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Light Loads for Clay Targets

posted Jun 1, 2011, 6:10 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Jul 8, 2011, 12:01 PM ]

It is no secret that the average age of shooters is increasing.  This trend is also true for muzzleloading shotgun enthusiasts.  The NRA and NMLRA are making concerted efforts to attract new and younger shooters to the shooting sports.  The Colorado Springs Muzzleloading Association is also be doing its part.  Each year the CSMLA holds two youth events at its annual Memorial Day Shoot where the young winner wins a gun donated by club's members-- one gun for the rifle event and one gun for the shotgun event.

    The youth shotgun event has been very popular with the young shooters at the annual Memorial Day Shoot. The event consists of 15 shots taken from the 10 yard line on the trap range.  The cost of entry is nominal and the club provides the the gun together with all necessary powder, wads and shot.  The young shooters are shown how to load a muzzleloading shotgun and then allowed to load the gun themselves (with the supervision of an experienced shooter).  At times there has been a line of young shooters waiting for their turn to try to win the prize shotgun.

    The youth shotgun for 2011 was built by Tom Hart of Canon City, Colorado.  Tom is know for his side-hammer shotguns.  My current skeet gun was build by Tom last year.  Tom is pictured on the left showing the eventual winner of the youth event how to load the gun.  

    In years past, the youth gun has typically been a single barrel 20 gauge gun which was loaded with 5/8 ounces of shot and an equal volume of powder.  This year, the parts which Tom had on hand where not conducive to building a 20 gauge gun.  Consequently, Tom built a 12 gauge gun as the prize for the youth event.  The gun was scaled for a small shooter and weighed about 5 pounds.  Given the light weight of the gun and tender age of the shooters, Tom knew that he would need a light load.   A trip to the patterning board indicated that a 5/8 ounce load with an equal volume of shot produced a respectable pattern out of the 12 gauge barrel.  The results from the youth shot confirmed the results from the patterning board.  So long as the shooter did his or her part, the 5/8 ounce load was more than adequate to break birds from the 10 yard trap line.

    I have been shooting an increasing light load on the skeet range.  For the most part, I currently shoot an equal volume load with either 3/4 or 7/8 ounces of lead.  Patterning results from these loads have been good and these loads consistently break birds. I had not, however, tested the lighter loads on the chronograph.   Consequently, I decided to test the velocity of some really light loads in my 12 gauge gun.  The tests were shot with my side-hammer gun with 26 inch barrels, Schutzen Reenactor Powder and standard CCI Number 11 Caps.  The wad column was a single nitro card over the powder and a single overshot wad. The following represents the average velocity of a six shot string.

 Powder (grains)   
 Shot     Average Velocity
 34 1/2 846
 42.5 5/8 992
 51 3/4 993
 59.5 7/8 1053
 68 1 1044
 76.5 1 1/8

    The results of the tests were somewhat surprising.  Equal volume loads ranging from 5/8 ounces of shot up to 1 1/8 ounces  showed showed little change in velocity.  All of the loads had average velocities of between 1000 and 1050 feet per second.  These velocities are perfectly adequate for either the trap or the skeet range.

     The 1/2 ounce load was significantly slower that the heavier loads. In addition, the 1/2 ounce load showed the largest variation among test shots.  Based on these tests, an equal volume load with 1/2 ounce is probably just too light to be a reliable practice load with a 12 gauge gun.  However, an equal volume load with 5/8 ounce of shot (or more) will definitely break targets.   A five eighths ounce load is also very comfortable to shoot.    Give a light load a try.  It may just surprise you.