October 10, 2013
Non-Toxic Shot: Bismuth is Back
By Phil Bourjaily
Bismuth, the first non-toxic alternative to steel shot, is back. With the price of tungsten ammo going from expensive to “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” prices, that’s good news, at least for those who can pay $2-$3 per shell for shotgun ammo. Bismuth pellets are actually a bismuth-tin alloy that is almost as dense as lead. It’s brittle, rather than hard, so it doesn’t damage gun barrels and it reacts to choke about the way lead did. Bismuth is a good choice for those who hunt waterfowl with older guns and nice doubles that can’t tolerate steel.
Bismuth shot appeared in the 90s, first sold in the U.S. by the Bismuth Cartridge Company, then by Winchester, then under the Bis-Maxx brand, then it went away. Now it’s back, loaded by Rio Ammunition of Spain. Rio is actually owned by the same parent company as Eleyhawk, the English ammo maker that originally sold bismuth shot, and Rio had a hand in loading previous incarnations of bismuth. The new bismuth should be available at some larger mail order outfits like Natchez Shooting Supply this fall.
These bismuth pellets are supposed to be improved over the old ones but they are still quite brittle. Some broke upon striking bone of the two geese I shot with them, others broke when I bit them. I never had trouble killing anything with the old bismuth shot, and always counted it as an advantage that it didn’t hurt when you bit down on a pellet at the dinner table. Still, it would be better for terminal ballistics if some of the pellets didn’t break up in the bird. Bismuth comes in no size smaller than 3, which is what I used, and what I would consider on the small side for a goose pellet. I predict these shells will do very well on ducks and pheasants. I will be trying them on both and will report back.
Bismuth will initially be available in 3,4,5,6 and 7 shot in 2 ¾-inch and 3-inch 12 gauge and 3-inch 20 gauge loadings. Other gauges may become available if the 12s and 20s sell. Rioammo.com