Written by Gary Carver 

Coyote hunters across the country realize the usefulness of the shotgun for calling coyotes in thick cover. Eastern hunters in particular can make good use of the shotgun in the tight cover and dense timber east of the big river. After having hard charging coyotes do a high velocity flyby of my setups while calling, often leaving me peering through the scope of my centerfire rifle and wishing for a decent shot opportunity, I got serious about using shotguns for called predators.

The early years found me using my standard shotguns that I used for small game and turkey hunting. A pair of shotguns did a lot of good for me way back in the day. A Remington 870 Wingmaster and a Browning A5, both .12 gauges with 2 3/4" chambers and 28" modified barrels, were my first predator hunting shotguns. Both are now silver worn and retired from that duty. But with heavy loads of plated lead BB's and Number Four Buckshot, they opened my eyes to the utility of the smoothbore. Yet, even these old reliables had drawbacks. They were long of barrel and difficult to swing in the thickest brush. Neither had provisions for a sling and packing them in the hand for miles while I trooped through the steep Ozark terrain was cumbersome. Both carried beautiful bright blue finishes. Of course, that pretty bright blue reflected light and could spook called critters. And, the fixed choke modified barrels limited ranges for reliable and consistent kills.

When specialized turkey hunting shotguns began appearing a light dawned on me that these rigs would be perfect for predator calling! Shorter and lighter than my old favorites, they were faster handling and easier to pack. Sling equipped, camo or dull finishes were standard on these guns, and screw-in choke tubes offered versatility I had only dreamed of before. I began using several different versions of factory turkey guns, chokes, and loads for predator hunting. Over the years I tested quite a few loads and chokes on paper and in the field searching for the ultimate shotgun rig for called critters. The following is my latest series of test for the "best of the best" predator calling shotgun, choke, and load. Some patterns (no pun intended) developed which have proven to be fairly consistent. I'll post the results of these test and the conclusions I've drawn from both the range work, and, actual use in the field.

The Day, Range, and Set-up...

The day was bright and clear. Temperature was in the mid-60's with a moderate swirling wind blowing. The range is equipped with large, very solid, wooden benches bolted to a concrete base. An Outers Varminter Rifle Rest was used to steady the shotguns while sighting. Patterns were shot at 25, 40, and 50 yards from the bench. There were at least two shots of each combination fired at each range. A 4'x4' piece of 3/4" plywood was used as a target backer. The targets themselves are Score Keeper 100 Yard SmallBore Rifle targets. The black inner circle is 8" in diameter, the outermost scoring ring is 12" in diameter. There were no other shooters on the range, and no interuptions of any sort. A really nice day...

Shotguns...

The two shotguns used are mine. Both are .12 gauge and chambered for 3" shells. Both have screw-in chokes. Both shotguns have chrome lined bores and were cleaned before this testing.

The first is my Benelli M1S90 Camo Turkey Gun with a 24" barrel. It has an orange fiber optic bead sight and is sling equipped. 

 Image

 

The second shotgun is my Benelli M1S90 Tactical Model. This shotgun has an 18 1/2" barrel and low profile rugged sights. It is also sling equipped.

Image 

 

Chokes...

The chokes used are from Kick's-Ind. One is a Gobblin' Thunder .660". The other a BuckKicker .680". Both are angle ported and extend 1 1/2" from the barrel.


Image

 

Loads...

The loads tested were IMHO the best choices available at this time for 3" .12 gauge shotguns. The first was my old reliable Federal Premium No. Four Buck 41 pellet load at 1,210 fps as specified by the factory. 

Image

 

This is the Hevi-Shot Dead Coyote T-shot and 1,300 fps.

Image

 

Next was Remington's HD T-shot at 1,300 fps. 

Image

 

Last of the loads tested was Remington HD BB at 1,300 fps.

 Image

 

PART TWO...

Patterns... 25 Yards

The first series of patterns were shot at 25 yards. This first target is from my old reliable Turkey/.660" combo and the Fed. No. 4BK. There were 25 hits in the 8" black. Counting all the hits a total of 34 within the 12" scoring rings. Target 1:

Image 

 

Target 2 is the Tactical/.680" with Fed. No.4BK. There are 20 hits within the 8" black, and 35 total within the 12" rings. 

Image

 

Target 3 is the Tactical/.680" combo with Dead Coyote T-shot. This scored 28 hits within the 8" black and 40 total within the 12".

Image 

 

 Target 4 is the Tactical/.680" and Rem. HD T-shot. This scored 17 hits in the black and 28 overall. In fairness to this load it shot slightly high and afterward required a six o'clock hold. This is the only load that patterned slightly off the exact point of aim from my guns and chokes.

Image 

 

 Target 5 is the Tactical/.680" and Rem. HD BB load. It scored 35 hits within the black and 47 total in the 12" rings. 

