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Those heavenly honkers: modern goose loads bring home the big birds.

Geese are the big game of waterfowling. Their sheer size is combined with thick feathers, a layer of fat, and breast muscles strengthened by flying long distances. All make geese hard to bring down, especially when combined with an optical illusion common among hunters who don't hunt geese nearly as often as "normal" gamebirds. Geese often appear a lot closer than they are, especially when flying above us with nothing to compare them to except clouds.

Consequently hunters often shoot at geese at longer ranges than at any other wild birds. Naturally most hunters miss or hit the tailfeathers--not generally considered vital organs. Since we're discussing humans, these hunters generally have an excuse, unlike nonhuman hunters (such as coyotes) who actually hunt for a living. If the success rate of coyotes was as low as that of the average goose "shooter," the only coyotes alive would be those eating suburban garbage.

One handy excuse for the average goose hunter's low success rate is ammunition. If a goose keeps flying after we shoot (and particularly if we knock feathers off its tail) then obviously we're not using big enough shot. Next time we bring ammunition loaded with bigger shot. Once in a while one of these big shot hits a goose in the right place, and the goose falls. This reinforces our choice, and next time we may bring shells loaded with even bigger shot, lowering our odds.

For the average goose hunter this might be a good thing, since informal surveys indicate most hunters don't like to eat geese. Geese do vary in flavor, but the main reason geese don't taste very good to the average goose hunter is the average goose hunter doesn't know any more about cooking them than shooting them. For some reason most hunters assume a wild goose, weighing 4 to 8 pounds after it's gutted and plucked and ready for the table, must be cooked as long as a 20-pound Thanksgiving turkey. Or maybe longer, since many hunters (or the people who cook their game) assume all wild animals are full of cooties.

Luckily, I am married to a professional game cook. Eileen just published her 8th game cookbook, among them one on waterfowl. She knows how to make wild geese taste good, primarily by not cooking them until they resemble liver jerky. Also luckily, Eileen likes to hunt, and she really likes to hunt geese. We do some of this in our home state of Montana, but do more of it in Alberta, the Canadian province north of us. Every couple of years we book a goose hunt at the Battle River Lodge, partly because so many geese live on the Canadian prairie.

During these days of "climate change" Alberta geese sometimes don't fly south to Montana until our goose season is over. Limits are also more generous in Alberta, and early in fall there are also lots of delicious "specklebelly" (white-fronted) geese. Specks mostly bypass Montana during their migration south, so we don't get to hunt them much down here.

These trips also give us a chance to try the latest goose loads. These change almost as quickly as a runway model, so we have to keep up our research. (Hey, somebody has to do it.) When we first started hunting Alberta in the early 1990s, lead shot was still legal in Canada, a while after it had been banned in the US, but not too long afterward Canada also went non-toxic. The standard daily goose limit in Alberta is eight a day, four dark geese and four light geese. The numbers of geese and the relatively high limits do allow us to really test different goose loads.

New Loads

On our last Alberta hunt we took along some Federal Black Cloud steel loads, along with some new-fangled non-toxics: Federal's Heavyweight Shot, Remington's Wingmaster HD, and Winchester's Xtended Range HD. All performed quite well, but even though today's steel-shot loads are vastly improved over stuff made 20 years ago, the denser shot in the superloads still out-performed steel. (Here it must be mentioned "steel" shot is actually made of simple iron. Otherwise metal purists will flood GUNS with e-mails pointing this out.)

All three of the new loads feature mixtures of iron and other metals such as tungsten. All are denser than steel shot, and even denser than lead shot. Denser shot penetrates deeper, everything else being equal, because it has more weight behind a given frontal area.

This doesn't mean steel shot won't penetrate well. It does, especially if big enough pellets are pushed fast enough. However, steel shot also decelerates more rapidly than denser shot, and eventually even big steel shot simply won't penetrate the feathers, fat and heavy breast muscle of a goose. Also, some geese simply won't be hit perfectly, and even if they fall, they may have to be finished off beyond the effective range of steel shot. A retrieving dog obviously helps here, but clean kills help even more.

The first morning Eileen and I each used a different kind of new non-toxic shot. We were being guided by Nick Frederick, one of the co-owners of Battle River Lodge, who has seen a lot of geese shot over the years--and not a few by us, since we started hunting with Nick when he was a teenager, and now he's a 30-something married guy with kids. After the first three flocks came in, and we had dropped multiple birds from each flock, Nick smiled and said, "you aren't shooting steel, eh?"

We did use steel later in the hunt, and the Black Cloud ammunition worked very well--but still didn't work as well as the denser non-toxics. Sometimes we had to shoot a goose twice with steel to make it really fold, something that never happened when geese were hit cleanly with the denser shot.

Perhaps the most amazing demonstration of the effectiveness of the denser shot came when I fringed one "greater" Canada goose. The big bird struggled to stay in the air, setting its wings, but still came down far beyond the decoys. Our dog was off retrieving another bird, well to the right, and when the wounded goose stood up and started to walk off I decided to try to put it down, even though it was a long way out there. I held the bead of my old Remington 870 just above its head, and at the shot the goose tipped over and never moved again. I paced off 90 long steps before reaching it.

