The Spokesman-Review

Bismuth-Tin Shot Better Than Steel

When steel shot shells became mandatory for waterfowl four years ago, I began using one shot size larger. The next year I bumped up two sizes (sometimes three). I became more conservative about the shots I took, and still didn’t see the same killing power as with lead.

Steel shot is less effective than lead for a couple of reasons.

Because it is so much lighter, steel doesn’t have the same punch, most noticeably at ranges past 25 yards. But using larger shot to increase weight means fewer pellets per load, reducing the chances of hitting a bird.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given tentative approval to the use of bismuth-tin shot produced by Bismuth Cartridge Co. of Dallas. I’m looking forward to trying shells the company says have 90 percent of the impact of lead, compared with about 60-69 percent for steel.

By the second year of steel I had adjusted to the new realities and knocked down as many birds as in the lead days. But only about half as many were dead when they fell; twice as many hit the water as cripples, requiring a lot more ground-swatting and chasing. I’ve always argued that if you kept track you would find that it doesn’t take one extra shell to kill a crippled duck, but two, on average.

And we lost some ducks that swam off before we could reach them, birds I think we would have retrieved in the lead-shot days.

As for geese, I saw Canadas just shrug off hits by steel at 50 yards, shots that would have dropped them stone dead three years before.

A federal study done in the 1980s found that hunters using steel expended 50 percent more shells to kill the same number of birds as with lead. Skutch Mason, vice president of sales for Bismuth Cartridge, figures duck hunting is expensive enough, and shells such a small part, that hunters will pay more for bismuth than for premium steel shells.

He says a 10-round box of shells, a mixture of soft bismuth and harder tin, will sell for about $11 for 2-3/4-inch to $15 for 3-inch magnums. A box of best-quality 3-inch magnum steel is about $18 for 25 shells.

“We think duck hunters will buy them if it will improve their hunt,” Mason says. “The average duck hunter gets out about five times a year. He spends about $900 each season (on everything from lodging to decoys), and about $30 of that is ammunition. So the difference in the cost of the shells he’d use is about the equivalent of a half-tank of gasoline.

“And when you figure you’ll shoot fewer shells to bag the same number of birds, the difference starts to disappear rapidly.”

Mason says a drawback of bismuth shot will be availability. The company has a good network of jobbers who will offer the shells, but small sports shops might hesitate to carry a pricey product.

The fish and wildlife service gave bismuth shot temporary approval until Bismuth Cartridge completes a 14-week toxicity study for chronic dosage. But the service says there is no evidence that bismuth, which has been used in Great Britain for several years, is harmful to waterfowl unless it comes out of a gun barrel.

The Bismuth Cartridge Co. can be reached at (214) 521-5880.

xxxx Help a duck What can you do to help ducks and wetlands conservation? Plenty. Join a waterfowl conservation group. If you join a waterfowl group, be active. Help at banquets and, if possible, with habitat projects. Learn the importance of wetlands, including how they help filter and cleanse the water we drink. If you hunt, hunt ethically. Remember: The image you project afield to non-hunters is long-remembered. Keep in mind as well that slob hunters represent as much a threat to hunting as do anti-hunters. Remember also that hunting ethically means more than obeying the rules. Practice your shooting. Use a trained retriever to recover downed birds. Shoot drakes only. Take less than your limit. Eat what you shoot. Buy a state or federal duck stamp. Money raised by their sale supports wetland habitat acquisition throughout the U.S. Consider carefully the politics of conservation. Volunteer to work with a state hunter education program. If you hunt, take your children with you. The future of hunting and of conservation depend on it. And when teaching your kids about waterfowl hunting, teach them about wetlands and about their importance not only to wildlife, but to man.

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