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Reloading Modern 20 gauge


I own a modern European 20 gauge shotgun. I like to both optimize my shells and save some money. I like to have personal control over my shotgun ammunition, as I do with my rifle and pistol ammo. I do a fair amount of metallic reloading, so resizing, weighing, measuring are pretty familiar operations.

I'm not interested in trying to reach 2000 fps, or bulge a barrel. I intend to try to create loads that will stay safely under CIP High Performance. I don't care about recoil . I want duck hunting performance.

Shotgun reloading technology and equipment is very primitive compared to metalic. Shotgun reloading appears to be dominated by the Trap and Skeet game players who can burn through 500 rounds per weekend event.

I'm not an author, just a hobbyist. So when you read this, understand that I'm getting smarter the further I go. So it is possible that I say stuff that I later contradict, or come to different conclusions, or wads/hulls/powders go out of style/no longer available. If I were knocking out a "how-to" article then I would structure this differently, but I'm not so I won't. You are hereby warned - have fun!

One other thing: I suffer from some form of ADHD where I get bored with a subject after a while and move on to something else. I originally wrote this as a way to keep focused on creating an optimum 20 gauge steel shot waterfowl load. Well I've done that now - the shells go BANG and the ducks drop from the sky, so I'll likely not actively work on reloading stuff much anymore. Yea, there are things I could do better at. Yes there are subjects I didn't finish. But like I said, ADHD.

I may regret this, but if you want to ask a question or set me straight on something, go ahead and drop me a note at - auntbelindamobile@gmail.com. 

Warning and Disclaimer

I'm doing stuff in this writeup that makes sense to ME. The loading approach and load data seems safe to ME. I'm pretty confident that I understand what I'M doing. Since anybody can read this, I can't be responsible for what YOU might do. You might be a genius or a complete fool and I can't control how you use this information. So lets make something clear: The following writeup contains reloading approaches and load data that I have determined to be safe in my firearms, and I may very well be wrong. I am not responsible for what you do with this information. You may be reduced to a big pile of blood, guts and steam  - you are hereby warned.

Another Source of Information

If you Google "20 gauge reloading", you'll get 95% commercial advertising sites, and 99% wet-fart data. You can spend, (and I have), hours sifting through page hits looking for useful information. Because looking for high-performance information on sub-gauges, (forum-speak for anything smaller than 12 gauge), is such a black-hole of time and effort - I thought it best to include a reference to a darn good blog worth perusing.

The above is a blog by "Dave in AZ" - a fellow who methodically researched and tested a lot of loads for the 20 gauge. And of course a big plus is that he wrote it all down in a blog for the world to see. 

He makes heavy use of theoretical calculations (KPY Ballistics) in order to make logical load choices. He has done a good job of cutting through the marketing BS from ammunition companies. His blog has the best spreadsheet of commercially available loads I know of.

He's bought and uses all the cool reloading presses to mess around with 12, 16, 20 & 28 gauges, spent the money to get loads independently pressure tested, and he's spent the large $-signs to use Tungsten shot. If he continues with this hobby, (and pays his hosting fees), his blog will likely be the best resource on the web anywhere.

Myths, Fables and  Forums

Might as well deal with this up front. Most of these are urban and forum myths that go round and round.
  • High brass is more powerful than low brass - meaningless - Everybody uses brass-washed steel and Active used to produce an all-plastic hull. Brass height has no relationship to powder/pressure/payload.
  • European hulls suck - they are first quality and used worldwide by shooters who also reload.
  • Overshot cards are bad  - They don't effect the pattern and they help make a pretty crimp.
  • 1200fps is fast enough - yes, if all you're trying to do is break a clay pigeon. No, if you're hunting.
  • Shotgun barrels burst because of reloaders deviating from established recipes - I haven't found a case of that yet. Bore obstructions (stuck wads, water, snow, mud) and gross overloads (double-charges and wrong powder) burst barrels.
  • 3" shells won't load and fire in a 2 3/4" chambered firearm - yes they will. And the potential for damage is real.
  • Running a shotgun right at the SAAMI max pressure will wear it out faster - no. that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how steel fails.
  • Alliant Steel must be hand weighed - I weighed two strings of 20 throws of Steel (lot #34) from a Universal Charge Bar on a MEC Sizemaster. The first string was "soft" - i.e. no vibrations and the extreme spread (ES) between high and low charges was 1.1 grains. The second string was "harsh" (lots of vibration) and the ES was 1.5 grains. Steel is a slow powder, so unless you are right on the hairy edge of a chamber burst with your load, the UCB will drop accurate enough. Make sure you understand what "Extreme Spread" means in relation to "average" before discounting this - a lot of folks don't.
  • CIP versus SAAMI - I sure wish people would actually read the specs - freely available on-line. Some people believe that 1psi over SAAMI is fatal. Some believe that you can't exceed CIP momentum restrictions without going home in a body bag. Like I said, freely available on-line - no reason to be ignorant.
There are people who can't wrap their heads around the idea that the SAAMI maximum working pressure of 12,000 psi isn't the limit world-wide. Our European friends design their modern shotguns for a working pressure of 15,229psi (1050 bar). 

3" versus 2 3/4" Potential dangers

I'm making the case that mixing up 3" and 2 3/4" in older shotguns could cause damage. I'll probably combine this with the "CIP versus SAAMI" section so as to make it very easy to see the problem dimensionally.

The old system behind shotguns is not perfect and has numerous inconsistencies. When I started hunting in the mid-60's, 20 gauge shells were paper hulled and colored red. Due to the fact that 20 gauge shell will stick in the forcing cone of a 12 gauge, (and not easily fall out), and that somebody was dumb enough to fire a 12 gauge shell behind the stuck 20 gauge, manufacturers agreed to make all 20 gauge hulls yellow. Whether or not the color change actually prevented stupid  people from doing stupid things - I don't know. People get away with shotgun mistakes because shotguns operate at such low pressures compared to the material strength of the receiver/chambers (depending on design).

When the 3" 20 gauge shell was introduced in 1954, there was no attempt to prevent it from being fired in  2 3/4" chambered shotguns. And it remains today that you can chamber and fire a 3" shell in a shotgun designed for 2 3/4" (or shorter) ammunition.

Selection of 2 3/4" and 3" shells

Left to right:
  • New 3" Cheddite hull - 2.97" long.
  • Kent 3" Steel Shot shell - 2.56" long
  • Winchester Xpert 3" Steel shot shell - 2.62" long
  • Hevi-Steel 3" Steel Shot shell - 2.64" long
  • Federal 2 3/4" Lead shot shell - 2.31"
  • Once fired Federal 2 3/4" Lead shot shell - 2.67"
  • Once fired Herters (Cheddite hull) 2 3/4" Lead Shot Shell - 2.72"
I measured the chamber of the LeFever and as near as I could measure, it was 2.80" inches to the beginning of the forcing cone. The point with all this, (if not obvious), is that the 3" shell will open up with some of the hull plastic into the actual bore, creating a bore obstruction. I'm not going to venture a guess whether or not it is a dangerous obstruction, I'm simply going to take the position that any bore obstruction is a very bad thing.

And I should point out that a 3" shell will load and fire in my 2 3/4" chambered LeFever.

Dimensional Issues That Show the Danger of Shooting 3" in 2 3/4" Chambered Shotguns

SAAMI 2 3/4" Mimimum 20 gauge Chamber

SAAMI Maximum Cartridge Dimensions - 3" 20 gauge

CIP Maximum Shell Dimensions for all 20 gauge variations

The purpose of these drawings is to show that a SAAMI maximum 3" cartridge (3.01") can have hull material in the SAAMI minimum 2 3/4" forcing cone. The CIP Maximum 3" cartridge of 2.99" is slightly shorter but could still fall in the forcing cone region. Even a 2 3/4"  shotgun with a max cut chamber (2.75" + .050" = 2.80") is still at risk. Remember the 2.97" new Cheddite hull shown above?

Risk of what, you ask? High pressure damage due to barrel obstruction. The crimp cannot unfold completely. Although this restriction isn't much more than an extra full-choke at the muzzle, the pressure at the chamber where the powder is still burning can rise above material strength of the steel. Whereas the pressure at the muzzle is typically very low.

Have there been bulged barrels from shooting 3" shells in 2 3/4" chambered shotguns? Don't know. A Google of the subject shows a few people slightly damaging their shotguns, but no blow ups.

Old Versus New Shotguns


Modern European shotguns are designed to operate safely at a working pressure 3000 psi above the SAAMI limit of 12,000psi. Because it is normal to have both very old and very new shotguns in one's collection, a reloader/shooter needs to take steps to ensure that 15,000psi 3" ammunition never finds its way into old 2 3/4" shotguns.

Here is an example of a potential problem when reloading high-performance 3" shells - keeping them separate for two very different era shotguns.

1936 LeFever Nitro Special

I have a nice old LeFever 20 gauge made in 1936 by Ithaca Arms.

Chamber - note how that forcing cone transition looks like a step.

Top - "Nitro Special" was an advertising mark to assure safety with smokeless loads.

Bottom - I know one barrel is full and the other is Modified, but I don't know what the "4" and "2" refer to. The "Proof Tested" mark is interesting - I wonder what they were testing to back in the 1930's?

Mark - not sure if this is a proof mark. Since the LeFever design was being manufactured by Ithaca at this point, I'd have to do some digging.

New Franchi Affinity

Barrel Roll-Mark

Barrel Test Stamps - The CH in the rectangle is the CIP proof mark and date code (2011). I don't what the other stamps represent.

Barrel Numbers of Unknown Meaning

Bolt Marking

Franchi Affinity 20 gauge Chamber - notice how the forcing cone appears to be a step, when in fact it is a gradual diameter change.

CIP versus SAAMI

I'm not going to try to cover all the differences - just the main points important to a reloader.

Pressure Terminology

  • MAP (Maximum Average Pressure) is an average of the peak chamber pressures recorded for some statistically significant number of fired shells.
  • CIP HP - "High Performance", 1050bar pressure (15,229psi), and 11.5N/M maximum momentum (28gram shot @410M/S) ~1oz @1350fps - only for (76mm)3" shells.
  • SAAMI has one MAP for both 2 3/4" and 3" 20 gauge  - 12,000psi.

