The Right Load
What are your thoughts on the best 12-gauge load for sporting clays regarding shot size, weight and speed? Am I handicapping myself if I shoot a lighter payload, like 7/8-ounce shells?
My advice is to stick with a shell that works for you. According to the NSCA rule book, for sporting clays, if you are shooting 12-gauge lead shot, you are limited to a maximum of 1 1/8-ounce load. Shot size must be between 7 1/2 and 9. For steel shot, shot size of up to 6 is permitted. When shooting FITASC, the maximum permitted load is 1 ounce (28 grams) and spreader shells are not permitted. For more on ammunition rules, see the 2017 NSCA Rule Book: Section IV-E-4 for sporting clays and Chapter 7 for FITASC.
With that out of the way, the “best load” is a matter of functionality and preference. Many semi-automatics will not operate properly unless you use a shell with enough energy to reliably activate the action. This varies from gun to gun, but I recommend a speed of 1,250 feet per second (fps) or greater when shooting a semi. For an over-and-under, I recommend any shell between 1,200 and 1,300 fps, or lighter if you are recoil sensitive. As for shot size, a larger shot, say 7 1/2, will enable you to better engage rabbits and targets that are edge-on or at longer distances. Smaller shot, such as 8 1/2 or 9, will disperse more quickly after leaving the muzzle and is more effective on closer range targets or belly/face presentations. In terms of load, some believe more is better. Theoretically, I guess that’s true, however, the greater the payload, the more powder you need to achieve the same speed. With more powder and more shot comes more recoil. I personally like a 1-ounce, 7 1/2, 1,260 fps shell. It’s a good compromise and I don’t have to change shells when shooting FITASC. When competing, I also carry a 8 1/2, 1-ounce B&P shell for short-range targets and those with more belly or face..
Don Currie is NSCA’s Chief Instructor, an Orvis Wingshooting School instructor, and Master Class competitor. To get free shooting tips and videos, sign up for his monthly newsletter. You can also see more tips from Currie at www.doncurrie.com.