By Kevin Tate
Since the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting was banned in the U.S. in 1991, ammunition companies have been looking for ways to improve the performance of non-toxic shot. Two of the latest entries in that race have made matters interesting again.
Lead shot was banned for use in waterfowl hunting because it was found the birds had been swallowing spent pellets they found on the bottom of the waters over which hunters frequently shot. These pellets were turning up in the birds’ gizzards and intestines, and scientists attributed a significant portion of the continent’s waterfowl population decline to lead poisoning. Studies conducted in years subsequent to the ban appear to bear this out and note a remarkable increase in the duck population as a result of lead’s elimination, meaning lead shot will likely continue to remain banned for use in waterfowl hunting here for as long as ducks may fly.
Federal’s Black Cloud loads and Winchester’s Blind Side ammunition, both of which now have a few seasons’ experience under their belts, offer duck and goose hunters options that answer many of the faults so commonly found with the practical use of shot made only of rounded steel.
Steel’s most obvious problem is, being lighter per volume than lead, shells require the use of a larger shot size to deliver the same energy downrange, an act that thins shot patterns significantly. More serious, though, is the question of stopping power.
Little empirical data exists or, likely, could exist to precisely define the problem, but waterfowl enthusiasts of every stripe and skill level offer anecdotes of ducks solidly hit with steel that fly far from the blind seemingly unhit, then fold and fall, an issue far less common when shooting lead. It can only be presumed, then, that many more birds fly away and die out of sight in the same manner.
Solid steel shot does not deform on impact as lead does, meaning it can pass through without transferring all of its energy into the target. Federal and Winchester each answer that issue with steel shot that is other than round.
In Federal’s case, their Black Cloud ammunition includes in each shell a number of shot shaped like a scale model of the planet Saturn. These special shot trail a column of normal shot of the same size in each shell. Winchester’s Blind Side ammunition takes a similar approach with the use of shot with flat sides.
Not cubes precisely, but shot with six flat sides and rounded corners. As a result, Winchester says they’re able to stack more shot into each shell with less wasted space. Both companies use an advanced wad or shot cup in these shells, an innovation designed to create tighter patterns downrange. The tighter patterns can help put more shot on the target and, in tests conducted with ballistic gelatin and in anecdotal results from the field, the non-round shot in each case do more damage and appear to reduce loss through wounding.
Down at distance
It also appears each shell maker’s shot cup, along with the mass-versus-surface area combination with the non-round shot, tends to make their less-aerodynamic shape a non-issue. Square-ish shot and Saturn-shaped shot would tend not to fly as predictably as smooth, round shot, but the shot’s mass and the distance at which it’s used don’t appear to allow those aerodynamics to come into play.
Both the Winchester and Federal loads are available from area retailers.