A few years ago, waterfowlers were in an age of steel the only material allowed for shot while hunting ducks and geese.
This year, however, technological advances approved by Washington and Idaho will give hunters two new shot choices that come closer to approximating the punch of lead.
The choices this year include steel shot, as well as bismuth-tin and tungsten-iron.
Lead pellets were outlawed nationwide for hunting waterfowl nearly a decade ago because heavy concentrations of spent shot could poison birds that picked them up while feeding.
Soft iron pellets, known as steel shot, replaced lead for several years and continue to be the most common form of non-toxic shot on the market.
However, many hunters object to steel shot because it is not compatible with some older-model guns. Some hunters blame steel shot for a higher percentage of crippling losses because the shot is lighter and loses its bird-killing energy at a shorter range than lead.
Pellets made of bismuth and tin were approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a few years ago, and most states added their approval.
Now, the federal agency has approved tungsten-iron shot on a trial basis for this season. As a result, the Idaho and Washington wildlife commissions are allowing tungsteniron non-toxic shot, as long as the size does not exceed 0.20 (size T).
Bismuth-tin and tungsten-iron shells presently cost more than steel shot, but early experiences indicate that both shot types are effective.
Bismuth is soft enough to shoot in guns previously used only with lead pellets. Tungsten-iron pellets are comparable in hardness to steel shot and maintain their spherical integrity as well as steel, but they have nearly the mass as lead pellets and they retain similar down-range energy.