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Filtering by Tag: Guns and Ammo

Kent Bismuth Ammo Delivers!

Craig Koshyk


Full disclosure: I am NOT an expert when it comes to shotguns, shotgun ammo, ballistics and the art of wing shooting. I shoot a few rounds of clays every summer and pattern my guns and chokes once in a blue moon. Beyond that, I just take the same guns to the field every year and feed them the best ammo I can afford. So the following review of Kent's new Bismuth cartridges is the opinion of a hunter who just wants his gun to go boom! when he pulls the trigger so that delicious game will end up on his dinner plate... nothing more, nothing less.

A while ago I wrote about my desire to go completely lead free for all my hunting and my journey down the rabbit hole of trying to find lead-free, non-steel ammo for my beloved Darne shotguns. I then updated one of the posts with the following great news: Owners of vintage guns rejoice! ... Kent Cartridge recently announced "the rebirth of an old favorite" by introducing their new Bismuth Premium Shotshells

Here is a video from Kent Cartridge that explains the development of Bismuth shot shells and the improvements that have been made in the new loads.

Just before the 2017 season opened, I managed to get my hands on a good supply of the new Kent ammo in 12 and 20 gauge loads. Since then, my wife and I have been using it exclusively. We've taken snipe, woodcock, ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse and a few ducks and geese. My wife even shot a scotch double* ON GEESE with her 20 gauge loaded with #5s! I wrote about that amazing shot and posted some photos here. (*two birds with one shot).


In terms of performance, I could not tell the difference between Bismuth loads and lead loads. Now before you get your bloomers in a bunch and start rattling off newtonian physics equations let me qualify my statement by saying it applies to me, to my guns, in the areas I hunt, on the game I pursue. As with all things related to shotguns and shotgun ammo, your mileage, as they say, may vary.

My hit/miss/crumple/wound ratio was nearly identical this year compared to last. For example, on a trip to North Dakota in 2015, I shot 14 pheasants with 16 shots (lead #5s). All but two dropped stone dead. This year, in the same general area under the same basic conditions and with the same gun I shot 15 roosters with 17 shots (bismuth). All but one crumpled, and that one did not go far. (note: the above stats make me seem like some kind of superhero wing shooter. I am not. I am a terrible trap shooter, useless at skeet and barely on the scoreboard at 5-stand. The reason I bag a decent number of roosters with so few shots is because I am a very patient pheasant hunter with decent dogs. I pass up all birds that are not pointed, all birds beyond about 35 yards and only pull the trigger on birds I am pretty confident I will kill outright.

In terms of actual ballistics, as mentioned above, I can only confirm that the shells did indeed go boom! when I pulled the trigger and that birds did indeed crumple when my aim was true. If you want an expert opinion on the witchcraft of shotgun ballistics as they apply to Kent Bismuth loads look no further than gun guru Randy Wakeman to see what he has to say about them:

As a practical matter, assume that you want a minimum of 1.75 inches of ballistic gelatin penetration for pheasant. This cannot be exact, for gel penetration does not consider feathers, much less breaking bones. It is a comparative simulant for soft tissue only. If you are using #2 steel shot at 1400 fps, you are out of gas at 35 yards. With the lower recoil 1350 fps Kent Bismuth #4 load, you are good past 41 yards. #4 bismuth has better penetration at all ranges than #2 steel. In addition, a 1-1/4 ounce load of #4 bismuth has 24.5% more pellets than 1-1/4 ounces of #2 steel. If you are sick of the poor ballistic performance of steel (why wouldn't you be?) and can afford to pay twice the price for your shotgun shells, the new Kent Bismuth loads just made steel shot obsolete.  (full article here).
© Craig Koshyk_WP_8513161016-2.jpg

Kent Bismuth shot sizes are apparently true American sizing and not one size smaller like some other loads from Europe. Kent Bismuth #4s are the same size as any other American #4s. The other maker of bismuth ammo, Rio, apparently uses European shot sizes. So Rio's #4 shot is actually closer to American (and Kent's) #5 shot.  Kent shells are clearly marked and seem to be made of  high quality materials. Word on the web is that the hulls are Cheddites.  UPDATE: Kent now sells their new Bismuth loads in boxes of 25. 

Bottom line: I will go one further than Randy Wakeman and say that for me, the new Kent Bismuth loads have made steel AND LEAD shot obsolete.

