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Last month, I finished up another tactical shotgun course at Front Sight. If you are not familiar with the training offered by Front Sight, check out my after action report from my first tactical shotgun course.
Gary, my shooting buddy, attended the course with me as did another friend from work. There were 40 some students in the course on the 1st & 2nd days and about two thirds that number for days 3 and 4. The 2 day course consists of the first half of the four day course. Those 4 days on the range gave both Gary and myself the opportunity to once again enjoy our Benelli SuperNova shotguns while putting them through their paces.
One of the range sessions included pattern testing our shotguns using 00
buckshot. Having done this before, I was quite certain of how the
SuperNova would perform since I was shooting the same 00 buckshot used during
the previous course. While the other students were patterning their
shotguns, I noted a couple of the more popular brands/loads of buckshot being
used. After I returned home, I hit up a couple of the local stores and
purchased two of those loads to try in my SuperNova. Since the intent of
this pattern test was to primarily find an adequately performing 00 practice
load (which requires it to be reasonably priced), I didn't buy any of the higher
end products. Yes, I know you should practice with what you would normally
use, but there won't be nearly as much practice when it costs me over a dollar
every time the trigger is pulled.
I swung by Walmart and hit up the sporting goods counter to see if they had anything on my list. I picked up a couple of 5 packs of Remington Express 2 3/4" 00 buckshot. The local Cabela's was also on my list. They had some Sellier & Bellot (S&B) 2 3/4" 00 buckshot on sale (and also on my list) so I picked up a box. Both of these shells carry 9 pellet of 00 buckshot. The Remington cost a bit more than what I've been paying for the Estate buckshot but the S&B was notably less expensive with it being on sale. At that point, I was really hoping the S&B would perform well in my SuperNova.
At the next opportunity, I headed to the range with SuperNova and buckshot in
hand to see how it worked.
The above targets are three rounds of Estate 00 buckshot shot at
15 yards (except for the target on the right). The left most target shows
the 1st shot, the next target is with the 2nd shot fired, and the next target is
with the 3rd shot. The right most target is a head shot taken at 7 yards.
This group of targets shows how the Remington shells patterned
out of my SuperNova. It too was shot at 15 yards (for the body shots) and
7 yards for the head shot. Even though the point of aim at the orange dot
in the center of the thoracic cavity was the same as for the Estate rounds, the
00 buckshot hit higher and to the right. Regardless of that, I wouldn't
want to be the recipient of any of those shots.
The above targets are from the S&B cartridges. Again, 15
yards for the body and 7 yards for the head. Note the increase in pattern
size for these rounds. They show a marked improvement over the Remington
loads as far as a centered pattern is concerned. Also note that the size
of the pattern is opening....especially compared to the Estate loads. The
entire thoracic cavity is well covered and several of the pellets have moved out
into the lower scoring extremities zone. All are still on the target but
it won't take too many more yards for some pellets to start missing the target.
As I was packing up my gear for the trip to the range, I realized I had a 5 pack of Federal 2 3/4" Magnum #4 buckshot sitting on a shelf. I tossed it in with the other boxes and gave it a try. It too was shot at 15 yards for the body and 7 yards for the head. Beginning with the 1st shot, some of the pellets were off target. Each shot added a few more to the off target count. Granted, #4 buckshot is quite a bit smaller than 00, but a shooter still needs to consider where/what those pellets will be hitting. The threat isn't going to be absorbing all of them, as can be seen in the target snapshots.
Another thing I noticed is how reliably (not a good thing in this case) the Estate buckshot delivers 6 pellets to the target and almost always the shot cup too. I watched this happen time and time again at Front Sight. Gary was also shooting Estate and he was setting the exact same thing. I've come to the conclusion that the remaining 3 pellets are essentially stuck to the bottom of the wad. This is giving the wad much more mass than it would normally have.....and causing it to impact the target with frequent regularity. I would much rather than those 3 pellets dispersing in the pattern just like the other half dozen do.
So there you have it.....an example of how different brands of 00 buckshot will pattern quite differently when shot from the same 12 gauge shotgun. That was the first time I had tried #4 buckshot from any shotgun and I was quite surprised at how large the pattern was. The fact that it went off target in under 15 yards was notable. Even the head shot at 7 yards had a couple pellets miss the head.
Repeating the above process at one or two more intermediate
ranges, such as 10 and 20~25 yards, should give you a very good picture of where
your A and B zones are with a particular buckshot load. I've put well over
500 rounds of buckshot through my SuperNova. I'm confident with the shells
I normally use, as to the A and B zone distances and the patterning too.
If you spend the time to pattern your shotgun and put in the practice time on
the range, you will be too. Your shotgun will be a much better defensive
weapon once you fully identify its strengths and characteristics when paired
with a particular brand of ammo.