If you ever get the chance, be sure to attend a wounding loss or other shooting seminar put on by Tom Roster of CONSEP. CONSEP is a project sponsored by 25 state game agencies, USFWS, CFWS, the game agencies of several other countries and some of the gun/ammo manufacturers.
CONSEP has shot and tested just about every load/choke combo and has x-rayed and autopsied thousands of shot birds to develop its data, the accumulation of which is represented by the CONSEP game/shot chart you can find, among other places, in the ND waterfowl proc.
Roster is a wealth of knowledge and very helpful in sifting through all of the myths and inaccuracies surrounding shotgun loads, especially non-toxic. I could go on and on about all we learned that day and a half, but here's a little bit we learned at the seminar and from some pattern testing we did later.
Don't get hung up on speed or any of the fancy non-toxic's. Some, but not all, of the non-toxic's will help you more easily reach minimum pellet counts, but with a little work, you can get there with plain old steel, at less than half the price of the other non-toxic's. For steel, you need about 1250-1300 fps to do the job at any range, and anything faster doesn't mean very much downrange, and the very minimal advantage of extra speed comes at too great an expense in terms of other lethality features. Per Roster, for each 100fps beyond 1300, you only retain about 3fps at 40 yards. This has something to do with the physics of pushing spheres and the friction they create. Since a shotgun shell only has so much capacity, and you must trade payload for increased muzzle velocity, you're much better off with a slower, yet lethal, speed and a greater payload. All other things being equal, a denser pattern is also achieved at slower speeds, as the knuckle-balling effect of the more imperfect pellets within any load is more sever at higher speeds.
And all steel is not created equal. Take apart one BBB shell from several manufacturers and you'll see what I mean. Some mfg's pellets look like the surface of the moon - others smooth as a baby's bottom. The rough ones won't fly as true, and will provide a much less dense pattern.
All of this becomes very apparent at the pattern board. I was horrified to see how my "honey" load/choke combos performed at extreme ranges. The CONSEP lethality chart lists a target pellet count that represents "lethality" for many different species, and this count remains the same regardless of range. For example, for big geese, you need to achieve 50-55 hits in a 30 inch circle regardless of the range. Because of the cone pattern of a shot string, it follows that if you can make the 50-55 at 60 yards, you'll also do so (and then some) at 30 yards. So, we tested at extreme ranges, so we knew a few of our shots (the ones at long range) and the majority (at better range) would all meet the criteria. We aren't done messing with this yet, but let's just say it's darn hard to meet the criteria at outside ranges, and the only way to do so is to get past the trend towards speed and pick up more payload. Also, by using the smaller of several acceptable shot sizes, it's easier to reach pellet count minimums because you've got more pellets to begin with. I think to reach the minimum pellet count on goose loads at 60 yards, I'm going to need a 3.5', BBB, 1 9/16 oz. Federal W135 in the modified or improved modified range choke. The W135 load is rated at 1300fps.
Of course, it's much easier to meet the lethality criteria (minimum pellet count) when testing and hunting at closer ranges, say 30 yards. Part of the seminar was to help hunters understand this and encourage them to shoot within themselves, which for most means 30 yards. But we all take some longer shots from time to time, especially follow up shots, and so we're doing our testing at extreme ranges knowing that if we achieve minimum pellet count there, we'll be way above the count at shorter, more typical ranges.