I just cleaned 20 birds (chukar, Huns, and dusky grouse). As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I age my birds before cleaning them, sometimes for up to 3 weeks, so they tend to add up when we get around to cleaning them. They go from Peat or Angus’s hand to my Badlands vest to the fridge in the garage. This has worked well for us for years now, and we’re even alive to talk about it. I believe the meat is much tenderer this way.

Today’s victims (collected from the fridge, not the field)

The thing that was different today was that in those 20 birds, there was hardly any damage to breasts or legs. A few breasts had a pellet, but only one, and the legs were mostly clean. I wish I could say that this is because I’ve progressed in my shooting so much that I am mainly killing the birds with head shots. I’m probably doing more of that than before because of some changes I’ve made to my mount and leads on crossing shots. But the only thing I can point to that gave us much cleaner meat today is that I’ve basically switched to bigger shot. Number 6 steel to be exact; I mentioned this in a recent post, but the proof is in the pudding (bird meat). And maybe someone can educate me otherwise, but I also think that the steel stuff, although lacking the ballistic superiority of lead, might leave cleaner meat because it’s harder and rounder than the lead pellets that deform easily. Joel Loftis’s informative The Chukar Hunter’s Wingshooting Guide suggests as much.

I recently talked to Joel, and he’d spent a lot of time (and money) testing out some new shells, and his favorite was the super-expensive Kent Bismuth Upland Shotshells, specifically 12-gauge #6, 1-1/16 ounce, 2-3/4″, 1325 FPS. Several days after he mentioned this, I suffered a moment of insanity that lasted long enough for me to order some online (at $32 per box; yes, per box, not case). I’ll report on how they work for me if I’m lucky enough to hit anything with them once they get here from Mars or wherever they get bismuth, whatever that is. I keep thinking it’s made from expired Pepto Bismol. Maybe it is.

I also got some of the Winchester waterfowl loads I’d been shooting well with and which did little damage to our meat, which are only $7 or $8 a box, but whose ballistics apparently can’t come close to the bismuth puppies. I keep hearing the words “diminishing returns” in my head.

Speaking of that, our supply of Joel’s wingshooting guide is diminishing. I never thought I’d write this on this blog, but “get yours while supplies last.”

This dusky grouse crop contained (from top) a grasshopper, praying mantis, berries, and fir needles.
This is one of the few breasts with any pellet damage out of today’s batch of birds

15 Replies to “#6”

  1. I’m sticking with lead until I have to switch. Fiocchi are my favorite shells. A little hard to find around here but a shop had some in Nampa. I only use #6.

      1. wow Bob I’ve had dove go sour on me after 24 hours of not cleaning them and having them in the fridge, I really can’t fathom 2 weeks of dead bird guts and still having good meat. I would consider having the skin and feathers on the bird for that long but not the guts … wow! that’s crazy talk man haha 🙂 you are braver than I am.

  2. just FYI #6 steel is actually ballistically closer to #8 lead but it’s higher velocity usually and penetrates like a full metal jacket round rather than a lead projectile that deforms (or lead pellets for that matter). Just be careful when eating the meat because if you ate down on a steel pellet it’s not fun! Down here in CA steel or non toxic is a requirement now throughout the entire state but I’ve already been shooting it for years. In my experience #6 steel is good for dove and quail sized birds, I shot #7 during dove season this year and was getting too many cripples. A lot of people here are using #4 duck loads for chukar (Federal speed shok #4 is affordable and works great in both of my guns as far as patterns (Benelli m2 and browning BPS) plus some areas I hunt chuks I could come into some ducks also, so it’s a bonus to have a load that can handle both.

    It’s good to see that you are killing them with #6 steel shot though! Do you think you are getting the same range performance out of #6 steel as you were with #6 lead or did you have to limit your shots to a shorter distance?

    Regarding Bismuth I also bought a few boxes this season, unfortunately I bought them for a new to me 20 gauge that I bought used, online, and it showed up in really bad shape (much worse than described or the pictures revealed) so I rejected it at the FFL and sent it back (lesson learned on counting my chickens before they hatched). Now I have ammo that I can’t use in my 12 gauge guns but one of these days I’ll have a 20 gauge to shoot it out so I’ll just look at it as a long term investment. For now I’ll just hunt with my 12 gauge again this season I recon. I also bought a Nevada license this year where non-tox is not a requirement but overall it hasn’t really bothered me shooting non-toxic except it’s a lot more expensive than lead game loads. From what I’m reading about this new Kent Bismuth it is providing almost better ballistics than lead in some sizes (that guy Randy Wakeman does a so so comparison on ballistics of #3 bismuth outperforming #5 lead on his blog). problem is, it’s about 28.99 for the cheapest 20 gauge bismuth and up to 42$ for 12 gauge 3″ duck loads … I think a lot of people will just shoot tungsten for those prices.

  3. oh and try the Federal Speed shok 2 3/4″ #6 waterfowl loads … those are great for upland birds also … those Winchester AA are kind of crappy and don’t pattern well in my Benelli Crio chokes.

  4. I just can’t wrap my mind around this idea of “to age a couple weeks”

    I have always been in a hurry to get birds cleaned up especially in the early warm part of the season.

    Do you just throw em in the fridge like cord wood or bag em? Don’t they dry out?

    1. If they’re torn up, they’ll dry up a little but otherwise the feathers serve to keep the bird “fresh.” Try it with some. Might not be for everyone, but I’ve never lost a single bird with this method. I put them in the fridge in a flattish bucket to keep the little blood from pooling in the fridge.

    2. I assume he field guts them then leaves them in the fridge to dry age with the feathers and skin on … dry aging is a process to get the blood out and smooth out the gamey flavor. actually most of the meet you purchase at the store is dry aged to some degree.

  5. If you don’t over cook the birds, they stay tender. Not gutting and aging them is crazy- I don’t like decomposing bacteria enough for that

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