Magnum Shotshells - Do We Really Need Them?

Magnum shotshells give shooters more of what they don't need, including more recoil, more muzzle blast, and long shot strings.

Magnum Shotshells - Do We Really Need Them?
Terry believes a balanced shotshell load, such as an ounce of #7½ shot in a 12-gauge wad cup, is the key to success for an above-average wingshooter. You don’t need to fall into shotgun magnumania.

Eons ago, when I was but a boy and dragons roamed the earth, some bright light in the shotshell industry decided that sales records could be broken if they stuffed twice as much shot into a shotshell, called it a “magnum,” and marketed the hell out of it.

Now, the very word “magnum” means different things to different shooters. To a rifleman, it means more powder and higher velocity in a particular bore size—the .300 H&H Magnum versus the .30-06, for example. To a shotgunner, it can mean many things, none of them good. Way back when, as I mentioned, it meant more shot in a payload—1½ ounces instead of 1⅛ ounces. Then they decided to throw in more velocity. Then they lengthened cases to get more of everything.

In fact, they got more of everything most people don’t want, such as recoil, muzzle blast, long shot strings, and blown patterns—all at vastly higher prices—and decidedly less of the two things that are essential in a shotgun: a nice, even pattern with no holes in it that goes where you are looking (at a bird, presumably) and not off into the heavens.

Years ago, I hunted with a guy who missed ducks regularly. Naturally, he believed it could not have been his shooting, so it had to be the ammunition, and every Saturday through the fall he showed up with heavier and heavier loads, convinced that the answer was more pellets in the air, moving ever faster. He spent a lot of money, but the bird count stayed the same. I missed a lot of birds, too, but my solution was to take up trap shooting and try to get better. And anyway, I was shooting a beautiful old Spanish 16-gauge double, and in a 16 gauge, then as now, you shoot what you can get. This was before steel shot.


In fact, the 16 gauge is a classic case in point. As a rule, the ammunition you can find is too hefty for everyday, 50-rounds-at-a-sitting skeet or sporting clays, and it’s not particularly good for game. It has never been lengthened to 3 inches (the Lord be praised!), but ammunition companies still try to turn it into a 12 gauge—and this to be used in a gun that might weigh, ideally, 6 pounds even. Thank you, no.


Generations of gun writers with inquiring minds—Sir Gerald Burrard in the 1920s, Gough Thomas in the ’60s, Bob Brister in the ’70s, and Michael McIntosh ever since—have experimented, tested, and more than adequately proven that you get the best pattern with a charge of shot that fits the bore and is propelled out the muzzle at around 1,100 to 1,200 (max!) feet per second. Some suggest a velocity as low as 1,050 fps, others allow that it can go as high as 1,250 fps, so 1,150 fps strikes me as probably ideal.

There are those who would argue that international trap loads are 24 grams (3/4 ounce) at much higher velocities. To which I can only reply that those loads are very specialized and used in guns with extremely tight chokes, which changes the equation substantially. For the above-average guy, with an above-average gun and above-average ability, the best chance of success lies with a nicely balanced load.

And what is that? In a 12 gauge, an ounce of #7½ shot in a standard shot cup is about as long as it is wide. At a velocity sufficient to initiate expansion, yet not so high as to blow the pattern, it can be expected to approximate the ideal “beach ball” pattern configuration as well as any. This is roughly the same as the old ideal of 1 ounce in the 16 gauge, but that was before shot cups changed the game.

As a writer, there is a certain gratification in joining a chorus that has been singing for more than a century. Alas, it’s a chorus that has been singing to an audience that seems determined to hear only the siren song of the magnum. It’s fortunate for the ammunition companies that so few shotgunners ever pattern their guns and, like my friend of days of yore, persist in the belief that they can cure bad shooting by putting ever-larger, ever-faster shot swarms into the air.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military action, and a two-position  wing-type safety. Rifles

Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - August 19, 2020

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military...

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the .30-06. Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and hammering hogs, deer, and coyotes. Rifles

Remington Model 700 PCR Review

Sam Wolfenberger - April 15, 2019

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and...

The Winchester Model 52 is a fine, handbuilt smallbore match rifle that was once known as the king of the .22s among competition shooters. Rifles

Winchester Model 52 Review

Joseph von Benedikt - July 20, 2020

The Winchester Model 52 is a fine, handbuilt smallbore match rifle that was once known as the...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

Created in 1915, the .250 Savage was the first commercial hunting cartridge to achieve a muzzle velocity of 3,000 fps. Ammo

.250 Savage — Trailblazing Hunting Cartridge

Allan Jones - May 22, 2020

Created in 1915, the .250 Savage was the first commercial hunting cartridge to achieve a...

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the .338 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because hunters are often after game bigger and tougher than whitetails. Here's a list of the .338-caliber greats in chronological order in which they were introduced. Ammo

11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges

Payton Miller

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the...

Winchester's new semiautomatic pistol ammo, named USA Ready, is currently offered in 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Ammo

Winchester USA Ready Handgun Ammo

Brad Miller, PhD - March 20, 2020

Winchester's new semiautomatic pistol ammo, named USA Ready, is currently offered in 9mm...

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best Ammo

7mm-08 Remington History and Performance

Allan Jones - June 26, 2020

Although it was introduced 40 years ago, the 7mm-08 Remington is still one of the best...

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now