• Mossberg Owners is in the process of upgrading the software. Please bear with us while we transition to the new look and new upgraded software.

Best Shot For Pheasant, Chukar & Quail

Now I know this has probably been brought up about a 1000 x's, but I'm kinda wondering which shot size to use when all 3 of these species are in the field. I HATE! cripples. ..would rather miss completely than lose a shot bird. I've read where a lotta hunters say #6 is a bit light on pheasants. But is using #4 or #5 shot in my 12 or 20 going to present any issues on the smaller birds?
Being that I use 12 gauge exclusively...some thoughts:

First and foremost...no matter what manufacturer brand or shot size, always pattern it through your shotgun...

The most popular shot sizes among pheasant hunters are #6 and #7 1/2. I've used #5 with great success, especially on the tougher pheasant. But if all the dope and data on what it takes to consistently kill pheasants stone dead from all angles and at various distances were fed into a computer, the machine would likely choose #6 shot with #5 in a very close second place.

Smaller shot sizes work okay at closer ranges, but they lack the ability to break heavy bones and penetrate to the vitals of a bird at longer distances. #4 shot is great if enough choke is used to keep pattern core density high, but I’d really rather have #5 or #6 and less choke.

When choosing between the two I prefer to go with #5's so long as the shot charge weighs no less than 1 1/4 ounces, but I always choose #6 when using lighter shot charges in order to keep pattern density high.

As far as the smaller birds like Chukar and Quail...I would go with #7 1/2...even #8 when flushing them in close...as usually happens.

There are those who will use no choke other than Full when hunting pheasant, but most hunters are better off with more open chokes. Improved Cylinder is probably as close as we’ll ever get to ideal for pumps and autoloaders. And if a better combination than Improved Cylinder and Modified ever becomes available for double-barrel guns, I’ll be the first to stand in line.

It must be mention that the use of nontoxic shot is now required in some areas of the country regardless of the game being hunted. Hunters who go after pheasant and other game birds in those areas can no longer use lead shot, which is the same as it has been for waterfowl for several years now. Steel shot works okay on pheasant so long as pellet diameter is a couple sizes larger than lead.

For example, those who prefer #6 lead shot would go with #4 steel while fans of #4 lead shot would opt for #2 steel. When using nontoxic shot such as Tungsten-Polymer, Tungsten-Matrix, and Bismuth, use the same-size shot as lead since all have similar densities.

Those types of shot are actually superior to steel. While considerably more expensive, a good wing shot isn’t likely to spend a fortune on shells with today’s daily game bag limits on pheasant being what they are. Actually, anyone who desires to use an older gun built prior to the steel shot days has no choice but to use one of the other nontoxic options.
Great reply, SHOOTER13. I picked up some 4, 6 & 7 1/2 in 20 ga & 5, 6 & 7 1/2 in 12 ga the other day. Wow, what a difference in pricing--$6-$8 per box for field loads. Then I splurged & got the 4 shot hi-speed stuff for $19. ..felt like a fool spending three x's the $ for maybe 200' per second faster shells, but what can I say. When I was a kid I'd use 7 1/2 on dove & 6 on pheasant & quail with good luck as long as I shot my birds @ the proper distance So if the smaller birds get up & I've the 4 or 5 shot chambered I'm taking the shot, right?
Good response! I have nothing more to offer here! lol

I like 6s if I'm only carrying one load and had thought I needed a 4 for turkey but turns out the 6 works there too but in a different configuration to be used with a really tight choke.
OK, great, it sounds like I'll have a lot of confidence in the #6. I'll just have to play it by ear & try to figure out with each shot on each bird what works & what doesn't. I cut a bunch of 4 1/2' square Tyvek housewrap sheets & made a cheap wood frame to hang them on the other day. I plan on patternizing & zeroing the 2 new additions 1 of these weekends. That'll @ least give me an idea of shot density & if the 3 nozzles supplied with each gun are spreading the shot like they're supposed to. Plus, it'll tell me if I'm shooting where I aim. I'll do a post on my results after that 1st shoot.
Here's an example of a 3" load of 1-3/4 oz #6 fired through a tight turkey choke at 40 yards.


