Joined: 16 Nov 2006
Location: Western NY
I know, I had too much time on my hands. Actually, I did. It was a rainy afternoon and I spent a couple of hours on a fun exercise. We hear (read) a lot of lip service given to shot hardness in magazines, around the campfire and on the bulletin boards.
One instance I’ve never forgotten was when a well known, self-proclaimed guru made a statement to the effect that “promo ammo patterns poorly because they load softer shot in it.” Seems that’s conventional wisdom, but since this guy is a celebrity I wondered if maybe he actually knew it to be true. So I emailed him and said, in essence, there can be a number of reasons why 2 shells pattern differently. Did he by chance isolate the shot variable by removing and exchanging the shot in 2 different loads and patterning them afterwards? He said, “Nah. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you do it?” I never did. I was more interested in how he’d reached his conclusion, and I had my answer.
Another one you’ll hear is that copper and nickel plated shot isn’t necessarily harder than unplated shot. Supposedly, the reverse is often true and plated shot can be quite soft. Yet some swear it patterns tighter. Maybe the plating fills the irregular surface, making the pellet rounder? more scuff proof? Just goes to show the fella mentioned above might have been jumping to the conclusion that "hardness" is the biggest factor.
Also, some people are skeptical of certain brands of shot available to the reloader. And some believe bagged shot can’t possibly measure up to the shot loaded in premium target loads.
I wanted to see if I could measure relative shot hardness in a convincing manner. If I could, I’d further be interested to see if I’d find anything really neat….like a particular brand label that was the “gold standard” of hard shot. Or maybe something potentially useful….like one of the 2 magnum shots available to me for reloading is much harder than the other.
So I made a hardness tester. The anvil is a block of hardened steel; so hard I was barely able to drill a little divit in it to keep the pellet still. I used a piece of ready-rod that weighs about 1 pound and is a slip fit inside a piece of pvc pipe. I put a mark on the rod so I could drop the one-pound weight the same one-foot distance every time. The idea was to measure the diameter change from the round pellet to the flattened disc when subjected to a repeatable impact.
The greater the change, the softer the pellet. I needed a system that would flatten pellets to a degree that would distinguish between them. Too light a blow and the difference in the expansion of a soft and hard pellet might be too little to measure. Too heavy a blow might flatten them all to some limiting diameter. Suffice to say, I got lucky and my original configuration worked well. The softest pellets expanded to 0.165" and the hardest to only 0.132".
I settled on testing #7.5 shot since I had it on hand in a variety of sources and flavors. Things got complicated when I opened the very first shell….the pellets ranged from #8 (0.090) to #7.5 (0.095) to #7 (0.100). Some shells labeled #7.5 were predominantly #8. Some were extremely uniform pellet size, but not true #7.5. Obviously, I wanted the original pellets to be as uniform in size as possible. I chose 0.093-.094”, since that size was present in fair quantity in every shell. So, in every case I used my vernier calipers to count out 20 pellets that fit the 93-94 thou range so I’d be assured of comparing apples to apples.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, here are my results. I collected 18-20 data points for each pellet brand, averaged the expansion and normalized the data by assigning the hardest pellet tested a value of 100. You’ll have to trust me (unless you want my raw data) when I say there is a statistically significant difference between each integer on my scale. But the number is in no way quantitative, it merely rank orders the pellet hardness from ONE SHELL in my inventory. And, of course, such a tiny sample in no way predicts what I might see from a given manufacturer, brand or lot the next time I test. And I didn’t even touch on the variability in pellet roundness and size that I encountered. For instance, one flavor of nickel-pated shot was actually extremely uniformly round…and #7 in size.
All I’ve proven to myself is I have a technique for rank ordering shot hardness. And all I conclude is that there are some things that make you say Hmmmmm….