Image 

 

I did try the Rem HD BB-load from the .660" choke and it exhibited the classic over choked "donut pattern." At this 25 yards distance the pattern was wide open in the middle with only a few strikes around the edges of the scoring rings. Everything else was clumped together in small places scattered around the edges of the target paper. A very wild pattern. At 40 yards I tried the same thing and could reuse the target as it only had a very few pellet strikes on it anywhere. The HD BB load and .660" choke were completely incompatiable for me.

PART THREE...

40 Yard Patterns...

Target 6 is the Turkey/.660" Fed 4BK combo. There were 8 hits in the black and 14 total within the scoring rings. I don't know about this. Past testing has proven this to pattern better...

 Image

 

 Target 7 is the Tactical/.680" and Fed. 4BK. I scored these targets by counting any pellet that cut the line. With that said, this combo scored 10 hits in the black and 13 total. In truth, 3 of those ten were line cutters on the black 8" innner circle at five o'clock. In this testing I feel the .660" Gobblin' Thunder performed better with No. 4BK than the .680 X-Full BuckKicker choke. Judge for yourself...

 Image

 

 Target 8 is the Tactical/.680" with Dead Coyote T's. This scored 10 hits in the black and 18 overall. 

Image 

 

Target 9 demonstrates how finicky shotguns, chokes, and loads can be. This is the same combo as above, the Tactical/.680"/DC-T's, only the hits are much better. This target has 17 in the black and 25 overall. Interesting huh?

Image

 

 

Target 10 is the Tactical/.680" Rem HD T's. I could not get this load to shoot well at all. It scored 7 hits in the black and 18 overall.

Image

 

Target 11 is the Tactical/.680" with Rem HD BB load. This wanted to shoot a bit high at 40 yards and this and the next target clearly shows that tendency. This target scored 19 in the black and 30 overall.


Image

 

Target 12 is the same as above with a six o'clock hold. Not quite as many hits overall, but much better centered. There were 15 in the black here and 28 overall.


Image

 

PART FOUR...

50 Yard Patterns...

It's a long way out there fellows... Target 13 is my old standby, the Turkey/.660" with Fed No. 4BK. 7 centered hits in the black and 10 overall makes it a killer out there at the mid-field mark. NOTE: I only had one last shell to pop with this combo at 50 yards. I hesitate to say this, however, past testing tells me this combo usually patterns better than this particular target would indicate. Byron South and I have discussed this, we both feel you need at least five solid hits for reliable kills. I don't believe in the "magic pellet" and hoping for one or two lucky pellet strikes. Many of these new fangled hi-tech loads have the pellet energy for five good hits to reliably kill coyotes at long range. But can you get the pattern out there... Here's Target 13:


Image

 

Target 14 is the Tactical/.680" and Dead Coyote combo. This one scored 6 in the black and 9 overall.


Image

 

Target 15 is the Tactical/.680" and Rem HD-T load. Only 4 in the black and 10 overall.


Image

 

Target 16 is the exact same as above - another try. 4 hits in the black and 8 overall.

Image

Target 17 is the Tactical/.680" and Rem HD-BB. Scored 5 hits in the black and 9 overall.


Image

Target 18 is the same as above - another try. 6 in the black and 7 overall.


Image

 

SUMMARY

Without a doubt there is a lot of work left to be done. Nothing here really blew me away! I honestly thought I was going to find a wiz-bang long distance load that would really strut its stuff. I did not find such a load and choke combo on this day... I only wish I had more chokes, loads, and time to work with. I really wanted to chronograph the loads to see if the 5 1/2" inches in barrel length made much difference in velocity. Unfortunately after taking the time to setup my CED chronograph for this test - it didn't work. I had two fresh batteries along, nothing, it wouldn't turn on. That was a set back. Guess it'll be making a trip back to the factory for repair.

I did not test penetration of the individual loads. That would be interesting and useful information. I just had too much on the plate on this day for that extra testing.

I also wanted to dissect the various loads, count pellets, and weight them. I started shooting and simply lost track of the number of shells I was gunning donwrange.

It did seem as if the longer barrel of the Turkey Model with its 24" inch tube out patterned the shorter 18 1/2" Tactical Model. That would need some more testing to ensure that the difference simply wasn't between individual shells. There can be a marked difference between identical shells from the same box. Maybe that explains why sometimes we have to add an additional shot when other coyotes have dropped on the spot under similar shot conditions. I have that planned for a future range session.

In my guns the .660" definately outshot the .680" with the Fed No. 4BK. I did try No. 4BK through the Turkey gun with both chokes and the .660" simply outshot the more open choke. I ran out of the Federal load before I was completely through with what I wanted to do. All these loads were older shells and this will give me a chance to buy some fresh shells. I noticed that Federal is making a big deal about "spiral loading" the shot and this is supposed to contribute to tighter patterns. We'll see... And, the .680" performed much, much, better with the Rem HD-BB load. It pays to pattern with various chokes.

