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Nothing completes fall hunting season like upland bird shotgunning. The pheasant hunter’s definition involves carrying your 12 gauge shotgun for long treks and shooting it rarely.
You only take the shot when you are confident that your load can bring down the hunting bird.
Pheasant hunting involves not getting a chance for a second shot. It’s disheartening to see a skyward bound rooster dodge your best shot to fly off cackling.
When the birds are few and conditions difficult, your soul can get crushed, watching the pheasant glide into the sunset.
You find yourself wondering, is your aim that terrible, or is your 12 gauge load insufficient?
12-gauge shotguns offer a wide selection of upland bird hunting loads for which this caliber is king.
What to Consider When Looking for the Best Pheasant Load for 12 Gauge
Some commercial 12 gauge shells that I come across have 1¼ ounce shot with the capacity of traveling at 1220 fps. These are labeled ‘pheasant load’ while others with the same shot load travel at 1330, 1400, and 1500 fps.
Due to the number of available upland bird shells purporting to be the best, hunters are often left in a predicament.
The only sure way to tell for sure the best pheasant load for 12 gauge is to spend time trying each shell with different shotgun brands. That’s not a practical solution for the question, so we have to rely on a good old hunter’s experience.
A rule of thumb when considering what to carry is light and low recoil shells. You can take autoloaders, but they may prove a tad heavy, although they work perfectly in pump and break-action platforms.
Reliability is key, and understanding what to avoid like light loads in a semi-auto 12 gauge gun. Pheasants won’t sit and wait for you to manually clear feed issues, so the shot’s quality and the shell casing are essential.
Eliminate Lively Cripples Getting Away With Best Pheasant Loads
I aim to avoid the lost bird rates and lively cripples that I see from group pheasant drives. As a hunter who prefers to hunt alone or with a few buddies, I stop long enough to look for runners.
There are pheasant lodges that will insist their clients use 1 3/8 ounce shot with 1300 fps speeds. This No. 4 shot load does bring down the number of birds that get away wounded, but where’s the fun in that?
If my hunting friends and I think we’ve dropped a cripple, we don’t leave until the dog finds that bird. As a bird hunter, standard No. 5 shot is all you need.
The Best Pheasant Load for 12 Gauge Shotguns
You may hear rifle enthusiasts who go for pheasant or turkey as a sideline talking about penetration, shock effect, organ damage, or wound channel. These are deer and elk terms that must not be carried over to delicate birds being downed with 12 gauge shot.
An experienced pheasant shooter myself, the objective is always to break a wing bone and a leg bone as a bonus. The best pheasant load for 12 gauge that you carry should be enough to do that, and your canine can finish the rest.
The upland birdshot loads that are sure to appease your hunting appetite for pheasant include;
Overall Best Pheasant Load for 12 Gauge:
Federal Wing-Shok Pheasants Forever High Velocity
This is my selection as the best load for its pellet size, perfect for mid to late season pheasant hunting. The Federal Wing-Shok Pheasants Forever High Velocity is the first shot throughout 2¾ inch loads of 1 ¼ ounce copper-plated pellets.
This 12 gauge No. 7½ load drives more than 400 pellets at 1500 fps for tremendous per pellet energy and reach. Wing-Shok Pheasants Forever High Velocity is also offered in No. four, five, and six shot sizes for free-roaming upland birds.
Few pheasants in front of a 12 gauge barrel will escape this No. 7½ iteration. Hit birds will also tumble hard, eliminating any doubts you may have about the small shot.
It’s also great that Federal gives a portion of each box’s sales to support and enhance pheasant habitat management.
Best Budget Pheasant Load for 12 Gauge:
Winchester Rooster XR
With a good 12 gauge bore and choke, this copper-plated lead shot is loaded in a way that preserves roundness during the barrel traverse. The Winchester Rooster XR pheasant load offers increased bone penetration depths and dense patterns.
During the firing process, the resin fracture causes this patterning, a recipe for pheasants cagey enough to flush ahead of the dog.
Winchester offers 12 gauge Rooster XR 2¾ inch loads of No. four, five, and six shot with 1¼ ounce of pellets. A velocity of 1300 fps will suffice pheasant, but if you crave more speed, there’s a rooster XR high velocity that’s 3 inches and propels at 1450 fps.
Winchester Rooster XR fits the first and last shot for superior and unrivaled long-range patterns when birds have grown especially evasive.
Best Premium Pheasant Load for 12 Gauge:
Remington Nitro Pheasant
This 12 gauge pheasant load is offered in a 1¼ ounce and 1 3/8 ounce at 1400 and 1300 fps, respectively. Remington Nitro gives you the choice of more shots or speed with a load of No. four, five, and six copper plated Lokt high antimony shots.
Long-range dense and round patterns of hardened lead results in good bone penetration for pheasants that flush at a distance.
Reaching your limit will take minimal time with the Nitro Pheasant load. Remington also offers 3-inch variants of No. 4 and 5 shots that fly at 1350 fps.
Without exaggeration, this is the one shell load for dropping far flushing and wild pheasants with effectiveness.
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Hunting pheasant calls for a light load that works well with the 12 gauge of your choice. Light is the way forward, as anything heavy will only punish your shoulder more without killing birds better.
Loads with higher velocity will undoubtedly hit harder, and the tradeoff is that lead will pattern better at high speed. But with an increase in velocity, there’s also heavier recoil.
A 1 ¼ ounce load of numbers five or six lead at shorter range, and 7 ½ at longer ranges will be easy on your shoulder while proving deadly to pheasants.
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.