Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winchester Blind Side: Nice ammo, but what does it do to the ducks?

One of the things I was most excited to learn about at the 2011 SHOT Show was a new kind of waterfowl shot from Winchester: Blind Side.

Now, I'm not an ammo geek by any measure, but I am interested in anything that will help bring down ducks more effectively, which is what Winchester promised this shot would do.

Here's the short version of how Blind Side works: The steel shot is "hex-cut" with rounded edges, so the pellets looks like dice. This does two things:

One, it allows Winchester to pack the shell more densely, as you can see in the photo above. A box of 3-inch 2s in 12 gauge contains 1-3/8 ounces of shot, which is an eighth of an ounce more shot than Kent Fasteel's heaviest 3-inch load.

And two, the irregular shape creates more trauma on impact. It also slows the shot down, but not by much - at 1400 fps, this stuff flies only 25 feet per second slower than Kents with 1-1/4 ounce loads.

The trauma is the key here, and the Blind Side brochures hype it with almost alarming glee.

My first question was, "But what does it do to the ducks?"

In my house, we hunt for the table. Yes, hunting is super fun, and bringing down a bird effectively is really satisfying, but if you've reduced it to ground beef in the process, you might as well get your food at McDonald's.

The rep I spoke to had done field testing, but not kitchen testing. When Phil Bourjaily at Field & Stream wrote about testing this stuff on flighted mallards, he didn't mention bird damage. One of the regulars here, Hilary Dyer of Waterfowl & Retriever magazine, had shot Blind Side at ducks too, but she'd given away the ducks so she didn't know how they looked.

Fortunately for me, Winchester rushed me a couple boxes of Blind Side (3-inch 2s) gratis before the final weekend of duck season, and I actually hit a few ducks with it, so I can tell you how it works in the field and on the table.

In the field: I was not at my best when I used this stuff on closing weekend - I kinda shot like crap through most of January - and I can tell you that Blind Side did not make me a better shot. Not that I expected it to, but one can always hope, right?

But my experience led me to share Bourjaily's conclusion that if you hit a duck well with this stuff, it's gonna go down hard. I did very little chasing when I was using this shot if I hit the birds in the neck or body. With wing shots, though, it's pretty much like any other wing shot - you either break the wing or you don't, and the amount of chasing required follows accordingly.

One more note: I usually shoot 1-1/8 ounce loads, and I was worried about the extra recoil from a heavier load. But I didn't notice any difference in recoil at all. The biggest adjustment I had to make was lead, because I'm used to faster shot (1560 fps).

The autopsy: When I plucked and gutted the birds I shot with Blind Side, I was a little surprised, looking at the wounds, at how hard the birds had gone down. Normally a bird that falls hard will have lots of shredded innards - shot through the heart, or torn up lungs with lots of evidence of bleeding.

But some of these ducks had wounds that didn't even seem to penetrate the body cavity - something that would probably just cripple or sail a duck with the shot I normally use. The one exception was a poor little greenwing teal that I just murderated. Not pretty.

The table fare: When I was finished dressing these birds, they looked like I'd shot them with BBs instead of 2s. I'm thinking that would be the "more trauma" thing. Considering I spent most of this season shooting BBs or 1s, that means this shot did the same level of meat damage that I'm accustomed to, only I was slinging more pellets because they're smaller.

Dental damage? When Boyfriend bit down on a piece of the shot in a couple gadwalls we ate this weekend (and it always works that way - if I shot the duck, he gets the shot), it was no different than biting down on any other steel shot. And no, he didn't crack a tooth.

The fun thing about Blind Side is that when you set it down on the table to admire what you almost just ate, it doesn't roll around much. Of course, if you don't enjoy playing with your shot at the table, this might not matter to you.

So what's the upshot? When this stuff hits the market this summer, it'll retail for $17-$22, which ain't exactly cheap, though it's not as bad as Hevi-Shot.

But I can think of three circumstances under which it'd be worth paying that price: 1) If I'm shooting well and not wasting a lot of shot. 2) If I'm hunting without a dog and want to minimize my chasing. 3) If I'm hunting an area with dense cover and it's really important to drop ducks right where I hit 'em.

Crippling fewer ducks and losing fewer ducks is important to me, and I think it's worth paying more for anything that helps accomplish that goal.