There are 172 pellets in a 10" circle. This is good for turkeys, not good for wing shooting. You're doin right by patterning and I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
Shot patterning is mandantory. I use poster board like you can get for school projects and trace a circle using a disposable cup for aiming reference.

Try shooting with various loads you like or have, and at various distances. Patterning at 7 yards and then shooting at 40 yards in the field is not going to yield the same results. Shoot about every 5 or 10 yards apart to see where the sweet spot is.

I will repeat what others have said and that I like using 6 shot. I've taken grouse, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, and just about everything in between using 6 shot. I don't particularly care for smaller size shot on anything besides skeet/clays. By smaller, I mean 7-12 shot.

4, 5, and 6 shot if it has a heartbeat. Buckshot and slugs for anything larger than a bobcat or coyote.
I agree, John A., patterning is mandatory. I respect the game too much to go out with a gun I don't know where it shoots nor how it patterns. If you don't do the prep work you're gonna end up with more cripples. ..hate that. My bud wants to join me for some bird hunting, but I'm gonna insist he patternize his gun as well. I'll be uncompromising on that.
6- 7 1/2 shot have served me well & I prefer 7 1/2 for the first shot on game you mentioned UNLESS they are further away, or it's windy, using dogs?. The quality & type ammo of the mfgr can make all the difference, example a cheap wally world low brass 7.5 target load vs a better brand high brass hunting load can be a night & day difference.
I was fortunate to have a buddy with 2 Pudel pointers bred & trained by Bodo Winterholt, that held birds close. 12 gauges & 6 shot just tore pheasants up. My Buddy went to 20 ga & I opted for 28 ga, both Ruger red label O/U's with & 7 1/2's for the first bbl followed by a 6 shot. The biggest advantage, of several, going for the double bbl & a selective trigger, is having a different choke & shot size to choose from, if you want to/need to.
..sounds nice. After having been out of the shooting sports literally for decades I sold my dozen or so guns. Some were just collectors, but others will/are seeing life in the field again. While still selling I was once again overtaken with the urge to shoot. I had a Mossberg 500/16/full as a kid & liked it so much that when it came time to start my 2nd collection I settled on the 500 Field grade in the 20 & the fancier Field Classic in the 12. They seem to handle OK, at least at home without having actually shot/zeroed/patternized either.
But I must admit I've found myself out more than once looking at the 28's. ..fun handling them even if I never get one. If I do will probably depend on the distance at which my birds flush. And since most of my bird hunting will be during the coldest days of the winter, chances are the birds'll hold tight giving the li'l gauge a distinct possibility of finding a home in my gun cabinet. Wouldn't that be a shame?
Should that day come & since I already have the 2 pumps & being that I'd probably want to try something new & being that something new would certainly be either an o/u dbl or a semi-automatic, I'd have to say chances are good a li'l o/u will one day grace me both at home & in the field. As you've mentioned it has its benefits.
And with that I will say I own 2 Ruger revolvers & sold a third. ..fantastic guns! and American-made, something I've always been big on.
I realize my 500's may not have all the details of say a more expensive offering & my .357's may not have been polished to a mirror finish, but for my eyes they look just fine. ..not saying I don't appreciate the accoutrements of the costlier offerings, I do. It's just for me the brushed satin stainless on my plain-Jane Rugers has the look I prefer. And I've never had an issue re appearance on any of my 500's.
..not sure if Ruger got back into making the Red Label sg's, as I know they had discontinued them a few yrs ago due to cost. I've since read where they were trying to reintroduce them & do so at an acceptable price.
For now I'll have some fun with the Mossys, no doubt put my hands on 'bout every 28 I can anytime I happen by a firearms vendor, see how well the birds are cooperating &, who knows, may very well give the rest of my collection some company.
If you are thinking 28 ga, they really shine with dogs & closer ranges. Just be aware they are SO much faster handling than a 12 ga that you purposely have to slow down a bit. Just the ticket for grouse where if you don't get on them fast, they will be behind branches. Great for quail over dogs & politicians pal's, just ask Dick Chenney.