CIP and SAAMI serve the same purpose in establishing standards for the safe design, manufacturing and marketing of firearms. The European marketplace sells 1050bar shells, and the hulls are marked as such. I have no idea why they set a limit on momentum other than to keep you from beating your pretty double gun to pieces with high-velocity waterfowl loads. Pressure and momentum are two very different quantities and not at all related.

Summary of SAAMI versus CIP HP

Here are the main points:
  1. SAAMI MAP is lower than CIP HP MAP - 12Kpsi versus 15.2Kpsi
  2. Momentum restrictions for CIP HP are meaningless (11.5N/M), especially in light of :
    1. Kent Fasteel 7/8oz @1560fps (24.8gram @475.88M/S = 11.8N/)
    2. Hevi-Steel 1oz @1400fps (28.35grams @ 426.72M/S = 12.1N/M)
So a CIP HP proofed 20 gauge shotgun (3" chamber by definition) is safe for operating pressures 3000 psi above SAAMI.

Make versus Buy Rationale

Why reload? A couple reasons:
  • Customization - I can raise/lower velocity, increase/decrease payload, etc. to achieve best killing effectiveness. This seems more important because the 20 gauge isn't well supported by ammunition manufacturers.
  • Cost - I can reload high performance steel for less than half the cost of store-bought.
But reloading only really makes sense for hunting loads. Trap & Skeet loads can be purchased for under $6/25, whereas reloading them is $5/25. If I were a gamer, I might reload put-put loads for breaking clays, but then I probably wouldn't use a 20 gauge.

Startup cost is noticeable. The most practical press is the MEC Sizemaster ($275), then there is Universal Charge Bar ($50), Steel kit ($30), powder/primers/wads/shot, etc, etc, etc. and real estate on my bench. So if I save $9/25, and I shoot 100 per season thus saving $36 per year, my investment might not break even before I'm too old to enjoy it anymore.

But there are the intangibles like the satisfaction of doing my own thing - and that is important to me.

Powder, Steel Shot Size, Wads and Load Data

There are a lot of variables you have to consider to find the "best" component. I'm no expert, but I'm not short of opinions. So I'm giving some advice (opinion) to save time. My advice here is based on my biases, and I'm biased towards high-performaces loadings that I would have to pay $20 a box for IF retailers carried what I want. Now I know that lead shot doesn't have to go 1400+fps to work, nor does steel shot need to go 1500fps, but that is what I want, and that's my bias.


The absolute highest performance powder in the 20 gauge is Hodgdon LilGun. If you want top velocity at lowest pressure, LilGun is it. The best all-around powder for high-performance 7/8oz - 1oz lead shot loads, where absolute highest velocity is not important, is IMO Hodgdon LongShot.

The most over-rated, under-performing powder in 20 gauge is Alliant Steel.

So forget about trying to find Alliant Steel, instead focus on picking up some LilGun for your super-duper loads. And I see LongShot on the shelves more often than any of the other general purpose powders, so grab it too.


Ducks seem to die best for me with #3 shot. #3 gives adequate 40 yd penetration, and adequate pattern density. #4 steel is good to 30 yards in my opinion - it gives great pattern density but runs out of steam too fast to kill cleanly at 40 yards. My opinion of course as there are many folks who like #4 shot. I think #3 steel shot is the best size for ducks with a 20 gauge.

I have no idea what somebody would hunt with #7 steel shot, but it certainly isn't any water fowl or upland bird I chase (starlings maybe?). 20 yard max with those tiny, low-density pellets.

I think zinc-plated shot is really cool looking, and I just lucked out for free shipping to get 40lbs of it from Precision Reloading. But I haven't had any problems with the plain stuff sold by BPI, used in Fasteel, and Hevi-steel (and probably others). I would stay away from the uncoated, rough finished stuff because most of what I've seen is rusty. I gotta believe shooting a rusted together slug of steel is tough on your choke.


Ballistic Products CSD20 is the best wad for 1 oz and greater high-performance lead shot loads. The name "CSD20" is a BPI creation, as the manufacturer, (B&P) calls  it something else. Kent uses this wad in their 20 gauge "Fasteel" product. Use 28 gauge fiber wads in the bottom of the shot cup for lighter shot charges. Or something more flexible in the bottom of the shot cup to make good fold crimps easier, as this wad lacks a crush section.

RSI's 3" SAM1 is the highest capacity 20 gauge wad for steel shot currently available. It is also the most expensive ($23.50 / 250). Do not order the pre-split as the quality is horrible. This wad will protect your barrel/choke with all shot sizes.

Ballistic Products PT2092 wad is the best wad for 3" steel shot where the load is 420gr or less and the shot size is #3 or smaller.

None of the above wads have a crush section, so when loading water fowl capable steel shot, count the pellets exactly, consider roll-crimping, or use a filler over the top of the shot.

I've used the BPI SG20L and Federal's 20S1 for 7/8 oz loads. Both have crush sections, both easy to get pretty crimps. Both have pretty decent patterns for skeet (25 yards). But the Federal 20S1 is available of the shelf at most sporting goods stores and therefore half the cost of the Italian made SG20L.

Load Data

Ballistic Products Inc's "Advantages" manual is the very best source for high-performance data, bar none. But understand that BPI produces that load data partially as a sales tool for their components. So if you are looking for high-performance lead shot data for the Federal 20S1 wad, go to Hodgdon's load data site. If you are happy with wet fart  data (1200fps) using Remington, Winchester and Federal components, buy the Lyman manual.

None of the domestic powder manufacturers/resellers provide steel shot data. Why? Because they are lazy. There is this myth that reloading steel shot requires a degree in advanced wizardry, and the powder manufacturers have bought into it big time. There is some data from the European manufacturers, but it is sparse and relatively low-performance (remember that CIP mandates momentum limits which essentially makes their "approved" loadings pretty wimpy compared to what we do here in the US).

I have RSI's manual ( a little booklet), but it has nothing for the 20 gauge. Well maybe more than nothing, but their load data like throwing the shot with your hand.

Reloading Tools

Frankly, you don't need much to reloading shotgun shells. An electronic scale, something to tamp with, and a crimping tool  is enough to load new primed hulls.

Optional but Cool Reloading Block

I happened upon this product by accident. I've cruised Cabelas, Sportsmans, etc. but never run across a basic load block. I don't like load blocks for metallic because you can't easily see the powder charge - and guys having "senior" moments blow up guns. But for shotgun it isn't as risky because you can see through a yellow hull pretty easily to tell whether or not you charged it. Besides, I always put the wad in after charging. This is just a handy thing to have as it prevents having to clean up a zillion pieces of shot rolling all over the floor (one of those life lessons).

The following is made by Bob Patterson in Wyoming. http://www.bp44.com/catalog/ - $12.40 + $5.50 shipping. Such a nice piece of wood that I almost don't want to use it, but it is a darn handy tool for small batch loading.

Required - Electronic Scale

Probably the most important item and something you can obtain for a reasonable cost. You want something that is accurate to +/-0.1 grains (0.2 grains accuracy). You can get scales more accurate, but that accuracy isn't all that important for shot-shell reloading. I do recommend you stay away from those using coin cells and instead get one that uses AAA batteries. A balance beam scale is just too slow to use. I know folks reload without a scale, but I'm not going to recommend it as I think it is better to have an accurate view of what you are doing.

I picked this one up for $35. The only downside is that it has a fairly fast power-off for battery saving, so you have to learn to touch it every few seconds to reset the timer. There are a lot of them available - read the reviews on Amazon.

The "tare" function is critical - don't bother with one without it. And you need a scale with 750 grain capacity.

Using the tare function:
  1. Turn on the scale and wait for it to zero.
  2. Place an empty hull on the scale and press "tare"
  3. Charge the hull to the proper weight.
  4. Shove a wad, fillers, etc. into the hull.
  5. Place charged and stuffed wad on scale and press "tare"
  6. Charge with shot to the proper weight.
Is there a small cumulative error with this approach? Yes. Why? Because these low-end scales are not guaranteed to be linear over their entire weight range. Does this error matter? No. The required accuracy for shot-shell reloading is well within the accuracy of a $35 electronic scale. 

Required - Crimping Tool

The easiest crimping approach is the roll crimp. Why? Well, it doesn't require any funky origami, and it will accommodate stack height variations (+/- a couple shot pellets) This is a tool that chucks up like a drill bit, and with about 300 RPM and a little pressure will fold over the edge of the hull down onto your over-shot card. You can buy them from Precision Reloading and Ballistic Products. I happen to use the Precision Reloading product. Speaking of over-shot cards, you can make your own 20 gauge OS cards with a Harbor Freight 5/8" Plug Cutter, some 0.030" plastic or cardboard. See Does-the-Makeup-of-the-Over-Shot-Card-Matter for more info on over-shot cards.

If you ever stumble across one of the antique roll-crimp tools - buy it. The ones I've seen were genius and very easy to use.

Optional Powder Dispenser

The Lee Perfect is a great example of a low-cost ($25) powder dispenser that works really well with common shotgun powders and speeds up the hand loading process. Not a necessity of course as a fellow can charge hulls with scoop and an electronic scale.

Optional Caliper

The best you're gonna get accuracy-wise is +/- 0.001" - which is way more than enough for shotshell reloading. A caliper is a nice to have item you use to sanity check certain aspects of your loads (like maximum COL).

A Word About Presses

First off, you do not need a shotgun reloading press to load shotgun shells. But a press allows you to assemble shells faster. Not necessarily any better, but definitely faster. Watch this short video on building shells without a press -

YouTube Video

Now this is where some will disagree, but tough, as I have been down this path a couple times. Here goes: A progressive is safer than a single-stage. You will make more mistakes, produce more squibs, using a single stage press.

Why more boo-boos with a single-stage? Because YOU, the human, are more involved in each process step. Machines don't have senior moments, they don' get distracted. If we've learned anything from the last 150 years of industrialization, it is that we enjoy repeatable high-quality because of machines.

So why bother with a single-stage? Because the price point for a progressive that will build steel shot hunting shells is pretty high.

