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What’s the best cartridge load for standard driven pheasants?

Shooting instructor Adam Calvert offers some tips for the season

Shooting in field

How should you tackle standard driven pheasants when you’re out in the field? The sort you’re likely to come across earlier in the season. What would be the best cartridge load for driven pheasants?

Speaking from my experience as a shooting instructor I think that the cartridges a shooter uses are a personal decision. Guns should employ whichever shotgun cartridges give them confidence and self-belief. A lot of shooting is down to our state of mind and if you believe you have the correct ammunition then you’ll probably perform better.

all-round shotgun for game

For over-under users Alan recommends a 30g 6 for the early part of the season

Which shotgun?

That said, your choice of gun is certainly going to dictate the cartridge you end up using.

For side-by-side users I would tend to recommend 28g 6s, moving to 30g 5s later in the season. For my over-under users I recommend a 30g 6 for the early part of the season, moving to a 32g 5 later on. I think most people now know that an increase in shot size gives you better knock-down power, which can be useful when the birds are slightly older and stronger later on in the season.

copper shot

Copper coated shot

Speed of weight over shot

There is currently a fashion to shoot bigger and bigger loads, which is fine if you are targeting extreme birds. I personally never shoot anything bigger than a 34g 4 (and they would need to be extreme for this), preferring speed over weight of shot.

I am also a big fan of copper-coated cartridges (lead shot electro-plated with copper) as my experience and testing appears to suggest that copper assists enormously with patterns. The copper almost acts like a lubricant going down the barrel, preventing shot balling but also improving penetration. That said its effects seem to be negated on bigger shot sizes.

Four tips for cartridges

Storage Store your cartridges in dry conditions at room temperature. Don’t dump them in the garage or an airing cupboard. Do this and they will perform at their best.

Patterns Consider having your guns regulated and pattern-tested to your particular cartridge. This may involve fitting chokes.

fibre wad cartridge

A fibre wad

Back-boring You will find that most shoots now insist you use fibre, not plastic wads. This can affect the performance of your gun so find out how a fibre wad will react with it.  Many modern guns are back-bored to reduce recoil – which can result in pressure loss and striking energy.

Recoil I regularly see people shooting with loads that result in too much recoil, particularly if they are using a side-by-side. Don’t underestimate the effect recoil can have on your performance. It can lead to flinching, bruising, trigger free and poor second-barrel recovery.