20 Gauge Non-Toxic

Dear Bruce,

With the introduction of bismuth and tungsten polymer shot shells, I was wondering if using a 20 gauge (2.75″ chamber) gun was now feasible for duck hunting. I have a 20 gauge Browning Citori that I shoot pretty well, (I better not miss much at nearly $2.00 per shell).

I’d like your opinion if using a 20 gauge at close ranges (inside 30 yards) would be effective on ducks, or just plain cruel.



Dear Charlie,

By all means, if you like a 20 and limit yourself to sensible yardages, you will find that the new “softer” non-toxics will work just fine. Here’s why I think so:

For reasons which strain my wife’s credulity, I am actually paid to write magazine articles for Shooting Sportsman magazine (www.shootingsportsman.com) among others. Last year I went down to Argentina to do a story for SSM on dove, duck, partridge and pigeon in Entre Rios province. Each morning we went out duck shooting. A couple of the guys used 20 gauge guns and they did just as well as anyone else. True, we were using good old fashioned lead, but that isn’t a problem now as you will see.

Six weeks ago, I went out to South Dakota to do a story for the magazine on the South Dakota Governor’s Pheasant Hunt. One of the sponsors was Federal and they gave me a bunch of their new Tungsten-Polymer shells in 12 gauge 1-1/4 oz #4s. They worked great on the pheasant and duck we shot. Really well. Really, really well. It was just like the good old days of guiltless lead usage.

I took some of the Federal Tungsten-Polymer shells home and ran a bunch of tests on them. I compared the Tungsten-Polymer #4 loads to some high antimony lead #4 loads which I made. I patterned everything and measured everything. My result was that the #4 Tungsten Polymer behaved exactly like the #4 high antimony lead. It measured the same. It weighed the same. It shot the same. True the non-toxic had some mold marks and sprue stubs, but that didn’t affect the way it patterned. I got consistent 80% patterns with a full choke. (note: What I tested was the Federal brand Tungsten-POLYMER shot safe for use in older barrels. I didn’t test Federal’s Tungsten-IRON ultra-hard shot meant only for modern barrels.)

Soooo- if lead works great on ducks when used in a 20 gauge gun (Argentina) and the new Federal Tungsten-Polymer shoots the same as lead (South Dakota), then a 20 using the Tungsten-Polymer ought to work just fine on ducks. If you can keep your self to 30 yards, then #6 ought to do the job on any duck. Over that distance you should probably go to the #4s (Federal doesn’t have Tungsten-Polymer #5s yet) and #4s can be fussy to pattern in some 20 gauge bores.

Bismuth is a bit trickier as it is slightly lighter than the Tungsten-Polymers. Still, it’s close enough so that #5s ought to work well, especially with your modest distances. The new Bismuth pellets are much better than the first one. By the way, Winchester has now resigned from its bismuth joint venture with the Bismuth Cartridge Company. I believe that Bismuth Cartridge is now the sole supplier of bismuth shot. Winchester isn’t talking, but they obviously are looking around for their own “soft and heavy” non-toxic.

As to the $2/shell price of the new stuff, that just can’t suck enough. Hopefully, a little competition will bring that price down. Until then, take solace in the fact that duck limits are so low in most cases that even $2/shell won’t break you before your get your limit.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC

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