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  1. #1
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    Good shotshell for squirrel/rabbit?

    I'm getting my first shotgun in a week or two. Benelli Supernova tactical with comfortech stock. I really want an M3 convertible, but I can't justify spending $1200+ on a shotgun. Although I plan on hunting with my P22, I'd like to do some small game hunting with the shotgun. What are good shot sizes for squirrel/rabbit? I've heard everything from BBB all the way to #9. I would prefer a bigger shot to aid in cleaning, but would bigger shot destroy the meat? Also, would it be better to use steel shot versus lead shot for health reasons?

  2. #2
    DJ Niner's Avatar
    DJ Niner is offline HGF Forum Moderator
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    I don't think you have anything to worry about health-wise from lead shot, unless someone's shooting it at you.
    Probably the biggest problem with shot-killed critters in general is the possibility of chomping down on a pellet and destroying a tooth or some dental work.

    Shot size isn't really the determining factor when it comes to destroying edible meat; the biggest concerns should be distance and choke. If you pop a bunny at 5-10 yards with a full-choked 12 gauge, it won't matter WHAT shot size you were using -- that wabbit is gonna be shredded. Use a more open choke (Modified, or even Improved Cylinder), and if the critter breaks nearby, let him get out a ways before you take a crack at him.

    I no longer use a shotgun for rabbits or tree rats (prefer a .22 pistol or rifle), but when I did, #6 shot was standard. When I've run low on shells during an action-filled hunt, I've used whatever I could find on the floorboards or jammed in the seatcracks of the truck, and under these conditions I've used BBs to #9s. I suppose if you wanted a heavier shot so it would be more likely to exit, you could go to a #4 or #5 instead of the sixes, but there really isn't a lot of difference between them on the game you'll be hunting.

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    I don't plan on using anything but a cylinder choke. I'm not THAT serious about shot patterning...I'm getting the 12-gauge as more of a HD/camping defense weapon, but I'll use it for smaller game if I can't seem to hit jack with the .22LR.

    So I'm not getting the Benelli...I was outbid, and the backorder status from Benelli is 90+ days. I think I'm gonna go check out the 590 special purpose and 870 express tomorrow. In all honesty, I think I wanted the Benelli for it's really cool features...futuristic look, comfortech stock (changeable recoil pads and comb pads), shell stop, and the fact that it's a Benelli. But the Mossy and Remingtons will serve me just as well, they're less expensive, and aftermarket parts are more readily available so I can ninja it out way more than a Benelli. I really need to get out of this habit of getting stuff that nobody else has. I realize plenty of people have Benellis, but a lot fewer than Remington and Mossberg. I just can't help it, I'm a non-conformist, and it's such a turnoff to have something everyone else has. Walthers aren't that popular around here...granted, it's a great gun and I feel I picked the right one for myself, but it's different, which is a big reason I like it so much. AAHHHHHHH!!! I guess it's still better than wanting what everyone else has so I'll fit in. But anyway, unless someone decides to hand me $1000 for no reason and I can get an M3, it's an 870 or 590.

    Now, back on topic...you mentioned the cleaning and possibly missing a pellet. I've always been under the impression that a lead pellet that gets missed and isn't removed can poison the meat. Maybe that isn't so. But larger shot has larger pellets and less of them, which would make cleaning easier. And if I can't a rabbit or squirrel from ~20 yards with #4 at 135 pellets per ounce, is 350 in #7 1/2 gonna make much of a difference? With a cylinder choke, the spread would be pretty significant with any size shot. I'd rather have larger and fewer pellets to remove, assuming the increased shot size doesn't vaporize the little things.

  4. #4
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    soldierboy029 is offline Junior Member
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    My all time favorite shot size for rabbits and squirrels is # 5 shot, it patterns well and hits hard to knock down these animals

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    What are the advantages of using steel shot? I mean it's made for a reason...

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    Quote Originally Posted by fivehourfrenzy View Post
    What are the advantages of using steel shot? I mean it's made for a reason...
    The only reason I know of is for hunting waterfowl. It's illegal to hunt ducks, etc. with lead these days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Snowman View Post
    The only reason I know of is for hunting waterfowl. It's illegal to hunt ducks, etc. with lead these days.
    Oh yeah I forgot about that. Well I've heard steel doesn't deform like lead does, so having steel in a high density, high brass shell for longer distances would make sense. But if lead won't poison the meat, I'll use lead. It's cheaper.

    I've also heard to aim for the head, so the majority of the shot misses, but the edge of the spread will impact the head, killing it, and leaving the meat with less holes. Head shots with a .22LR handgun is gonna be fun.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fivehourfrenzy View Post
    But anyway, unless someone decides to hand me $1000 for no reason and I can get an M3, it's an 870 or 590.
    Just a little side note, I have a nice 870 in the long gun classifieds if you're interested, with the case and two barrels.

