Caribou Gear Tarp

20 Gauge Pheasant Loads?

Sheltowee

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Jun 29, 2022
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The Front Range
Have never hunted pheasant and most of my bird hunting experience is pass shooting dove on powerline ROWs in the South, so I need a little advice on preferred 20 gauge loads for pheasant. Steel, bismuth, copper-plated or regular lead? Shot size? 2 3/4" or 3"? Brand? Preferred choke for jump shooting over dogs?

I'm leaning toward 3" non-toxic in 5 or 6 but am open to suggestion.
 

nastynate

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Mar 7, 2021
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I'd recommend #5 copper plated. 3" is good. I use improved cylinder all year out of a fixed choke 16 gauge, but used to use 20 all the time with IC or modified- no problems if you do your part out to any reasonable ranges (50 or less is what I consider reasonable).

Boss makes a nice copper plated bismuth round I like for non-tox.
Fiocchi golden pheasant is a good nickel plated lead round. But there are tons of suitable choices.


I've shot lots with 4s and 6s over the years. Don't overthink it. Any quality round will do.
 

nastynate

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I'll add my 16 gauge is older- made before the days anyone considered using steel shot, so thats why I pay the extra for bismuth. It works great. A more modern shotgun will shoot steel just fine. Lot's of options there too, but I'd definitely go with 3" high velocity for steel if you're considering it, and go up a couple shot sizes. It doesn't hit as hard as lead or bismuth because its so much lighter, so you got to shoot bigger pellets faster.
 

RyGuy

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Fort Collins, Colorado
Best option: plated lead shot out of a high brass 3” shell. Size 4-6
Other stuff will work too though. I shoot them with extra duck loads often (steel shot size 2). And regular cheap lead in size 2-8.
IC choke for close range, mod choke for mid-long range
 

Wild Bill

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A jumpy late season rooster can be tougher than a $2 steak. I'd rather overkill them with 3" #2-#4 steel than underkill them and let them take off running. If you can shoot lead at them I would shoot #5 lead.
 

OntarioHunter

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The plating is just a pricey gimmick. If you are hunting over a good dog, IC choke and high base #5 lead shot will do fine. Hunting on federal refuges or waterfowl management areas (often good pheasant country) requires nontoxic and different choices. If you're not hunting over a dog ... perhaps you should choose different game. Besides being an exercise in futility, you'll likely never find the bird even if you do manage to flush one and knock it down, especially if crippled. I think pheasants can run faster than they can fly and they can fly pretty damn fast. Two weekends ago I had a numbskull give me shit when I walked into him and his partner when they were walking through cattails near my parked vehicle. "You could see us. You just walked over here to be in our way!"
Like I wanna get shot? "No, I didn't see you BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT WEARING ORANGE!"
"We're not hunting deer."
"Upland hunters on the refuge are required to wear orange. Read the regulations!" Then I ask him to call in his dog while I pull in mine so there's no problems with them.
"We don't have a dog."
What? Idiots! "You couldn't find a downed rooster in this crap if it fell dead at your feet! Look down. Can you even see your feet? No, of course not." Personally, I think it should be illegal to hunt pheasants without a dog. No kidding.
 

mtmiller

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Montana
"Upland hunters on the refuge are required to wear orange. Read the regulations!" Then I ask him to call in his dog while I pull in mine so there's no problems with them.
If this it the same refuge you usually hunt, that is not the case. Right or wrong, your statement is not correct.

As for the OP. I use 3" 4 lead. When on refuges, I use my waterfowl loads, Steel 2 or 3s.
 

OntarioHunter

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If this it the same refuge you usually hunt, that is not the case. Right or wrong, your statement is not correct.

As for the OP. I use 3" 4 lead. When on refuges, I use my waterfowl loads, Steel 2 or 3s.
Unless the refuge regulations changed this year (my brochure is from last year) orange is required for uplands. Has been for several years. Must be twelve years ago now the older guy who was LE there gave me crap for not wearing orange. I pointed out to him there was nothing in the refuge hunting regs about that. He became very flustered when I showed him. Next year orange was in the regs. Much of the time pheasant hunters could easily be waterfowl hunters so not sure how the orange reg could be enforced. But last week every bit of water was frozen and waterfowl had been gone for weeks.

Edit: Well, looks like they did change the regs a few days before the season opened this year. Doesn't surprise me. The management of that place has gone totally to hell. Overgrazing has ruined much of it. They have a growing herd of moose on the place and last year I had a close encounter a couple of times, once with a cow and quite small calf in a Russian olive thicket. I strongly suggested to the manager that they post a warning on the bulletin board for hunters to keep dogs under control as cows will get very aggressive, go after dog, which runs back to handler, which can get handler stomped to hamburger or cow shot. Unlike deer, if a cow is shot, the calf, especially first year calf, will almost certainly die. The manager blew me off. "People need to accept certain dangers in outdoors experience." Yeah maybe, but it would be helpful if they were aware of the dangers. Dipshit!!
 
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brymoore

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I’ve killed hundreds of pheasants and have never used 3” shells. I’d use 5s this time of year. I’d pick up a box of Kent, Federal or Winchester, not the cheap stuff.

One of the best kills I’ve had on pheasants was over a point in October. I was hunting grouse on a hillside above a field. Two points, two quick kills with a 20 gauge and 8s.
 
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OntarioHunter

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It is hard to find any ammo at this time. I think you'd be hard pressed to find 20 gauge 2.75" on the shelf right now in anything but wimpy trap loads. Hell, I'm having trouble finding any 12 gauge 2.75" that aren't trap loads. Late season birds are spooky and generally flush wild = longer shots. Three inch 20 gauge with a bit of extra gas would be best. I say stay away from steel unless required and then don't shoot anything smaller than #4, especially on windy days. Breeze will play hell with steel pattern.
 

gouch

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SW Oregon
When I used lead, I shot 2 3/4" store bought duck and pheasant loads with #5, #6 or #7 1/2 shot. Then I switched to 2 3/4" #4 steel and didn't notice any difference. I Bet #6 steel would work just fine, Pheasant aren't real tough.
 

nastynate

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An extra 2cents no one asked for.
Wing shooting can be weird. With big game, you typically have the luxury of taking your time and making a well aimed shot. Anatomy + marksmanship = killed big game. I never second guess my archery or rifle set ups because it just doesn't seem all the complicated if you have some discipline in taking only shots you feel good about and sensible equipment you know how to use. When I've messed up I rightly blamed myself.

Upland hunting is different- you gotta make a quick shot, and half the time the bird completely surprises you, even if your dog tells you its coming. Guessing range and lead is on the bird is instinctual. Misses happen. As does wounding/unrecovered birds, unfortunately. When I was starting out, a wounded/unrecovered bird meant "wrong gun/choke/shotshell" in my mind. I often felt I needed more oomph and/or more choke if I didn't kill a bird clean. "If I'd only had my 12 gauge and a full choke I woulda killed that one". I'm certain the "more choke= more pellets on bird= better kill" thinking is wrong- that's only true if your aim is perfect, which is the exception rather than the rule. If your aim is a little bit off with a tighter choke, you may be getting fewer pellets in that bird than a more open choke. Ditto for bigger shells- recoil might mess with your aim (or might not).

I've now settled on one gun/choke combo for upland. I'm not a minimalist- if I felt like changing chokes/gauges would help, I'd do it. (I do adjust shot size for species/wind conditions). But I think a gun that fits, is easy to carry, and you tend to shoot well is more important than the rest. Put some high quality shotshells in there, and don't overthink it beyond that.
 
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