Eliminate Your Upland Shell Shock with Runnings

By Nick Simonson

With upland game seasons underway, and pheasant opener just a couple weeks out, now is the time to stock up on those shells that will help you connect with birds in the field.  While there is a selection as wide as the open prairie and as thick as the northern forest on the shelves at your local Runnings, the friendly staff and this walk through can give you the guidance you need to narrow down the sometimes shocking number of options and make sure your shotgun is loaded with the ammunition designed to put birds in the bag from opening day on into the late season.  It’s important to stock up now – especially ahead of the popular pheasant opener – to ensure you have the desired shells for your adventures, so don’t wait!


A Shot at Doves

While the dove season is winding down, there are still flocks of these migratory upland birds making their way through the region.  While posted up on a water hole or on the edge of a cutfield, it’s easy to observe the erratic juking and diving these tiny birds employ as they come in to a set of decoys.  Being as small as they are requires a pattern with a lot of pellets to connect with them and shot shells in size 8 to 7 ½, such as Federal’s Field and Range are suitable loads.  Plus, whatever shells aren’t spent in the field can make the transition to the trap range for target shooting to stay sharp during the season, or for the start of league next spring.


Two Grouse, One Shot

Sharptailed Grouse and Ruffed Grouse couldn’t be more different in their preferred habitats.  Sharpies are game birds of the open prairie, relating to rangelands and hiding in low grasses like brome and other shorter native plants while utilizing their buff camouflage to escape from airborne predators.  Ruffies on the other hand are forest birds.  In the dense tangle of pine, aspen, alder and swamp edge vegetation is where you’ll find these thunderbirds with the startling flush that can rattle even the most seasoned sportsman.

Both birds, however can be taken with shot in sizes 7 ½ and 6.  The smaller 7 ½ pellets can be employed early in the season for sharpies as they tend to flush at closer ranges and don’t need more than a pellet or two to be brought down from their escape flight.  Those same loads can be used for ruffies, especially in early season when blasting through the leaves that are still on the trees in attempt to connect with a bird zipping through the woods.  When remaining sharptailed grouse are a bit jumpier in late autumn, size 6 pellets work best as they pack a bit more punch, and as detailed below, will pull double duty for any pheasants encountered at that time.  Size 6 shot can also be used for ruffies in late season, when the foliage is gone, and more open shots can be had when a bird flushes.


Come for the King

Hunting for the king of upland game birds – the ringneck pheasant – brings with it a lot of questions.  One of the most frequently asked is “what size shot should I use?”  While it is a matter of personal preference, shot in sizes 6, 5 and 4 will all get the job done, but their use will depend on hunting season and the manner in which the birds are pursued.

In the early season, particularly around opener, when the majority of these colorful birds are harvested, size 6 shot is ideal for many of the scenarios where these birds are encountered.  Often flushing closer near the start of the season, a cloud of size 6 pellets makes the connection more effective without damaging the bird as much.  As the season progresses, consider increasing shot size to 5s or 4s, to deliver a heavier pellet for those birds that seem tougher in the last month or so.  Premium brands such as Federal’s Prairie Storm or Fiocchi’s Golden Pheasant are designed for these boisterous and hardy birds that manage to outwit many good dogs and hunters.

Consider also the type of dog being hunted behind.  For consistently closer shots behind a pointer, consider size 6 shot for the entire season as it will work with any grouse encountered in the same fashion. Bigger shot can be used with flushing dogs, which may put birds up farther away, and a larger pellet like size 4 is a better option. Take your best shot by investing in those loads designed specifically for the most popular upland pursuit in all of Runnings Territory and take into account the time of year and the type of pursuit you’re engaging in to find them.



Steel Yourself

With more than two million acres of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs), many of which fall in the upper Midwest, having a non-toxic upland load on hand opens a whole new world of hunting for those pursuing grouse and pheasants each fall.  Along with the expanded access offered on many of the nation’s National Wildlife Refuges in the later stretch of hunting season, WPAs provide not only the primary habitat for waterfowl, but add as a secondary bonus some amazing surrounding grasslands for upland game as well. The requirement of lead-free shotgun ammunition is a small hurdle to overcome, and Runnings has options in both premium standard-sized load for pheasants, such as Prairie Storm loads in steel sizes of 4 and 3 which will do fine for pheasants, and general game options in smaller sizes 7 and 6 for grouse hunting as well. Pick up a box of each and stash them in your ammo bag and get access to a whole lot more hunting this autumn.


Find a Pattern 

Finally, it is of the utmost importance to see exactly how these loads of varying gauges, shot sizes and brands work in your shotgun.  Pattern each proposed shell for an upcoming adventure with the chosen chokes and shotgun and be certain the payload is ending up where it is supposed to, and you can track the spread of the shot cloud from 20 to 30 to 40 yards and beyond, noting that many specialized shells are designed to delivery maximum contact at distances beyond 40 yards in this modern era of hunting.  While it takes away an excuse when that sudden flush of a bird startles you into a wobbly mount which can only be blamed on user error, having patterned a chosen load helps guarantee better results in the field when opening day arrives.

For all the ammo to make every upland season better now and in the future, stop in at your local Runnings to get the shells you need.  The friendly and knowledgeable staff will be there to help you find the perfect load to take on all the action you can handle this fall while taking all of the mystery out of the shell selection process.