What does the speed difference between a single-stage and a progressive mean? In one hour you would have completed 75-100 shells on a single-stage. On a progressive you would have completed 300 - 1000 shells. So if you are a gamer,, (skeet, trap, sporting clays, etc.), you definitely want a progressive.

Because the demographic bubble of the Boomers has passed through the age of hunting and reloading, and the sad fact that the Boomers didn't reproduce, there just aren't many folks out there today interested in loading their own shotgun ammo. There are absolutely HUGE gains that could be made in all aspects of shotshell reloading by using current technology, but the Total Available Market (TAM) just isn't there to justify the development. What will likely happen is some adventurous hobbyist will automate the loading process one of these days - TAM be damned. And you and I will be able to piece together a reloading "machine" that will eliminate the shortfalls of the current "dumb" reloading machines. It is possible that a truly automated solution might create a reasonable TAM.

Lack of TAM is the reason why companies like MEC stopped innovating back in the 80's. Can't blame them, they're not a charity, and they can't live in their mommy's basement.

While I'm on the subject of MEC, here are a few things to bear in mind if you are thinking of purchasing one.

  1. Resizing really doesn't matter -  unless you are getting your hulls out of a range garbage can and plan on loading for someone else's gun. You can buy a case of cheap shells, shoot them, and reload the hulls at least 3 times for your gun and you'll never have a sizing issue. You can do the same thing by starting with new, primed hulls. 
  2. Fold crimps have limitations - For example, the MEC 20 gauge Sizemaster will not close a crimp on a 3" shell if the stack height is greater than 2.61" - mechanical limitation. Also, when loading large shot, as is typical with steel, one or two pellet variation in a 20 gauge will result in enough stack height difference that your crimp will not close and/or you will crush the hull. If you have enough space, you can get past this by using a compressible filler on top of the shot - but that is an extra step.
  3. You can't use the wad guide - there just isn't enough room. So you'll have to remove the wad guide.
  4. The steel shot drop tube is too big - it will pull the wad back out of the hull in the upstroke. MEC never engineered a solution for a drop tube that wouldn't bridge large steel shot and yet was small enough diameter for a 20 gauge wad.
  5. The bushing bar system sucks - lets face it, buying a new bushing, or shim/reaming an existing one to get an exact load is flat-out retarded. And what makes it worse is that MEC only ships their presses with their idea of useful bushings.
Personally, buy a MEC press from Ebay, Estate sale, Craigslist, etc. Don't waste your money on new.

Gamer versus Hunter Reloading

Ok, so I bought a bunch of manuals from Lyman and Ballistic Products. What I noticed immediately is that Lyman load data is just slight warmer than a wet fart. Ballistic Products data, on the other hand, ranges from wet fart to screaming death ray. Really what I'm seeing is the difference between gamers (ATA Trap) and waterfowl hunters. Gamers tend to use fast powders that build pressure very quickly, hittin the SAAMI max pressure at a bit over 1200fps. Waterfowl hunters use some very slow powders that produce 1500fps+ velocities at SAAMI max.

Gamers have been happily using lead shot forever. Waterfowl hunters were forced to non-toxic alternatives - steel being by far the most popular. Velocities had to rise to make steel usable. Achieving those velocities required new powders and new load recipes. 

I have not found data loaded to CIP HP 15.2Kpsi. I don't know if it exists apart from a few adventurous reloaders who have had their recipes independently tested - and I haven't seen anybody publish anything for 20 gauge.

I suspect, (but cannot verify), that Remington's Hyper-velocity Steel (1700+fps) is loaded to CIP HP pressures. Why? Because I have never seen similar results by BPI, who always stop at SAAMI max.

Some Interesting Loads

The following are some loads that interest me. Wouldn't mind testing and getting them pressure tested:

3" Lead Shot Loads
 Hull Primer Powder  grains Wad overshot shot weight shot size FPS  PSI Measured velocity
 Cheddite     Ched209 Longshot 23.5 SG20L OS20 1 #6 1410 11500 
 Fiocchi CCI209M Longshot 26.5 SG20L OS20 1 #6    1480 11400 
 Fiocchi CCI209M Longshot 25 SG20S OS20 1 1/8 #6  1360 11500 
 Cheddite Ched209 LilGun 30 PT2092 OS20 1 3/8 #6 1220 10900 

3" Steel Shot Loads
 Hull Primer Powder Grains Wad Overshot shot weight shot size FPS PSI Measured velocity
 Cheddite  Ched209 LilGun 38 PT2092  420 grains #4 1500 11300 

I have both Longshot and LilGun on hand. I'd love to get some Alliant Steel and maybe one day it will be available.

LilGun is a slow burning ball powder that is great for 44 mag performance loads. Kind of makes me wonder how you can develop enough pressure to keep it lit in cold weather.

Factory loads - How do they do it?

3" Cheddite Hull, Win 3" Xpert 7/8oz, PT2092 wad with 406 grains of #4 Steel shot.

Lets see, an ounce is 437 grains. 7/8 ounce is 383 grains. 15/16 ounce is 410 grains. And that PT2092 wad pictured is holding 406 grains of #4 steel shot. A #3 steel pellet is 2.8 grains, a #4 is 2.2 grains.

So how do we get a full ounce of steel in a 20 gauge? So just to point out, the 54 grain difference (7/8 vs 1oz) is 19 #3  or 24 #4 pellets. BPI gets their loads to 420 grains by "nudging" (i.e. squashing). Somehow Hevi-steel claims a full ounce as does Winchester Blind-Side. I realize that 19-24 pellets isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things (velocity versus payload arguments inserted here), but since the 20 is payload limited, I feel that it is worth the effort to squish in as much as possible since I'm wanting to push 1500fps. Just need to make sure the pellets don't get out past the wad or they could scratch the bore.

Notice the height L->R, new 3" cheddite hull, 3" Winchester Xpert 3" 7/8" oz #2 Steel, Hevi-Steel, Kent Fasteel 3".

  • New 3" Cheddite Hull - 2.970"
  • Winchester Xpert  7/8oz - 2.630"
  • Hevi-Steel 1oz - 2.645"
  • Kent Fasteel 7/8oz - 2.556"
Shell crimps

Notice that the Kent crimp is depressed (below level), the Hevi-Steel is flat (perfect), the Winchester Xpert is some sort of melted thing. My guess is that you can't reuse the Winchester hull.

So I think the mystery of the extra pellets is pretty simple - Hevi-Steel stack height is just slightly taller and they are able to squeeze in those extra pellets. Also it seems as though Kent could squeeze a few more pellets in there too - wonder why they don't?

Some Answers on Hevi-Steel

They don't. Nope, they label their shell "1oz" (437gr) but they only have 420gr of shot in it. Even slightly less if you subtract out the bird seed.

Bird seed filler on top for a nice crimp (or maybe some kind of buffer)

PT2092 on left, Hevi-Steel wad on right

PT2092 (1.85" long) on left, Hevi-Steel wad (1.88" long) on right 

Uniform size flake of powder - not Longshot, or LilGun (both squashed ball)

Kent Fasteel 3" 7/8 oz #2, #3 and Winchester Expert 7/8 oz #2

Since I discovered that a Hevi-Steel "ounce" is really 420 grains, I thought I'd tear apart some other popular shells to see their innards.

Kent Fasteel #2

Shot to Cup height

Powder (smaller diameter flake than that used in Fasteel #3)

Shot - good quality round shot

Wad (1.66" long, 4 petal)

Kent Fasteel #3

Shot to Cup height

Shot - same good quality as #2

Powder - larger diameter discs than that used in Fasteel #2

Wad - same as #2

Winchester Expert, 7/8 oz #2 

Shot to Cup - note that the shot is above the cup

Shot - poor quality, not round, voids, mixed sizes (#1 to #4)


Wad - 2 piece, separate cup and gas-check

Straight-walled Hull uses a plastic wad base

Conclusions from Factory Shell Autopsies

  • Hevi-Steel is doing some creative numerical rounding to get to an ounce.
  • Fasteel and Hevi-Steel use Cheddite Hulls, and I would assume Cheddite Primers as well.
  • Fasteel and Hevi-Steel use high-quality shot. Uniform size and round.
  • Fasteel #2 and #3 use different powders. The disc diameter is different. Unless that is just different lots of the same Alliant Steel.
  • Winchester Expert uses a melted crimp - very possibly not reloadable.
  • Winchester Expert uses very low quality shot. Not round, not uniform size, full of holes, bumps and voids.
  • Winchester Expert shot extends about the shot cup by a good margin.
Kent Fasteel claims 1550fps, Winchester Expert claims 1500fps, and Hevi-Steel claims 1400fps. I'll run these over the Crony one of these days.

Chronograph Results and Blown Wads

I loaded up some 38gr LilGun loads pushing 420gr of #3 and #4 shot using the PT2092 wads.
3" Steel Shot Loads
 Hull Primer Powder Grains Wad Overshot shot weight shot size FPS PSI Measured velocity Extreme Spread Crimp
 Cheddite  Ched209 LilGun 38 PT2092  420 grains #4, #3 1500 11300 1540fps average 100 Fold


First of all, I discovered that Kent's advertised velocity is accurate, running ~1540fps from my 26" barrel. Second, I discovered that Kent has changed their formula between old and new runs - the new stuff runs almost 1600fps. But this was on an 85*F day, so don't expect that when it is 20*. The main thing is that Kent's fodder is pretty consistent.

Now on to my 1st reloads. You may not know this, but LilGun has a reputation in handgun reloading of being just too hot burning. And I've used it in 44 mag and can confirm that it does heat my revolver faster than other magnum-capable powders like 2400, H110/296, Enforcer, AA#9. So I'm not too surprised by the burn-through shown below. What I learned from the Chronograph is that 38gr of LilGun gives an honest mid-1500's fps velocity - plenty. But I had a blooper (880fps) and the wad showed the gas check folded. Most of the wads recovered showed burn-through, and the extreme spread in velocities was 100fps.

Here's where some pictures are necessary.
Recovered PT2092 wads (#3 shot, 38gr LilGun) showing burn-through and gas-check damage.

