The 60 Yard Twenty Gauge Wild Pheasant Load

By Randy Wakeman

Photo by Randy Wakeman

For countless years, numerous studies and tests have tried to determine the best long range load for pheasants and mallards, out to 60 yards and, in some cases, 80 yards. In general, 60 yards has been considered long range. Referring to Bob Brister's classic text, Shotgunning: The Art and the Science, and other sources, buffered lead #4 was determined to be the best shot size for long range mallards.

Bob's “predicted percentage bagged” for mallards at the center of the pattern was less than stellar at 60 yards. Bob's chart shows a 43% bag rate at 60 yards using a 12 gauge 1-1/4 oz. Super-X load of #4's was 43%, dropping to 34.5% for #6 lead. The 16 gauge and 20 gauge percentages are significantly worse, in concert with the lesser payloads. The best load covered by Mr. Brister was the 12 gauge Super-X Double-X Magnum 1-7/8 oz. Grex-buffered #4 lead load, which increased the bag percentage to 91.5% at 50 yards, 81.6% at 55 yards, and 69.4% at 60 yards. Note that 1-7/8 oz. of #4 lead is about 253 pellets.

Tom Roster's widely disseminated “Nontoxic Lethality Table” includes up to 70 yards for large geese and up to 65 yards for mallards. Only steel and 12 g/cc Hevi-Shot loads are cited as the 'most effective' in the 2016 version of this table. I've used Ed Lowry's “Shotshell Ballistics for Windows” for many years, along with KPY Shotshell Ballistics, which you can find here: . There is a limit to what a ballistics program can do, and it isn't a problem with the software, it is the erratic nature of shotshells themselves.

In order to get accurate downrange ballistics, you have to have an accurate ballistic coefficient. An accurate ballistic coefficient is where strike velocity, wind drift, drop, and theoretical energy numbers flow from. It is often not possible, for most lead and bismuth loads are anything but perfectly spherical and anything but the same identical diameter when originally loaded into the shell, much less when the pellets actually leave the muzzle. Pattern degradation due to deformed, mis-shaped pellets is well-known, and the longer the range, the worse it gets. There is no accurate ballistic coefficient for gravel. This helps explain why our marvelously magnificent patterns at 45 yards can turn into ineffectual junk at 60 yards.

Apex 1 oz. #7-1/2 TSS 20 gauge @ 61.1 yards.

The Apex 1350 fps 1 oz. #7-1/2 buffered Tungsten Super Shot load is the best long range 20 gauge pheasant load I've ever tested. The benefits are many, for this is a far softer shooting load than the buffered 1-1/4 oz. #5 and #4 lead loads I've used for decades, yet it handily outperforms steel, lead, and bismuth 12 gauge loads like there is no tomorrow. For a video look at this load, see .

Let's go back to the 12 gauge Super-X Double-X Magnum 1-7/8 oz. Grex-buffered #4 lead load that Bob Brister found to be the best of breed at the time. With a 15 mph crosswind, we are talking about a bit more than 22 inches of wind drift at 60 yards, along with 9.1 inches of drop. This Apex 20 gauge load has 15% less wind drift and 11% less drop: both very good things. Strike velocity of this Apex load is 658 fps (sea level) vs. 592 fps for buffered #4 lead, and that is assuming perfectly spherical lead which is not the reality. 

It is counter-intuitive that a 1 oz. payload out of a 20 gauge can outperform 1-7/8 oz. out of a 12 gauge, but that is what the 18 g/cc density and essentially non-deformable Tungsten Super Shot accomplishes. Compared to the ever-popular 1-1/4 oz. #4 12 gauge lead load, the differences are even more vivid, for that traditional lead load has roughly 168 pellets, while our low recoil Apex 1 oz. load has about 214. That's about 27 percent more pellets to form a pattern with: pellets that are rounder to begin with, and pellets that stay that way. 

No sportsman claims to chase wild pheasants to save money. However, TSS loads are certainly costly compared to standard lead, steel, and bismuth loads. However, consider that if you use an O/U or SxS, your up to 60 yard load can go in barrel number two. If you rarely use that second shot, you will just as rarely use your TSS load. The same goes with a pump or semi-auto------ front loading with your standard lead or bismuth load, only using your TSS load as necessary. If you find it rare to use a second shot, it will be equally rare to use your TSS load. It is amazing that just by dropping in an Apex TSS shell with a common Modified choke, your fun to carry, light, responsive 20 gauge instantly outperforms any 12 gauge using lead, steel, or bismuth.

TSS loads are now the default choice for passionate turkey hunters, and for those who enjoy wingshooting with light, slim, responsive twenty gauges . . . it looks like your ship just came in. For more info, check out .

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Copyright 2023 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.