That was with the Remington load, but to tell the truth we really couldn't tell any difference between how the three different brands performed, despite the fact the Federal loads carried less payload, about 125 pellets of No. 4 shot vs. about 170 in the Remington and Winchester ammunition. In theory, this should have resulted in a thinner pattern, but on the pattern board all three brands showed plenty of density in the pattern center out to 50 yards, the longest shots we took. (At least that was the limit we tried to impose on ourselves, by setting the furthest decoys 40 yards from the blind, and not shooting at any birds that appeared to be flying beyond the decoys. Some birds came in high over the far edge of the setup, the reason we estimated the longest shots at 50 yards.)

We found No. 4 shot to be totally effective even on the biggest Canada geese, but it also worked on the ducks (mostly mallards) we also took on the hunt. This is another advantage of super-dense non-toxic shot. Smaller shot will penetrate a 12-pound goose, but still provide plenty of pattern density for 2-pound ducks.

There are downsides to the latest super-loads, however. The biggest is cost. One round retails for at least $3, the reason they're normally sold in 10-round boxes rather than 25-round boxes. Good steel loads (like the Federal Black Clouds) will retail for about a $1 a round. The overall cost difference, however, isn't nearly that large, because it doesn't take as many super-shells to kill each goose. When shooting steel it often takes two or even three rounds to make sure a goose is really, most sincerely dead, and when using the super-shells we rarely had to finish off geese on the ground, and never had to shoot them twice in the air.

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Nick Frederick confirmed this cost-benefit ratio, and he sees a lot of good wingshots each year. He also really liked how many geese fell dead, instead of having to be chased down either by us or the dog. The fewer people and dogs running around a wheatfield, the sooner another flock might come in.

The other downside is recoil. Now, a lot of modern waterfowl loads kick harder than they used to, even steel loads. This is due not to heavier payloads but extra velocity. The hyper-velocity trend started for two reasons, steel and the demise of the old "drams equivalent" rating for shotshell velocity.

Obsolete Method

Drams equivalent goes way back, to the days when shotgunners started switching over from black powder to smokeless. A drain weighs 1/16th of an ounce, and shooters were used to how many drams of black powder gave shells X amount of oomph, so ammo makers listed how many drams of zip their new smokeless loads provided.

Obviously this system should have become obsolete more than a century ago, but until only a few years ago "drams equivalent" was the only indication of muzzle velocity printed on most shotshells Most shooters didn't even know what this meant and, since muzzle velocity doesn't make all that much difference when shooting lead shot, not many people cared.

Steel shot, however, simply has to be driven faster to come close to matching the effectiveness of lead shot. Ammo manufacturers got into a speed race with each other, partly due to prodding (some from gun writers) to delete the drams equivalent rating and instead list muzzle velocity.

Stompers

Of course, average shooters all wanted the fastest possible shotshells. But neither lead shot nor the new super-dense non-toxics require high muzzle velocity to work well. I know this because I used many of the earlier super-shot loads, such as Federal's Tungsten-Iron. These worked just fine at "traditional" shotshell velocities of 1,200 to 1,300 fps or so, rather than the 1,450 fps now common. In fact, on our previous trip to Alberta, Eileen and I used Federal Tungsten-Iron loads with 1-3/8 ounce of No. 4 shot at 1,300 fps, and they killed geese just as well as the faster loads we used in out recent "field test." But they didn't kill the shooter as well.

All the new stuff is quite fast. Federal 1-1/4-ounce and Remington's l-3/8-ounce loads were listed at 1,450 fps, while Winchester's l-3/8-ounce load was simply labeled "High Velocity." Judging by the recoil, it was just as fast as the Federal and Remington stuff. All recoiled noticeably harder than any 1-1/4- or 1-3/8-ounce ammunition we'd tested before. In fact, by the end of out three-day hunt at Battle River, Eileen was suffering from a recoil headache, brought on by the extra recoil of the fast loads, despite shooting a gas-operated Beretta autoloader. She quit hunting, taking photos instead, because cameras don't kick.

Consequently, Eileen is starting to experiment with the 20-gauge, buying a new Browning Gold autoloader. The new non-toxics are so good there's no need to use a 3" 12-gauge load to kill a goose, and all three companies offer 20-gauge load with 1- to l-l/8-ounce of shot at somewhat lower velocities. Also, Remington is offering some HD 12-gauge loads at lower velocities. Maybe further Alberta research is required!

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OUTFITTER

BATTLE RIVER LODGE

6007 104 STREET NW

EDMONTON, ALBERTA T6H 2K6

CANADA

(780) 469-0579

WWW.AMERI-CANA.COM

COOK BOOKS

DEEP CREEK PRESS

P.O. BOX 579, TOWNSEND, MT 59644

WWW.RIFLESANDRECIPES.COM

GUNS AND AMMUNITION

BROWNING

ONE BROWNING WAY

MORGAN, UT 84050

(801) 876-2711

WWW.DROWNING.COM

BERETTA USA

17601 BERETTA DRIVE

ACCOKEEK, MD 20607

(301) 283-2191

WWW.DERETTAUSA.COM

FEDERAL CARTRIDGE CO.

900 EHLEN DRIVE, ANOKA, MN 55303

(800) 322-2342, WWW.FEDERALCARTRIDGE.COM

REMINGTON ARMS COMPANY, INC.

P.O. BOX 700, MADISON, NC 27025

(800) 243-9700, WWW.REMINGTON.COM

WINCHESTER AMMUNITION

427 NORTH SHAMROCK STREET

EAST ALTON, IL 62024

(618) 258-2000, WWW.WINCHESTER.COM
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Article Details
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Author:Barsness, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:2078
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