And here is a close-up of the rolled gas-check (#3 shot, 38gr LilGun) - 880fps blooper

Now I don't know that I can blame the funky rolled gas check (880fps blooper) on evil LilGun - quite possible that I buckled the hull slightly when mashing the crimp - i.e. could've been caused by my crummy reloading. And I suspect that the gas checks are rolling forward when the wad clears the muzzle. Why? Because the gas behind the wad is going to accelerate to 7000fps and the plastic has just been heated and weakened. However, the burn-through in the other wads is certainly not due to my reloading technique - this is a case where the temperature/pressure of the LilGun burn simply exceeded the capability of the PT2092 wad material.

Also, one thing I should note here - something I saw when first using the PT2092, some of the wads have voids in the powder-side of the base (kind of look like pinholes). Since I never sorted to eliminate loading the "voids", it is possible that the burn-through is simply due to wad quality.

Voids in the PT2092 gas check (they don't go all the way through).

So What Did I Learn Here?

Kent's fodder is pretty good, averaging 1540fps with an ES of 30fps.

The PT2092 wad protected my barrel and choke from scouring. The recovered wads don't show any rub-through. But there was a huge difference between the #4 and #3 leaving me to believe that the PT2092 will need a mylar/teflon wrap if you want to go bigger than #3.

My reloads aren't bad, but 38gr of LilGun is too much for the PT2092 wad on a hot day. Given that I think 1500fps is plenty for nearly 15/16 of #3 steel shot, and  that the 38gr load with blown wads was running in the mid-1500fps, I'm confident that finding a gas check solution will make this a very good duck load. 

Just for grins I'm going to toss some of the 38gr LilGun, 420gr #3 in the freezer and then run them over the chronograph and inspect the recovered wads.

CSD20 and SAM1 Wads

The SAM1 wad from RSI is capable of containing 1 oz of #3 shot. The CSD20 can handle 7/8oz of the same and the PT2092 can handle 420gr. This is based on keeping shot one row above the cup to avoid scoring the bore.

After shooting some, I wouldn't feel comfortable loading larger than #3 shot in the PT2092. It has the thinnest sidewalls and it was close to rubbing through with 1500+fps loads.

The SAM1 wad has the thickest sidewalls and the material is much harder. The CSD20 has sidewalls between the other two and a material that feels similar to the PT2092.

Too bad the RSI data for the SAM1 is so anemic as it looks like it is a great candidate for a 1oz @1500fps waterfowl load.

Basic Info on the Wads
  Weight in grains
 Cup Depth
 PT2092 31.6 1.62" 1.86"
 SAM1 36.1 1.71" 1.91"
 CSD20 27.1 1.42" 1.66"

L->R, PT2092, SAM1, CSD20

Sam1 with an ounce of #3

PT2092 with 15/16 ounce of #3

CSD20 with 7/8 ounce of #3

L->R, PT2092, SAM1, CSD20 - Side view of the gas check design

L->R, PT2092, SAM1, CSD20 - End view of the gas check design

A couple of RSI loads using the SAM1 wad

 Hull Primer wad Powder Charge Shot Charge Pressure Velocity
 Fiocchi 3" Fio or Win 209 SAM 1 Steel 25gr 382gr     9900psi 1435
 Fiocchi 3" Fio or Win 209 SAM 1 Steel 23gr 400gr 9500psi 1350

MEC is a 3-letter substitute for a word beginning with "s" that rhymes with "hit"

So I tried putting together a 1oz load of #3 steel using a 3" Cheddite hull, RSI SAM1 wad, and 38gr of Lilgun powder. I tamped the shot with a rubber mallet and a piece of 45-70 brass. The stack height looked doable. There was about 0.350" of hull above the shot - which seems like it should be enough. I backed the pre-crimp off as far as it would go. I backed the final crimp punch out as far as it would go and I disconnected and swung out of the way the final crimp cam. Wasn't enough. Even though 2.7" is the SAAMI max for a folded crimp 3" 20 gauge finished shell, the MEC Sizemaster won't do it.

One row of shot above the edge of the wad cup, otherwise pretty good. 0.30" of hull above the shot.

Side view of the stack height - the dark line above the brass is the top of the powder.

The failed crimp produced by the POS MEC Sizemaster that wont adjust for a 2.7" shell (SAAMI max for folded crimp)

MEC 3" shell setup (top hole/top hole)

Most of what frosts my shorts with MEC is their lack of common sense instructions to troubleshoot their machines. It is almost as though they went out of business 20 years ago and they only have an Ebay store front selling their remaining stock (or made in China). There are no videos covering the details of each gauge. And there is only one rather pathetic owner's manual for the Sizemaster. The standard response is always "call them" - what is this, 1980?

Since I'm on a small rant, here is the short-list of things that piss me off:

  1. Can't use the wad guide with full-size wads - not enough room so you have to remove it.
  2. Can't use the steel shot rammer tube to seat wads - the tube diameter is too great pulling the wads out on the upstroke.
  3. Can't fold-crimp a shell with a COL greater than 2.61" inches when set up for 3" (top hole/top hole)
  4. No practical documentation for sub-gauges.

The reason why the MEC Sizemaster won't handle a 2.7" shell is that the crimp punch adjustment range is inadequate. Basically it needs more threads. The other way MEC could've fixed this would've been to give a column height position in between the "top hole" and "middle hole" on the column. But they didn't. It is possible somebody makes a crimp punch with more threads - actually I might cut some more myself.

So the bottom line is that if you are doing a 3" 20 gauge shell with a stack height that will yield a finished COL of 2.61" then the Sizemaster will give you a good fold crimp. But if your combination of ingredients pushes your COL greater than 2.61" then the MEC will not work.

MEC toolhead to shell base height with front bolt "top hole"

Rear View with front bolt "top hole" - note the front bolt in "top hole"

View with resize roller in place (no idea if it should be in top or bottom hole - undocumented)

Augmenting the PT2092

In a previous section I showed some nice photos of the PT2092 wad burned through with the 38gr LilGun load. So off I went to Harbor Freight to pick up a $7.50 (20% off coupon) hollow punch set. I used the 1/2" punch on a block of wood to cut some discs from kitchen cutting board material. I don't know what the stuff is, but it is very tough, lightweight, and 0.030" thick. I used a nice blue.

I used rubber cement to hold them in place.

I then assembled the (38gr LilGun, 420gr #3 steel shot, Ched/Ched) load and roll-crimped it.

OK, now I changed two variables: (1) reinforced the wad cup to prevent blow-out. (2) roll-crimp instead of fold. The chronograph and wad inspection will give me some ideas whether things went the way I think they should. I expect no change in velocity even though I'm roll crimping because the wad won't leak as much.

Roll Crimping Using Precision Reloading's tool

Why roll crimping? Because it is easy compared to trying to adjust that POS MEC (a bit of frustration that will pass).

Here's the tool. Note that it has 4 reliefs/bumps/ramps machined into the head.

And here are 5 shells roll-crimped without fuss or frustration (I hear the gentle sound of waves rolling on a sunny beach)

The COL came in at 2.77", under the 2.8" SAAMI max for roll crimp. These are new, untrimmed, 3" Cheddite hulls. I'm using the cardboard OverShot card (wish they made a 20 gauge clear version).

BPI's and PR's instructions are spot on - keep the tool about 100*F (slightly warm) and fiddle until you figure it out. No joke, that is about the extent of the instructions. Oh and a drill press works best, sometimes. So I thoroughly absorbed those detailed instructions, grabbed a handful of spent 20 gauge Federal target load hulls and set to work. Cut the fold off with my pocket knife. My drill has a max RPM of 750, and I found that somewhere less than half-throttle seemed to work pretty good. After messing up a dozen range-pickups I was getting the hang of it. A couple more and I had it figured out. The first live shell I roll-crimped surprised me how easily it went. I could easily feel when I hit the overshot card. I would guess that each crimp took less than 5 seconds. And If I was a little crooked I could simply run the tool on it a little more - so easy compared to MEC's fold crimp.

I wear a latex-coated $1.99 glove on my holding hand. I brace the shell on a chunk of 2x6. I do the crimping in batches. I preheat the tool by running it on a range pickup.

Cheddite Versus Fiocchi 3" Hulls

  Weight in grains Length in inches     Capacity of water in grains
 Cheddite 98.4    2.975 213.7
 Fiocchi 98.9 2.978 213.1

From the above table it is pretty clear that the two hulls are identical. Yes, there are some minor differences, but you need to remember that I only checked a sample of (1) and my equipment isn't lab grade. Given the variation inherent in the reloading process, these hulls are identical. However the primers are not, and these hulls come primed.

My point here is informational only - in case you're on Jeopardy, or you're considering substituting hulls.

Cold, Blue gas-checks, a couple really good loads - more Chronograph Measurements and Wad Inspections

Some questions to answer:
  • Does cold affect the performance?
  • Do the cold PT2092 wads do better? 
  • Can I improve the PT2092 by adding a blue disc of cutting board material?
  • Can the SAM1 wad handle a high pressure LilGun load?
I'm going to test:
  1. Cheddite hull/primer, 420gr #3 steel shot, PT2092 wad, 38gr LilGun, fold crimp - kept in the freezer for a week. - I want get an idea of cold weather performance. I'm assuming LilGun will produce less pressure - something not true with some powders (Ramshot Silhouette for example).
  2. Cheddite hull/primer, 420gr #3 steel shot, PT2092 wad enhanced with a blue disc, 38gr LilGun, roll crimp - Here I just want to see if I can stop the gas-check punch through experienced previously and not have bloopers due to the roll crimp.
  3. Cheddite hull/primer, 437gr #3 steel shot, SAM1 wad, 38gr LilGun, roll crimp - I would expect a 13-14K psi pressure with this.
 Hull Primer #3 steel shot charge Wad Gas Check LilGun charge Crimp Avg Velocity Extreme Spread Temp Blown Wad?
 3" Cheddite Cheddite 420gr PT2092  38gr Fold 148660  25*FNo 
  3" Cheddite Cheddite 420gr PT2092 Blue Disc on base 38gr Roll 148760  85*FNo 
  3" Cheddite Cheddite 437gr SAM1  38gr Roll1459  31 85*F No

So this was interesting:
  1. PT2092 wads didn't blow when the pressure dropped due to the cold - good news.
  2. A little blue disc on the back of the PT2092 was able to prevent blow-through - very good news.
  3. When the wads don't blow, the ES of the 420gr loads is reduced from 100fps to 60fps.
  4. Roll crimping didn't have as much velocity decrease as I expected.
  5. The curled-forward gas-check is happening as the wad exits the muzzle, not in the chamber, as evidenced by the low ES of the SAM1 wad
  6. No scuffing of the bore and choke. The SAM1 held up to LilGun. This wad could handle larger shot with ease.
  7. The 1oz load ran perfect. This might be worth pressure testing.
  8. The 2.8" COL of the 1oz load is right on the hairy edge of what my Affinity action with handle. I will definitely test this more.
The cold PT2092 wads (25*F) - no burn/punch through

The little blue disc augmented PT2092 wads - no burn/punch through (85*F)

The SAM1 wad that chauffeured 1oz (437gr) of #3 steel safely to 1460fps

A Decent 40yd Pattern Through a Carlson Extended Light Mofified Choke

I shot this pattern on a bit of an angle as I didn't want to find out if steel shot would bounce back 40 yards off of a steel plate. I didn't have the luxury of drawing a 30" circle, but I'm pretty sure the steel plate is at least 40" in diameter. The oil paint was thicker around the edges which is why the outer-edge impacts look so large.

