Are B&P Shotshells the Best?
That’s a good question. Clearly, one of the most important components in firearm performance is the quality of the ammunition we use. Whether rimfire, centerfire, or shotshell the promotional type loads are almost invariably inaccurate and inconsistent compared to medium-priced offerings. With shotgun shells, this is likely more true than in any other type of ammunition, for very good reason. Very few shotgunners take the time to pattern the shells they use at the ranges they intend to shoot with the choke they intend to use. If they did, sales of the promo loads would plummet.
I won’t begin to try to tell you that patterning shotguns is fun; it isn’t. You need to shoot at least five rounds of each shell at your patterning board to get a representative pellet sampling. One shot out of a shotgun is a lot like a “one shot group” with a rifle, it really gives you no repeatable information. Some folks rightfully suggest than ten pattern boards per shell is better. It is, no question about it. Nevertheless, I’ve found that a collection of five consecutive patterns gives a useful representation of the number of pellets that you can place on a target. I also use 28 in. x 32 in. posterboard for patterning. Though one of the many vague standards is a 30 inch circle at 40 yards, most people can readily observe that the lethal part of your pattern, the part that places 3-4 pellets with certitude on the kill zone of your target, is no where near that large. Warren Johnson’s “Choke Chooser” is a handy slide-rule type guide for clays use based on the orientation of the target, shotsize, payload, distance, and pattern percentage. Mr. Johnson bases his work on the “99% chance of a two-pellet hit” on clays. It was John Brindle who determined years ago that it is not possible to have an effective spread with a 12 gauge, 1-1/8 ounce shotshell larger than 25 inches across at any range.
Whether we want to call it effective spread, ethical wingshooting or just cracking clays with authority, one thing is clear: the pellets that do not arrive on our target are worthless. The results can be astounding; in one testing set, all done with a Trulock 12 gauge Improved Modified Precision Hunter Choke, promo loads yielded splotchy 48% patterns, where high-antimony handloads put an 87% average pattern on the board. A dove, for example, has a kill zone a bit smaller than a golf ball.
The 48% pattern percentage load (457 pellets to start with) against a three square inch circle at 40 yards equates to a 28% “no hit” percentage. Now, let consider that 86% pattern: the “no hit” percentage is now 2%, or a 98% chance to hit that three inch kill zone. Phrasing it differently, you are about 14 times as likely to miss or cripple that dove at 40 yards with this promo load as you are with a quality shell. Small wonder that dove hunters go through so many shells? If our lead is off a bit, it gets even worse: if our pattern placement is off-center by around six inches, it is miss or cripple about 1/3 of the time with our promo load.
There are many reasons that promo loads are so horribly bad. They are not performance-based purchases, they are just the cheapest thing available that goes bang. To get cheap, we have to cut costs. The powders used in them up are the cheapest bulk powders in the marketplace at the time. They are likely dirty as well, but worse, they are cheap and inconsistent. Consistency costs money.
The wads are the cheapest that can be obtained.Usually recycled plastic, or whatever fulfills the notion of “adequacy.” On it goes to the shot. To get quality shot, not only must it be concentric, but it must have high antimony content. The problem is, antimony costs more money than lead, so we generally have to use the softest stuff around to make our promo shell. Naturally, this consumer-driven striving for cheapness also touches the hull and the the brass. Here we have yet another issue; that “brass” is plated or oxidized steel. It is hard enough to quickly scour, scratch, and wear away the ejection port areas of alloy receiver autoloaders. Autoloaders get the least love of all out of the deal, with dirty powders that can plague gas systems and peened receivers. We may also have plastic fouling in the forcing cone and choke areas from our economy wad.
We can’t really blame the ammo manufacturers for all this; we have demanded cheap and the birdie/ducky loads are just what we asked for. Inconsistent velocities are to be expected. Inconsistent, erratic ammo is to be expected when wads, powder, shot, hulls are all sourced from random places with the primary directive of low per-unit cost.
By now, you are probably wondering when I’m going to get to B&P ammo. Well, I’m almost there, but I just had to give a bit of background on why birds might be missed, where that plastic fouling came from and why your once-reliable autoloader might be jamming or is getting banged up.
Baschieri & Pellagri (B&P) is not yet a household name in the United States. Internationally, they are, at least among shooters. B&P has been around since 1891. They are located in Bologna, Italy and their international shooting success includes six gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze medal at the Olympics; 7 World Cups, 64 World Championships, 65 European Championships and 239 Italian Championships. They are Italy’s only private manufacturer of gunpowder.
This begins to tell the tale of why total quality control is possible for B&P. The have invented and manufacture their own powders, they make their own hulls and they make their own wads all in-house. In fact, when you hear of Baschieri & Pellagri wads being used by other shotshell manufacturers, such as Fiocchi, it is as a sales tool, because B&P wads are so highly regarded. It is this unique combination of synergy between wad, hull and propellant that sets B&P apart. No other shotshell company that I know of is both a powder manufacturer and a molded plastics expert. (Remington used to be, when they were part of DuPont. -Ed.)
B&P is becoming more aggressive in distribution, price and customer service in the U.S. I’ve not tried all of their shells, to be sure. However, I have shot two specific shells that you really need to try for yourself. The first shell is the 12 gauge, 1-1/8 ounce, “F2 Legend” at 1230 fps. The medal-winning F2 Legend uses B&P’s F2 powder invented by Gianni Manfredi, has a B&P wad and is fitted with the patented Gordon hull. This is the 12 gauge load that will likely change the way you think shotshells are supposed to perform.
I ran several shots from a full-choked Browning Cynergy across the chronograph and the velocities were within five feet per second of each other. This is the shell that defines B&P. If there has been sales resistance from those who readily admit that F2 shells are smoother, more consistent and better performers than other target loads it is that they are luxury shells with a luxury price. This is no longer the case. As a matter of fact, you get free shipping right now from B&P USA, no trivial part of lead ammunition acquisition cost when it weighs a lot like, well, lead. Delivered to your door, the premium B&P shells are now similar, if not a tad cheaper, than many others.
Though I can’t tell you there is a recoil reduction to my shoulder, I can tell you that they feel smoother and “less lumpy” than AA and STS shells. The most similar feeling shell on the market would be the more expensive Federal paper hulls.
The other B&P shell I’d like to call special attention to is their “F2 Classic” 16 gauge load, a 1-1/16 ounce, 1280 fps shell that is one of the best balanced, best performing 16 gauge shells on the market. As an added bonus, it is also a 67mm hull that can be used in 16 gauge shotguns with chambers as short as 65mm. If you are a fan of the Browning A-5 or old 16 gauge doubles, you might remember that some of the earlier 16 gauge A-5’s came with 65mm (2-9/16 inch) chambers. This is the shell that allows use of all those A-5’s as originally manufactured, without any modification. As for the rest, the best bet is to prove things to yourself. For more info, visit www.bandpusa.com.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.