SPREADER LOADS, by Dave McCracken
The period between World Wars I and II saw a lot of innovations in shotguns and the ammo for them. John Olin pioneered progressive powders, hard shot and testing on both paper and real birds.
Since the preceding half century saw the birth and proliferation of the concept of choking a shotgun to extend its working range,and the philosophy of Better Too Much Than Too Little, resulting patterns often ran too tight than too open for the shot offered. Check any shotgun made before 1940 other than a skeet gun. It'll be choked Full or Fuller more than not.
So, the ammo companies developed "Brush", "Scatter" or "Spreader" loads. These used divers contrivances to open the pattern up. One had the shot column split with three thin discs to open things up, another had an X shaped divider to disrupt the shotswarm. A Euro variant used square shot.
The idea was to make a shotgun suitable for longer shots usable for shorter ones, often at smaller birds that needed no great amount of large shot to drop. Quail, ruffed grouse, and woodcock come to mind.
Of course, the introduction of first the "Dial A Chokes" like the Polychoke and then the ubiquitous tube choke have made any given shotgun so equipped more versatile. And ammo has helped this along. Trap style loads for longer shots, cheap soft lead loads for up close and sudden.
But, most shotguns made before 1980 are limited to a single choke, and even the guy with a hatful of tubes may want a wide pattern for a hyperfast rabbit at 10 yards underfoot.
Spreader loads can be gotten from companies like Polywad. Their spreaders have the added bennie of being in 2 1/2" cases and loaded to low pressures for older guns.
Gamebore sells similar ammo, and Ballistic Products sells components to roll one's own. Their X insert displaces less than 1/8 oz and works. It's inserted in the hull after the shot is dropped and before crimping.
Another gizmo is a plastic disc with a stem looking like a little like a golf tee or mushroom, installed like the above.
Writer Les Greevey found out that soda straws clipped to the length of the shot cup worked well also. I made some of these that added about 4" of usable spread at 32 yards. A hassle, but it works.
Using old style wads sans a shot cup will add a few inches to the spread also, but pattern density may suffer. There's no free lunch.
Part of the shotgun's mystique is its versatility. Spreader loads give us another option.
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.