By Greg Rodriguez
Manufacturers have been developing steel-shot alternatives for almost as long as we’ve been stuck with steel. Bismuth was one of the first alternatives, and it’s still one of the best, but it cost more than many hunters were willing or able to pay.
Other shotshells approved for use by waterfowlers contained shot of tungsten/iron and tungsten/polymer.
Hevi-Shot, introduced in 2000 and now offered by Remington, is an alloy of tungsten/nickel/iron. It’s 10 percent heavier than lead and 54 percent denser than steel. Hevi-Shot is neither uniform nor concentric, but it performs well in spite of its misshapen payload. Because Hevi-Shot pellets are denser than steel or lead, they hit much harder and are more lethal than those materials at comparative ranges.
Ultra Shok High Density from Federal is the latest alternative to steel shot. The new shell is loaded with Tungsten Iron Plus shot, which is also denser than steel. It’s 94 percent as dense as lead, but uniform and concentric. Federal says the greater density of the shot ensures deeper penetration, more energy and longer range than steel, and the uniformity of the shot delivers tight patterns.
The “Plus” designation denotes that these loads carry an increased volume of shot. This is accomplished by making the shot to the smallest size possible for each load. For example, if a given shot has an acceptable size range of .03 inches, Federal loads all of that shot to the smallest end of the range so more shot can be fit into each shell.
The new loads are available with BB or No. 2 Plus shot, in 3- or 3 1/2-inch shells. Claimed velocities are 1,450 fps for all four loads.
Drew Goodlin with a Ruger Red Label and one of the birds peppered with the new High Density load.
Last year, Federal asked me to help set up a Texas waterfowl hunt to test the High Density loads in advance of their introduction at the SHOT Show. I enlisted the help of Gordon Johnston of Larry Gore’s Eagle Lake and Katy Prairie Outfitters west of Houston, Texas.
Federal’s Jason Nash, Drew Goodlin and Melissa Layne joined me on the two-day hunt near the town of Eagle Lake. We devoted the first morning to duck hunting so we could test the No. 2 shot. We shot a mixed bag of teal, redheads and spoonbills at a variety of ranges, as well as one goose.
While it’s hard to match the performance of lead shot, the High Density loads came close. We did not lose a single duck. Postmortems indicated excellent penetration, even on long going-away shots. Everyone came away from day one pretty impressed with the new load’s performance.
Day two found us in a recently harvested rice field, hunting geese from hastily dug pit blinds. While the hunting was a bit slow, we took several geese with decisive results. One goose took a full charge of BB at 30 yards that sent it straight down, and another goose appeared to smack into a wall when I greeted it with a full charge in the chest. We did not see a whole lot of action, but once again, the geese we shot simply folded. We did not lose a single cripple that day, a rarity on goose hunts with steel shot.
Two days later, while hunting geese at the annual Ducks Unlimited Writer’s Camp, the new loads performed well again. Outdoor writer Bob Hood and I accounted for the majority of the 26 geese taken by our party, thanks to our fortuitous location in the spread. We only lost one cripple, and postmortems demonstrated excellent penetration. Bob commented that watching geese take a hit from the High Density loads was almost like returning to the days of lead shot.
I hunted with the new loads for the remainder of the 2004-2005 waterfowl season, and was pretty impressed with their performance. They penetrated deeper, patterned better and held their velocity longer than steel shot. I’ll continue to use them, and feel comfortable recommending them to others.
Reprinted from the September 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine