How Nice is “Nice Shot,” The Modern Lead Replacement?

The problems of steel shot are two-fold: steel (iron) is dramatically ballistically inferior to lead due to its lack of density. Steel is also horribly destructive to forcing cones and choke tubes in general and prohibited by the respective manufacturers of several vintage guns for that reason. Browning, just one example, does not allow the use of steel shot in older Belgian barrels, as in the A-5 and B-25 Superposed. Steel shot does scratch and gouge barrels, a process that is sped up by using letter sized shot and hyper-velocity loads. Unfortunately, using abnormally large shot diameters and abnormally high (and abnormally high recoil) velocities are the two ways that steel can be made to work sufficiently, if only at reduced range.

Steel wads have improved from what they once were, but there is no great assurance that a wad completely protects a bore. Steel also is prone to rusting and few things will destroy a firearm faster than attempting to shoot a solid mass of corroded, welded together iron down its barrel. Steel cannot be handloaded with lead components, either. The destructiveness of no-tox shot has been wide-spread enough for Lyman to devote a large section of its reloading manuals mentioning the problems, including the use of Mylar wraps and so forth.

Patterns degrade quickly at high velocity. With lead loads, due to shot deformation at initial set-back. With high density and steel loads, it is due to the billiard ball effect-- and choke tube trying to compress what cannot be significantly compressed in the first place. It is a settled matter that a perfect sphere both flies and patterns better than odd, smashed, belted and random shapes. All of these years we have sought “hard” high antimony lead shot, perfectly round for the best performance. Now, defectively shaped pellets are being touted as an advantage when all physics allows them to be is a negative. Another bogus technique is the mixing of shot sizes and shapes. It cannot work well and it doesn't. Different shot sizes and shot sizes of different diameters cannot fly the same and they don't. It is always the leading edge of the pattern that does the work, not pellets that arrive chaotically later. Misrepresentation and marketing have little shame.

There have been advances in shot materials that are not just equal to lead, but superior. Federal Heavyweight loads are as good as an example as any. Safe for steel-rated barrels, Federal Heavyweight needs no great velocity to work its magic. It actually needs far less than lead, for it is far denser. Still, Federal Heavyweight is not recommended for vintage guns; the shot is not available to the handloader. Its cost, though not an issue for the one shot for a turkey or even pheasants where the limit is two birds a day, becomes more of an issue as shooting volume increases.

Dan Tercho founded Nice Shot after successfully destroying one of his fine doubles with steel. Dan applied for and was granted a patent for Nice Shot, a sintered blend of tungsten powder and other materials. The best performing safe for lead only barrels shells to date have been Kent Tungsten-Matrix loads. The Kent loads far outperform bismuth, Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles, and really are the one true alternative to lead in my experience. The problem is cost. Kent TM is also not available to the handloader. Due in part to the cost of tungsten, there are less available Kent TM loads all the time and those that are available have become cripplingly expensive. Nice Shot is available as factory loaded ammunition for those who don't handload and as shot only for those who do. Perhaps best of all, Nice Shot can be loaded using traditional lead components-- no special wads or propellants required.

Shot density is a direct barometer of a pellet's lethality. Nice Shot is denser than bismuth and Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles, but not quite as dense as the 10.8 g/cc of Kent Tungsten-Matrix. Nice Shot comes in right at 10.2 – 10.3 g/cc. The winter weather in Illinois has been what we like to call variable, to say the least, but despite this I made it a point to pattern Nice Shot 12 gauge, 1-1/8 oz., #5 shot, 1250 fps loads.

It was 17 degrees F. with a breezy, 17 – 22 mph angling crosswind. The dog got the opportunity to nap in the SUV while I set up at 40 yards, verified by Leupold laser rangefinder. I used my Benelli Vinci with a George Trulock Precision Hunter extended choke tube with an exit diameter of .695 in. This equates to a constriction of right at twenty-seven thousandths of an inch in my Vinci.

