Tom Sykes looks at the steel, 12-bore shells on the market that are suitable for wildfowling and explains what he looks for in a cartridge
Before we start, I should point out that cartridge choice is personal preference and you need to do your research to find one that suits your needs, gun and quarry. You should also be aware of what your gun is capable of firing and seek advice from a firearms dealer if you are unsure. It is dangerous to put the wrong load through a gun or choke that is unsuitable to fire it.
Steel shot for different species
The first thing to look at is the species. Cartridge choice for different quarry is important. You don’t want to shoot teal with a 3½in magnum load but, at the same time, you want to ensure that you have enough knock-down power to kill your quarry cleanly. I work on the belief that I am better to carry a range of shells, so I am covered for any situation. I have shot numerous geese on duck flights and ducks on goose flights. Consistency is important. I use the same brand across all my shooting and when it comes to wildfowling I use three main sizes and loads of shell. I was told that keeping as many variables as possible the same will lead to better performance in the field. I know I swap guns a lot, but I try not to swap the shells I feed into the gun.
I am a big lover of steel. Although I remember “The good old days” of shooting lead as a child, I have been brought up ’fowling since the ban on lead shot. I don’t have any issues with modern steel and find them a great cartridge, especially through today’s advanced guns and chokes. However, that is only in modern guns. Vintage and traditional shotguns have taken a massive hit, especially as tungsten seems to be in short supply.
I shoot a lot of ducks during the season on the wild foreshore and inland ponds. I like to have a good 2¾in shell for most ducks, normally a 32g No 4 or 5. These seem to work well through all my guns and chokes. I find that they have sufficient knock-down power at good range and cover me for most situations. I have even bagged the odd low goose with them, when the opportunity has presented itself.
There is always that in-between ground where you may be presented with high ducks or low geese. I am a big fan of 3in shells for flights like these. I can have them in the gun and have the confidence to tackle most species that may flight over. I use them a lot when shooting on a marsh where we may have low Canadas or high mallard flighting up the river. I use 36g No 3s for situations like this. I have also been known to stock No1s as well but I use those just for geese.
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In my neck of the woods, we flight a lot of pinkfoot geese and need a good hitting shell to kill these birds cleanly. I opt for a good 3½in shell, normally a 42g No 1 shot. These shells are devastating when put in the right area and have certainly helped me bag my fair share of geese, including the odd triple. They are hard hitting but you need to be confident of range estimation as most people struggle with geese, which this is a common problem throughout the UK’s marshes.
One final thing to mention are chokes. I normally have a Kicks High Flyer half choke screwed into my gun. This is an American choke designed for steel shot.
- I have the half and full for most guns but find the half perfect for most situations.
- They are great for throwing consistent patterns with lead or steel.
- Before I had a Kicks, I used a factory half choke for most steel shooting as I found it patterned the best.
- You need to do your own research and find the best gun, shells and choke for you.
- I have shot and tested numerous brands over the years in my pursuit of waterfowl. I found that I, personally, choose the Gamebore range of steel ammunition.
- I have shot Gamebore’s steel loads for years as I find they perform well through all my guns and have never skipped a beat.
- The three main types I use are: 2¾in 32g No 4 Super Steel for ducks; 3in 36g No 1 Mammoths for in-between birds; and 3½in 42g No 1 Mammoths for geese.
- There are lots of different shells to choose from, however, these are the three main types I use when wildfowling.