Are expensive duck loads really worth the money, or does cheap steel work just fine?
It won’t be long now. Duck season must be approaching, because catalogs are starting to fill my mailbox. Anticipation fills the air, and my wife gives me that “look” when I start thumbing through the pages. There must be something I need.
Each year, I contemplate what to do when it comes to buying shotshells. I convince myself I need to purchase a case of shells for the obvious savings over purchasing per box. But I never know which type to buy.
Each year, ammo makers seem to come up with some revolutionary new product that is sure to improve the odds. Standard steel seems so yesterday. It seems we now need some revolutionary shot shape, pushing the speed of light, to effectively kill ducks.
But my “field observations” just don't match up with that.
Each season, I go through streaks of shotgunning performance that range from dismal to brilliant. I usually start the season with poor performance, but improve as the season goes on. Trips to the clay course help. But last year was an exception. I started lousy, as usual, but then, somewhere in the last few weeks of the season, I became a new man. I shot better than I had ever shot in my life. No duck within range was safe. Swinging over-head, decoying, pass shots – good Lord, who is this man? I even impressed myself. And, you know what? It didn’t make one bit of difference whether I shot a premium load or a box of $12 shells. And that really got me thinking.
Most avid waterfowl hunters have experienced similar “streaks." When you shoot a duck with a 12-gauge shotgun in the head and chest, at ranges shorter than 40 yards, it'll kill it, regardless of what the pellets look like. I know there are things that can lead to more successful hunts. I’m a big believer in shot speed, primarily because I tend to be a poor swinger of the gun. When I miss, I miss behind the bird, as most do, because I stop my swing. Shot speed can help compensate for this.
But I find it hard to believe that we need anything other than good, fast, round shot. If I'm hitting ducks, they fall. If I'm missing them...well, I miss. It doesn't matter what type of shell I'm using. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’m sure there are things that the shell manufacturers do that I’ll never understand. Maybe the components in pricey shells make them worth it. But let’s remember: it’s a duck, not a Cape Buffalo. For me, anyway, I’m going to practice more and spend less.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.