More information on shot types

What types of non-toxic shot are available?

The shot listed below must reflect the percentage composition for each metal as described in Schedule 7 of the Wildlife Game Regulations 2012. These are the current shot available regarded as non-toxic:

  • Bismuth-tin
  • Iron (steel)
  • Iron-tungsten
  • Iron-tungsten-nickel
  • Tungsten-bronze
  • Tungsten-iron-copper-nickel
  • Tungsten-matrix
  • Tungsten-polymer
  • Tungsten-tin-iron
  • Tungsten-tin-bismuth
  • Tungsten-tin-iron-nickel
  • Tungsten-iron-polymer

All of these alternatives are safe to use and are non-toxic to wildlife. They do, however, vary in price and availability. Hunters should contact their local ammunition retailer to discuss their non-toxic shot options.

The approved non-toxic shot list has been updated to reflect advances in technology. These shot types have been extensively tested and found to be non-toxic to waterfowl and other wildlife. Allowing these additional shot types opens the market and provides greater choice to duck hunters given the types of hunting they do and their shooting skills.

Consult your gun dealer or ammunition supplier about availability.

Which performs better on ducks, steel or bismuth?

Bismuth will perform on ducks in the same manner as lead of corresponding pellet size and shot payload. Steel will put more pellets and therefore more kinetic energy on target if two pellet sizes larger than lead or bismuth is used.

Is steel as effective as lead at long distances?

Yes! If the hunter goes up two pellet sizes (i.e. lead No.6 to steel No.4 or lead No.4 to steel No.2) then the steel pellets actually carry more kinetic energy than the lead pellet out to sixty yards. Because of steel's tighter patterning, shorter shot string and less deformed pellets, they will hit the target with more pellet strikes and therefore deliver more energy. If used correctly within effective shotgunning range, steel will outperform lead (see table below).

Table 1: Comparison of Steel and lead energy


Energy ft/lbs per Pellet at Range (yds)
Pellet SizeNo per 32 gm30405060
No. 4 Steel2153.322.481.881.43
No. 6 Lead2572.762.111.661.3
No. 2 Steel1405.454.143.212.53
No. 4 Lead1545.043.913.112.49

Do steel shotshells recoil more than lead shotshells?

Recoil is a physical result of velocity and payload not the material being launched. A 36gm load of steel or lead launched at the same velocity will have exactly the same amount of recoil.

Does steel ricochet worse than lead? There is an increased danger of ricochets with steel shot over lead or other forms of non-toxic shot.

Steel shot has a lower deformation capacity and therefore the drop in velocity after impact on a hard target is much less than with the softer lead. The angle of ricochet is also much larger than with lead. For example, at a range of 20m a standard steel shot of pellet size No.4 fired at a concrete surface at an angle of 26 degrees was measured to ricochet at an angle of 6 degrees 20 minutes compared with lead's 0 degrees 5 minutes.

The problems of ricochet, according to a study carried out by the National Proof House at Gardone, Italy, are increased not only because steel is 5 to 8 times harder than lead but also because, after impact against hard surfaces, lead shot breaks up and can lose 10 to 90% of its original weight. Steel shot, although deformed, retains practically all its original weight.

With lead, ricochet after impact against a very hard surface at 20m directly in front of a shooter, would present a low risk to the shooter or to others close by: the pellets would be completely smashed. With steel under the same circumstances, the pellets, after only being moderately deformed, arrive back and past the shooter by up to 20m. In these circumstances the danger area for injury from ricochet from steel is greater than with lead.

It is important that hunters be aware of this facet of using steel shot. Be extremely careful when dispatching wounded ducks on the water.

A good and responsible hunter would always make sure that the area behind the duck was clear of other people.

Does steel shot rust?

Steel shot is not really steel, it is soft iron. It is however subject to oxidisation (rusting).

In the early days of steel shotshells, concern was expressed about whether the steel pellets would rust together once wet. Fears were held that a solid mass of iron hitting the barrel forcing cone or choke would damage the shotgun. Ammunition manufacturers recognised this problem and have been developing techniques to avoid rusting.

The steel shotshells of today are far more waterproof than their previous lead counterparts.

The waterproofing of today's modern steel shotshells begins with the primer pocket. It is usually coated with a waterproof sealant when the primer is seated. The iron shot may be either coated in a zinc or galvanised plating or coated in a graphite based powder.

Should water get past the primer sealant, then the new generation of plastic wads used in today's steel shotshells are so efficient at sealing against the inner wall of the cartridge hull that it is virtually impossible for moisture to get past them and come in contact with the shot.

Extremely efficient crimps are used to seal the top of the cartridge and many manufacturers use a heat seal or waterproof lacquer to complete the job.

Manufacturers of today's steel shotshells are ensuring that they are more waterproof than their comparable lead counterparts. Some of course have done this better than others.

Any shotshells, be they lead, steel or other non-toxic shot, should not be used if they have been immersed in water for any amount of time. The danger is not that the pellets may rust together but that the powder may have got wet and the burn rate could be affected.

This could cause dangerous pressures or not enough pressure to clear the wad from the barrel resulting in a dangerous blockage.

There is one rule with the hunting and shooting that was born the day firearms were invented and is still applicable today, "Keep your powder dry".

Read the Shotgunning Education Handbook for more details.