Other than steel, most non-toxic shot options actually outperform lead. Non-toxic shot shells are expensive. There is no way around it. But, in a given season, how much do you actually shoot? If you hike 5 miles to get a few shots on grouse or chukars, or hunt 5 days to get a shot at a spring gobbler, don’t you want the heaviest, hardest hitting shot money can buy?
Here are a few green hunting buying options for non-toxic shot:
1. Steel: While much more expensive than lead, it is the least expensive non-toxic shot. It is readily available and widely used as it is the standard for waterfowl hunting where lead is illegal. A discussion of brands is irrelevant. Manufacturers may mess with the wad and the shot size mix, but it is still just steel. Steel flies fast at first because of its light weight but slows down fast for the same reason. It does not hit hard and usually does not pattern well. There is no way around the fact that more birds will be wounded and lost with steel compared to lead. That being said, steel has easily killed more birds than all of the other non-toxic shot options combined.
2. HEVI-Shot: HEVI-Shot is a mix of nickel, tungsten and iron and is 10% denser than lead. This stuff is awesome. It is available for pretty much everything from dove loads to coyote loads. I have taken more than 25 turkeys with HEVI-Shot over the years, some at distances I later stepped off and decided were too far to be shooting. It hits noticeably harder than lead.
3. Winchester Xtended Range Hi-Density: This is Winchester’s version of HEVI-Shot. It is a non-lead metal mix that has a decent following among waterfowl and turkey hunters.
Federal law mandates non-toxic shot for waterfowl. For everything else, generally lead is allowed. Lead shot is cheap, hits hard and patterns well. The effect on the environment outside of wetlands is probably negligible in most cases, especially compared to other, man-made causes. However, it wasn’t until I had an abdominal CT scan for an unrelated health issue that I realized just how much shot I swallow in a meal of wild, shotgun killed chukars. There were pellets all over.
(On a side note, the doctor and radiologist were not super impressed with me either.) Like anything with the “green” label, you will pay more. But, after a little research into the cumulative effects of ingesting lead, you may want to try something else. Plus, you can get better, harder hitting shells going green than with toxic lead.