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Coarse Hail
August 2010
Gerhard Schroeder

In April 2010 two types of items showed up in my cave. One was a jar containing some lead buckshot, maybe enough to fill about a box of reloads. The other, a few pieces of particle board, approximately 17” by 14” in size, and 5/8” thick, came about when an older small piece of furniture got dismantled so the thing would fit into the trash can. Just as I was about to drop them in, my twisted mind made a connection. Maybe the particle boards could serve one more function before meeting their final resting place.

All kinds of things have been launched from the trusted and proven 12 gauge. Aside from the original lead shot we now can choose steel, tungsten, a variety of metal matrix heavy shot, buckshot, slugs, etc. Even bean bags, tracers, rock salt and a stack of pennies have travelled own someone’s smooth bore. And who knows what the militaries of this world hurl out of a shotgun!

So I looked at that jar of buckshot. Measurements confirmed that they were the familiar double ought buck, about .33 inches in diameter. Each weighs about 53 grains. Even better, the Alliant reloading pamphlet provides some data for rolling your own 00 Buck shells, and I had all the components on hand.

Just to put this into perspective, 12 pellets of 00 Buck add up to 1½ ounces. At an advertised 1275 fps (3” magnum data) this compares approximately to 12 shots from a .32 H&R Magnum loaded with 60-grainers and fired simultaneously. You would not want to stand in front of it. Ok, but neither would you want to stand in front of an unleashed dove & quail load.

That’s where I introduced the wooden boards. Following a simple plan I placed the particle boards behind each other, separated by about an inch. Many probably have downed the occasional bird at some forty paces.

Once, with #2 shot, I ended the marauding habits of a coyote at about thirty five yards, instantly. To me, therefore, it was of interest how larger shot performed at longer ranges. Now deep into this ‘project’ I arranged for some hardboard (1/8 inch thick), and outlined a coyote as my target. Arbitrarily I placed the boards some 65 yards away. That looked like a long way out with a shotgun in hand. The subsequent assault built gradually. Shot into a dirt bank, a few initial shells determined how high to aim to approximately center the patterns onto the wood. Then I aimed for the coyote outline.

First up was a Remington factory load with a white “6” inked onto its green three-inch plastic. I only had this one, don’t know from where, don’t know what charge weight it contained. Sixteen of the number 6 pellets struck within the coyote. All penetrated the hardboard, but then only left slight dents on the particle board behind it. That morning required lots of walking. Take a shot, check the target, count and mark off the impacts, records the results, walk back, take the next shot, repeat. You get to fast-forward through this process – see table below. All handloads were loaded alike, except I substituted with ever-increasing shot size.

The #4 buckshot finally penetrated the two hard boards and the first particle board. This ammo was factory Remington 3” Mag with roll crimp, over 30 years old by the looks of it. Again, I don’t know how many pellets were in there.

Once the 870 pump did its duty I also tried some other stuff for comparison, since I had it along. They were a .22 pistol loaded with Federal HP ammo, a .32 Auto loaded with 71 grain FMJs (yes, it took quite a few of shots to finally put some into wooden boards from 65 steps away), and a .38 Special loaded with 125 grain semi-wadcutters.

So for the test results: What is practical?

While the number 6 factory load delivered decent coverage, their effect at long distance is highly questionable. Maybe a lucky pellet would break a dove’s wing or quail’s neck – maybe. I’d give it a practical value of zero. And the number 5 size isn’t much better. The number 4s do penetrate more, but not enough for tough critters like predators, and coverage for fowl is again insufficient.

Of course this was mostly a test sample of one. Based on that the number 2 and BB loads began to look interesting with respect to retained energy or killing power. But at 65 paces you play lottery with where these pellets hit. The number 4 buck load finally did some real damage, penetrating through the two hard boards and the first particle board. Would that be lethal on a coyote, IF they struck in the vitals? Not unexpectedly, the double-ought buck penetrated one more board. The lottery factor persisted!

Now what?

A typical .22 hollow point, fired from a pistol barrel, out-penetrated the heavier double-ought buck. This put things into perspective. Round balls, and certainly those made of soft lead, are lousy penetrators. At the end I stepped to within 35 yards and let fly. Even then the double-ought buck did not make it through all boards. But this shot looked impressive as my entire ‘target arrangement’ fell to the ground.

Double-ought buck in the old country is known as Sau Posten (or 8mm Posten), meaning they used to blast them at wild boar, and that from the standard 2¾ (or 70mm) shells. The idea, of course, was to do this at more typical smooth bore ranges, say within thirty paces. Then again, if wild boar is the intended game animal, why not use a slug at those close ranges? The answer to that may have been ‘fox’. Should either fox or boar get driven towards your position, you’d have a way better chance to nail the fox if double-ought buck resides in front of your powder. But don’t just send a load of buck shot through thick cover with the idea that something will ‘get there’. As my simple test showed they don’t penetrate much and therefore also deflect like crazy.

I suppose the #4 buckshot used to be a temptation on high-flying waterfowl when lead was still legal. Certainly at the arbitrarily chosen 65 step distance this size mustered respectable penetration. But hitting something was akin to playing the lottery. Who knows how many high-flying geese did come to bag with #4 buck pellets, and how many more were only wounded!

Recently I noticed that #4 buck is still available in newly manufactured ammo, I assume for self-defensive purposes. I have no hunting experience with this ammo. I imagine it could be really good predator medicine for those who prefer a scattergun.

If it were legal (and in some places it is) no doubt double-ought buck would take down deer, just keep things close. I plan to load up what’s left in that jar, to ‘test’ (a boy’s word for destroy) other targets. And if that gets boring, there is the unquestionable defensive application. But they are no long-range wonder pills.

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