The Quail Hunterby Bill Hanus
In the Beginning...
When nontoxic shot became the law of the land a decade ago, a whole new learning curve was created for waterfowl hunters. Now, with more and more public and private upland bird hunting land coming under nontoxic shot requirements - not to mention our own personal environmental concerns - we all need to get ahead of the curve on our nontoxic shot options.
First Came Steel, Then Steel-like Shot
Steel and tungsten shot pellets are both light in weight and much harder than lead. That means they have less range and deliver less energy to the target. Winchester published a flyer some years ago urging hunters to perfect their duck calling techniques because steel shot was not effective at ranges over 35 yards. Since steel shot is not a reliable killer at the longer distances at which ducks and geese are customarily taken, those hunters really need all the help they can get - and as sales of new 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge and 10-gauge shotguns can attest - they are getting it. These newer and heavier guns increase the hull capacity for steel and steel-like pellets and are built to handle the heavier recoil it takes to push magnum loads at higher velocities.
Don't let ads showing holes in a sheet metal target mislead you. This is the very reason many duck and goose hunters put up their guns when there were no alternatives to steel shot. Steel doesn't transfer its energy well to game. It tends to go through the bird, leaving a wound like an ice pick. Most real sportsmen would rather put up their guns than have to wound four or five birds in order to harvest one. What you should be looking for is flattened shot, not holes in a steel plate. That's evidence of energy being transferred TO the target, not THROUGH it. Lead-like malleability is the virtue you seek. Hardness is a negative. Steel is 10 times harder than lead; and tungsten/iron is 25 times harder than lead (even harder than the steel in your shotgun barrel). And because wads must be much huskier to protect barrel walls from scoring by steel and/or tungsten/iron pellets, there's less room for shot in the hull. In a 3-inch 12-gauge magnum shell, lead shot has 45 percent more shot than tungsten/iron and 30 percent more than steel. Reduced payload is only one of several shortcomings.
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When the Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object
Sooner or later, depending on shooting volume, steel shot is going to pean out (as in ball pean hammer) and force the hardened or stainless steel choke tubes into the threads of the milder steel barrel. The rule of thumb being that when the choke tube begins to stick in the barrel when you remove it, it's time to throw it away! And, of course, steel-like shot is death to older, thin-walled, tightly choked shotguns. Even in guns made for steel shot use, it is a wise man who uses a choke tube lubricant to help protect against seizure. Colonial Arms Choke Tube Lube (which contains fine particles of metal, graphite and other additives known to enhance anti-seize performance) sells for about $6 at your dealer, and it may buy you some time.
Extended tubes, which move the choke constriction outside the barrel properly, are the only way to avoid the inevitable.
Enter...the Lead-like Nontoxic Shot Substitutes
IMPACT - Tungsten Matrix is a nontoxic pellet that performs like lead - and some say - even better than lead. It is a polymer/tungsten mixture that actually "flexes" as it goes through the choke area, so you can use any choke in any modern shotgun, just as you would with lead. The pellets deform when they hit tissue. The pellet manufacturing process not only ensures pellets of equal size and weight, but also ensures uniform weight distribution throughout each pellet. The result is that it is usual to get 90 percent of the pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. "Unsurpassed resilience and malleability" are claimed by the manufacturer, Kent Cartridge Company. In addition to their waterfowl hunting line, Kent's IMPACT Pheasant/Game loads will be of special interest to upland hunters going into a nontoxic ammunition environment. Kent has a surprisingly large offering of 16 gauge loads, as well as 12s and 20s.
BISMUTH - Given the limitations of steel-like shot, upland bird hunters and especially those addicted to smaller gauges welcomed Bismuth Cartridge Company's NO-TOX ammunition, which gives lead-like shot performance that: 1) exceeds steel shot performance; 2) can be used with any chokes in any modern shotgun; and 3) is available in all gauges including 28 and .410. Like lead shot, bismuth puts more pellets and transfers more energy to the target than steel shot. And Bismuth's NO-TOX ECO AMMO combines the environmental virtues of lacquered paper hulls, fiber wads and a brass-plated steel head with a soft, lead-like payload that delivers more energy to the target at longer ranges. Bismuth NO-TOX is offered in more than 50 loads. It is the closest you can get to lead-like performance.
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It's good to see responsible manufacturers reintroducing cardboard hulls and fiber wads to their sporting shell lines. It makes you feel like you're not alone in your concern for the environment when you’re out there picking up spent hulls - your own and those left by others. Heck, it's good exercise and good stewardship to boot.