Winchester produce and are average of 8.50/box. I hunt 55-65 says per duck season and have hunted for 47 years.

  8. Rolf Johnson on Fri, 10th Dec 2010 8:36 pm 

    Any problem using steel shot in in older shotguns. Have a remington model 878 purchased in 1962.

  9. rudy on Wed, 9th Feb 2011 4:27 pm 

    Can i use steel shot in my mod12 magnum> This gun was made in 1947

  10. Todd Eshelman on Sat, 26th Feb 2011 11:37 am 

    I was wondering if you were going to test the new Federal Black Cloud, Winchester Blind side or the Remington shotshell that boasts 1700 fps, in a side by side test like the one you did above.

  11. tanner on Wed, 30th Mar 2011 5:36 pm 

    Briley the choke company wich the know chokes recommend you should never shoot steel through any full choke ever! The say for duck you should use a light modified. Geese use a improve modified. My favorite shell for ducks is federal premium 3 inch 3 shot. 1 1/4 oz. I would totally recommend using hevi shot for geese though. You can crush them in the dekes with four shot 2 3/4.

  12. Bob Hawkins on Wed, 19th Oct 2011 9:14 am 

    How much impact the speed have on shooting ducks ?

    For example…compare a 3″ 1 1/8 oz @ 1050 ft/sec vs same size and load @ 1550 ft/sec ?

    Since the speed of a 1550 is 48% faster than @ 1050, can it be concluded that say at 30 yards, a 1550 shot would arrive at the target also twice as fast as the 1050 shot ?

  13. Ron on Wed, 26th Oct 2011 9:03 pm 

    I think it’s important that people know something about the density of their shells as well. I want to use extremes to make my point. What can you throw further? A handful of popcorn or a handful of rocks? How about a baseball or a wiffle ball? The fact is that the instant the object leaves your hand, they are all traveling at the same speed, but the more dense an object is, the easier it is to maintain its speed at further distances. The fastest shells are often the least dense (popcorn and wiffle ball) and the slowest shells are more dense (rocks and baseball). Speed may kill, but that speed must be maintained or you’re risking cripples.

  14. Jeremy Beemer on Tue, 1st Nov 2011 1:49 pm 

    I have a winchester 1300 12 guage shotgun and was just wondering what choke I should use for steel shot? I am going duck hunting tomorrow morning.


  15. sam smaldino on Wed, 5th Dec 2012 9:18 pm 

    1 am going goose hunting, will be hunting over many decoy’s shooting at 25 to 35yds. I have a32 inch 25 year old beligum browing 3 inch full choke or a winchester model 23xtr side by side 3 inch full and modified bbls.please advise gun choice and steel shot preference. thankyou very much

  16. johnson noise on Fri, 7th Dec 2012 9:36 am 

    Thanks for finally writing about >Steel Shot Review – Shotgun Pattern
    Information : Nodak Outdoors <Loved it!

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