Postscript: If you want to check out some really cool footage of how this shot flies, check out Bourjaily's post today on the Gun Nut blog. It includes footage of the unusual diamond-cut wad this shot uses.

My next post-SHOT Show review: The Head Down cap in Feather Flage camo.

This is the one that prompted every duck hunter who saw it to say, "Holy crap, why hasn't anyone thought of that before?"

Well, with two weekends of hard duck hunting, I got a really good understanding of how it works. Stay tuned for that review.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Mike at The Big Stick said...

We were shooting Federal Black Cloud and Remington's new Hypersonic Steel at geese this year with mixed results. Spent some time in the blind talking about these new Winchester shells. The shape of the shot sounds like it would make the pattern open up too fast but it sounds like the wadding prevents that. Cool concept. Might invest in a box next year.

Greg Damitz said...

Estates makes a 3" shell with 1 3/8 ounce shot. It goes 1375 fps and is considerably cheaper.

Start shooting 3s early season and 3s or 2s late season. BBs are over kill. lead the head not the body. All good advice coming from someone that shot pretty poorly this season. Some of my hunting partners marveled and were astonished at my uncharacteristicly poor shooting. Maybe it's finely time for those glasses.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Mike: Like I said, I'm not an ammo geek so it's really hard for me to evaluate the finer points of this ammo's performance. But I liked it, and if all ammo was priced the same, I'd be strongly inclined to use it.

Greg: LOL, I know what you mean. I had some stellar shooting days - a limit with 15 shells, and six of those birds took just one shot apiece - but mostly I shot like crap. Still trying to dissect why.

I actually started the season shooting 3s, but had a much better experience with 1s, so I stuck with that until I ran out of 1s and had a bunch of boxes of BBs.

And lead the not the body? LOL, I'm just happy when I hit something, and I can't pretend it's anything more than luck when I head-shoot 'em instead of wrecking the body. But I can say that somehow, Hank and I ended up with a lot of well-shot birds this year.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Since I don't have a baseline of experience with other shot, a review like this is extremely helpful.

So how long before duck season again?

Dave Proulx said...

Let me admit upfront that most of my shots are taken at ranges of less than 35 yds. With that said, while the concept sounds great, I'm not sure that I understand the "upside" of this load or Black Cloud for that matter. I've seen the results of Black Cloud wound channels, but don't see a significant benefit from it. If I do my job and hit the ducks well with a traditional steel load, they go down hard.

For example, I have had very good results with Federal Ultra-Shoks in 3" 1&1/4 oz #3's and #2's for ducks. They carry a muzzle velocity of 1450fps.

These shells have been discontinued, so there have been some great sale prices in effect lately. The last 2 cases I bought in December sold for $129/case with free shipping,and they also carried a $25/case rebate. Hard for me to switch from $10-11/box to $17-$20 box loads.....then again, maybe I'm just cheap!!

Gary Thompson said...

Yikes, 25 ft slower at 1,400 fps for a 1/8 larger load! That goes a long ways toward explaining why you had such a lead adjustment issue (beyond just the speed of what you're used to) and it addresses significantly my earlier inquiry concerning maintaining impact over distance. After looking at your photos though, it seems you made the best of a less than optimum set of performance limitations. I'd love to see this load on paper, where the details live. High speed photography of hitting a target doesn't offer poop. It is cool to look at though.

If the patterns disburses based on the geometry of the shot, as I suspect it would, and it shoots this slowly, I'd have to be in the "thanks but no thanks" camp.

Great write up! Me suspects you're being a little modest on your shooting skills, based on your adjustment to this dramatic of a change in shot to what you're used to.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Tamar: In your neck of the woods? Not sure. Do you have an early teal season? For us, it's late October.

Dave: There was a noticeable difference with these compared with my usual Kent 3-inch 1-3/8 ounce loads: Body hits brought ducks down hard, and dead, even without penetrating the body cavity. But you've hit the key question: Is that benefit worth the extra money?

My experience with spendy shot is that it is better, and if I'm shooting well, I love it, and if I'm shooting poorly, I go back to Kents.

Gary: Thanks for your confidence in my shooting! I really did have some horrible days this year, but my shooting is good enough that I still got ducks - just had to go back to my car for more ammo. :-(

And there definitely was a huge adjustment - I missed a lot at first while I adjusted to lead. Personally, I think I'm fine with ammo at higher or lower speeds - that the important thing is to stick with one, not go back and forth.

