The No Tox Shotshell Problem

Steel is, mildly put, a disaster. It has been from it inception. Even for ducks, we know conclusively that #4 lead shot outperforms #6 shot at all ranges 35 yards and beyond, regardless of gauge. See for an admittedly windy description. It was 2,400 mallards that donated their lives during the best, most conclusive study of its kind at Nilo Farms. Still, we seem to wonder what it takes to properly whack a duck. It is well-established, #4 shot at 1330 fps to past 45 yards. This translates into over 700 fps terminal velocity and over two inches of penetration. That whacks a big duck and all similar birds, like pheasant. It is that simple, and it looks like this.

What apparently isn't quite so simple is how horribly steel is by comparison. For years, we have heard “just go up two shot sizes and let it go.” Sorry, folks, that doesn't cut it. Not even close. Not even if we bump up the velocity and recoil to 1450 fps three foot instrumental velocity. Steel remains horse manure, compared to lead. The over two inches of penetration we had with lead? Gone bye-bye at 37 yards, where our faster yet still markedly less lethal steel load fails to hit two inches of penetration. Lead number 4 shot still has two inches of penetration at 50 yards. Fast steel looks, sadly, like this:

Penetration is what makes shot work, not energy numbers nor velocity numbers. Tissue disruption drops birds and that means penetration. If we don't have enough penetration to reach and destroy vitals, the result is wounding losses. Penetration is the key beyond all other factors. Though we might like to count on the lucky pellet to find the right spot, we throw patterns at our targets for the opposite reason-- we don't count on lucky pellets, we want consistent patterns with 3-4 hits to the vitals for confident, complete game recovery. Number four lead is superior to faster #2 steel at all ranges. Faster #2 steel does not equal the penetration of slower #4 lead at the muzzle. After that, it just gets worse. Number four lead is better at 40 yards than faster #2 steel is at 30 yards. It isn't your imagination; it isn't anyone's imagination. While adding velocity to steel makes it less horrible, it is still a brilliant failboat compared to smaller and slower, yet far more lethal lead.

Yes, there are solutions, and good ones. Kent Tungsten Matrix loads have done the job for several years by now. The problem? Though the shells themselves are not crippling, the cost sure is. Right now, street prices are running at $4.50 to $5.20 per shell. Yes, that's per shell. That'll empty your wallet faster than a Park Avenue hooker. No, I don't even think that Charlie Sheen would pop five bucks a quack these days . . . but, I've been wrong before.

What about Hevi-Shot? The problem is, the fine print. Hevi-Shot isn't that heavy these days, a watered down version of what once was heavier than lead. Neither Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles or Hevi-Shot Duck are as dense as lead, much less heavier. Now what? Fiocchi "Tundra" shot? It has been in the works for some time, now just starting to appear, though I've not seen any yet. It is billed as "heavier than Bismuth" and safe for older barrels, running around $3 a shell.

Winchester Supreme® Elite Xtended Range™ Hi-Density IS heavier than lead and has been an outstanding performer. It runs $3 to $3.50 or so a shell. Not considered safe for older fixed choke barrels, it is still touted as softer than steel and easier on forcing cones and chokes. I'm inclined to say that yes, it is performance worth the price and well worth an extra dollar a shell over the gimmicky Federal dark, dingy "Black Cloud.". Not to be outdone in the quackery department, yes count Winchester in. New for 2011 is Winchester "Blind Side" with hex shot, the shot that hits waterfowl like tumbling bricks. I'll bet you can hardly wait.

Hi, I'm Charlie Sheen, one of the world's highest paid television actors. I don't know what the deal is with crazy shotshell manufacturers these days. Black Cloud, Classic Doubles, Blind Side, Super Heavy Shots, and so on ... I'm getting the impression that these guys are all ripping me off. Yes, they take what happens to me almost every weekend and try to make some money off of it. Coincidence? If you want to go sell duck shells, stay the heck out of my hotel rooms, please. Be original, try to come up with your own names for your stuff. Anyway, I don't like getting ripped off myself. I want all my buddies to know that, hey, if you want to hang with bimbos, just don't wear the good stuff. It's a fake Rolex for me from now on. As for the rest of it, take it from me, the man who knows. You don't always get what you pay for.

There is a new shot approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and recently receiving its patent. It is called "Nice Shot," available right now in a limited number of loadings and also available as loose shot for the handloader. Its is $2.50 to $3.00 a shell, very similar to lead, and apparently can be handloaded with standard lead shot components, albeit with a few considerations. Get more info at .

Most folks that read my article expect some candid opinions, so I'll try not to let you down. My beloved Kent Tungsten-Matrix has simply priced itself well out of the market, for reasons I'm unaware of. Of the available solutions to duck-crippling pollution, Winchester Supreme® Elite Xtended Range™ Hi-Density is worth the price, far superior to steel, the wing-nut marketing hyperbole-filled Black Cloud, the not so Hevi Hevi-Shot, and so forth. Those little marketing gems are designed to drop more hunters in their tracks than put ducks in the drink, the way it looks to me. I don't know a thing about the Winchester "Blind Side," but it sure sounds like more hypersonically dark, cloudy, depressing, unheavy fishing lure type shells. Just like fishing lures hope more customers than fish actually bite, waterfowl loads suddenly seem to be in hot pursuit.

Hope springs eternal, though, so perhaps Nice Shot or the long awaited Tundra shot will finally fill the bill, or at least drop things with bills other than just your wallet . . . and without the benefit of scratching up forcing cones or blowing out choke tubes. I'll try to pattern and otherwise test both Nice Shot and Fiocchi Tundra shot in the near future.

Density Notes:

Bismuth: 9.6 g/cc

Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles: 9.7 g/cc

Nice Shot: 10.2 - 10.3 g/ cc

Kent TM: 10.8 g/cc


Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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