#7.5 shot / Hardness
Lawrence Magnum 100
Eagle Magnum 97
Federal Premium Flyer 95
Remington Nitro 27's 91
Lawrence Magnum Copper 87
Winchester SuperSport 84
Fiocchi Nickel Little Rino 74
Remington Nitro Express 73
Winchester Black Diamond Nickel 70
Gamebore White Gold Nickel 68
Remington Game Load 16ga 68
My 25 lb bags of magnum shot for reloaders is harder than any of my commercially loaded, premium target loads?
Including the stuff (Eagle) made in Peru?
RGL shot rates right there with premium Winchester, Fiocchi and Gamebore nickel-plated target loads for hardness?
I’m going to continue to test new flavors (Kent Diamond shot comes to mind) and some documented different vintages of the standards (Nitro 27’s, etc.) I’ll be checking with friends to come up with different premium hunting loads (copper & nickel). Suggestions are welcome.
Your findings seem to fit in with some of the 12 gauge target loads I have worked with awhile back. I could get tighter patterns with my reloads (nothing one-off) than I could with any factory target loads. I used Lawrence shot (still do).
Joined: 16 Nov 2006
Location: Western NY
You could check it easily enough yourself....we might not have to collaborate. Do you have bagged magnum shot? Just dissect some RGL shells and load the shot as the only variable in a couple of different recipes against your magnum shot. Those extreme examples ought to tell the tale and I'd be interested in hearing it.
I guess that means I have to actually buy NEW AMMO??? Except for some Kent Fasteel, I haven't bought new lead ammo in about 12 years (all Federal Target loads when I did). I have never bought lead hunting loads. This is going to ruin my image, as I am a die hard reloader.
Anyway, what about including some Winchester SuperSport for middle of the road stuff? What yardage, what choke? I will use a 16 Gauge 7/8 oz. and 1 1/8oz. load.
The hunting season starts this weekend for me so it might be a bit but I will try this.
Joined: 16 Nov 2006
Location: Western NY
PM me your mailing address. I'll mail you some shot from RGL's, Win SS, my Lawrence. I'll want to check pellets/ounce, and roundness so we can keep those factors from confounding the results. I'd suggest a nominal modified choke at the traditional 40 yds; that way you can describe the differences in terms of the classic percentages in a 30" circle.
We'll just be discussing the re-invention of the wheel, but it would be neat to see the effect of "hard" shot quantified.
Joined: 22 Jun 2008
Location: N.E.Lincolnshire UK
If its any help,here in the UK the standard method of assessing shot hardness is to drop a 1/2 lb. rod from a height of 3 inches onto the pellet.
The extent of crushing is expressed as a percentage of the original diameter. tests of the average run of No 6 shot show a crush figure of 35-40%
Joined: 12 Mar 2005
Nice job Mike. One of your findings complies with one of my observances from my own trap reloads. There is little to no real practical difference in hardness between Lawrence Magnum and extra hard Chilean shot. I did not do any hardness testing other than to screen each type for a quantity of uniformly sized shot, and roll some of each type between two heavy steel plates to check for distortion. There was no real difference to be seen. Both types flattened just about the same amount. Chilled shot flattened noticably more.
I checked the roundness and size consistancy of both types of shot as well. My tests showed the Chilean shot was slightly more uniform in both respects. It also tended to throw more consistant shot charges. My patterning tests also showed the results to be slightly in favor of the Chilean shot. Both types patterned well enough to break any prperly centered target though. So any difference was probably of no real significance resultswise.
Dispite my findings, most trap shooters I asked thought the Chilean shot was inferior to the Lawrence brand and did not perform as well. Some of these folks swore up and down they could not shoot nearly as well with Chilean shot. This tends to support two of my own beliefs. Most folks are prejudiced by commonly held but unsubstantiated beliefs based on immaterial factors like price, and wing shooting is more mental than anything else once the basics are mastered.
PS, I broke my first 100 straight singles event using 24 gram loads of #8 Nasca extra hard shot. I also kept my load design to myself at the time to avoid all the BS and bickering such a disclosure would have generated. I still had some shooting left to do and wanted to keep myself mentally focused on the job at hand.