40yds through a Carlson Light Modified (.605") Sporting Clays choke - 420gr #3 shot, 38gr LilGun.

1oz, SAM1 wad, 38gr LilGun, Ched/Ched, roll-crimp - 40yds with 20mph crosswind - Carlson Light Modified Sporting Clays choke

1oz, SAM1 wad, 38gr LilGun, Ched/Ched, roll-crimp - 30yds with 20mph crosswind - Carlson Light Modified Sporting Clays choke

Remington Hypersonic Steel

Remington has set the bar for velocity with steel loads. So I was really excited to get a hold of some and see what makes them tick. Now I ordered 1oz, but Cabelas shipped 7/8oz. Cabelas made it right - so no complaints from me.

 COL 2.645"

Before I add a bunch of pictures, I need to point out that these shells are clearly marked "MAX 1050 BAR". As mentioned briefly earlier, this marking is to comply with CIP HP regulations to identify shells above 740 bar (10.7Kpsi) and up to 1050 Bar (15.2Kpsi). I didn't have to fill out a release form to purchase these - much to the shock of certain people who steadfastly believe that 1psi over SAAMI Max is fatal. But the buyer should be aware of whether or not their shotgun is rated for CIP HP.

The construction of this shell is first rate: sealed primer, sealed fold, zinc-plated shot, a really cool wad, and a thick one-piece straight-walled hull. So I wouldn't feel super-bad about plopping down $22/box. But there will never be a recipe for reusing these hulls as Remington does not sell the wads to the great unwashed masses.

Of special note is the very low basewad height they achieve with the one piece injection-molded hull, which greatly increases the usable capacity. This is a hull that could hold more than an ounce of steel shot with the right wad. I suppose I could have sawed one in half, but it's too much work so I just peeled it apart instead.

The shells are marked 1600fps. But I can get Kent Fasteel which is 7/8oz @1550fps for $13/25. I'm not even sure why Remington bothers selling these - only the 1oz load makes sense.

1050 Bar Marking

Crimp sealer
Primer Sealer
Shot in cup - plenty of room for 1oz

This is how the wad sits on the primer
One piece molded hull and basewad

Another view of the one piece hull and basewad - straight walled

Chronograph and Pattern Board Results

The velocity was reasonably close to the published numbers, but not much above Kent Fasteel. The Hypesonic ran a touch over 1550fps with an ES of 60'ish fps. (Fasteel ran 1540fps with a 30fps ES).

2 5 shot strings

40yd Pattern with 20mph cross wind - Carlson Light Modified Sporting Clays choke

40yd pattern with 10mph cross wind - Carlson Light Modified Sporting Clays choke

30yd Pattern with a 20mph cross wind - Carlson Light Modified Sporting Clays choke

A couple of Hypersonic Wads

Hypersonic Summary

Well my hand loads have nothing to worry about. And my shotgun didn't tear itself apart.

I had a Ruff grouse sitting on the ground in 35yds in front of me. I thought, "lets see if the Hypersonic 7/8oz #3 shot  at 1600fps will roll this bird" - it didn't. The grouse flew off unscathed. Now a Ruff is a very easy bird to kill - a single 7 1/2 lead pellet will do it. But not one of those pretty plated #3 steel pellets touched the bird. And after patterning I can see why.

Anyways, I'm not impressed. Not worth $22/25 to me.

An Interesting 1 1/4oz #5 Lead Load

It's upland season, and I'm looking at some lead loads. I'm pretty much only going to use #5 shot. Nuclear for Quail,  too heavy for Ruff Grouse, OK for Blues and excellent for Chukar.

I got this load straight out of Ballistic Products Advantages Manual - 9th edition.

 I have a couple pounds of Alliant Steel powder now, along with a supply of LongShot, but I've long since discovered that the true high-performance powder for 20 gauge is LilGun - which I'm saving for my waterfowl loads.

 HullPrimer Wad Powder Shot CrimpOS Card Predicted  Measured Extreme Spread Notes
 Cheddite 3" Cheddite CSD20 20.5gr Steel 546gr #5 Roll OS20 1200fps 1170fps 49fps soft shooting - tight pattern

Chronograph Results

I roll-crimped instead of fold-crimping because shot and powder were hand-weighed, and I didn't want to muck around with the Sizemaster crimp setup. According to BPI, roll-crimping decreases start pressure, which might not have been a good thing with Alliant Steel. Also, I didn't tamp down the shot, so stuff loosens up after a day or two. My Point? The Extreme Spread is higher than I like and I think it is mainly because of "looseness".

CSD20 Wad

The CSD20 wad looked like it took a leisurely trip down the barrel. The gas check isn't flattened by a high muzzle gas pressure, the petals are not excessively deformed by the shot.

40 yd Pattern from a Carlson Extended Light-Modified Choke

I'm kind of surprised at how tight that pattern is at 40 yards from a ligh-modified (.605") sporting clays choke. This looks more like a full-choke pattern. Very few flyers at this sedately speed with high-antimony shot. And not much shot above the shot cup with this load either. Anyways, this load might still be usable at 50 yards, but I didn't try it.

Lead #5 shot is plenty lethal out to 50 yards even when launched at such a slow speed. I would prefer a higher velocity, and I suspect it could be achieved using LilGun, but this is good enough for a heavy load. With a good Turkey choke this might a 40yds Tom zapper.

A 1 oz #5 Lead Shot Load using a 2 3/4" RIO Hull

This is a variation of a BPI load, the change being the use of a Rio hull instead of a Cheddite, and the inclusion of a 1/4" 28 gauge Fiber Wad in the bottom of the CSD20 shot cup to bring the shot to top of the cup. I'll update this when the pressure testing data comes back.

 Hull Primer Wad Spacer OS Card Powder Charge Pressure
 2.75" Rio Rio CSD20 1/4" 28 gauge Fiber wad in shot cup OS 20 0.028" cardboard 23 grains Alliant Steel 9515psi

Chronograph Results

I think this would've been higher velocity if I hadn't stood 5' back from the Chrony - maybe 1300fps. And I'm beginning to believe that I won't get an ES lower than 50fps with Alliant Steel unless I do something clever.

CSD20 wad

The hand-slit wads looked fine. The fold-over cup is not a "blown-wad", as some think, but rather it is simply the cup folding over upon muzzle exit.

40yd Pattern through a Carlson Sporting Clays Extended Light Modified (.605") choke


Nice shooting 1oz load that patterns well and uses a 2 3/4" hull. I suspect that this will be within SAAMI 12Kpsi, and so would be safe in my 1936 LeFever. I would love to have a 1400+fps 1oz load that uses Alliant Steel, but every time I find one it requires a wad or hull I don't have. Oh well, this load of #5 will knock the stuffing out of upland birdees around here and I can use it to clobber jacks on our annual rabbit hunt.

Does the Makeup of the Over Shot Card Matter?

I've been using cardboard overshot cards from BPI. They're 0.028" - 0.030". I was wondering if the overshot card material mattered as I saw some 12 gauge clear discs that were made of some special plastic that is "frangible". I cut my own from some very "non-frangible" material using a Harbor Freight 5/8" Plug Cutter. The 5/8" plug cutter produces discs that are 0.625" - 0.630" which fits snugly into a Rio Hull. These discs might be too big for some hulls.

Most of my experimenting material is from my wife - she knows to throw her old cutting boards and interesting scraps into my garage "experiment" pile.

BPI Cardboard 0.028", Blue Cutting board 0.032", Grey shelf liner 0.024"

The shot pattern is the only aspect of the shell performance I could measure easily. So I shot lots of 40yd shots against the impact board and took lots of pictures. Now had I been a little smarter, I would've shot 3 shots on one pattern board - next time.

Here are the BPI OS20 (0.028" cardboard) OS card loads

Here are the blue cutting board material OS card loads

And here are the Grey plastic OS card loads

So what did I learn here? Other than the shooter doesn't aim all that well, the patterns don't look much different. Sometimes the pattern is tight, sometimes a little looser - I don't see any donuts, or major spreading. These are 40 yard patterns through a light-modified choke, so I'm more surprised that they don't open up more.

Conclusion? The OS card isn't all that important and it certainly doesn't adversely effect the pattern.

The Effect of a Crosswind

I did some patterning with a 20 mph left to right crosswind. Didn't think much of it at the time. But I read a thread on the subject on a forum and realized that I had some pictures of patterns shifted by the wind. So I thought I would put those pictures here so they are easier to find.

The load used is 1oz of #3 Steel shot at 1460fps. Slower loads will experience a larger wind drift.

The wind doesn't have much effect at 30 yards. But there is almost an 18" shift to the right at 40 yards.

