Nontoxic shot has come a long way in the last 20 years. It was originally considered alarmingly inferior to lead, but modern advancements have narrowed the performance gap between nontoxic and lead shot. Here’s a look at some of the top waterfowl loads available in 2017.

Federal

This year Federal updated its popular Black Cloud line of steel shotshells with the new FLITECONTROL FLEX wad. Its redesigned rear-opening petals now allow the wad to function properly when fired through ported and non-ported choke tubes, unlike the original FLITECONTROL wad, which could only be reliably used in non-ported tubes. The end result is still the same — denser and deadlier patterns downrange.

Of course, Black Cloud still features the duplex payload of 40 percent sharp-banded FLITESTOPPER steel and 60 percent round steel pellets, providing impact trauma and pattern density, respectively. The lone exception to this ratio is Black Cloud Close Range, which is loaded with 100 percent FLITESTOPPER pellets to produce a spreader-type pattern. Black Cloud is available in various 10-, 12- and 20-gauge offerings in shot sizes ranging from number 4s to BBB. Learn more at www.federalpremium.com.

Browning

Browning entered the ammunition arena last year with several different hunting and target loads. For the waterfowl market, there’s BXD Extra Distance. It features plated, round steel shot that’s delivered via a new, aerodynamically stabilized wad designed to produce denser patterns and put more pellets on target.

Browning BXD steel loads are available in 3½- and 3-inch 12-gauge and 3-inch 20-gauge, at velocities of 1,500, 1,450 and 1,300 fps respectively, for improved downrange energy and penetration. Shot size options include BBs, 2s or 4s, depending on the gauge and load. Learn more at www.browningammo.com. 

Kent

Kent is best known for its affordable steel loads, but last year the company began offering nontoxic bismuth shotshells. Kent’s bismuth pellets are crafted from a proprietary process that improves pellet integrity and reduces frangibility, which was a common problem with early bismuth loads. The result is better ballistics and knockdown power upon impact.

Being much softer than steel, bismuth is safe for use in older guns with fixed, tight chokes not proofed for steel shot. Kent’s bismuth line is available in three 12-gauge loads and one each in 16-, 20- and 28-gauge, so you can dust off that old vintage smoothbore languishing in the back of your gun safe, regardless of gauge, and take it to the marsh once again. Learn more at www.kentgamebore.com.

Rio

Like its affordable target loads, Rio BlueSteel represents a great value among steel waterfowl loads. Currently available in eight different 12-gauge loads and one 20-gauge load, BlueSteel is offered in a variety of shots sizes, from 6s to BBBs, and velocities, up to 1,550 fps, depending on the load. For older shotguns, Rio also has its own Bismuth offering, available in five different 12-gauge loads and one each in 16, 20, 28 and .410. Learn more at www.rioammo.com.

Environ-Metal

Environ-Metal’s Hevi-Steel lineup is both extensive and economical. Available in 10-, 12-, 20- and 28-gauge, this all-steel product features traditional round steel shot in a variety of sizes ranging from 4s to BBBs, depending on gauge. Velocities vary from 1,350 fps in 10- and 28-gauge all the way up to 1,550 fps in some 12-gauge loads. Teal hunters will want to check out Hevi-Teal, a Hevi-Steel variant loaded with number 5 or 6 steel shot at 1,500 fps for dealing with speedy blue- and green-wings.

For those desiring even more heavy-hitting power, there’s Hevi-Metal, a hybrid load featuring both steel and tungsten-based Hevi-Shot pellets. This combination provides better downrange lethality with the Hevi-Shot component and improved pattern density with the steel component. Hevi-Metal comes in 10-, 12- and 20-gauge loads, at 1,350 fps for 10- and 20-gauge and 1,500 fps for 12-gauge. Shot sizes range from number 6s to BBBs, depending on the gauge. Price-wise, Hevi-Metal falls somewhere between standard all-steel products and 100 percent Hevi-Shot loads, making it one of the best deals going among waterfowl ammo in terms of value and performance. Learn more at www.hevishot.com.

