Waterfowl Hunting in Alaska
Non-Toxic Shot

Non-Toxic Shot

The Solution to Lead Poisoning in Waterfowl

Nontoxic shot is required for hunting waterfowl, sandhill cranes and snipe in Alaska.  It is a violation to have shells loaded with lead shot in personal possession while hunting migratory birds. Shot sizes larger than T (0.20" diameter) are prohibited. Nontoxic shot also is required for muzzleloading shotguns. Current federally approved nontoxic shot types include: steel, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron, tungsten polymer, tungsten matrix and tin. Steel shot remains the most widely used nontoxic shot and the only type tested extensively to determine its effectiveness in the field.

Shooting Steel Shot

There are two major differences between steel and lead shot: steel is LIGHTER and HARDER than lead shot. These characteristics affect both the size of the shot cloud (string) needed to intercept birds and the energy for penetrating birds down range.

Steel is Lighter

Steel pellets weigh about one-third less than lead pellets of the same size. Hunters need to learn which loads help compensate for lower retained energy down range. Hunters also need to consider that there are more pellets per ounce and a larger capacity for shot in steel shot shells, compared to lead loads. Loads with 1 1/4 oz or less of steel shot are effective and economical.

Use a Larger Shot Size

To compensate for weight differences between lead and steel, and improve downrange energy, use steel shot one or two sizes larger than the usual lead load (see the chart “Proven Steel Shot Loads for Waterfowl” for exceptions to this rule). Remember it is critical to have both enough pellets in the load to adequately cover the target at a given distance, and to have adequate retained pellet energy to penetrate the vital organs of the bird.  Selecting overly large shot sizes will create problems in hitting birds.

Steel is Harder

Soft lead shot is deformed during firing and passage through the barrel, forming longer and wider shot strings of irregular pellets. Annealed (softened) iron used in “steel” shotshells is about three times harder than lead pellets.  Steel shot is nearly round and does not deform in the shotgun or when it strikes birds.  Steel’s more aerodynamic shape than lead shot creates shot strings that are smaller in length and diameter, delivering more dense patterns. However, the shorter narrower shot string will make it more difficult to intercept moving birds--there is less margin for error in gun handling and trigger timing skills.

Use a More Open Choke

To compensate for steel’s tighter patterns and shorter shot strings, use more open chokes.  Try using Improved Cylinder and/or Modified chokes rather than Full, especially for targets at less than 50 yards. Even with more open chokes, steel shot strings will be smaller than many lead loads, requiring more accurate shooting. The answer is PRACTICE-PRACTICE-PRACTICE.

For More Information

For information on shotshell performance and shotgun skills clinics, contact Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Hunter Information and Training at (907) 267-2534 or call: toll-free (800) 478-SHOT.