Main Line Sportsman said...

I generally use 3 inch 4's for ducks....
I will try this stuff if it better than Kent...which I generally really like.

Peebs said...

Time for me to chime in I saw the results of her shooting first hand and probably had a better view than she did as I wasn't shooting the bird. With marginal hits the birds folded and dropped. Many times I have full patterened Pins, Gads and Specks only to have them fly long distance and fold I'm talking 6 or more body hits. Steel at the 1500 fps will go through the bird and while hit mortaly the bird just doesn't know it unless you break a wing or neck. One Gad Holly hit had just one brest hit that I could see and was stone cold dead. I once shot a drake mallard in the head walked to him he was upright and slowely swimming his head was over sized by the hits both eyes bulged out of the head I reached for him when I touched him he actually got up and flew and I had to shoot him again, So while steel does do damage it doesn't inpart the energy and while I have no proof I think the odd shapes of black cloud and blind side aid in doing this.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Sadly, I was going to let Peebs try this stuff himself, but I was shooting so badly that I had to hog the ammo to myself.

Peebs, I never thought about my fast ammo going too fast, but I can see what you mean. Then again, I've heard of a couple people who were using that new 1700 fps Hypersonic and they love it.

I guess the upshot is if you value what I saw this ammo do, and it shoots well in your gun, and you're comfortable with it, it's the ammo for you. As I learned this year, mostly hunting with Kent 1s, they were comfortable and familiar and I was happy with them.

The question is whether it's worth spending almost twice as much for ammo that I liked. So ... guess who's gonna be spending the next 250-ish days shooting skeet and sporting clays? If I shoot well enough, I could use this stuff and spend close to the same amount I spent on ammo this year.

Peebs said...

Oh believe me I will stick whith my $10.00 a box shells a thousand shells is a lot cheeper that way. Besides I know where to shoot them and when.

Todd said...

Two thoughts: 1) Get a reloading set up. Handloads are where steel really comes to life. Speed is death with steel and factory ammo cannot give you consistent speeds. Sidenote...take a look at the wads that come out of Rem's Hypersteel....the ones I shot showed evidence of steel pushing through the plastic. Steel on Steel not good for your barrel. I for one will not be using them again.

2) Hunt with a dog. A well trained dog is a pleasure in the blind and cuts down dramatically on lost birds. My dog also adds to the satisfaction of hunting. Gunnr made a blind retrieve of a crippled goose on the Yellowstone river in late December. The goose dove four times, but Gunnr still delivered him to hand. I turned his breasts into prosciutto. Great story when I share the meat.

Hil said...

Glad you got a chance to test this out! It sounds like you're happy with it. What I would like to see is someone shoot this at a pattern board — a lot of people ask me "does it produce crazy fliers with that weird shape?" and I just don't know.

I killed a mess of gadwall on Beaver Dam this January with the Remington Hypersonic (the 1700 fps) and I loved it. Mostly because I am terrible at leading this reduced my lead some, which is a plus for me. Downside: It's CRAZY loud.

Richard Mellott said...

My friend Matt and I hunted with some Black Cloud 4s in 3 in loads, and we both had significant problems with the cartridges jamming in our Pump action shotguns (his a Remington 870, mine a Mossberg Ducks Unlimited). I also had the same problem with some Winchester loads, though, so I'm using that as an excuse to go get a new shotgun for next fall! The 4s crippled a snowgoose, but did not kill it. It walked three or four Blocks, right to another hunter. So, I was really ready to to switch to 3.5 mags at the end of the season. I did bring down 3 ducks the last day, with 2s, so I'm happy with my shooting, finally. Just need a new gun!

Phillip said...

Anything that kills better/more quickly than steel gets my attention. Of course, regular steel kills just fine if you shoot at close range and select your shots...yadda yadda yadda. But there's nothing wrong with something that performs better.

No more than I hunt waterfowl these days, I'm sold on Bismuth. I can shoot 3" #4, or even 2 3/4" #4 and kill cleanly and more consistently than I can with 3" #2 steel. Of course that's partially a result of getting a lot more pellets in my pattern, but it's also because the Bismuth delivers more energy on target. I tried #4 in steel a few times, including some pretty hot handloads, and was utterly unimpressed. For me, Bismuth is worth the price.

