Pheasant Hunting Ammo Dominating the Fields in 2021
During this pandemic ammunition shortage, almost any legal shotgun ammunition will bag pheasants in the upland fields. To give yourself the greatest chance at success, especially on longer shots, tougher native birds, and for the best patterns, using one of these tested loads will tilt the ringneck scales in your favor.
Here’s what we were shooting on a recent pheasant week in South Dakota, each one proven in the sprawling upland fields, milo rows, and cornfield edges against wily, native roosters.
Federal Premium Prairie Storm
On every upland hunt we’ve taken since the launch of Prairie Storm, this Federal Premium ammunition has been in the ammo can when we head afield. Prairie Storm can be had in two main families – FS Lead and FS Steel. The FS stands for FliteStopper, which is Federal’s bird-winning design. Prairie Storm FS Lead is loaded with 30-percent FliteStopper lead topped with 70-percent copper-plated lead shot. That sits inside the company’s FliteControl Flex wad, which is intended to produce full, consistent patterns. Unlike some specialty shells from other brands, Federal Premium’s FliteStopper wads can be used through both ported and standard chokes of any brand.
We’ve been using the lead exclusively, and that flavor comes in multiple shot sizes for 12, 20, 16, and 28 gauges. Patterns and knockdown performance are exceptional, with each optimized for pheasant hunting. Should you prefer steel, those loads are available in either 12 or 20 gauge. Prairie Storm is built completely in-house at the company’s Minnesota headquarters, with a portion of proceeds going to Pheasants Forever.
Kent Bismuth Upland
Kent Cartridge represents one of the most under-appreciated shotgunning ammunition brands on the market. That’s especially true when we’re talking specialty shots and shot types. Their Bismuth Upland loads are among our serious go-to choices, especially when we’re shooting 16 gauge. Bismuth is a high-performance, non-toxic option. Though soft as lead, it offers 24 percent greater density than steel, along with superior wind resistance – and let me tell you, there wasn’t’ a day afield in South Dakota when the wind wasn’t whipping.
Kent’s Bismuth is safe in any choke and advertised not to harm shotgun barrels, even those of vintage standing. The company offers three choices in 12 gauge, as well as one each in 16, 20, and 28 gauge. All come packed with either #5 or #6 shot, making them ideal for ringnecks.
Remington Express XLR
We considered it like winning the lottery to find a few boxes of new production Remington Express XLR loads for our recent SD pheasant road trip. The XLR stands for extra-long range, which is a sure consideration when you’re hunting native, non-released pheasants as these birds often flush quickly and at distance. Remington’s Express lead loads, in addition to being affordable, are available in a wide array of shot sizes and chambering options from 28, 20, 16, and 12 gauge to .410 bore.
The reloadable hulls are fitted with the company’s proven Power Piston wads to cushion and protect the payload. They are advertised as “the best-balanced, tightest-patterning upland field loads available.” Whether or not that’s true, we can attest that they pattern well and hit with authority. Even if you can’t find the new XLR rounds, older Remington Express will get the job done as well.
Winchester Super-X Upland & Small Game
The Olin Winchester ammunition brand has a reputation for capability on the hunt. The Super-X high-brass lead loads are available in a wide range of shot sizes and velocities ideal for both upland birds and small game. We opted for the 28-gauge, 2 3/4-inch rounds filled with 3/4-ounce #6 shot. Moving at 1,295 feet-per-second, they proved more than adequate for farm-raised and wild birds. Look for 12-, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge Super-X in shot sizes #4, #5, or #6 for practical and affordable pheasant hunting loads.
Like Remington’s Express XLR, this is an offering that’s not doing anything fancy with specialty shots but does its job well and has been around for a reason since 1922. In addition, Winchester Super-X is one of the most likely to show up on store shelves because it’s a common offering for the price-conscious shooter that has been in continual production for decades.
Kent Ultimate Fast Lead
Chasing pheasants successfully does not require the use of expensive specialty shots, especially when expected ranges are more manageable. In those cases, we always like to grab a few boxes of Kent’s Ultimate Fast Lead, as it's an ideal blend of performance and reliability. These rounds are loaded with Kent’s proprietary Diamond Shot, which is in fact as the company describes on its website, “hard, highly polished.”
They come in multiple payloads and shot sizes. There are four 12-gauge selections, two for 20 gauge, and one 16-gauge load. It’s at a reasonable price point and, with field execution to boot, it’s a no-brainer to grab a case of Fast Lead if you’re a high-volume upland hunter stocking up for the next ringneck season.