Steel Shot Vs Lead Shot


Unless otherwise specified, lead shot has most likely been the go-to choice in your family for generations of shooting sports, despite its toxicity for humans and wildlife. Unfortunately, lead toxicity has long been established as an issue.

Steel shot remains popular with waterfowl hunters despite an increase in non-toxic alternatives like tungsten and bismuth shot being widely available. But how does its performance compare with lead?

1. It’s lighter

Steel shot is often perceived to be lighter than lead shot; however, this only tells part of the story; due to its higher density properties it takes more pellets from steel shot for equal charge weight compared to lead of equal diameter; consequently this results in lower energy downrange.

Keep in mind that lead shot has a much greater surface area than steel shot; therefore, more drag is caused by each pellet when they impact with air or targets at distances of 40 yards with lead loads at 150J kinetic energy, whereas at 90J with steel loads.

Steel shot differs substantially from lead shot in terms of density, leading to greater shot sizes being necessary to avoid drag effects on denser steel pellets than on their lighter lead counterparts. By increasing shot sizes with steel shot you will also reduce pellets per ounce – thanks to less drag effects from denser steel pellets than those from lighter lead shot!

Due to these factors, it’s essential that people understanding that when someone says steel doesn’t hit as well as lead, they may be using original lead performance tables that were developed using standard waterfowl loads and not high performance loads developed for steel shot. Furthermore, these calculations did not take into account that steel shot does not flatten as easily than lead, thus maintaining more of its shape and downrange energy.

As steel shot is harder than lead, it penetrates more deeply into game, enabling them to bleed out quickly for a humane kill. Conversely, lead may mash together inside an animal and block blood flow, leading to its delayed death.

Due to federal laws banning lead shot for waterfowling hunting and upland game like pheasant, quail, and grouse hunting. This transition has proven positive for our environment and wildlife by decreasing levels of toxic lead poisoning among birds and the land itself.

2. It’s more dense

Federal laws have banned the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl to reduce lead poisoning to both wildfowl and their environment, including our drinking water source. Since lead does not breakdown naturally in its surroundings, its presence remains in waterfowl that consume it as well as our surroundings – this being of significant concern both among environmentalists and hunters. As an alternative, non-toxic alternatives like steel shot have since been developed as non-toxic shot options.

However, upon the introduction of the shot ban, ammunition manufacturers released misleading data to mainstream media that claimed steel shot was ineffective for waterfowl hunting. This data compared standard steel loads against high-performance lead loads designed specifically for waterfowl hunting without taking into account that lower density steel meant larger pellet diameters needed to achieve comparable impact velocity and penetration rates.

Misconceptions about steel shot’s effectiveness had caused many hunters to abandon its use; especially those using older shotguns not specifically made for it. Thankfully, however, advancements within both ammo manufacturing and gun manufacturers have enabled steel shot to become more effective across a range of hunting scenarios.

Higher quality steel shot increases pellets per ounce while remaining smoother and less abrasive than its harder counterpart, making it suitable for older shotguns as well as gentler on barrels than harder steel shots. Furthermore, its increased pellet count can prove especially advantageous to hunters hunting upland game such as turkeys, quails, and pheasants.

Steel shoots tighter than lead but still provides effective patterns. In fact, it may even be easier than lead when selecting an appropriate load and choke that suit its size; or try increasing one shot size to see how that goes. Finally, there is always the non-toxic alternative such as tungsten or bismuth that deforms similarly but remains non-toxic; these may be worthwhile investments depending on your hunting needs and preferences.

3. It’s more durable

Lead shot is more brittle than steel and less likely to deform during firing, leading to smaller pieces that won’t penetrate as easily into the body when broken apart. Meanwhile, steel’s resilience means it maintains its round shape under harsher circumstances while still performing efficiently; indeed if an entire steel shot pellet were to break in half while remaining whole instead of fragmenting like its lead counterpart would retain nearly equal energy levels!

Steel shot ammunition is increasingly becoming the choice of hunters due to its toxic effects on wildlife, particularly waterfowl. Lead is particularly detrimental as it poisons aquatic life as well. Therefore, federal regulations prohibit its use over wetlands, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and areas frequented by wildfowl.

When selecting a load for game shooting, many people begin by comparing the pellet count per ounce of steel against that of their standard lead cartridge. Although more steel pellets do provide greater lethality, it’s also important to take weight into consideration; typically a No. 4 1 1/8 ounce steel load contains about 10 percent more pellets than equivalent No. 6 1 1/4 ounce lead loads and thus requires a more powerful cartridge in order to operate effectively.

Though steel shot may seem inferior to lead shot, research and field testing have demonstrated otherwise. Indeed, one such research effort conducted by the National Wildlife Research Laboratory concluded that a steel-only load produced wounding rates comparable to leads at distances up to 50 yards.

To achieve optimal results when shooting steel shot for game hunting, it is recommended to pair it with a tight choke and carefully pattern your gun prior to beginning game hunting. As previously noted, steel takes up more room than lead due to pressure and wadding requirements for barrel protection – though with careful attention paid to cartridge design and shot selection it should still perform as effectively or even better than its lead counterparts.

4. It’s more environmentally friendly

Lead shot can be extremely hazardous to waterfowl and their habitat, as well as to humans. Due to this risk, federal law prohibits its use for hunting waterfowl in federal production areas and wildlife refuges. Once this ban went into effect in 1987, waterfowlers scrambled for alternatives that would provide both effectiveness and affordability, with steel shot emerging as one such solution despite its less-than-stellar performance – however there is no scientific basis that proves steel shot less lethal than lead.

Lead shot is a toxic material that stays in the environment longer, potentially poisoning wildlife and people alike. Waterfowl are particularly at risk from eating lead, along with other birds and aquatic life. Steel shot, however, offers a safer alternative that decomposes much quicker in its environment; thus prompting federal lawmakers to push its adoption for waterfowl hunting purposes.

Recently, producing quality steel shot loads could be very expensive; but thanks to modern innovations, high-performance loads for hunters at an affordable price are now within reach. Multiple manufacturers now provide waterfowl hunters with access to a selection of high-performance steel shot options for hunting purposes.

Success with steel shot lies in its payload size. Because steel shot is lighter, it takes up more room inside of shells compared to lead pellets; thus engineers have developed larger cartridges and hinged wads specifically tailored for it.

With the right payload size and choke, a shotgun loaded with steel will work excellently. If you’re new to steel shot, open up your choke slightly at first before increasing pellet count gradually until finding your optimal mix for your gun; some brands, such as Prairie Storm Steel may even allow you to do without one altogether! However, heavier loads may necessitate fully opening it.