Point being, I may try this Blindside next season if it's cheaper than Bismuth but that much more effective than regular steel.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Todd: Ack! I'm avoiding reloading like the plague. I am a professor, blogger, photographer and freelance writer (and I have a few other irons in the fire too) - I don't have an ounce of free time. Every new pursuit means I have to get rid of something else on my plate. I've already eliminated housekeeping and exercise, which I really shouldn't have done, so until something gives, I can't take on any new projects.

As for the dog ... well, I hope to write about that topic this weekend.

Hil: Never heard that about the Hypersonic! Guess it has a sonic boom, huh? (Anyone much younger than me will have no idea what I'm talking about.)

What I'd love to see is side-by-side slomo footage of Blind Side (1400 fps), Kent (1560 fps) and Hypersonic (1700 fps). I really want to see what those differences in speed look like.

Richard: The only time I had a problem with specific ammo jamming my gun was when I put Hevi-Shot 2s in my old 20 gauge Beretta autoloader. It HATED that ammo.

As for 4s: I've killed a goose or two (literally, that's it) with small shot like 4s or 6s, but the only way to do it is get lucky and hit 'em in the head. A No. 4 pellet is nothing more than an irritation to something as big as a goose. But I'm glad another hunter got yours. Not that I'm glad you didn't, but I'm glad it wasn't shot for nothing.

Phillip: One of the things I liked about the Blind Side is that it was doing BB damage (probably more than the Kent BBs I shot occasionally this year) with No. 2 shot (more pellets). But "worth the price" is the key issue here for pretty much all of us (unless any of you commenters here happens to be independently wealthy, in which case I'd like to cordially invite you to sponsor my blog).

Peebs and I have been talking about how much we spent on ammo this season, and I'm afraid to add it up. I know I went through at least three-four cases, if not more (diver hunts involve LOTS of water-swatting). If I'd been shooting Blind Side, that would've meant spending $300-$400 more on ammo.

But I really hate tallying the dollars, because none of this hunting business is about saving money. Good lord, I spent probably $100-$200 a month this summer at the shooting range. Oh, my aching credit card!

Swamp Thing said...

My stash is almost entire Kent FS 1s, 2s, and 3s, with some Black Cloud and Hevishot Bs and BBs mixed in for the geese (although, you can reliably take geese with 1s and 2s at short range).

I use something other than FS for bigger birds at long range because I want the trauma to kill the bird then and there, instantly, humanely. I do not want to sail it 400 yards down wind and chase it down, just to save on damage to the meat.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oooh, I am totally afraid of mixing shot. My brain is too slow to react to the difference in speeds.

Sadly, with an autoloader, I haven't mastered the art of changing ammo for different types of shots. I've watched Peebs do it with his pump when he saw geese coming in, but unloading and reloading an autoloader is a clunky affair.

Anonymous said...

Angular shaped shot is not really new; the Italians have made and loaded it into shells for years now.

For them their small sized Lead "Cube Shot" is used as a Spreader Load and that's its intention. It's designed to open up and spread your pattern faster for small birds like Quail at close ranges.

Of course the downside is that, not being round, it loses velocity more quickly than spherical shot.

That's not a problem close in, but spreading your pattern out much, might be for Steel Shot. (which could use more pellets to be more effective)

IMO the MOST effective way to improve lethality on any target is to increase the number of hits to vital or incapacitating areas.

Because I'm usually gunning for big Ducks, for years I've stuck with Steel #2s (Geez, what I used to use for Geese in the Lead Shot days!)

At the first big pre-season sale on Kent Fasteel this year I made a switch. I bought half #2s and half #3s, thinking I'd try out some of the #3s during the early season to see if there was much difference?

I had, on occasion previously bought a box or two before, but never enough to really give it a thorough "test".

This year I did; and as it turned out for me these were really effective. So much so, that when the next sale came along, I went out and bought nothing but #3s.

With the speed pumped up on the Fasteel (to 1,560 fps) and the extra pellet count picked up by stepping down 1 shot size, I was really impressed by its effectiveness on large Ducks.

Sonic Booms? Hmm...with the speed of sound being 1,126 fps at 68F at sea level, I'm afraid ALL shotshells launch their payloads above the speed of sound. ;-)

Oh, I just read that there's another new shaped Steel Shot coming out. Look for a new shot design that has a large dimple in it. Supposedly, this shape behaves similarly to "Pumpkin Ball" slugs, and flies heavy end first. When it hits the target it upsets and reportedly creates greater tissue damage.