Furthermore, shooting bismuth shells allows me to focus more on the actual hunt. With a few boxes of #5s and #6s, I can use any gun I own to shoot any gamebird I pursue on private or public land no matter what the regulations are. No more swapping out ammo when going from lead-allowed to non-tox areas, no more sorting through different brands, sizes, and loads trying to get the perfect combination for geese in the morning, snipe in the afternoon and ducks at dusk. I am now lead-free in the field and thanks to Kent, when it comes to ammo, I am also worry-free.

NEW BISMUTH® Premium Upland & Waterfowl Shotshells

  • High Density 9.6g/cc non-toxic shot, has 24% greater density than steel
  • Each configuration is loaded to optimal velocities, maximizing ballistic performance
  • Softer than steel and higher performance, won’t harm barrels and safe in any choke
  • Now conveniently packaged 25 rounds per box
Bismuth ammo and Darne shotguns, a match made in heaven!

Bismuth ammo and Darne shotguns, a match made in heaven!

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Pure Copper Shot.

Craig Koshyk


In my previous post, I took a look at the various non-tox options available for hunters looking to go lead free. And one type of shot really stood out for me: pure copper. 

I discovered that French ammo maker FOB has been marketing an entire line of copper loaded shells called Sweet Copper since 2013 and another French company, Vouzelaud just announced similar shells loaded with copper shot and a bio-degradable wad. In Germany, Rottweil is now selling a shell called  "Copper Unlimited"

In Italy, reloading website Siarm lists a product called "Real Copper". It is said to be made of 99.97840 % pure copper and is currently available in #3 and # 6 shot sizes for reloading. I also found a recipe on the same site for a 12 gauge test load composed of 28 grams of pure copper shot and 2 grams of B&P's MBx36 powder. Test results indicated that it produced a peak pressure of 750 bar and a velocity of 450m/s (about 1475 f/s). 

So I wasn't suprised to see that Italian ammo giant 
Baschieri & Pellargi are also getting into the pure copper shot game now.  Here's a company rep at an outdoor/hunting fair in Germany announcing their new 'Dual Shock' shells that contain a half-and-half mix of pure copper #6 shot and zinc-coated copper #4 shot. 

And here is a video of Dual Shock shells being tested in the fields of Argentina and the UK:

Naturally, with all the buzz around copper shot in Europe, I have to wonder if it will ever make its way over to this side of the ocean. But that brings up a whole slew of other questions. Here are a few I can think of, and my best guesses as to what the answers might be. 

Is copper shot approved for use in North America? 
I don't really know. But if I had to guess, I would say that copper shot should be perfectly fine to shoot wherever lead can be shot. But pellets made of pure copper are not on the list of approved non-tox lead alternatives. However, as an ingredient in shells combining different elements, copper gets the green light. Here are the percentages currently allowed in approved non-tox shot types.

  • Copper-clad iron: copper cladding can be up to 44.1% of the shot mass
  • Tungsten-bronze: can contain up to 44.4% copper
  • Tungsten-iron-copper-nickel: can be 9–16% copper

Is pure copper shot toxic? There is no such thing as a completely non-toxic metal suitable for use in shotgun shells. So it comes down to figuring out which is the least toxic. And copper seems to have relatively low toxicity, especially when compared to lead. When copper is just one ingredient mixed with other things like tungsten, studies indicate that "the rate of copper release from tungsten bronze shot was 30 to 50 times lower than that from the copper shot, depending on pH".  And other studies indicate that the "mortality among mallards fed iron, copper, zinc-coated iron or molybdenum-coated iron shot was significantly less than in birds fed lead shot, and was not significantly greater than the controls."

I am sure there are many more studies out there, all of which undoubtedly reveal at least some level of toxicity, but what is important to note is that regulators in Europe, where environmental regulations tend to be far stricter than in the US or Canada, have determined that pure copper shot can be used where lead is banned. And that means they've chosen it (and other metals like bismuth and tungsten) as the 'least bad' alternatives to lead. 

Can it be shot out of a gun that is not approved for steel? I think so. But don't quote me on that. In terms of hardness, copper actually looks like it might fit the bill. It is harder than lead and bismuth, but it is softer than most of the others, including ITX (original) and Tungsten polymer, both of which were specifically designed for use in guns not approved for steel.

Copper is harder than lead, but softer than ITX and Tungsten Matrix shot

In terms of density, here is how it stacks up to some of the other options.

Copper shot is nearly15% denser than steel shot

And finally, what about price? Pure copper shot is more expensive than lead or steel shot, but, surprisingly, it can be as much as 3 times cheaper than other options. Here's how it compares on a dollars-per-pound basis (#6 shot).