30yds with a 20mph L->R wind

40yds with a 20mph L->R wind


Pretty clear that you have to:
  • Stay home - Just kidding
  • Keep the wind at your back - fine if you're not in a fixed blind
  • Shoot larger shot? (Yes if it is fast, NO if you traded speed for size)
  • Adjust your lead - maybe, but my results showed my pattern came apart as well as shifted.
  • Keep your shots close - yep, probably the best solution

Pressure Test Data

I sent 3 loads off to Precision Reloading in Mitchell, South Dakota to be tested.

The loads and data are as follows (70*F, 68% RH, 29.80 BP):





 Under-shot Spacer



 OS Card

 Avg FPS


 Avg PSI


 38gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 None 1oz #3 steel Roll 0.028" cardboard 1485fps 73fps 11542psi 1860psi
 36gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 None 1oz #3 steel Roll 0.028" cardboard 1422fps 37fps 11295psi 1700psi
 23gr Steel 2 3/4" Rio Rio BPI CSD20 1/4" cardboard 1oz #5 Lead Roll 0.028" cardboard 1278fps 70fps 9515psi 2050psi

The cost was $75, plus $13.40 shipping via UPS Ground.

So what did I learn?
  1. My experimental waterfowl load using the SAM 1 wad is much lower pressure than I expected.
  2. 2 grains less LilGun did about what I thought it would.
  3. The velocities agree with my el-cheapo Crony. 
  4. The 1 oz lead load came in much lower pressure than I thought it would. Safe for an old shotgun.
  5. Precision Reloading folks are pleasant.

1 oz #3 steel at 1485fps Ready for Action

I've pretty much zeroed in on this load for duck out to 40 yds. 

Here are the nail-polish sealed using the blue cutting board material OS cards.

And here are three 40 yard patterns. No wind, 75*F. Funny, but there was  covey of quail running around me while I was patterning.

Very Poorly Slit RSI SAM1 Wads from Buck's Run

I received a new order of 3" 20 gauge SAM1 wads - preslit. The slitting looked like it was done by drunk in the middle of a stroke. I was not happy as these wads are significantly  more expensive than the competition. Hopefully you can see from the photos that they are only slit halfway down and slits tend to spiral and the petals are not uniform in width.

I called Buck's Run and they told they are split that way by design and that I should try them before giving up on them. So I did. I picked 3 wads at random and loaded them up with 1 oz of #3 steel shot, shoved by 38gr of LilGun to 1485fps at 11.5Kpsi. This is my go to waterfowl load. I loaded them exactly as normal, including the nail polish crimp sealer.

I am a member of a nearby trap & skeet club with a nice impact board. So I zipped over and gave them a try. I used the same Carlson Extended Light Modified choke I used for previous work - my go to 20 gauge choke.

NOTE: When I called Buck's with the results - they made it right.

Here are some pictures of the 3 wads I grabbed out of this new order (sorry for the quality - hard to make my cell camera do this)

And here is the view of the lonely steel impact board from a laser'd 40yds.

Here are the 1st - 3rd shots (note the wad impact on the 3rd) 3" between bumps if you want to draw a mental 30" circle. Carlson Extended L/M choke

Here's a close up of the wad impact

And here are two of the recovered wads within a foot of the impact board. (note the paint on the 1st where it whacked the leg of the board) - I couldn't find the one that made the splat on the 3rd shot


So what did I learn here?
  1. Buck's Run is a standup outfit - they compensated me by sending a replacement order of un-slit wads.
  2. SAM1 wads cannot be slit only half-way and be expected to release the shot.
  3. The crazy slitting of these wads results in horrible patterns. I have plenty of pictures here of my 1oz load patterns when the SAM1 is slit correctly. I don't know if the uneven size of the petals matters, nor do I know if spiraling matters.
  4. The wads are traveling 40 yards and hitting the board. Given how sparse the pattern is, the fact that they are traveling 40yds, and the 3rd wad hit butt-first, I can conclude that there must be shot trapped in the wad. A correctly split SAM1 travels about 25 yards at most.
  5.  I don't think I can save the crazy pre-slit ones - use them for wad flight experiments? Christmas decorations?
  6. I'm glad I have easy access to a pattern board. Just got to remember to bring a towel to wipe my hands as the motor-oil based paint is messy.

A Zippy Skeet Load

ATA trap has load and velocity rules. Skeet has load rules (7/8 oz max for 20 gauge), but no velocity limits. Trap is so boring that I nearly go to sleep thinking about it. Skeet, on the other hand, is fairly fun. Since my goal is to hunt, Skeet certainly seems like a better practice. Plus, when it is raining and blowing, (good duck hunting practice), I have the Skeet field to myself. I sling the controller over my off shoulder and start with the gun in the low-ready position - forces me to mount properly in a more realistic fashion. From what I read, Skeet was originally designed to be hunting practice after all.

The typical 20 gauge target load is 7/8 oz of #8 or #7.5 at 1200fps (wet fart). My typical hunting loads are about 1500fps (screaming death ray). So I did a little math and discovered that at Station 4, with a typical shot distance of 25 - 30 yards, the difference in lead from wet fart to screaming death ray is about 1 foot. Since there's no speed limit in skeet, I decided to load 7/8 oz of #8 shot to around 1450 fps.

BPI has a nice load using the SGL20 wad using 24 grains of LongShot. Hodgdon also has a nice load hitting the same 1450fps using the Federal 20S1 and a little more LongShot. I've got a garbage bag full of once-fired Federal Target hulls (paper basewad) and a brick of Winchester 209 primers. I hate paying $45/25lb for shot, but I'm not a gamer, and I'm not going to find space to store 80 bags (1 ton), let alone make a 300 mile trip so I get a serious price break on the stuff. So I can build my own loads for ~$6/25 - which is about the cost of buying wet fart target loads. I'd really like to load a 3/4 #8 load, but I don't have a wad combo that makes the stack height work for a fold crimp without manually adding cup spacers or bird seed.

Anyways, I've been using this load for 300 rounds or so and it whacks the clays nicely. I'll post Chronograph and pattern results when it stops raining.

Chronograph results

25yd pattern L/M choke (Carlsons extended sporting clays)

Adjusting COL When Roll-Crimping

The standard Cheddite and Fiocchi 3" 20 gauge hull is (drum roll please) 3" long (actually 2.97" +/- a handful of thousandths). When you stuff in 38gr of Lilgun, a SAM1 wad, 1 oz of #3 steel shot, a 0.024" OS card, tamp it down and then roll crimp with some pressure - you get a 2.78" COL which just makes the 2.8" SAAMI maximum. This is not a big deal in many shotgun styles (OU, SxS, etc.), but it is a problem in Benelli and Franchi semi-autos.

Whereas SAAMI specs Cartridge Overall Length for finished shotgun shells, CIP doesn't. What I discovered is that while the Franchi will chamber a 2.8" COL shell when loaded from the ejection port, it will not load one that long from the magazine. This is a common issue with both 12 & 20 gauge Benelli and Franchi autoloaders.

Maybe one day I will take a grinder to my Franchi, but for now I thought I would address the roll-crimp COL issue. By the way, I don't have a problem with my 420gr fold-crimp loads (COL = 2.65"), (6 #3 pellets less), because:
  1. 6 less pellets 438gr-420gr = 18gr, 1 #3 steel pellet = 2.8gr.
  2. The PT2092 wad is thinner and shorter than the SAM1
  3. a fold crimp doesn't have a ridge that is basically 1/2 the unrolled hull material above the OS card.

So I did a little experiment to see how short a COL I could achieve by trimming the hull prior to roll crimping. I sacrificed 3 brand new 3" Cheddite hulls. I did the trimming with my pocket knife, which is definitely NOT the way to do it in volume.

I use the Precision Reloading Roll Crimp Tool and hand drill for my crimping.

Three un-trimmed, 3" Cheddite hulls stuffed with 38gr of LilGun, and SAM1 wads - backlit to make the powder & wad visible.

Hull trimmed to 2.9", showing un-tamped stack height with 1 oz of #3 shot

COL difference - L->R 2.9" trim, 2.7" trim, 2.8" trim

Crimp difference - L->R 2.9" trim, 2.7" trim, 2.8" trim

Here is some data from the above photos:
  • Trimming to 2.9" resulted in a COL of 2.75" - good crimp
  • Trimming to 2.7" resulted in a COL of 2.67" - inadequate crimp
  • Trimming to 2.8" resulted in a COL of 2.67" - good crimp

COL of 2.67" just barely works in my Franchi.


Trimming the hull to 2.8" seems to work the best mechanically. The weather is ultra-nasty right now, so I'll update this blog with Chronograph and Pattern data later.

Until a manufacturer makes a hull/wad combo available with greater capacity, 1 oz is on the hairy edge of viability. Backing off the shot charge to 420gr (6 #3 pellets) is the easiest way to make a shell that will work in Italian shotguns. But if you are willing to trim hulls and aggressively tamp down components (I use a wood dowel and mallet), you can roll-crimp a 1 oz load that will work. If you happen to own a press that will fold crimp a tall shell (sorry MEC users), you won't have a problem. Or if you are a machinist wizz then you'll probably modify your MEC to crimp tall shells.

If you don't own an Italian semi-auto shotgun, then none of this is likely an issue for you. I can't speak to Benelli pumps. I don't have Mossberg 500 20 gauge handy, but they state that it will handle a 2.75" shell(Maverick 20ga cycles 2.78" she'll fine). Don't know about the Remington 870 20 gauge.

Chronograph and Pattern Data for 2.8" trimmed hull roll crimp

I'm pretty sure that my chronograph was struggling with the lighting, so I'll update this later when I can capture some better data

And here is the one 40 yd pattern shot I took. Light Modified Choke

Fiddling with the MEC to get a Decent Fold Crimp

I went back to the MEC Sizemaster to see what it would take to get a fold crimp. No magic, i.e. I didn't discover some setup mistake - the MEC won't crimp a tall shell. I did this only because I am looking for an easier solution to obtaining a COL short enough to feed from the magazine in my Franchi. I've gently modified my Franchi to handle a 2.7" shell and as long as stay within 2.7", the Franchi is reliable.

I should point out that I'm not some sort of MEC savant, nor am I a machinist. However I do fix my own cars and I've been on this earth long enough to understand some basic mechanical concepts. I may not explain the following in a manner that will make sense to those who've never messed around with the MEC crimping concept. I'm basically apologizing in advance for not using the proper MEC terminology, or annotating my pictures, or including videos, etc.

