I usually use Estate High Velocity shells in #5 shot early then #4s with a tighter choke later. I'm thinking about just using Winchester Expert steel shot in 3" #3s this year. They are cheeper then most pheasant loads, and I wouldn't have to switch shells around when I hunt WMAs. I'll already have at least a case for ducks anyway.
The essential considerations for choosing a shotshell are penetration and density. The density can be affected w/ screw in chokes if you have them but the penetration is a function of the pellet size and the distance you intend to shoot.
I can't put my hands on the reference right now but I've read and proven to myself that #6 shot provides effective penetration on a pheasant out to about 45 yds. This is a pretty long shot for most hunters. #5 shot provides adequate penetration out well past 80 yds. w/ normal velocities of 1,250 fps or so.
The only time I go to #4 is if I can't find #5s or if the weather is brutally cold and long shots are expected. (cold air is dense enough to slow the shot thus reducing penetration).
My personal favorite for hunting and Spaniel field trial gunning is B&P 1 1/5 oz #5s. They cleanly kill anything I can hit, the shot string is short, and the recoil is negligible.
my favorite shells by far are the federal ultra pheasant copper plated lead. 2 3/4 1 3/8 oz inch 6 shot early in the year and four shot later on. i like to shoot the ic for the first 4 weeks then move on to the full choke. its a little iffy but those roosters that are at 45 50 yards drop nicely even with 6 shot and im gonna be goin to buy a case from scheels this week since theyre on sale.
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