We'll see...

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

For what it's worth, the Blind Side wad is designed to hold the shot together longer so the pattern doesn't spread out too much. That's about as well as I can explain it, because, like I said, I'm not an ammo geek. All I really know is what happens to ducks when I pull the trigger.

Interestingly, I started my season with Kent 3s, but we had a lot of windy hunts and that stuff wasn't cutting it, so I switched to 1s. Felt so good shooting that that I stuck with them, regardless of wind.

Dave Proulx said...

Great idea to get a retriever. A good one adds so much to the hunt.

My son and I shoot both ducks and Canada geese during the season, so we generally shoot #2's anytime a mixed duck/goose opportunity exists. For duck only hunts, we usually shoot #4s, and for goose only hunts, usually 2's or BB's. we usually shoot 3" shells, although my son does shoot 3.5" loads out of a pump gun w/patternmaster choke tube when he is backing up clients during his guiding duties. Canada geese can be very tough to kill with a shot in the tailpipes at longer ranges.

Dan said...

The way you describe how it sticks in the meat and not go through the cavity sounds more like how lead used to work on ducks a decade ago and be much more effective than steel.

Gary Thompson said...

Todd --- Amen brother! Two most excellent points! Reloading adds to the experience throughout the year, sharpens the skill and knowledge level to defend against marketing, and makes the shooter infinitely more consistent. Bird hunting of any kind without a dog... well... I feel sorry for those that haven't seen the light. It's the quintessential reason to refine your shooting.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Dan: That was before my time as a hunter, so I have no idea what I've missed.

Gary: Sounds like I will continue to earn your pity! Though I am pretty hard on myself and I'm not sure a dog's disdain would be any more motivating than my own.

Everyone: Winchester has some footage and photos of this shot on a patterning board at various ranges. As soon as I can get my hands on it.

Todd said...

Holly--I am very excited to hear that you may be interested in a dog. At least that's what I'm hoping to read in the near future. I have some definite opinions on the matter and would love to speak with you about hunting dogs. Hank knows how to get in touch with me. I think a versatile dog would be perfect for you. Don't hesitate to reach out!

DarrenM said...

I want to try them! I'll have to pattern them first though with a variety of chokes. I was a big believer in the Bismuth story until I saw the price.

For a little bit of reference on the whole fps debate... let's play a little over-simplified math:

Time to reach a duck at 33yds/100ft (assuming that's where you're hitting ducks and assuming incorrectly that it retains its full speed to that point):

Blind Side (1400 fps) = 0.071s
Kent (1560 fps) = 0.064s
Hypersonic (1700 fps) = 0.058s

Now, assuming a duck is cruising around 30mph (average passing shot), he's traveling 44 fps. So in switching to Blind Side from Kent you'd need to increase your lead .3 feet. That's actually more than I expected, but not insurmountable.

Of course, there's plenty more to consider. Whether more pellets will get you more contact. The takedown effect of the odd shape. The loss of speed over distance of that shape. Whether higher energy (fps) at contact will just take ducks down better. Whether the duck doesn't change direction in that .006s. Personally, I like the idea of more shot only at a very minimal expense of fps... but plenty more tests to be done.

If the $17-$22 estimate is for a box of 25 then that's not bad at all.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I agree that the price isn't bad at all for high-end/specialty waterfowl shot. And you'll get your chance to try it next fall.

As for changing the lead by 4 inches: LOL, my aiming margin of error is way bigger than that.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Wait, while your calculator's handy, could you please calculate the cost per inch in the change in lead? Hee hee hee...

Swamp Thing said...

Holly - a fair number (10%) of east coast hunters I've been afield with will literally bring two guns if they're confident they'll see small ducks and geese in the same morning.

Josh said...

I'm interested in this round, if it can do the trauma with more shot in the air. To me, that's the best plug one can give ammo.

Glen said...

Biting my tongue and ordering another case of Kent 2 3/4" #4's for next season....

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, Glen, it's not really biting your tongue if you leave a comment, is it?

Glen said...

Hahaha, but...but...but...you wouldn't know I was biting my tongue if I didn't tell ya, LOL. Quite the conundrum we have here, no?