Copper is more expensive than lead and steel, but way cheaper than all the other lead alternatives

I will leave it up to the reloading experts to figure out what a decent 20 gauge upland load would cost on a per shot basis since I have no idea what hulls, wads, powder and primers cost or how much shot you'd need of each type for a decent upland load. But if all the other components remain more or less the same, it seems to me that copper shot would be a relatively inexpensive choice for reloading.

So, will we ever see pure copper shot loads over here? Only time will tell.

UPDATE, December 17, 2015

An article with test results of 8 different pure copper loads appeared in a French magazine called "Armes de Chasse" (Hunting Guns) recently. I finally had a chance to read it today and here are some of the results.

NOTE: tests were done with a 12 gauge Beretta A400 with a 28 inch barrel and modified choke. The results in the magazine were given in metric, I've made approx. conversions to imperial.

Re Patterns: They ranged from 79% to 87% in a 30 inch (76cm) circle at 40-ish yards (35 meters)

These two loads are said to be safe to shoot in any gun. See my previous article "After Lead" to read about CIP's
specifications for loads specifically formulated to reduce (if not completely eliminate) the risks of shooting them in older guns not approved for steel shot.

Brand: FOB
Load: Sweet Copper
Pressure: 683 bars
Velocity: 1204 f/s

Brand: Vouzelaud
Load: 28
Pressure: 778 bars
Velocity: 1272 f/s

The loads below are designed to be shot only out of guns approved for steel shot and having a fleur de lys proof mark (ie: able to handle higher pressures).

Brand: Rottweil
Load: Ultimate 34 HP
Pressure: 767 bars,
Velocity: 1299

Brand FOB
Load Sweet Copper HP
Pressure: 914 bars 
Velocity: 1300

Brand B+P
Load: Dual Shock
Pressure 1043 bars
Velocity: 1400

Brand: FOB
Load: Sweet Copper Magnum
Pressure: 767 bars
Velocity: 1100

Brand: Rottweil
Load: Magnum
Pressure: 1050 bars
Velocity: 1265

Brand: B+P
Load: Magnum
PRessure: 957 bars
Velocity: 1368

And finally, I came across an interesing tidbit in the comment section of the B+P youtube video posted above. A viewer asked: "...Will that ammo be available in the States??" and the video poster relpied: "B&P assured me that in 2016 the three cartridges of the Dual Shock line will be available for US market."

So, once again....will we ever see pure copper shot loads over here? Only time will tell.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

After Lead?

Craig Koshyk

When I hunt waterfowl, I shoot non-tox ammo, usually Kent steel and tungsten matrix loads. When I hunt upland birds or whitetail deer, I shoot lead ammo. But not for long. I've decided to switch* to copper bullets for deer hunting and I am looking for a suitable non-tox alternative to shoot in the uplands.

North Dakota rooster taken with copper-plated lead shot.
Steel shot does not play nice with my Darnes, 
so I need to find an alternative non-tox ammo.
Copper bullets for deer won't be a problem. They are widely available, and their slightly higher price is not really an issue since a box of 20 rounds will probably last me several years. But finding a suitable non-tox load for upland hunting is going to be tough because my go-to guns for grouse, woodcock and pheasant are Darnes. And the steel loads available to me here just don't play well with those sweet, sweet side by sides. So if I want to go lead free, I have to crawl down the rabbit hole of non-tox, non-steel shotshells.

Currently, my options are:

Kent Cartridge's Tungsten Matrix: By far the best stuff you can throw down-range. Period.  Unfortunately, the only TM shells currently available are stout loads of larger shot designed mainly for waterfowl, not grouse and woodcock.  Kent used to make a shell called "TM Upland" with a somewhat lighter load of smaller shot, but it seems to be discontinued.

Bismuth shells: Less expensive than tungsten matrix cartridges, and if you load your own, you can come up with decent load for smaller upland birds. Unfortunately, stocks of bismuth come and go as fast as a 17-year-old farm boy with a bad case of the trots at the local bordello. One day you see bismuth shells listed on the WhizBangMart website and the next day they are listed as 'out of stock'... probably because the company that made them switched to making stomach remedies for 17 year old farm boys with the trots.

Nevertheless, I am hopeful that Rio Ammo's new facility in Texas will start cranking out decent, affordable bismuth loads before the season opens this year. If they do, and if my Darnes like them, Bismuth will be my upland go-to shot.