Remington

Remington Nitro Steel is a middle-of-the-road load that bridges the gap, both in performance and price, between Remington’s Sportsman and HyperSonic steel shot lines. Nitro Steel comes in five 12-gauge loads in shot sizes ranging from 4s to Ts, including a new-for-2017 3 ½-inch load with BBs or 2s at 1,500 fps.

Also added to the Nitro Steel line this year were a mammoth 10-gauge load stuffed with 2s at 1,450 fps and a 20-gauge load with 4s at 1,400 fps. They join the rare 16-gauge Nitro Steel option, which has 2s or 4s at 1,300 fps. This is the only 16-gauge steel load Remington currently offers and one of the few 16-gauge steel loads available from anyone. All Nitro Steel loads feature perfectly round, zinc-plated steel shot that flies straight and penetrates deeply. Learn more at www.remington.com.

Winchester

Winchester takes an outside-the-box approach to waterfowl ammo with its box-shaped Blind Side steel shot. Six-sided Hex Shot hits birds hard due to its greater surface area and multiple sharp edges. Its cube shape also allows Hex Shot to be stacked like blocks within the hull for larger payloads.

Blind Side is available in multiple standard and high-velocity 12- and 20-gauge configurations in various shot sizes ranging from 6s to BBs. The Diamond Cut wad delivers the Hex Shot on target. Since it’s not a longrange wad, per se, it’s more responsive to choke constrictions than most nontoxic shot wads, so if you want to tighten up patterns, simply use a tighter, steel shot-approved choke tube. Learn more at www.winchester.com.

Spectra Shot

It seems there’s always one game hog in the blind who claims to have “gotten a piece” of every duck or goose bagged. Thankfully, Spectra Shot provides the solution for ending the debate over who shot what once and for all. Spectra Shot features premium steel shot coated in one of four colors: orange, yellow, green or blue. A see-through hull makes the shot color easily identified at a glance.

Simply give everyone in the blind a box of different colored shot to use. Then, any disputes over whose bird it is are quickly settled by removing the colored shot from the carcass. Besides making post-mortem examination easier, the proprietary color coating process also helps prevent rusting of the shot. Spectra Shot waterfowl loads are available in 3½-inch 10-gauge and 12-gauge with BBs, 3-inch 12-gauge with number 2s or 4s, all at 1,400 fps, 2¾-inch 12-gauge with 7s at 1,200 fps, and 3-inch 20-gauge and 2¾-inch 28-gauge, both with 4s at 1,350 fps.

Spectra Shot 2¾-inch 12-gauge upland game/target loads are also available with steel 6s or 7s that average around 1,280 fps. These smaller shot sizes work great for teal or anywhere nontoxic target loads are required. Buy a box of Spectra Shot in one color for yourself and a different color for the game hog, and spend more time shooting ducks instead of arguing. Learn more at www.spectrashot.com.

Economical Mainstays

Nontoxic shot has never been cheap, but prices have gone down in recent years. Here are some affordable options that annually bag lots birds without breaking the bank.

First up is Fiocchi’s Speed Steel. This 3-inch 12-gauge load pushes a 1 1/8-ounce payload at 1,500 fps. It’s available in seven shot sizes ranging from 6s to BBBs and costs around $11 per box. Learn more at www.fiocchiusa.com.


Thousands of waterfowlers find success each season with Kent Fasteel. This affordable line comes in eight different 12-gauge loads and one 20-gauge load, in steel shot sizes also ranging from 6s to BBBs at various velocities up to 1,625 fps. A 3-inch 12-gauge load averages around $15 per box.

Federal’s “blue box” Speed Shok steel comes in several 10-, 12-, 16- and 20-gauge loads in various shot sizes and velocities. Prices start at $11 a box for standard 2¾-inch 12-gauge and work their way up.

Winchester Xpert is the epitome of economical ammo. It comes in more iterations than we have room to list here, at prices ranging from $7.50 per box for Steel Game & Target loads to around $18 per box for 3½-inch Hi-Velocity rounds. Xpert also makes an affordable option for upland hunting in nontoxic zones.

Featured image: John Hafner