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Turning from tungsten: despite great performance, this load is going the way of the dodo By L.P. Brezny.

TUNGSTEN, THE EIGHTH wonder of the world for outstanding downrange shotgun ballistics, will soon drop off in popularity for waterfowlers. Several tungsten manufacturers will relegate the high-priced super shot of the century to loads for turkey hunters and coyote killers only, sold in specialized payload types.

I've long addressed the factory tungsten load options offered by the Big Three (Remington, Federal and Winchester). But both Remington and Federal have pulled in their horns for offering waterfowlers a large selection of wet bird tungsten-based shotshell products for 2011-'12. As for Winchester, at the time of this writing I have no solid information about the company discontinuing their tungsten waterfowl loads. However, I've seen their tungsten loads on the special clearance sale racks at some gun stores, and it's a sign of possible change in the wind.

PRICEY PAYLOAD

With the race on for better non-toxic ammunition, manufacturers developed powders and better iron shot that were softer than the early barrel-cutting products--with better ballistics. What was to gain by spending three times the money for a tungsten shotshell that didn't add much to general range extension or killing force?

The changes in tungsten marketing started coming several years ago, as the price of a box of 10 shotshells moved up at a steady pace over the period of its shelf life. Sure, tungsten can kill at any range and under almost any conditions, but in general the average waterfowl hunter can't hit much of anything beyond 40 yards. Sorry, folks, I don't mean to bust the performance bubble here, but that's a fact of life. Even that hot dog 60-yard goose killer in your gang won't need anything better then the newer types of iron shot, so again there goes the tungsten neighborhood down the drain of excessiveness.

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At the inception of tungsten-based shot, we got to see for a short time how the very best in pellet material could improve ballistics. There seemed to be no end to what tungsten could do. This new age of smoothbore ballistics did introduce us to a number of elements that made ammunition all the better. For example, at Poly wad Inc., my buddies in the Deep South paired ultra-modern propellants and buffers, and came up with shotshells that didn't need any wads at all, GreenLite loads (pictured on the next page) controlled payloads like a dream. These innovations were not possible even 10 years ago.

We also learned that pellet shape can make a difference in wound channel effect and the accuracy of a pattern. Pinnacle Ammunition's Aerosteel was up for review here at Wildfowl, but it was sadly ahead of its day; it went away because shooters didn't understand the concept of "funny" shot doing good things downrange. Now, Blind Side by Winchester seems to be succeeding with its own odd-shaped pellets. Such technology is possible due to the race for the best ballistic performance that took place as advanced tungsten shot loads took hold over a 10-year period.

For hunters devoted to tungsten-based non-toxic loads, there's no question that options will be heavily reduced. Lacking all or part of the Big Three brand names in this deal, the choices start to dwindle quickly. But if you still want to shoot tungsten-based ammunition, some solid options still remain.

TUNGSTEN LINE-UP

In the handloading department, three top companies offer raw shot, load data and related components to roll your own. This includes Ballistic Products Inc., who offers ITX blended shot, Hevi-Shot and basic tungsten iron shot. Bucks Run can apply several types of tungsten, including their own blend of soft shot, dubbed "E Shot." In my state of South Dakota, Precision Reloading offers tungsten as well as bismuth--another solid example of a heavy-metal product. While working with these outfits involves reloading, it keeps the tungsten shooter in the game.

Another direction tungsten shooters can keep moving in is loads like Federal Heavyweight Coyote BBs in tungsten shot. These loads are designed for coyote but are also listed on their ballistics website as heavy-hitting large goose loads. While muzzle velocities tend to fall off a bit in both turkey and coyote loads, tungsten's density enables it to maintain effective velocity well out to any range where you can get a payload of shot delivered on target.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

While Federal Heavyweight and Winchester turkey loads are still in production, you can still work with a brand name choice in varied tungsten ammunition right now, even in this slowing market place. Tungsten-Iron with a muzzle velocity of 1,250 fps--or the speed of many turkey loads--can still drive a No. 2 pellet more than 640 fps at 60 yards. That is about 5 feet /l bs of kinetic energy, or enough force for complete penetration on the body of a large Canada goose to that indicated range limit.

Move to a No. 4 tungsten pellet at again the same velocity as above and the 60-yard terminal effect is also close to 600 fps. This is more than adequate penetration against large waterfowl subjects. It proves you can get by shooting waterfowl with tungsten shot loads that don't have ducks and geese on the packaging.

HEVI-SHOT ON TOP

But I believe the real winner in all this is Environ-Metal's Hevi-Shot, the company that started the whole process with heavy, hard tungsten as a shotshell pellet product. I tested new Hevi-Shot tungsten-based loads this past year, and I'm pretty sure they're not going anywhere--except into the chambers of assorted shotguns across the country for the foreseeable future. No one is probably more pleased than the folks at Environ-Metal right now. A small, almost custom-load market was just handed back to them, and being smaller than the big guys they can make a go of it, even when selling smaller amounts of their high-performance, non-toxic waterfowl shells.

Environ-Metal is still on the move with additional load developments. Of late I tested their new 10-gauge product (check out the September issue of Wildfowl), the super packaged Magnum Blend Tri pellet size shot-shells in No. 5, 6 and 7 blended shot.

Also new for them is a tungsten-shot load in.410 No. 7, a 16 gauge in No. 6, and a 28-gauge load in No. 4s for both upland and waterfowl work. Environ-Metal seems to be bringing the other gauge offerings into the fold--you can do that when the market has become just about all yours. Add the fact that now they offer their own special high-performance chokes for Hevi-Shot, and the tungsten shot package seems just about complete for this innovative company.

Lacking a source for tungsten, and not wanting to shoot Hevi-Shot loads for some reason or another, there is always Kent Tungsten-Matrix shot or Bismuth shot in finished loads or bulk amounts. Both of these products are designed with increased density to compete with pure lead shot by retaining better velocity than steel.

BALLISTICS BLOWOUT

If the price of tungsten steel can stabilize enough, several outfits standing in the wings are interested in offering loaded ammo in this advanced pellet type. However, China has the reins to that horse at this time, so we can't be sure yet how the next chapter in the tungsten story will unfold.

In the meantime, if you like shooting tungsten and can hold up under the high price, I advise buying up some of your favorite brand as soon as possible--because much of this advanced shot is about to go away soon.

Changes are taking place within the shotshell ammunition industry as iron shot got quite good and tungsten never stopped moving up in price. Something had to give way, and the bottom fell out of this market for several companies that offered tungsten non-toxic loads to waterfowl hunters.

During the past month I spent extensive field test time with Linda Powell of Mossberg, who was previously the senior press relations manager for Remington. Powell stated clearly that, yes, the industry is moving very quickly away from tungsten, save for special loads for turkey and coyote hunters. Small amounts in exotic, high-priced loads sold in five packs for specialty field work make sense, but not for waterfowlers.

All that work in ballistics sure ended up in the junk pile. That's life, I guess.

L.P. Brezny is a ballistics expert from Piedmont, S.D.
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Title Annotation:BALLISTICS
Author:Brezny, L.P.
Publication:Wildfowl
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:1384
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