Niceshot: Pack an awesome punch and are highly rated. Unfortunately Niceshot shells have the same 'here today, gone later today' availability as bismuth and, when they are in stock, have nearly the same buzz-harshing price tag as tungsten matrix.

Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles: Surprisingly 'in stock' most of the time at various outlets. Unfortunately, at over four bucks a pop, they are even more expensive than tungsten matrix and niceshot shells. Even worse, when tested against the competition, Hevi-shot Classic Doubles always end up in last place. Randy Wakeman concluded that: Kent Tungsten-Matrix wins, beating the pants off of Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles every time by no small measure. Bottom line, if I'm paying close to a fiver each time I pull the trigger, the stuff coming out the end of my barrel better be the equivalent of a fine single malt scotch, not Bud Light Clamato.

So is there anything else out there? Anything on the horizon? Well if you live in Europe, the answer is yes. Several ammunition manufacturers in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere have introduced brand new shells with some very interesting loads. Let's look at the options:

Steel loads that they can be used in older guns. Realizing that there are still huge numbers of hunters using shotguns that were never intended to shoot steel, the CIP, Europe's governing body for firearms safety standards has come up with an interesting solution: create guidelines for steel loads specifically formulated to reduce (if not completely eliminate) the risks of shooting steel guns not approved for steel shot. The standard includes limits for chamber pressure, velocity, momentum and shot size. The goal is to ensure that steel shot marketed in CIP countries does not compromise the safety of "...the most vulnerable guns, namely old, thin-walled, perhaps poor-condition guns." You can read about CIP standards and how they differ from the SAAMI standards used in the US in this excellent article here.

So that means that almost all of the major ammo makers in Europe such as FOBRottweilSellier-BellotFiocchi and many of the smaller firms (there are dozens of them) sell 'Standard Pressure' steel shotshells that are supposed to be safe to shoot in older guns. The loads are lower in pressure than High Performance steel loads but also have the same thick plastic shot cups designed to minimize barrel damage.

Now I can practically see your eyes rolling at the thought of a low pressure, (low performance?) steel load. After all, even the best steel loads, when compared to similar lead loads, can be anemic. So why the heck would you want to water them down even more? Well, if you hunt snipe and woodcock, as I and millions of European hunters do, there is no problem. Most shots are in the 15 - 20 yard range and the birds are not 12-pound late-season honkers. So low pressure steel shells are probably just right for that sort of game.

Mary Arm's "Steel 24" shells are fairly typical standard pressure loads.  Their 20 gauge shells contain 24 grammes (about 7/8 of an ounce) of nickel-plated steel # 5 or # 6 shot in a specially-designed wad. They are said to be safe for all chokes and have a maximum effective range of about 35 yards.

Non-steel loads. Tungsten Matrix and Bismuth Loads are available throughout Europe. And yes, they cost and arm and a leg there too. But there are also other alternatives that are available there, but have not (yet?) made it to North America.

Zinc/Tin. Shells loaded with shot made from a combination of zinc and tin have been on the European market for a while now. Available from Clever Mirage in Italy, Mary Arm, Tunet in France, and Sellier-Bellot in the Czech Republic, they are apparently safe for all guns and chokes but are only recommended for close to medium distances, about 30 yards max. They are more expensive than steel or lead loads, but not as expensive as Tungsten matrix or Bismuth.

Copper. Bullets made from pure copper have been on the market for a while now and are becoming more popular among big game hunters. But pure copper shot has not been offered in shotshells, until now. FOB in France recently launched a new line of shells called Sweet Copper (for some reason, the French love giving English names to hunting related products). Vouzelaud also offers shells loaded with copper shot, but they add a proprietary ACP bio-degradable wad.

Not to be outdone, Germany ammo company Rottweil also announced shells containing copper shot called "Copper Unlimited" (yes, they love English names as well). Available (so far) only in 12 gauge it is said to be a "... high-performance lead-free cartridge that rivals lead shot cartridges. The cartridges contain shot made from pure copper - copper is both heavier and softer than soft iron shot. The advantages to the sportsman include increased effective ranges of up to 40 metres and up to 15% more energy delivered to the target. This improves one's chances of success since more pellets can be put into the cartridge than with the same load weight of steel. In addition, the softer copper shot makes forest and field shooting possible again since the danger from ricochets is greatly reduced."