Joined: 16 Nov 2006
Location: Western NY
That's interesting, I don't know if there is a standarad technique in the U.S. , but I've heard of guys doing a pinch test with a pair of pliers. I stole this idea from Tom Roster who described it in a magazine article a few years back. 1/2 lb from 3 inches doesn't sound very rigorous though. With one lb at 12" I got discs at .132" to .165". I wondered if less would be better, so I shortened the drop to 8" and the range shrank to .132 - .139. I like the wider separation between softest and hardest.
I've heard of West Coast but never seen it. In 20 years of shotshell loading, the only ones that have ever been stocked around me are Lawrence, Eagle and Star (?). If anyone has some West Coast, I'd sure appreciate receiving 1/2 ounce in a first class letter envelope.
By Chilean, do you mean the Eagle brand, or something else? Awhile back I was intersted in size variability and in the particular bags I sampled, I found Eagle #8 to be very uniform and the Lawrence #8 had a number of dumbells in it...2 pellets fused together, as well as a fair percentage of #9. I can understand manufacturing tolerances and batch variability, but it seems to me the best way to upset lead shot customers is to sell them smaller shot that what you're advertising. The nature of shotgunning being what it is, if you reached for a #8 and got something else by mistake, would you rather it was #9 or #7.5?
Some years back American Rifleman, (the NRA members magazine), published the details of a shot hardness tester used in England. It involved sending a relatively heavy weight a relatively short distance, (inches). I built one that used the same weight and travel and proceeded to measure various shot makes of the same size, then the next size and so on. With the arrival of steel shot, it's been a bit neglected lately.
I usually measure 5 pellets before and after being whacked. It's easy enough to see the dent. Once you start getting this interested in shot, you notice other things too like how uniform the shot is, etc.
I had an old mate who used to say that copper plated shot was often softer beneath than ordinary shot. However, the copper was know as Lub-a-loy and the idea was to make it more slippery, not harder. Slippery pellets get through the choke better and so pattern better. I could certainly pick out better performanse on the pattern board due to copper coating. However, nickel coated pellets were harder and patterned even tighter. The trick was to get these things in the right shot sizes, especially BB and so on.
I found the shot tester as useful tool to explain pattern board results.
Joined: 12 Mar 2005
Actually Mike, I've used several different Chilean brands over the years like Star, Nasca, and a few others I can't recall off the top of my head. I seem to remember some of it also came from Peru, but its not that clear to me now. I think most of the shot is actually made at only a few locations near the lead and tin mines close to the Nasca plains and is packaged and branded with different labels under contract to various American importers.
I've found in the past that the extra hard shot out of South America has tended to be more uniformly sized and rounder than some of the more famous American brands like Lawrence. I think the South Americans now have a bigger and cheaper source for the metals needed and much less restrictive mining laws. Domestic American lead and tin mining is probably about finished. Perhaps the American shot manufacturers must rely more on salvaged metals now. This could be one of the factors at work here.
I've also used West Coast shot. It is also pretty good. Of course, any minor differences in hardness and uniformity between all these brands could easily change from lot ot lot. The differences are not that great to begin with. My results on target have been very satisfactory with all of the brands, so the practical difference between them is pretty insignificant. Nowadays, I simply eyeball the shot as I'm pouring it into the hopper. If it looks good, it will shoot good. Close enough for jazz anyway.
I tend to fret more about hunting ammo than target fodder. The proper quality and shot size for different size birds is more important IMO. I want to kill my quarry as quickly and cleanly as possible. Sufficient shot size and hardness helps me do this. I also think the various ammo manufacturers could use better shot in their so called premium hunting loads. They've tended to skimp a bit on the quality and hardness of the shot in the past. Perhaps they are doing better today. I don't know. Ive been reloading nearly all my hunting ammo for years to make sure it is the best I can get for the job at hand.
For all that, it still seems to be the Indian and not the arrow when it comes to wingshooting. Knowing this helps prevent me from fretting over minor worries like shot uniformity and hardness when I'm on the line and shooting. I do better if I stay clear headed, confident, calm, and focused on the target.
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