Non-Toxic Bismuth Loads on the Rise
January 28, 2020
The Stacking trend continues. Hevi-Shot’s Hevi-Hammer 3-inch 12- and 20-gauge steel/bismuth loads are available in 3" shells with muzzle velocities up to 1,500 fps.
Hevi-Shot set a standard for downrange lethality because of its high tungsten content; it was better than lead, but costly. It was made by smelting tungsten with nickel and iron. When it started out, scrap tungsten was relatively inexpensive, but times changed and tungsten became part of other items. The cost escalated, hence increasing the price of tungsten-laced shells. Ralph Nauman, the head guy at Hevi-Shot, told me obtaining the right type of tungsten for their shells became difficult.
Over the past few years, Hevi-Shot has been weaning us from tungsten loads to those using some tungsten shot stacked atop steel. Hevi-Hammer contains steel topped with in-house made bismuth pellets pushed by a 1¼-ounce charge.
Bismuth has a long history as a nontoxic pellet. The father of this publication, Robert Petersen, loved to shoot ducks with his Purdey, Boss, Holland & Holland and other fine shotguns (you can see them at the NRA Museum in Fairfax, Virginia). The 1991 mandate of steel shot was too rough for those barrels. So he took the development of bismuth pellets by Canadian carpenter John Brown, spent a sheik’s ransom on testing to satisfy the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service—he had to do it twice—and then established the Bismuth Cartridge Company, which closed following his death.
In the past five years, bismuth has come back. We compare shot’s downrange lethality by its density. The denser the pellet, the better it retains killing power. Steel shot is about 7.8 grams per cubic centimeter (gr/cc); bismuth ups the density to 9.6 gr/cc; lead runs 10-11 gr/cc depending on its alloy content of antimony and maybe a touch of arsenic. Bismuth is just about as dense (and lethal) as lead, plus it's nontoxic. And bismuth- only shotshells are soft enough to shoot through Mr. Petersen’s Purdey.
Hevi-Hammer is called “High Impact” by the folks at Hevi-Shot, and with good reason. Running some figures through my KPY Shotshell Ballistics calculator we find that steel shot with a retained energy of 1.5 foot-pounds (ft/lbs) theoretically kills out to just shy of 74 yards. Add bismuth to the mix and the range extends to 99.6 yards. I don’t suggest you try to stretch your barrel to those ranges, as patterns lose too much density beyond 50 yards and you have to register five pellets in the vital cavity of a duck with 1.5 ft/lbs of retained energy to kill it. However, within 40 yards there is plenty of shot and energy to put dinner on the table. The per-shot cost if we buy a flat is about 76-cents per shell, more than straight steel that runs about 39 cents, but the payoff comes in improved lethality.