It seemed to me that there are two ways I could approach positioning the final crimp and pre-crimp to get a usable fold crimp:
  1. Bottom up - this is where I setup the press for 3" shells and then modify the final crimp assembly. As mentioned earlier in this blog, I would at least have to cut some more threads on the crimp punch to raise it high enough. And I might need to grind away on the final crimp "frame" to gain a little more clearance.
  2. Top down - setup the press for greater than 3" shells, i.e. use the extra hole in the frame. Then space the shells up under the pre-crimp and final crimp while lowering both. If I did this right, I could find enough adjustment to get the pretty taper crimp to work.
Pro's/Con's - The Pro to the "bottom up" approach  is that the resizing, depriming, and priming stations are usable. The Pro to the "top down" approach is that I don't have to machine the final crimp tool, possibly rendering it useless for crimping my 2 3/4" skeet loads.

Since I don't fish my empties out of the 4' deep marsh water and try to reload them, I chose the "top down" approach. I setup the press for essentially 3.5" shells by using the frame bolt hole the next position higher than for 3". What this did is render resizing, depriming, and priming useless. But I don't care as I'm starting with new primed hulls.

For my first attempt I extended the pre-crimp and final crimp punch as far as possible and then supplemented them by using spacers under the shell. With all this hocus-pocus I was able to get a reasonable 6 point crimp, but I couldn't get the taper portion of the final crimp to work - no biggee. I achieved a 2.67" COL with the fold crimp, which will cycle in my Franchi. The downside to lowering the final crimp punch out of it's threads is that it "floats", and floating results in an uneven crimp.

Crimp punch is back completely out of the threads, pre-crimp is extended as far as possible.

My next attempt will be to modifying the shell-locator plate so that I can put a spacer underneath it (assuming I can do this without mucking it up too bad). This will put the shells up high enough that I can put the crimp punch back into the threads (no longer floating) and I will give me a little adjustment range with the pre-crimp. After that I will evaluate whether or not I can get the taper crimp to work.

Shell locating plate (black) at the pre-crimp and final crimp stations.

So the question is -  why am I doing this? I am doing this in hopes of reducing the steps required to crimp 1oz of steel shot and keep the COL under 2.7". Rolling crimping requires that I trim the hulls to 2.8" (or a smidge less) and there is still the question of whether or not the resulting crimp is adequate ( I haven't been able to check pattern or velocity).

Left is the fold crimp and Right is a roll crimp using a hull trimmed to 2.8" - both 1 oz #3 steel over 38 gr of LilGun, SAM1 wad

Well I finally got around to working the "Top Down" approach - i.e. spacing up the shell plate. I used a stack of plastic sheets to get to .280". The ideal distance was ~3.6" with the ram lowered completely, and the press setup for 3.5" shells.

And you can see the nice crimp with a COL of 2.645", and you can see the stack of stuff under the shell plate.

I cut a .240" spacer out of some HDPE I had lying around. I had enough threads on everything to get the crimping working. This is the setup I use to crank out my waterfowl loads.


No matter whether fold or roll crimping, excessive amount of fiddling is required to keep the COL under 2.7". Roll crimping requires precise trimming of hulls. Fold crimping requires MEC Sizemaster modifications. I haven't discovered an easier solution - yet.

I've made the "top down" method work - meaning that I got an easy crimp with a COL of 2.65". So I could go ahead now and make me a .275" - .300" spacer to lift the shell plate. I made a .240" spacer and had just enough threads on everything to make crimping work. Yes I have to bend the 3 tabs that hold the shell plate in it's original position, but at least it is doable. Now I didn't spend enough time on the "botttom up" approach to see if I could make it work by simply cutting more threads on the crimp punch - maybe.

Frankly, I'm happy for now. My gently modified Franchi eats these shells up. And these shells knock the snot out of ducks. Oh and it is duck season, so I would rather be hunting than continuing to fiddle with reloading.

Velocity versus Payload

I realize this gets discussed to death on forums, and I know that ammo manufacturers seem split on the subject as well. Basically what I see is:
  • Slow and heavy - 1350fps - Remington Nitro Steel 1oz 20ga, Federal 1350fps 1oz 20ga
  • Light and Fast - 1550fps Kent Fasteel 7/8oz 20ga, Remington Hypersonic 1600fps 7/8oz 20ga

The most common error I see propagated on forums is the idea of diminishing velocity difference at the extreme end of usable range. I.e. the idea that the extra 2-300fps at the muzzle is meaningless at 50yds. Why is this bogus? Because darned few of the shots I take are at the extreme edge of the usable range. So for me, 200fps extra at the muzzle makes a noticeable difference at 25 yards both in time to target and pellet performance. And although it is true that the velocity difference at the extreme is meaningless, the time to target (TT) is not.

The proponents of the 1350fps loads then propagate this error by loudly announcing that they kill ducks just fine, without mentioning they also do so at 25yds.

Now there is no technical reason why you can't push 1oz of steel to 1500fps with a 3" 20ga. I don't know why manufacturers shy away from the effort. I suspect that manufacturers could up the speed of a 3" 20ga 7/8oz load to 1700fps and stay within CIP HP pressures, but none have bothered.

What does a faster TT buy you? Less lead and less wind deflection.

What does a slow (1350fps) load buy you? Less recoil and less payload momentum acting against the choke.

So for those shooting a keepsake, the 1350fps shells are the safest bet to prevent stock cracking or choke bulging. For those shooting modern shotguns the 1500+fps fodder is the best way to get your pattern to the bird on a windy day and maximize lethality.

What about recoil? IMHO, recoil is very subjective and mostly an issue of gun fit. I'm one of those who does not notice recoil (until the day after). But some folks are more distracted by it. An uber-lightweight 20ga can be a nasty recoiling weapon if not properly fitted, and all too often kids are given "starter" shotguns that aren't adjustable (Those break-action single shots are the worst). Learning to correctly mount a properly fitted weapon greatly mitigates the effects of recoil.

What About Pellet Size and Mass?

It matters. But it matters less to me because I'm not hunting geese - just ducks. And since I'm loathe to shoot Mergansers (even though they need culling), the biggest bird for me is a fat drake Mallard.

I chose an arbitrary distance of 40 yards and a 30" circle. There's nothing magic about those dimensions other than everybody else uses them too. At 40 yards I want enough pellets in the 30" circle to satisfy Tom Roster's lethality index, (no reason to doubt his work), and I want those pellets to penetrate a medium duck completely. I have an empirical problem with #4 steel as I haven't been able to get the desired penetration past 30 yards (I want a little buffer). I also have a mental problem with #2 shot because I just can't get enough pellets into a 20 gauge shell,(although the penetration is excellent). I settled on #3 steel because I get enough pellets to satisfy Tom, more pellets seems better, and I haven't had any cripples (knock on wood). Could I kill farther out with #2? - undoubtedly. But I could also flat out miss more as the pattern gets pretty thin, and frankly, 40 yards seems long enough to me - suum cuique

One aspect of pellet size worth mentioning, since this blog is about reloading 20 gauge, is that pellet count variation effects stack height, and stack height effects crimping and final COL.  Typical variation of (2) #3 steel pellets makes much less difference than the same variation in #2 steel. So basically the smaller pellet is easier to reload.

I need somebody to invent a #3 steel pellet counter and a shell stomper.

Yet another challenge. Yet another problem to solve.

What the sub-gauge reloading world needs is a pellet counter solution. Why? Because the 2-3 pellet variation inherent in the MEC system is too much. My point is that 435gr of #3 steel will fold-crimp nicely. 439gr (2 more pellets) will not. If I could quickly, precisely count 437gr of pellets, my fold crimping would be easy to dial in perfectly.

The shell stomper is simply a gizmo that squashes down the shot, wad and powder. I've been doing it with a rubber mallet and wood dowel. Seems like there should be a better way.

Does Crimp Sealant Affect Pressure?

Left is unsealed 6pt fold crimp, on the right is the same crimp sealed with Ducco model cement

So I wanted to seal the crimps. I tried finger nail polish, which flows down into the crimp well, but lacks the viscosity to form a plug for crimp holes. I heard horror stories about RTV causing the hulls to break off because the sealant sealed a little too well. I looked at the end of a Remington Hypersonic and saw that it is sealed with something.

Remington Hypersonic Crimp Seal

I chose Ducco cement because it looks somewhat frangible, is viscous enough to form a plug, and does not dissolve hull plastic (I tested it). I have shot 100 of these Ducco-sealed shells in 60-80's F weather and had no hull failures, crimp cracking, or material left in the bore.

There are really three questions that should be answered about crimp sealers:

  1. Does it work?
  2. Does it raise pressure?
  3. Does it effect patterns?
I'll put some work into each as I have time.

Does it work?

This is fairly easy to test. You take a warm shell and drop it into cold water for a minute. Remove it, dry it off and either open it up and inspect or shoot it.

Does it raise pressure?

I don't have a pressure test setup and I'm not sure yet that I want to spend the $ to get shells pressure tested.
Pressure and velocity are somewhat loosely related. I believe that the two more closely track each other when using a very slow powder like LilGun. So I'm going to measure the velocity of 10 shot strings to see if there is a meaningful difference.

I ran some more Ducco-sealed loads over the Chrony on a warmer, clearer day - the numbers are rational.
Note the average velocities didn't vary much. But also note the large Extreme Spread highlighted. The reason for the large ES is that some of the wads are punching through, as shown below.

The takeaway here is that this load is on the edge of what the SAM 1 can handle on a warm day.

I'm not going to harp about absolute chronograph accuracy for two reasons:
  1. It doesn't matter - people get all twisted up over meaningless variations of 50fps or so.
  2. I don't own an expensive one - I suppose I would brag if I did.
I included the reference string because I've put a lot of rounds over chronographs over the years, and I know that the lighting has an effect. Sunny days tend to register a little slower in my experience - maybe 30fps. Manufacturers of low-end target fodder usually come pretty close to exactly 1200fps - if thats what they list on the box. So after shooting a 10 shot string of reference loads, and noticing reasonable consistency, no missed shots, and believable velocities, I felt pretty confident that my "for the money" strings would be realistic.

