When I started duck hunting in the mid-1990s, non-toxic shot was still in its infancy, steel shot’s performance was still less than exemplary, and a new-fangled load called Bismuth was just introduced. I remember a friend asking me what I thought of Bismuth as we sat shivering in the duck blind, and I had no idea what he was talking about.
Non-toxic shot has come a long way since then. Steel shot performance has greatly improved, while tungsten-based loads have raised the bar in terms of long-range lethality. As for Bismuth, its popularity is back in full force with no less than three options this year. To help you know what to watch for on retailer’s shelves, here’s a look at 2018’s latest and greatest waterfowl loads.
Federal Black Cloud TSS
Tungsten Super Shot, or TSS, has been making the rounds in reloading circles for nearly a decade. At 18g/cc, TSS is more than twice as dense as steel and 56 percent denser than lead. This spring, Federal introduced a TSS turkey load. Now it’s waterfowlers’ turn. Black Cloud TSS is a duplex load containing 60 percent HEAVYWEIGHT TSS pellets and 40 percent FLITESTOPPER steel pellets. There are two initial 3-inch 12-gauge 1 1/4-ounce loads: BB steel/No. 7 TSS and No. 3 steel/No. 9 TSS. Though it will be exclusively available at Rogers Sporting Goods this fall, full dealer distribution will begin by 2019.
Hevi-X is Environ-Metal’s answer to the high price of tungsten-based shot. This medium density load is still denser than steel, yet it retains the hardness of Hevi-Shot, allowing the use of pellets two sizes smaller than steel. 12-gauge Hevi-X is available in 3 1/2-inch 13 3/8-ounce at 1,500 fps, 3-inch 1 1/4-ounce at 1, 450 fps, and 2 3/4-inch 1 1/16-ounce at 1,400 fps, in shot sizes 4, 2, or BB. The 3-inch 20-gauge load has 1-ounce of 4s or 2s at 1,400 fps.
Kent Bismuth Waterfowl
Kent Bismuth Waterfowl loads are denser, yet softer, than steel. With a density of 9.6g/cc, bismuth pellets are 24 percent denser than steel and retain more downrange energy. Being softer than steel means bismuth you can safely use it in older shotguns and through tighter chokes that don’t tolerate steel shot. 12-gauge loads include 3 1/2-inch 1 1/2-ounce at 1,450 fps, 3-inch 1 1/2-ounce or 1 3/8-ounce at 1,350 and 1,450 fps respectively, all with 4, 3, 2, or BB sized shot, and 2 3/4-inch with 1 1/4-ounce of number 4 at 1,350 fps. The lone 3-inch 20-gauge offering has a 1-ounce payload of 4, 3, or 2, at 1,400 fps.
Winchester Xtended Range Bismuth
New for 2018 from Winchester is Xtended Range Bismuth. This load pairs non-toxic bismuth shot, which is denser yet softer than steel, with Winchester’s proven Shot-Lok technology, which prevents the soft bismuth pellets from fracturing. The result is tighter patterns and improved down-range penetration than previous bismuth loads of the 1990s. There is currently one initial 3-inch 12-gauge offering with 1 5/8-ounce of number 5 shot at 1,200 fps. It’s a payload that makes Xtended Range Bismuth a good all-around choice for hunting both waterfowl and turkeys in lead-free zones.
Browning ammunition has been steadily gaining popularity among hunters and target shooters alike. Browning’s BXD Waterfowl Extra Distance employs a long range wad to deliver round, plated steel shot downrange at high velocities. The 3.5-inch 12-gauge load has 1 1/2-ounce of BB or 2 shot at 1,500 fps, while the 3-inch 12-gauge load has 1 1/4-ounce of BB, 2, 4, or (new for 2018) 3 shot at 1,450 fps. Number 3s have also been added this year in 20-gauge, where they join the previously single sub-gauge offering with 1-ounce of number 2 at 1,300 fps.
Herter’s Select Steel
Herter’s lead game and target loads, available exclusively at Cabela’s, have gained a reputation for being both economical and effective. Continuing that theme, Herter’s recently introduced a line of affordable steel waterfowl loads. Loaded in Italy to Herter’s demanding standards, Select Steel is currently offered in a pair of high-velocity 12-gauge loads. The 3 1/2-inch load has 1 1/2-ounce of number 2 or BB shot, while the 3-inch load has 1 1/8-ounce of 3, 1, or BB shot. Both loads boast a blistering 1,550 fps velocity to help you intercept even the speediest of waterfowl.
Rio has been loading non-toxic Bismuth shot for a few years, but the packaging has been updated and the selection has steadily expanded to cover five major gauges. 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch offerings include 1 1/8-ounce and 1 1/4-ounce payloads, both at 1,350 fps, while 3-inch options have 1 5/8-ounce or 1 1/4-ounce payloads at 1,350 and 1,400 fps respectively, all in shot sizes 3, 4, 5, or 6. Rio also provides waterfowl and upland hunters alike with 16-gauge, 20-gauge, 28-gauge, and .410-bore loads, making this quite possibly the most extensive bismuth lineup out there.
This start-up company out of Tennessee only loads non-toxic ITX shot in its waterfowl shotshells. There are two variants: ITX-10 is denser than bismuth, and ITX-13, which is denser than lead. Waterfowlers will be most interested in a pair of 3-inch 12-gauge ITX-13 loads, one with 1 1/4-ounce of number 4 shot at 1,350 fps, and another with 1 3/8-ounce of number 2 shot at 1,300 fps. There is also a new 3-inch 12-gauge load this year with 1 1/4-ounce of number 6 ITX-10 shot at 1,350 fps. Various 10-, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge non-toxic waterfowl loads are also in the works.