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It's Not the Shot, it's the Shell!

(Editor's Note: Clark Bush owns and operates All About Shooting, a web-based company dedicated to improving turkey-gun performance. He owns multiple still-target shooting records and is a frequent contributor to the Shooting section of our discussion forum. To see more of Clark's work, visit www.allaboutshooting.com.)


A good bit has been written about tungsten-based shot and what choke should be used with it. When Environ-Metal introduced Hevi-Shot several years ago, some thought it was "death to chokes and gun barrels," and some even thought of it as evil incarnate. Of course it was neither but rather the beginning of a shotshell revolution.

hevi.jpgSome seven years later, we've seen not only the original Hevi-Shot and the Remington versions but also Remington's Wingmaster HD, Federal's Heavyweight, Environ-Metal's Hevi-13 and Winchester's Xtended Range Hi-Density. The names and formulations may have changed but  misinformation is as prevalent as ever!

I won't attempt to even discuss the various amalgams that each maker uses for its pellets, but for the purpose of this discussion, will simply refer to all of it as "hard" shot. It's all tungsten-based, and tungsten is a very hard metal that is more dense than lead. It's also non-toxic and can legally be used for waterfowl.winchester.jpg

In the early years, we were warned not to shoot hard shot in a choke with an exit diameter tighter than "modified" or lots of bad things would happen. There were even stories of barrels and chokes being destroyed by any shooter foolish enough to try anything that constricted the bore more than  that.

Shotshell makers, being very cautious and concerned about possible barrel and choke damage, used very stiff, highly protective wads to shield the barrel and choke from contact with the hard shot. Shooters soon learned that, at least with modern steel barrels, they were not experiencing any visible barrel damage, but pundits were
still urging caution on using tight chokes, and many urged waterfowl hunters to use improved cylinder chokes in their guns.

wingmasterhd.jpgEnter the turkey hunter and his never-ending quest for tighter patterns. The advice was to use nothing tighter than a choke with an exit diameter of .675-inch or, again, bad things would happen. Many turkey hunters did just that and harvested birds with hard shot and
.675 chokes.

When the market exploded with all different versions of hard shot just a couple of years ago, the same advice was still there. The questions became:
1. Are we really getting what we pay for?
2. Are we really optimizing the potential of these shells, using only one size turkey choke?

The answer is to both of these questions is a resounding no!

Over the past several years I have fired literally thousands of rounds of hard shot, from each manufacturer, both in testing and in still-target shooting competition. I've tested all the major brands and models of shotguns, in all available barrel lengths. I've shot most if not all major brands of choke tubes in most if not all exit diameters available. I have come to one inescapable conclusion. It's not the shot, it's the shell!federal.jpg

There is no one perfect exit diameter for every gun with every shell that contains hard shot. That has little or nothing to do with the shot, but it has much to do with the shell.

Each manufacturer creates a shotshell from the "brass to the crimp" in a manner that it believes best. Between the brass and the crimp are a primer, powder, a wad, possibly buffers and shot. Some manufacturers may include an over-wad and some type of sealant on the crimp. Cut a few of those shells open and you'll see a real variation of components. These shells don't look alike and don't shoot alike. That's one reason that there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to turkey chokes.

Each shotshell actually demands a different turkey choke to maximize its potential. The effect of "constriction" or the reduction of the bore diameter by the exit diameter of the choke, is a factor but less so than the makeup of the shotshell itself.

One component that greatly influences the type of choke that should be used is the wad. For example, a ported choke tube will many times "eat" a portion of a wad. That may have little if any effect on some wads but a great effect on others.

A choke tube with the incorrect internal geometry and a too-tight exit diameter, may adversely affect a wad that is designed to stay with the shot charge for an extended period of time. It may "strip it" too soon.

A shotshell that uses a very soft wad with "grabbers" on it, will not function at its peak of performance with a choke tube that has an exit diameter that is too open.

There are other factors that influence the type and exit diameter of a choke that is needed in a particular brand of gun, with a given barrel length but in the final analysis, it's not the shot, it's the shell that makes the difference.

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