    -Jeff-

  9. #9
    DJ Niner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fivehourfrenzy View Post
    Now, back on topic...you mentioned the cleaning and possibly missing a pellet. I've always been under the impression that a lead pellet that gets missed and isn't removed can poison the meat. Maybe that isn't so.
    I don't think that is the case. The melting point of lead is around 600 degrees F; most cooking is done at or below 450 F, and as long as the lead isn't melted, vaporized or ground into a fine dust, I don't think it will metabolize in the human body. Most lead poisoning is caused by airborne lead dust or vapor (indoor shooting ranges can be a source), or consuming lead contained in compounds that allow it to be broken down by the digestive tract (lead-based paint chips have caused lead poisoning when unsupervised children ate them). I've never heard of someone getting lead poisoning by eating animals with lead shot/bullets in the meat. Doesn't mean it hasn't ever happened; just means I've never heard of it.

    But larger shot has larger pellets and less of them, which would make cleaning easier.
    This is true. Also, heavier pellets tend to pass all the way through most small game; even if a pellet hits bone, it usually just keeps on going. This makes it less likely you'll chomp a pellet when eating said critter, but if you do, it's going to be a bigger chunk of lead and probably do more damage to your chompers. It's much more likely you'll end up chewing some bone chips/splinters, which can also be unpleasant. I recommend cutting/throwing out any meat around/near a bone hit, for just this reason.

    And if I can't a rabbit or squirrel from ~20 yards with #4 at 135 pellets per ounce, is 350 in #7 1/2 gonna make much of a difference? With a cylinder choke, the spread would be pretty significant with any size shot. I'd rather have larger and fewer pellets to remove, assuming the increased shot size doesn't vaporize the little things.
    Pattern density is what you are referring to, and shot size (along with choke and distance) will definitely affect your ability to hit, even at relatively short range. Let's say your gun's shot pattern is contained within a 20 inch circle at 20 yards (an estimate, but probably close). This figures out to a little over 300 square inches of pattern coverage. With the #4 shot, you're only going to get one pellet in every two or three square inches, on average (in reality, patterns are spotty; you will have areas with more and less hits). With the 7 1/2, you'll get an average of one or slightly more than one pellets per square inch. That means you might only hit the bunny (4"x 6") with 8 pellets of #4 shot, but 24 or more pellets of # 7 1/2 shot. The pattern with #4 out of a Cylinder-Bore choke may even be so spotty that there will be rabbit-sized areas with NO pellet hits at all at 20 or more yards.

    Rabbits aren't very big, even when they are sitting still and cooperating (wallpaper-size photo of a Cottontail rabbit in the snowy woods at about 20 yards distance):


    The best thing to do is actually "pattern" your shotgun, by shooting at a blank sheet of paper with a single small aiming point on it (usually a 1" black dot). You can often get scrap newspaper rolls from your local newspaper or other printing business with several yards of paper left on the roll core, for a buck or two. Unroll a 4-foot section, tear it off, tape it to a piece of cardboard, and shoot a shot at a dot drawn in the center. Then take a marker/pen and actually count the holes, marking each one as you count. See how dense the pattern looks; are there any "holes" in the coverage, that a bird/rabbit might escape through with little/no damage? Did the gun pattern around the dot perfectly, or is the pattern off to the left or right, high or low? Is the circle of shot holes really large and thinly populated, or small and dense with lots of holes? Try another shot size, and compare the results. If you don't want to take the time to analyze them at the range, just label them with the shotshell info, and tear them off the backer board, take them home, and do the counting there.

    You can also make small rabbit-shaped cardboard cutouts and place them on a backer board at a safe shooting spot, then blast them and count the hits. Keep them up off the ground a bit so you don't get ricocheting pellets messing up your count.

    Knowing how and where your gun shoots different sizes/types of shot will help your confidence with it when it comes time to use it.
    Last edited by DJ Niner; 02-15-2008 at 03:10 AM.

  10. #10
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    On your first point, above, concerning lead. Here is some info from Winchester on the safety of lead bullets and shot:

    http://www.winchester.com/pdf/MsdsPDF/msds_w77.pdf

    This product is composed of a finished metal alloy solid. Therefore, under normal handling of this product, no exposure to any harmful materials will occur. When ammunition is fired, a small amount of particles may be generated which may be slightly irritating to the eyes and the respiratory tract. The particles may contain trace amounts of these harmful substances:
    Lead: Ingestion of large amounts of lead can cause abdominal pain, constipation, cramps, nausea and/or vomiting. Chronic exposure to lead can cause kidney damage, anemia, reproductive effects, developmental effects and permanent nervous system damage in humans including changes in cognitive function.
    Arsenic: Epidemiological studies in humans have shown an association between increased incidences of lung and skin cancer and prolonged exposures to high concentrations of arsenic. Arsenic is classified as a known human carcinogen.

    It is unlikely that the amount of particles that someone would be exposed to from firing would be sufficient to cause any of these effects.

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