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What is the best shotgun cartridge and choke combination for pheasant shooting?

Take time to find the best shotgun cartridge and choke combination for pheasant shooting this season

pheasants close to home

The right shotgun cartridge and choke combination for pheasant shooting could transform your days this coming season.

There have been some major advances in shotgun cartridge technology in the past couple of years. To protect the environment shooters should use fibre wads.

Eley VIP STeel

Right shotgun cartridge and choke combination for pheasant

We asked some keen Shots what they used and what they would recommend doing.

Shooting Times contributor Graham Downing said: “For 47 years I have used nothing but Eley Impax paper cased cartridges loaded with 28 grams of no 6 lead shot through my 1889 vintage 65mm chambered Cogswell & Harrison side-by-side, choked half and improved cylinder. I have used this combination for all my game shooting across pheasants, partridges and grouse with outstanding success and total confidence. Sadly, though, this is now set to change with the advent of non-lead shot. I have bought a pair of William Evans multichoke over-and-unders and with the help of BASC I have patterned them over the summer with Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco 32 gram 5s. The patterns certainly look acceptable, but more than that I cannot say at present.”

Simon Reinhold, another Shooting Times contributor and specialist gameshooting coach, said: “In a 12-bore my preference is a 31g load of continental 6s (UK 5.5 / 2.75mm) through 5/8ths choke (that’s a tight half) for testing pheasants, especially cock shooting in January. I am not sponsored by them, but find Gamebore Extreme Grouse 31g 5.5 is perfect and in a 65mm case can go through either my over-and-under or my side-by-side. As for non-lead, my choice would be Bioammo 34g 3s through my HP steel proofed over-and-under and 5/8ths choke again.”

Giles Catchpole, who writes for Shooting Times, said: “Time was when a new “best” gun came with a recommended combination of cartridge and shot to suit the gun’s chambers and choke following ‘regulation’ by the maker to ensure ideal patterning. Now that off-the-shelf guns predominate and we have a vast array of ammunition available – though not so vast along the steel shelf just yet, it must be said – and interchangeable chokes into the bargain, the variety of options is enormous and then multiplied by the the range of quarry from farm shoot pheasant through Northern challengers to the starscrapers of the West Country or the hills of north Wales.

“For my own part and for shooting the driven pheasants I tend to meet, with lead, I choke my 16g gun 3/4 (first barrel) and 1/4 and keep three bags of cartridges containing 28gm, 30gm and 32gm (1oz, 1 1/8th oz, 1 1/4oz) loads on the go through the season in shot sizes 7,6,5 respectively and choose one depending on the venue, though I tend to favour 28g (1oz) No.7 before Christmas and 30gm (1 1/8th oz) No.6 in January. The 32gm (1 1/4oz) No.5s are for what I would call high days.

“I have had insufficient experience with lead alternative loads to form an opinion.”

Keen Shot Bod Griffiths, who runs shooting and culinary courses at Vale House Kitchen comments: “My Mirokus are proper game guns so are fairly tightly choked and I always like to use Gamebore Black Gold cartridges (usually 30g 6s) which seem to do the job (as long as I’m swinging the gun properly).

Getting the right cartridge

  • Find a shotgun cartridge brand you like and stick with it.
  • Side-by-sides and over-and-unders are both catered for by the top brands .
  • Start your pheasant season on No.6s.
  • Move to No.5s and even No.4s as the season continues and the pheasants get older and tougher.
  • Many people say their gun can’t take bigger shot size but it is the weight of the shot and the length of the cartridge, not the actual shot size, that will affect your gun.
  • Clean out last season’s mixture of cartridges from your bag and stick to what works for you.  This will give you consistent shooting and confidence.

Using the right choke combination

  • Half choke is good for all-round shooting.
  • If you have a multi-choke gun and want to shoot high pheasants later in the season, put in the full choke to keep your shot pattern at these extreme ranges.
  • If you have a fixed choke gun and you are lucky to shoot a full range of pheasants this season then get your gun multi-choked.
  • Teague Chokes are a preferred brand and they can be fitted into all types of shotgun.
  • Confidence is one of the major factors in making you a great shot.
  • So take time to find the best shotgun cartridge and choke combination for pheasant shooting this season and stick with it.

high pheasant shooting

Some thoughts on pheasant shooting

  • Pheasants form the bulk of gameshooting in the UK, accounting for 80% of all gamebirds shot.
  • Equally cherished by roughshooters and driven shooters alike, there is nothing quite like the first cackling and crowing cock bird of the season breaking cover and hurtling into the sky.
  • In some conservation circles, pheasants are much maligned as being non-natives, but they have actually been around for a long time, probably at least since the Normans and maybe even since Roman times.
  • They are very much part of the landscape of our rural heritage.

This article was originally published in Shooting Gazette in 2015 and has been updated.