That range work is also important for point of aim issues. I'm pretty lucky with my Benelli's. They both seemed to shoot everything pretty well right to point of aim with the exception of the Tactical shooting slightly high with the Rem HD stuff at longer distances. Not a biggie for me, but absolutely worth noting if those were going to be my "go-to" hunting loads. I've seen other shotguns shoot much further off point of aim. Gotta see what they'll do on paper - no excuses.

The same thing applies to some of those 70+ yard claims for choke or load effectivness. No doubt some loads have the energy - if you can hold a pattern together out there. Obviously, nothing shot that well for me and my combo's.

Again, there is more work to do. I love this stuff, just finding the resources and time to "git er' done" is sometimes problematic. We'll probably draw some varying conclusions from this testing. Of course this particualr testing is all conditional upon my guns, chokes, and these particular loads. However, hopefully this will be useful...

UPDATED SUMMARY...

I have edited this post to bring my latest batch of testing to the front of this very complete and lengthy thread...

A update is in order. I now have a Kick's Gobblin' Thunder in .670" thanks to Chuck from Kick's Chokes. Can't say enough about how well I have been treated by the Kick's company - superb product and better service! Anyway, I grabbed a chance to head to the range today with some Remington HD-BB's, 3" .12 gauge.

I shot both Benelli's with the same .670" GT at 25, 40, and 50 yards and the HD-BB's. This load has been extremely consistent in patterning and I've shot a bunch of it at paper this year! Unfortunately, the target backers were soaked and as soon as I placed the same Outers targets on and stapled them, they soaked right through with water. I made my counts while the targets were stapled flat to the backer and when I pulled them off to bring home for pic's they pretty much shredded. Bummer because this time I had some pretty fair patterns to show off!

Using the same procedure as in my original post, the Outers target has a black inner circle of 8" and scoring rings the largest of which reaches out to 12". At 25 yards (and all the ranges) I shot 5 targets with the Tactical/.670" HD-BB and 5 with the Turkey Model/.670" HD-BB combo. In the other testing I felt the 24" barrel of the Turkey Model Benelli slightly outshot the shorter 18 1/2" Tactical Benelli. Not this time, the Tac Model outshot the longer barreled Turkey brother with the .670" GT.

25 yard patterns gave me a saturated 8" circle with from 37 - 40 hits. The outer 12" rings all contained 55 - 62 strikes. It was obvious the Gobblin' Thunder .670" was shooting a very center dense pattern. Both guns shot right to point of aim with the choke and HD-BB load. It was a pretty impressive looking 25 yard performance.

40 yard performance went like this. The inner 8" took 25 - 30 hits. The 12" total count average 35 strikes.

The long range 50 yard patterns still held 10 - 12 pellet strikes in the inner black 8" circle. The outer 12" scoring rings contained 18 - 20 strikes. Now we're talking a pattern and load that can easily get it done at the half field mark. Ok, I'm broke... Now I need to shoot some fur! And boy am I ready...

Conclusions...

At this point I think the very best of the best would be the Remington HD-BB load and a choke of .670" constriction. My testing would seem to indicate that this combination will give the max number of appropriately sized pellets (BB), harder and heavier than plated lead, fast at 1,300 fps, with considerably better penetration, this load has patterned very consistently throughout my shooting from two shotguns and two differing choke diameters. A new shooter, or, an older one that wants to try something new would do well to begin with the HD-BB/.670" combination. This compares to the newest cutting edge magnum type rifle cartridge/bullet combo in the hunting world. The downside? They are expensive...

For an inexpensive alternative, I have to look back at my old standard, No. Four Buck with a .660" choke. Much less expensive than the new fangled hi-tech loads and effective enough for most shotgunning of called predators. IMHO, the No. 4BK/.660" combo is sorta like the .30-06 of the hunting world, a proven standard by which all others will be judged by.

An observation, with all the testing I have done here and in the past, and all the results I have seen posted by reliable and honest shotgunners, not one of us has yet to discover the mythical "70+ yard shotgun, choke, or load." Maybe there is one floating around out there, but please excuse me if I seem skeptical when some of those wounderous claims of longrange shotgunning of 70 - 100 yard kills surface in a post or an advertisement from a company.

Another thing, this testing also drives home the point that patterning is so very important BEFORE you go hunting. One thing is for sure when talking shotguns, chokes, and loads... they are as finicky as any rifle can be. Change any one variable and the test shooting must begin again. I think I'm ready to go hunting...

Some recent hunt results...

I used my Benelli M1 Tac Model, Kick's .670", and Remington HD-BB's to take these two gray fox and this coyote yesterday. The combination worked perfectly and the shot on the coyote was long, through brush, and he was killed "DRT." I'll post their pic's here and a link to the hunt story also.


Image


Image