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Steel shot will be the law of the land in 1991.

Steel Shot Will Be The Law Of The Land In 1991

It's been more than three decades since steel-loaded shotshells were introduced to the sport shooting public. This introduction immediately stirred the ire of waterfowl hunters, ballisticians and others concerned with the future of the shooting sports. This controversy continues, too, despite the fact today's modern steel-shot loadings are far superior to those experimental products introduced in bygone years.

Many veteran hunters still scorn steel shot for waterfowl hunting. But at this point, and for better or worse, wildfowlers throughout the nation will be required by law to use steel shot-loaded shotshells for all waterfowl hunting beginning in 1991. So despite the continued animosity regarding steel, we must grasp the reality that steel shot-loaded hulls will be mandated by law next year --and we must live with this decision.

I've personally been hunting waterfowl for more than four decades and as a staunch proponent of lead shot I strongly opposed steel loads in all their configurations when initially introduced -- and I still do. Yet I must reiterate, modern steel shot loadings are indeed far superior to those manufactured in past years.

The development of steel shot has been an interesting story. Olin's Winchester-Western Group actually began to evaluate the losses of waterfowl via lead poisoning as far back as 1948. At that time an investigation was implemented regarding the varied potential of lead alloys and other metals for use as possible non-toxic shot.

Remember, lead poisoning in waterfowl was known to exist as far back as the late 1800s. It's not the lead shot in the flesh of waterfowl which creates the problem. The problem arises when wildfowl ingest spent lead shot pellets while feeding on the bottom of lakes and marshes. Lead shot pellets which then find their way into their gizzards erode and dissolve through the grinding action of the gizzard.

Then, as lead moves through the intestines, some of the lead compounds damage the liver and kidneys, lead poisoning develops and ultimately the bird will succumb to the malady.

Back in the 50s, Winchester-Western Group ballistitions seriously studied various non-toxic loads on live waterfowl at its Nilo Farms in Alton, Illinois, in cooperation with the Mississippi Flyway Council. Through the late 60s and early 70s, non-toxic shot and non-toxic shotshell load development studies performed there were accelerated by Olin.

At the same time, Olin contributed substantially in various ways to similar studies conducted at Patuxent, Maryland, at its wildlife research center. It was observed that the only practical alternative to lead was steel, despite countless in-depth studies that continued into the 70s.

Why all the fervor over steel shot? Well, remember, the essential limitation of non-toxic steel shot loads lies in the density of the steel itself. In comparison to lead, which weighs about 705 pounds per cubic foot, steel weighs only about 387 pounds per cubic foot.

This means that for pellets of equivalent size, a steel pellet is only about 55 percent as heavy as a comparative lead pellet. This equates to the fact steel pellets dissipate energy and velocity much faster than lead. For the hunter this means that steel-loaded hulls will not tumble waterfowl at maximum scattergun yardages when compared to lead.

In other words, to effectively kill waterfowl with steel the hunter must wait until birds are well within range -- 50 yards and under -- a happenstance which has aggravated waterfowl hunters who habitually "sky bust." They are the ones who shoot at extremely high-flying fowl. The years when the ammo combines touted the magnum shells that could tumble a bird from the sky at incredible distances have passed. Today this is all destined to change with steel shot.

The waterfowl hunter using steel loadings as manufactured today will most assuredly bag waterfowl with such loads. BUT, the hunter must remember NOT to shoot at high-flying fowl. The hunter must wait for birds to come within the 50 yard mark to effectively dispatch them. When we think about this, perhaps if more hunters forgot the "sky busting" syndrome and concentrated on shorter range shooting, there would surely be fewer crippled fowl regardless of the shot used.

Through the years Olin and the other ammo manufacturers looked at a number of approaches in the development of a substitute for lead. They tried coating lead shot with other metals and alloys, with non-metallic materials and on and on with no tangible level of success.

The ammo combine has worked with doctors at Washington University Medical School, Barnes Hospital and the St. Louis Public Health Department to more clearly understand exactly what happens after lead enters the wildfowl's bloodstream -- what organs are affected, how they are affected, what is the best measure of the extent of lead poisoning, etc.

They have further worked on the study with Ralston-Purina in conducting tests and gathering physiological data and cooperated with biologists and other personnel at the Illinois Natural History Survey Group.

These on-going studies have revealed, for example, that fine granular lead is much less toxic to waterfowl than normal shot pellets (granular lead passes through the gizzard and on through the digestive tract much faster than shot pellets) -- but the studies continue.

In the meantime, lead-loaded shot-shells will be phased out for ALL waterfowl hunting next year throughout the nation and the only practical substitute for lead shot available today is steel and we must learn to live with it.

Just remember, while all currently loaded steel hulls will indeed bring down waterfowl most efficiently, explain to your customers to "hold their fire" until birds are well within shotgun range. No more "sky busting" please -- we've got an albatross around our neck but the problem can be alleviated provided the waterfowler remember to shoot only when birds are within scattergun "steel shot" range.
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Title Annotation:steel loaded shotshells
Author:Brant, Howard
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1990
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