There were 11 shooters, each in our own layout blind, in a carefully scouted field near Lake Manitoba Narrows Lodge, a few hours northwest of Winnipeg. Decoys were set, blinds were well-camouflaged and the sun was just coming above the horizon. Each of us held out cupped hands to receive nine black, unmarked 12 gauge shotshells.
Hunt Coordinator Kevin Howard carried four boxes of Winchester shells and doled out nine to each hunter. They were the very first production shells of the new Blind Side waterfowl loads. He gave each of us supplicant instruction to carefully note and set aside the birds shot with these shells so that after the hunt we could dissect the birds and see the difference in performance from regular steel and other non-toxic rounds.
In setting up the hunt, the intent had been to spend several days testing Blind Side, but the United Parcel Service had let us down and not gotten the ammo to the remote hunting resort. Fortunately, four boxes made it with one of the Winchester team who drove up from the States.
I’d like to tell you that 100 birds fell to those 100 shells, but that would be more than stretching the truth. The blame for the misses goes to the communicants rather than the ammo. However, the first-in-the-field Blind Side kills we witnessed that morning were nothing short of spectacular. They put lights-out on big Canada geese at ranges out to 60 yards and beyond.
And because the hunt was co-sponsored by Bushnell, there was no guessing the ranges at which the birds were shot. Jen Messelt, then with Bushnell, didn’t shoot that morning and handled ranging duties—calling out distances to the shooters as the birds approached.
At the close of services that morning, not a hunter among us could question the apparent effectiveness of Winchester Blind Side ammo. And we were unanimous in our enthusiasm for more testing under a broader range of conditions (that’s gun-writer-speak for, “We want to hunt more and shoot more!”).
Though Blind Side didn’t hit retailers’ shelves until June of this year, I had my next chance to shoot it on a duck hunt in Southern Illinois with the guys from Down ’n’ Dirty Outdoors. This time we had all the shells we needed, but we didn’t need many. Ducks that were hit, even at longer-than-I-prefer-to-shoot ranges, didn’t need follow-ups. Blind Side knocked them d-e-a-d.
WHAT IS BLIND SIDE?
Winchester Blind Side is a nontoxic waterfowl load that puts a square peg in a round hole. For generations we’ve been told that consistent patterns and efficient ballistic performance can be achieved only with perfectly spherical pellets. Yet in recent years this has been proven untrue with the onslaught of shotshells containing pellets that are intentionally not round. But Blind Side takes it further.
The pellets in Blind Side shotshells are actually cube-shaped with the corners rounded-off. Technically, it’s a hexahedron shape called, “Hex Shot,” for short.
Hex Shot has edges and fl at surfaces. Upon striking tissue, edges cut and tear more than spherical shot, and fl at surface impart the full energy to the tissue. This means Hex Shot maximizes two types of killing power—tissue damage to cause hemorrhaging, and hydrostatic shock to devastate the nervous system.
One of the knocks on spherical steel is that it cuts through ducks without imparting “knock down” energy, and that’s why you occasionally see them fl y off seemingly unaffected only to “fold up” hundreds of yards away.
Another advantage of Hex Shot is that more of it can stack in the same amount of space than spherical shot. Winchester uses a proprietary loading system to literally stack 13/8 ounces of steel Hex Shot into a traditional 11/4-ounce shot cup. A No. 2 Hex pellet weighs the same as a No. 2 spherical steel pellet, so 16 more Hex Shot pellets fit in a 3-inch shell.
A standard 3-inch steel load has 156 No. 2 pellets while a 3-inch Blind Side contains 172 pellets, making for more than a 10 percent pellet count increase.
Now, a heavier payload in a smaller space could be a recipe for increased recoil, especially considering it’s driven to 1,400 fps at the muzzle by an increased powder charge. However, because there’s more “left over” space than in a standard 13/8-ounce load, Winchester was able to develop a new Drylok hinged powder cup based on the recoil-reducing design of their AA target loads.
In shooting Blind Side through Winchester Super X3, Browning Maxus, Franchi M12 and Beretta Explor 400 shotguns, I’ve personally found the recoil to be very tolerable.
In a shotshell firing non-spherical pellets, it’s the wad that makes or breaks the pattern. For Blind Side, Winchester created the Diamond Cut wad, featuring three petals at the back of the wad that open rearward as it leaves the barrel.
The shot cup portion of the Diamond Cut wad has no slits. Therefore, it stays closed, almost like a capsule, keeping the Hex Shot more tightly together farther down range. In testing, the dispersion of Blind Side’s pattern is similar to high-quality loads of traditional spherical steel shot, which is known for tight patterning.
The ammunition world is all about using high-speed videography to analyze performance these days . When viewed on tape, the deployment of the Diamond Cut wad is amazing to watch. The petals flap as the wad moves away from the muzzle, stabilizing the whole package and preventing yaw of the wad, which can erratically spread the shot as it leaves the shot cup. This can create inconsistent patterns and lengthen shot strings.
Testing has also shown that Blind Side shotshells respond well to traditional choking practices. This means you can count on a faster-dispersing pattern from an improved cylinder choke for ducks over decoys in the timber, a middle-of-the road dispersement from a modified choke for field or marsh shooting, and tighter long-range patterns from a full choke for pass-shooting scenarios.
The problem of just nine Blind Side shells to shoot on a morning’s hunt are long gone. Production is in full-swing and shotshells are shipping.
This fall you’ll find Winchester Blind Side in 12 gauge, 3-inch and 31/2-inch varieties, loaded with No. 2 and BB shot sizes. The 3-inch loads contain 13/8 ounces of Hex Shot. The 31/2-inchers carry 15/8 ounces apiece.