The Ducco sealant loads averaged 80fps faster than the unsealed loads. (And my shoulder confirmed that 1oz in the 1600fps range from a 6lb shotgun is not a wet fart load).

So what does 80fps mean pressure-wise? Well to get a starting point, I can refer to pressure test data I obtained from Precision reloading.





 Under-shot Spacer



 OS Card

 Avg FPS


 Avg PSI


 38gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 None 1oz #3 steel Roll 0.028" cardboard 1485fps 73fps 11542psi 1860psi
 36gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 None 1oz #3 steel Roll 0.028" cardboard 1422fps 37fps 11295psi 1700psi

Two grains difference in load resulted in a 60fps increase in velocity and ~300psi increase in average pressure. The key point is that a relatively small change in pressure resulted in a noticeable velocity increase.

Based on the pressure test data, and general experience with LilGun, I'm going to guess that the 80fps increase in velocity due to the Ducco sealant was due to a less than 1Kpsi increase in pressure (more likely 500psi). For those who believe anything over SAAMI is fatal, the Ducco-sealed loads are certain death. For the rational crowd, the Ducco-sealed loads aren't a big deal.

Update and warning: The fold-crimp load was pressure tested by "Dave in AZ" at Precision Reloading and came back at 14.4Kpsi. This may very well mean that the Ducco-sealed fold-crimp load may be over CIP 15.2Kpsi. My point here is my "guess" of 1Kpsi is likely wrong and more likely 3Kpsi. I strongly recommend that you have your own ammo pressure tested.

What folks should notice is that the roll crimp version of the this load is less than 50fps slower than the fold-crimped version. But see warning above.

Does it effect patterns?

This could either be an easy or hard test as patterns have a lot of natural variance. The best I can do here is put two 3 shot strings onto the pattern board at 40 yards. Count the strikes in the imaginary 30" circle and take the average. Compare the the two and see if there is a meaningful difference.

The following used the SAM1 wad, slit by hand, and completely slit down to the base.

The no sealant wads landed at 15yds, the Ducco sealant wads landed at 25yds - if that bit of trivia is helpful.

No sealant - cumulative 3 shot 40 yard pattern

Ducco sealant - cumulative 3 shot 40 yard pattern

Left = No sealant, right = Ducco sealant - the circles are my eyeballing the cloud center.

I used a rest when shooting these, and I had a 5 - 10 mph wind mostly at my back. So there is a little  pattern shift due to factors other than my normally crummy shooting.

Ducco Sealant pattern is ~295 hits in the circle - about 95 pellets a shot. The pattern is shifted significantly high and left.
The no sealant pattern is ~260 hits in the circle - about 86 pellets a shot. The patten moved slightly high and left.

Both satisfy Tom Rosters "Large Ducks Over Decoys" of 85-90 pellets minimum. Other than the shift, there really isn't a significant difference between the two. But to be honest, both of these are about 60% patterns, which isn't all that good - certainly room for improvement.

Does Wad Split Affect Pattern More Than Choke?

I know there is much written on the subject, but I thought I'd check it myself. My 40 yard patterns are ~60%, which isn't great (room for improvement). Basically I launch about 150 #3 Steel pellets at ~1500fps and only 95 of them are in the 30 inch circle at the end of 40 yards. I like Tom Roster's work, and he says that's adequate for large ducks over decoys but not good enough for medium ducks (need 115 pellets in the circle). Since I am loathe to go down in shot size, I need to see if I can tweek the load or choke.

So I thought I would try two different petal lengths and see if the average of 3 shots showed significant difference. The lengths I chose are based on previous experience with pre-split SAM1 wads where the petal length was too short to release the shot. So my "short" is about 3/4 length and my "long" is about 2/3.

I only tested 4 petal splits. So everything is always 4 petals.

Here are the two split lengths. Left is "short" and Right is "long". I know that doesn't make sense.

The weather was dead calm and about 74*F. I was leaning up against the truck but otherwise I wasn't using a rest.

And here is the 3 shot cumulative "short" 40 yard pattern. The 30" circle is me eyeballing the cloud center
And here is the "long" pattern

Here is the 3 shot cumulative pattern using Carlson Improved Modified .595" choke and the SAM1 wad split 4 petals all the way to the base

The results:
  • SAM1 slit 3/4 of the way to the cup base, .605" choke - 297 strikes in the circle, average of 99 pellets per shot (66%).
  • SAM1 slit 2/3 of the way to the cup base, .605" choke - 283 strikes in the circle, average of 94 pellets (63%).
  • Using a 0.010" tighter choke (.595") and the fully slit wads - 290 strikes in the circle, average of 97 pellets (65%).
So basically there's no significant change. Slit length doesn't matter. 0.010" tighter choke doesn't matter. 

I can see why folks say that the pattern board will drive you mad.

What I might try is slowing this load down a bit - probably drop from 38 to 36 grains of LilGun. Or maybe down to 34 grains. I have a program that counts the dots for me, so I don't mind shooting 3 shot cumulative strings (counting by hand drove me nuts). Who knows, maybe slowing it down will have a major effect.

Does Slowing Down the Load Affect Patterns?

My screamer duck load is giving me about 60% 40 yard patterns. I'm wondering if slowing it down would improve the pattern significantly. So I dropped the powder charge 4 grains to 34gr of LilGun and ran them over the chronograph and slammed them against the pattern board.








 Avg FPS


 38gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 1oz #3 steel Fold Ducco cement 1583fps 90fps
 34gr LilGun3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 1oz #3 steel Fold Ducco cement 1429fps 25fps
 34gr LilGun 3" Cheddite Cheddite RSI SAM 1 1oz #3 steel Fold None 1455fps 32fps

Chrony data

Can't explain why the unsealed load ran faster than the sealed one. Sometimes stuff just doesn't work out the way I think it should.
  • The 34gr LilGun Ducco Sealed load = 1429fps Avg.
  • The 34gr LilGun Unsealed load = 1455fps Avg
  • The 38gr LilGun, 1oz load, loaded about a month ago (time to relax) 1561fps Avg.

I decided to use the SAM1 wad slit all the way to the base, because it is easier to slit that way. And I decided to use the Carlson Extended Light Modified choke.

Ducco-sealed, 3shot cumulative string at 40 yards, the 30 inch circle is from me eyeballing the center of the cloud. Light Modified Choke.

No sealant, 3shot cumulative string at 40 yards, the 30 inch circle is from me eyeballing the center of the cloud. Light Modified Choke.

And one more 38gr sealed, fully-slit, load 3 shot cumulative - just for grins. Light Modified Choke.

  • Ducco-sealed - 354 strikes / 3 = 118 = 78%
  • No sealant - 343 strike / 3 = 114 = 75%
  • 38gr sealed, fully-slit - 330 strikes / 3 = 110 = 72%

So what have I learned from messing around with patterns?

Very tiring. I really understand how patterning can drive you nuts.

I've checked the patterns multiple times. One time my pattern percentages were in the low 60% range. The next time I did it patterns were in the low-mid 70% range. I fiddled with the wad slitting, choke, velocity - no real affect.

So here's what I think I've learned:
  • Use of sealant - no real effect.
  • Change the wad slit length - no significant improvement
  • Use a .010" tighter choke - no significant improvement
  • Slow the load down 100fps - no significant improvement.
I suspect, (but am not interested in proving), that by proper tweaking of choke, wad, and load I could get 80% 40yd patterns. As it is, I have ~70% patterns, which meet Tom Roster's minimums for large ducks over decoys.

Turkey Loads

Who knows, maybe I'll take my Franchi Affinity turkey hunting.  But before I do, I thought it best to pattern the gun.

So I loaded up some 1 3/8oz #5 3" 20 gauge. The load is straight out of the BPI Advantages load book.  3" Cheddite hull, Cheddite primer,  PT2092 wad, 600gr of high antimony #5 shot, 30 gr of LilGun, and overshot card to make the fold crimp look pretty. For reference, 1 3/8 oz (600gr) of #5 is about 230 pellets. This is largest payload weight of lead shot I'm aware of - there isn't any extra room in a 3" Cheddite or Fiocchi hull. I use #5 simply because that is what I have on hand, and it happens to be a popular size for Turkey.

I was hoping for an amazing Turkey zapper using my stock flush full choke (.590"), but the pattern board says it needs more work.

So time for some pictures.  The first two are at 25 and 30 yards with the Carlson flush mount full choke (.590). The second two are the same distances but with my favorite Carlson Extended Light Modified (.605).

The two  vertical bars etched into the pattern board represent 10". Common good practice is to have 100 hits in a 10" circle. BTW, some well-meaning noob ding dong used plain latex house paint on the pattern board, so the pellet strikes look strange. I guess not everyone knows what grease paint is or how to make it (latex paint, white lithium grease, motor oil). I'll scrape it off and do it right next time I use the board.

25yds with full choke

30 yards with full choke

Now for the LM Choke



And here is the chronograph data, 40*f and cloudy

This is a fairly mild ~230 pellet  load putting along at 1155 fps. It is clear that the choke makes all the difference.  The full choke (.590") shows clumping, the LM choke (.605") doesn't. Either choke would work for 25yds. Neither is good for 30. And forget about 40 yards which is about the lethal max.

If I was rich, I would run out and buy the latest and greatest Turkey choke and give it a try. Maybe in the future.

What did I learn?
  • 1 3/8 oz gives you a lot of pellets
  • Choke is super important when the goal is 100 strikes in a 10" circle.

A faster 1 oz lead load

I put together some loads straight from  BPI's Advantages  load book. RIO 2.75" hull & primer, CSD20 wad, 1/4 fiber wad in the base of the wad cup, 437 gr of high antimony #5 shot, 39 grains of lilGun, topped off with a roll crimp (the recipe calls for a fold crimp but I wanted to lower the start pressure).

My goal here was to get a  faster, lower pressure heavy upland load.

40 yards using a LM choke (.605")

Chronograph Data, 40*f and cloudy

So this load is listed at 1500+fps, but with roll crimping (and my chrony), this load run 1384 fps. The 40 yd pattern is pretty decent - this load is a keeper. And I'm confident it is safe in an old shotgun.