Typically, I'd shoot off of back and cradle, not offhand, but my disinclination to shovel snow combined with my shivering makes this a story for another day. The Vinci shoots to point of aim, if a couple of inches high (preferable for flushing birds) and the patterns were high and blown to the right due to the wind. In this case, pattern dispersion is what was being observed, not POI, and Nice Shot proved to pattern exceeding well, virtually indistinguishable from prior Kent TM loads. The recoil was virtually non-existent, as you might imagine from a 1-1/8 oz. 1250 fps load-- that's my general target load parameter.

Nice Shot is not perfectly spherical; it is better characterized as a cylindrical pellet as you would expect from a composite, compression formed or injection olded product. They appear very uniform in size and shape. No plastic (polymer) is used as binder in this composite material: tin serves that purpose in Nice Shot.

Very few things are truly exact in shotguns or shotguns. We like to think that they are, sometimes forgetting the word “approximate.” Twelve gauge is not a bore diameter, chamber pressures may vary by as much as thirty percent from published data in our shotguns, under our ambient conditions, and so forth. We like to conveniently think that things are exact, when nothing could be further from the truth. The same is true with “choke.” Just because a choke tube or barrel is marked “modified” does not mean it will ever or has ever thrown a modified pattern. So, regardless, we still have to pattern loads in our shotguns if we want an idea of what is going on.

With all of these qualified observations, I'll make a few generalizations based on what I've seen so far. Nice Shot patterns very similarly to Kent Tungsten-Matrix. It appears to pattern as well as the better lead loads, if ever so slightly tighter for a given constriction.

Also, as an approximation and a generalization, ballistically I consider it to be within half of a shot size of slightly denser lead. The patterned load of number 5 shot, again as a broad generalization, is the approximate equivalent of #5-1/2 lead. For decoying ducks, even large ducks, and pheasants to forty yards #5 Nice Shot should do, well, “nicely.” For longer ranges, you might consider #4 Nice Shot which would be in the ballistic realm of #4-1/2 lead assuming similar muzzle velocities.

I'm old enough, or ancient enough if you prefer, to know how good lead works on ducks, geese, and so forth. Even the relatively longer Rosybill Pochard pass-shooting in Argentina to the tune of one hundred fifty ducks a day was all done with 1-1/8 oz. of #5 lead, the Rosybill roughly Mallard-sized. In Illinois, 1-1/4 oz. of #5 lead worked great for ducks, #2 lead superb for geese. The handloader can now easily replicate those loads for use in most any shotgun.

Another issue is with 16 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns. When you use the fluffy, less dense shot materials there isn't room in the hull for traditional lead payloads. Small wonder it is tough to properly populate a pattern when the pellet count just isn't there. Now, 1-1/8 or 1-1/4 oz. out of your Sweet Sixteen or your 20 gauge isn't much of an issue. Those who want to get their vintage sub-gauges back into the blind with no worries can now do it with common propellants and wads. Nice Shot runs in the area of $25 a pound. If you were loading 1 oz. loads, for example, that's about $1.60 for your payload per shell. That holds a lot of appeal for those that have been paying $4 a shell for Kent TM loads.

Costs of raw materials vary, the price of tungsten has spiked all over the place, so I'll not hazard a guess on what is going to cost what in the future. After talking with Dan Tercho, though, I can tell you that he is as sensitive to ammunition costs as anyone else, so his margins are accordingly slim. Dan had enough of duck-crippling, gun-crippling, and wallet crippling loads which is why he went through the process of bringing Nice Shot to the market in the first place.

The costs of bringing a new product to market can be overwhelming, if not absurd. Even smaller companies drop $150,000 or so on the NRA rag ads, whether people even read them or not. For shelf space in big box stores, there is a lot of extremely well-funded competition. Dan Tercho is a brave man.

What Dan has, though, is an industry leading product that is currently the best bang for the dollar in the no-tox shot market. Dan deserves everyone's support, for here is an honestly made and honestly presented product that does exactly what it is supposed to do without any fanciful hyperbole. It is also made in the USA, unlike the Chinese steel that many people have been throwing.

I'm looking forward to doing more patterning, particularly with Nice Shot 16 gauge loads and also working up some handloads for bulk Nice Shot in the near future. For now, all I have to say is congratulations to Nice Shot. It's the best thing to happen for the performance-minded wingshooter in many years, without the hyperbole and without the five dollar per shell price tag . . . but with lead-like performance.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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