Gear Review: Winchester AA Tracker 12 gauge shotshells

When I was a kid, I used to camp with the Boy Scouts at Camp Blanding in Florida.  This was back during the era of the M60, and the highlight of these trips was always the night shoot, when we were invited to the range to watch the full-auto practice sessions.  Watching the tracers zip down the range makes an impression on a 13 old.

I was reminded of the experience in a much less dramatic way, recently, when I was shooting some especially lethargic .45 ACP.  The rounds were brand new, and the copper plated bullets were catching the sunlight.  Against the black backdrop of the deciduous hardwoods, the bullets looked like tracers.  I could watch them all the way to the target.  It was a bit trippy.

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A cutaway illustration of the AA Tracker

Shotguns are different.  Birdshot is so small that its impossible to see in flight.  And a good 12 gauge load will be tripping out at more than 1,000 feet per second.  The wad is a bit easier to see, but if you’ve ever shot birdshot at paper, you know that the wad may follow the shot into the target, or it may not.  No one really cares what happens to it.  The traditional wad is designed to peel away from the shot as soon as possible upon exiting the barrel, and then it is just extra junk.

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Winchester, though, has seen the potential of the often ignored wad.  What if it were stable enough in flight to follow the shot column?  What if the color of the was itself was used to highlight the wad, rather than to mask what is otherwise just trash?

The new AA Tracker rounds do just that.  What makes these dudes different is the wad.  To start with, they’ve changed the color.  For overcast skies and wooded backdrops, the bright orange followers are easily visible.  They really pop.  Even though they leave the barrel at speeds greater than 1,00 FPS, they are still large enough, and bright enough to be noticed.

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For clear skies and bright sunny days, black followers are the way to go.  But are split into four “petals” that spread wide when the wad leaves the barrel.  Once spread, they show their unique dovetailed shape.  This design feature it there to insure that they spin.  The effect is something like a helicopter.

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Between these petals is a vertical column, tubular in shape, that catches some of the shot.  This extra mass adds weight to the wad, and helps insure that it is moving down range at a good clip.  It won’t travel as fast as the shot, because of drag, but it travels much farther than a traditional empty wad.

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The base of the wad has springs built into the plastic that help insure that the petals spread and the spinning starts the moment that portion of the wad exits the barrel.

Shooting the AA Trackers

First, an apology of sorts.  I really wanted to get some solid video to demonstrate this concept.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t.  I shot video on blue sky days, cloudy days, and even in the rain.  We tried three different ranges, black wads and orange wads.  In the end, the speed of the wad is too much for basic camera work.

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Regardless.  This is a great tool for people like me.  I miss.  I’m not great with a sporting shotgun.  I don’t practice regularly.  And I struggle to get dialed in.  I was shooting these last night, and I ran some more typical shells first, just to get a baseline.  From behind the gun, I couldn’t tell where I was shooting.  High?  Low?  Was I leading enough?  I honestly couldn’t tell.  My thrower was doing his best to guess.  But when he said I was high, I still didn’t know how high.

With the trackers, you can see.  It takes a few times to see what you’re looking for.  If you aim the gun up at a steep angle (and in a safe direction) and pull the trigger, it is easy to spot the wad as it slows down, way up in the air.  But when you’re chasing a clay that is skimming along a distant treeline, the wad is harder to see.

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Yet once you tune in to what the wad looks like, it is easy enough to actually track.  I have a hard time estimating exactly how far the wad will follow the column before something (like wind) shifts its course, but it is at least as far as your typical skeet shooting will require.  It travels something like an actual badminton birdie.   Not the backyard slack net game.  Real badminton.  The birdie flies in a straight line, then gravity takes over and it shifts course dramatically and simply drops.

The AA Tracker is a legitimate teaching tool.  If you can combine the shell with a big broad sky, it is a great tool.  And it isn’t that much more expensive.  The price goes up by about a buck on a box of 25 shells (which sells for $10 or so).  The video above is Winchester’s explanation.  Check it out.  If you are struggle with moving targets, like I do, it just might change your game.

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