Waterfowling is often a feast-or-famine proposition. Some days a single shot won’t be fired; other times the shooting’s so good barrels get hot. On those banner days when the ducks or geese are cooperating, hunters can quickly burn through a bunch of ammo.
Although premium nontoxics featuring tungsten-based shot, specialized wads, ultra-fast velocities, or uniquely shaped shot pellets represent the top tier among waterfowl loads, that doesn’t mean plain old round steel shot won’t still get the job done. Regular steel is much more economical to shoot, especially on those rare days when ammo expended is measured in cases, not boxes. Here are some economy steel loads that will bust birds without busting the bank.
Kent was the first company to offer widespread affordable steel loads. Prior to Kent’s introduction of Fasteel, steel loads were often quite expensive. Volume shooters flocked to Fasteel in an effort to preserve their budgets. Many waterfowlers who shoot way more ducks and geese each season than I do swear by Fasteel, a loyalty probably influenced in no small part by its affordability.
Fasteel is available in 3½-, 3-, and 2¾-inch 12-gauge, as well as 3-inch 20-gauge, in shot sizes BBB through No. 4 and velocities ranging from 1,300 to 1,625 fps, depending on shell length and gauge.
Fasteel spawned a couple other offerings I’ve personally found very effective. Upland Fasteel is available in 12- and 20-gauge with shot sizes 5, 6 or 7. I’ve had great success with 5s on quail when hunting nontoxic zones. Although intended for use on upland birds, there’s no reason Upland Fasteel wouldn’t also work on smaller ducks.
Kent’s second Fasteel off-shoot was indeed designed for smaller ducks, specifically teal. TealSteel comes in 3-inch 12-gauge with 1¼ ounces of 5s or 6s at 1,350 fps. It performs as advertised on teal.
Last year, Environ-Metal, maker of tungsten-based Hevi-Shot, introduced a new line of all-steel loads called Hevi-Steel. That name might be familiar to some. Original Hevi-Steel, which was discontinued a few years back, was formulated to be slightly denser than normal steel shot. This latest incarnation of Hevi-Steel, however, features regular, round, unplated steel shot. The result is an all-steel product that’s highly affordable.
Initial testing of Hevi-Steel indicates it’s also highly effective. All the geese I shot with it could be said to be “torn up,” and I look forward to trying it out more on ducks this fall.
Hevi-Steel is available in 3½- and 3-inch 12-gauge, with 1 3/8- and 1¼-ounce payloads at 1,550 and 1,500 fps respectively, in shot sizes BBB, BB, 1, 2, 3 or 4. Hevi-Steel 2¾-inch 12-gauge and 3-inch 20-gauge loads have 1 1/8- and 1-ounce payloads at 1,500 and 1,400 fps respectively, in shot sizes 1, 2 or 3.
Hevi-Steel also generated a teal-specific spin-off aptly named Hevi-Teal. There are two 12-gauge Hevi-Teal offerings: 3-inch, 1¼-ounce and 2¾-inch, 1 1/8-ounce, both with No. 6s at 1,500 fps.
Best known for its affordable lead target loads, Rio also offers an economy line of steel shotshells. Rio BlueSteel is available in various 3½-, 3- and 2¾-inch 12-gauge offerings, as well as 3- and 2¾-inch 20-gauge, in shot sizes ranging from BB to 6, depending on the load. Velocities run the full gamut from 1,300 to 1,550 fps.
BlueSteel isn’t fancy — just plain steel shot that bags birds. Plus, if you miss or need three shots to down a duck, at least you won’t fret over the cost of wasted ammo.
Federal’s budget-friendly Speed-Shok steel loads are available in a variety of 12- and 20-gauge loadings, as well as 10-gauge. Speed-Shok is also the only economy steel line on this list to offer a 16-gauge load. Velocities run from 1,300 to 1,550 fps, while available shot sizes range from large Ts to little 7s, depending on the load and gauge. Again, Speed-Shok is unique in that it is the only shotshell line on this list that still offers rare T-sized shot.
From Remington, there is the economical Sportsman Hi-Speed Steel line. It’s available in 10-, 12- and 20-gauge and in various shot sizes from BB to 7. Velocities can range anywhere from 1,365 up to 1,550 fps, depending on the load.
Finally, rounding out our list is Winchester’s vast and inexpensive Xpert Hi-Velocity Steel line. There are too many 12- and 20-gauge loads to describe individually. Shot sizes vary from BB to 4, with velocities topping out at 1,625 fps.
It should be noted that Winchester Xpert and Federal Field & Range steel loads are also available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge, as well as .410, in shot sizes 6 and 7. While these loads might be more suited to off-season clays practice, they’d also work on teal-sized ducks, especially in the smaller gauges where steel loads are hard to find. Kent and Rio also offer steel target loads in 12- and 20-gauge with No. 7 shot.
Any of these affordable loads will allow you to effectively bag waterfowl without risking bankruptcy. Your budget, banker and spouse will all be thankful you chose to shoot economy steel.
Economy Steel — By The Numbers
Economy steel is generally considered anything under $20 a box (maybe a bit more for 10-gauge). For the purposes of this comparison, the following per-box prices listed are all for 3-inch, 12-gauge, 1¼-ounce steel. All prices provided by www.cabelas.com, except for Remington, which was provided by www.basspro.com.
Kent Fasteel: $15
Rio BlueSteel: $13
Federal Speed-Shok: $12.50
Winchester Xpert Hi-Velocity: $13.50
Remington Sportsman Hi-Speed: $17