Winchester Blind Side Shotshells
By Ron Spomer
A version of this article first appeared in Gun Hunter magazine
The big Canada flew over while I was hiking across an open field. Then it fell down. Because I shot it. This doesn’t always, or even often, happen, particularly not when the target is as far away as that big goose was. Its size fooled me into thinking it was closer. Nevertheless, I pushed the Browning Maxus 12 gauge barrel through it fast and ignited a hope and a prayer. The honker collapsed and began falling. And falling. And falling.
“I couldn’t believe you shot that goose,” Scott Grange said when I got back to the decoy spread and our layout blinds. “It looked 70 yards up.”
“Based on how long it took coming down, I’d say it was more like 80.” Scott and I were two of 11 hunters indulging in a late September waterfowl smorgasbord out of Lake Manitoba Narrows Lodge. We were testing Final Approach layout blinds, field bags and decoys. I was hunting for the first time with a Maxus shotgun, Browning’s latest autoloader. And we were all surprised to learn we’d be shooting samples of Winchester’s latest entry into the premium steel shot market, something now called Blind Side, a new product in mid-2011.
Credit that prototype shell with my hitting that super-high honker.
Actually, my companions and I were all shooting well that trip. We dropped everything from greenwinged teal and Richardson’s Canadas (a subspecies the size of a mallard) to canvasbacks and overstuffed honkers. Part of the reason was because John Vaca of Final Approach called so effectively. Another part was because those Final Approach decoys looked remarkably like real geese. And still another reason was because we were hidden so well in those camouflaged Final Approach blinds. And that Maxus shotgun swung so smoothly and functioned flawlessly. And now I finally approach the final explanation for our effective shooting: those Winchester Blind Side shells.
They use square pellets.
Seriously. Well, they aren’t perfectly square, but six sides are intentionally flattened to shape them into little cubes or hexahedrons with rounded corners. According to Winchester, this increases killing effectiveness.
Whoa now. When I first heard this claim I wondered what the Winchester engineers had been smoking. All my life I’ve been taught that a perfectly round pellet flies straighter, retains more energy and hits harder than any other form. The whole reason engineers invented the protective shot cup, shock absorber spacer wads, plated shot, hardened pellets, plastic buffering and longer forcing cones was to protect round shot so it flew true. And here was Winchester trying to foist hex pellets onto us?
I called Brad Criner’s bluff. He’s the shotshell and rimfire Product Manager for Winchester. He hunted with us and showed us the first of these weird shells. “How can a flattened pellet shoot better than a round one?” I asked, beating everyone else to the obvious question. Criner leaped on it.
“I knew you were going to ask that because you’re right, it flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught.” Then he began running through his prepared remarks, complete with slides, charts and video of the shot in motion. Yup, they’d managed to shoot super slow motion video of the pellets and their shot cup flying through the air. The plastic cup, called a Diamond Cut Wad, is an essential component. It keeps the pellets together farther downrange. This always contributes to a tighter pattern. But that’s not all the Diamond Cut Wad does. Instead of peeling open from the front or rear like so many shot cup wads do, it opens via four evenly-spaced, diamond-shaped petals that flap out from the middle of the wad like little wings that open and close as it flies through the air. The upshot is it stays balanced and drops straight back from the charge of shot without tipping and slinging pellets at an unwanted angle as some wads do.
The video showed this clearly happening. A competitor’s shot wad tipped and flung part of its shot column up, down, right or left. It varied shot to shot. The Winchester wad pretty much fell straight back, its four diamond cut “wings” flapping like a duck to keep it stabilized. It released the hex pellets straight and smoothly and they arrived at the paper target in a nice, consistently centered and evenly-spread pattern. The competition’s shot charge patterns looked pretty dense, too, but their centers shifted erratically a few inches from shot to shot. Their shot seemed to string out more, too, probably because some pellets were traditionally round and some had an intentional trauma inducing modification that slowed their flight.
So Criner admitted I was correct. Those hex pellets do not fly as straight and true as perfectly round ones. But the Diamond wad holds them together far enough down range that they don’t have time to throw too many “fliers” out of the pattern.
Okay, so the new shot, despite its flattened sides, still patterns nicely from 25-yards to 45-yards, according to the video and still-pictures of patterning boards Criner showed us. And it reportedly responds properly to various chokes. But that doesn’t explain why it should have the 250 percent increased lethality Criner was claiming for it. That, apparently, is a product of more efficient packing.
If you’ve ever tried to stack balls into a compact space, you already know you end up with lots of wasted air between them. And the bigger the balls, the more the wasted space. Square boxes pack a lot more efficiently. So do cubed pellets. Winchester manages to stack 10 percent more hex pellets into a 3-inch or 3.5-inch shell than round ones and 15 percent more hex pellets than those edged, trauma inducing pellets in another manufacturer’s shells.