As is the case with brass-cased cartridges for personal defense, there will always be, uh, “discussion” about which soft-shell load kills ducks the best. Marketing tactics pushing the newest shot formulas or wad designs will surely tempt even the most seasoned waterfowler. But a 12 gauge cartridge that dropped ducks during the Dust Bowl era will still drop ducks today.
The point being that some folks will over-complicate choosing a go-to duck load, due in part to the plethora of options. Steel, tungsten, Bismuth, copper…flight-controlling wads and boosters…shaped shot…sealed primer and/or crimp. It’s a little ridiculous how many factors can be taken into consideration – and they change by the season!
Picking your go-to duck hunting load is something only you can do for yourself. If you don’t have one yet and can go through the process to find one, you should. Instead of an item on the hunting checklist, it will become a consistently available and reliable compliment to your shotgun.
But before you pick up a box of shells you’ll want to ensure you’re accounting for proper load compatibility with your shotgun and applied choke. Determine the following before going shopping:
1. Gauge or caliber
2. Shell length
3. Shot size
4. Any other load restrictions for your shotgun or choke tube
With your load specifications in-hand, begin researching the options. Apply the process outlined below to help you determine the best shot shell for your needs:
1. Price: Is the ammo within your price range? Is that price consistent? Are there annual rebates? You most certainly do not need the top-shelf shells to kill ducks, but you want high enough quality to provide consistency. Develop your initial list of options.
2. Availability: Is the load readily available or is it a limited-edition load? You want your go-to cartridge to be nearly painless to find in the quantity you need every season. Distill your list and buy a box of each load.
Get out to your range and pattern the loads. A standard patterning procedure dictates calculating pellet density inside of a 30 inch circle on a 48 inch by 48 inch blank piece of paper placed 40 yards from the shooter. Also note if the pellets are evenly distributed across the paper. Then head into the field and hunt with your options.
3. Performance: Now that you’ve tried your options, eliminate any that gave you issues or didn’t seem to run well with your shotgun. From what is left, which load did you consistently kill more ducks with? Notice I said, “kill,” not “cripple.” The load that most consistently smacks ducks dead before they hit the water is the one you’re looking for.
Your best go-to duck hunting load isn’t necessarily the one that’s most expensive, has the newest technology, or is endorsed by the most popular pro-hunters or even your best buddy. It’s the one that works the best for you. It’s the one that gives you confidence. It’s the cartridge that you never think about because it’s consistent and reliable.
Of course, this is just one approach and it may not be your preference. There are many ways to find your go-to load (if you haven’t already). No matter your approach, having a go-to duck hunting cartridge will save you time and money and put more ducks (or any other type of bird) on your strap.