buffalo's shoulder, when soft shot hits rooster bone, it often stops right there.
A wise pheasant hunter might eat at McDonald's rather than the local steak house, using the extra cash to buy really good ammunition, preferably loaded with copper- or nickel-plated shot. The plating doesn't actually harden shot much, but few manufacturers apply it to cheap, soft shot. Harder shot will stay round when it hits a pheasant, and hence be far more likely to penetrate the chest cavity — one reason Fiocchi's Golden Pheasant shotshells, with nickel-plated shot, have been sought out by knowledgeable pheasant hunters for years.
With harder shot, smaller sizes can be used. Many pheasant hunters use No. 4 shot, especially after they've shot a few pheasants with cheap No. 6 shot and watched the pheasants fly away. Soft No. 4 shot will penetrate a pheasant, but even in a typical "magnum" load there simply aren't enough No. 4 shot to make sure enough pellets hit a pheasant in the right place.
A shotshell is the least efficient cartridge ever invented. At least 98 percent of the shot in a typical round won't even hit a flying pheasant. We do expect, however, more than one piece of shot to strike what we're shooting at—and when shooting a pheasant at least four pieces of shot work better than anything less. Four hits pretty much guarantees vital parts will be hit. Fewer strikes simply won't do the job consistently, no matter how big the pellets.
There are about 135 lead No. 4 shot in an ounce. Thus the typical 12-gauge shot charge of 1-1/4 ounces contains about 170 shot pellets. The patterning standard for full choke is at least 70 percent of a shotshell's pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards — and 40 yards is a longish but still typical shot at wild pheasants. A little math shows a typical 1-1/4 ounce load of No. 4 shot will land about 120 pellets inside that 30" circle.
A 30" circle has an area of 707 square inches, so a typical full-choke pattern will average a hit about every six square inches. The body of a rooster pheasant covers about 15 square inches. Divide 15 by six and we find that a typical 1-1/4 ounce load of No. 4 shot will, on average, put 2.5 shot into a pheasant at 40 yards. Since shotshells don't contain any half-shot, this means a lot of the time only two pellets will strike the bird. This isn't enough to guarantee a vital hit.
Pheasants aren't covey birds, and even though several can get up (above), we usually shoot them one at a time. John's favorite ail-around pheasant gun is a Merkel side-by-side (below) in 12 gauge, with two triggers and an improved-cylinder and a tight modified choke
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