Hunting Upland Bird Hunting

Top Shots: The Best Loads for Upland Birds

How to pick the most effective gauges, loads, and chokes for upland game
rooster pheasant flushes

Kansas pheasant hunters put up a November rooster. Bill Buckley

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Nothing says autumn like that first step into bobwhite cover or an endless Midwest cornfield or the dappled leaves of a ruffed grouse covert. That first step is followed by another, and then many, many more. One of the behaviors that defines upland hunters is that they typically carry their shotguns long distances while shooting them very little.So when you do take a shot, you want to have the confidence that your payload is capable of bringing down the game you are hunting. After all, you might not get a second shot or another flush. Though the 12-gauge, with its wide selection of loads, is king, for many a lightweight 20- or 28-gauge is a better pick. And the oft-forgotten 16 is perfect for the uplands. Here is a guide for upland loads that fit most situations.

Early-season Pheasants 12 I.C./MOD. 20-40 No. 6 KENT 12-GAUGE K122UFL 36, 1 1⁄4 OZ. DIAMOND SHOT, 1,350 FPS
Late-season Pheasants 12 MOD/I.MOD. 30-50 No. 4 FEDERAL PREMIUM 12-GAUGE PRAIRIE STORM PF154FS, 1 1⁄4 OZ., 1,500 FPS
Ruffed Grouse 16 SKEET/I.C. 15-30 No. 7 1/2 REMINGTON 16-GAUGE GL167, 1 OZ. , 1,200 FPS
Spruce Grouse (fool hen) 20 SKEET/I.C. 10-25 No. 7 1/2 20-GAUGE POLYWAD SR 207 SPRED-R, 7⁄8 OZ., 1,200 FPS
Hungarian Partridge 20 I.C./MOD. 25-40 No. 6 20-GAUGE REMINGTON NP20, 1 OZ. , 1,300 FPS
Chukar 20 I.C./MOD. 25-40 No. 7 1/2 20-GAUGE WINCHESTER X207, 1 OZ. , 1,220 FPS
Preserve Quail 28 CYL/SKEET 10-30 No. 8 28-GAUGE WINCHESTER AA288, 3⁄4 OZ. , 1,200 FPS
Wild Quail 28 SKEET/I.C. 15-35 No. 7 1/2 28-GAUGE FEDERAL P283, 3⁄4 OZ. , 1,295 FPS