Copper is a sort of 'in-between' option. It is softer and heavier than steel, and lighter, but harder than lead. It is less expensive than tungsten matrix, but substantially more than zinc/tin. It will be interesting to see how the European market responds to copper shot and if it will ever make its way over to this side of the Atlantic. After all, copper plated shot is allowed here, so why not solid copper shot?

Bottom line: After reviewing all my options, there are only a few solutions. Here they are and the chances they ever happen.

  • Give up shooting my Darnes. Never. Ever. Sorry. Ain't gonna happen.
  • Win the lottery. One chance in a gazillion. Ain't gonna happen...but I will still buy a ticket.
  • Move to Europe. I would totally be down for that.... about 10 seconds after I win the lottery.
  • Cross my fingers and hope that bismuth ammo finally sees the light of a reasonable price.

* My decision to stop shooting lead is a personal one. I've written about lead shot before and it is becoming increasingly clear that as hunters and stewards of the environment, we really should look for alternatives. And yes, I understand that there are people who disagree with me on the lead ammo issue, and that's fine. I am not out to convince anyone to stop shooting lead. Do whatever pops your airbag.

UPDATE: I was asked for more information on why I choose to go lead free in the uplands even though lead is still OK to shoot in many areas I hunt. Here's my answer:

The reasons that I am currently looking into non-tox and non-steel shot options range from strictly regulatory to purely personal. I've thought a lot about the issues involved for quite a while, and no matter how I slice 'em, when added up, they all point to a non-lead future for me.

On the regulatory side, I live in Manitoba, Canada. The laws up here mandate that I use non-tox shot for all migratory birds. So, unlike other jurisdictions where non-tox shot is only required near or in wetlands, when I hunt ducks, geese or snipe, even in a field or forest, I cannot use lead. I am allowed to use lead for woodcock (for now) but I often encounter timberdoodles in areas that also hold snipe (my favourite bird to hunt) and ducks (my favourite bird to eat), so I feel that I should at least make an effort to find a suitable non-tox load that I can use no matter where I am, or what I am hunting.

I also hunt a lot in the Dakotas. And while much of the hunting we do there is on private land were lead is still OK, from time to time, we do hunt on public land where non-tox is required. Of course, the easy solution would be to leave my Darnes in the truck and shoot steel in my steel-approved guns. But I really, really love my Darnes and I shoot them far better than my other guns (I am a mediocre shot on a good day, but in 2013, I went 14 for 14 on wild ND roosters with my Darne 20 gauge and last year I got 15 birds in 21 shots with my 16 in South Dakota). So if I can find a way to use my favourite guns, no matter where I am, or what I am hunting, I would be a happy man.

And finally, one of the greatest pleasure I get from hunting is sharing the harvest with family and friends. Every year, I provide duck, goose, grouse, snipe, woodcock and deer meat to people close to me, including young children. And that motivates me, more than any law ever could, to do my best to get lead out of the equation. After all, wild meat is the healthiest, most organic, free-range food under the sun. But running the risk of contaminating it with the residues of toxic metals just doesn't sit right with me, especially when there are less toxic options available.

So those are the main reasons I've been spending waaaay too much time online trying to find non-steel alternatives to lead shot. But, as already stated above, I am not out to convince anyone else to stop shooting lead. Do whatever is legal where you are and shoot whatever loads you want.

Owners of vintage guns rejoice! There are now TWO brands of bismuth ammo on the market, and they are very competitively priced. I mentioned Rio's bismuth ammo, and it seems that at least some loads are now listed as 'in stock' on the Natchez website, but remain 'backorderable' on the Cabela's site. The 20 gauge shells I'm interested in go for $18.99 for a box of 10, or 17.99 if you buy 10 boxes (100 rounds), so just under two bucks a pop.

But there is a new kid in town, with a better price! Kent Cartridge recently announced "the rebirth of an old favorite" by introducing their new Bismuth Premium Shotshells. According to their website they have "... taken everything that was great about bismuth and made it better. Kent’s proprietary manufacturing technique produces bismuth pellets of superior integrity and ballistic capability. This shot is safe for the environment and suitable for use in fixed choke and high grade shotgun barrels".

Even better, checking the listing on the Cabela's website shows that the 20 gauge shells I'm interested in go for $15.99 for a box of 10 (just over a buck and a half a pop).  Yesterday, I called the Kent Cartridge office in Canada and the nice lady on the phone told me that Kent Bismuth shot will begin shipping to my local dealer in 'late spring or early summer'. YES!!!! It looks like my trip down the rabbit hole of finding decent, affordable non-tox, non-steel shotshells for my Darnes may be paying off.

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals