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Rio Bismuth Shot Review

rio bismuthBismuth shot is an old friend of mine, having worked with the very first batch of pellets invented by John Brown of Canada. Soon after, I traded information with a professor, who was working on non-toxic metal applications and raw ballistics research in England. This led to testing the then-new shotshells, which had not yet been offered in the U.S.

The English 12-gauge loads carried a totally biodegradable wad and hull, and used a very soft and somewhat rough-edged form of bismuth. Over the next three years, I shot hundreds of test patterns with it, as well as crows and waterfowl. Bismuth soon went mainstream, and hunters took hold of the bore-safe heavyweight material.

After a long hiatus, bismuth was brought back by Rio Ammunition. The affordable 3-inch, 12-gauge shotshell (also offered in 2 3/‚„-inch) consists of a plastic wad more commonly found in lead fodder, containing 191 pellets of No. 3 bismuth. These loads run out the muzzle at 1,415 fps, and maintain 600 fps of killing power out to 60 yards.

At this range, it out-guns steel 3s, extending the working energy (foot/pounds and penetration) another 15 yards. But don't push the Rio ammo any further, as cripples can be the end product of such actions.


On its own, bismuth is soft, so it always requires some type of hardening agent or blended metal (Rio uses tin) to be effective. Rio's No. 3s were very much like those offered up by Eley Hawk of England back in the day, which makes perfect sense since Hawk retains the rights to bismuth, and allowed Rio to load and market the product. During a simple cracking test on several pellets, I found them to be as resistant as high antimony lead shot, for the most part.


In terms of weight and density, bismuth is very close to pure lead shot, offering similar killing power. Indeed, Brown found an excellent non-toxic substitute for lead that is bore-safe in the finest of guns, and also effective downrange. I have tested rounds by the hundreds in some very high end double guns and observed no damage in the tubes.

Bismuth works with choke changes readily. The modern bismuth pellet won't fracture when compressed to a full choke or ultra-longrange constricted waterfowl tube as soft-shot problems are no longer an issue.

During a month-long field test on ducks and geese in South Dakota, I found feather "cutting" common with this load on birds hit hard from the side and going away shots. And it produced a clean run down the bore with no obvious scratching or cutting. These 3-inch loads delivered a stiff punch, and cycled well through my autoloader.

Shooting small Canadas in early season along the Missouri River indicated solid penetration at 35 to 45 yards, and those birds hit came down dead or immobile in each instance. Hunting early teal and ringbills, we killed ducks stone dead out to around 50 yards. I dumped several patterns into a flock of snows in the fall too, dropping a pair over a local stock dam at 35 yards. I don't recommend 3s for geese, but sometimes things just work out that way.


While patterns were not world-shattering through the SX3 and Browning Invector-Plus modified choke, there were some quality results in terms of kills.

I believe the basic shot string on these loads was long, making crossing shots easier. By late season, the hunting was dreadful, typically 30 mph winds and below zero temperatures. In these elements loads tend to become somewhat anemic at times, but the bismuth fodder did not fail in some of the worst conditions possible.

Hevi-Shot Speed Ball

The only thing Hevi-Shot Speed Ball will get you high on is pattern density and the consistent energy impacting passing mallards. A double layer of pellets — trusty Hevi-Shot backed by steel pellets plated with 22 times thicker impact-deforming copper than the industry standard — are boosted to 1,650 fps by a pressure-reducing elastomeric ball in the wad. Now available in 20-gauge.

Price: $23 to $27

Remington HyperSonic

For you gorillas that think a 10-gauge is barely adequate for high-flying geese, and you primadonnas that can barely stand to shoot a 20-bore, Big Green has expanded its smoking-fast HyperSonic line to include your favorite fowling piece. The 3½-inch, 10-gauge load coughs 1½ ounces of BBB, BB, or No. 2 shot out at 1,500 fps. Kept in a bird-killing pattern by Remington's Xelerator wad, the load turns your Christmas goose into a protein colander. As for the 20-gauge load, there's nothing girly about it: The 3-inch, 7/8-ounce hull is available in Nos. 2, 3, or 4 shot, screaming out of the barrel at 1,600 fps.

Price: $25 to $36

Black Cloud Close Range

Ducks are like relatives — when they get too close they can be hard to stop. If you're decoying tight river inlets or hunting wooded swamps, try stoking your scattergun with Federal's Close Range version of the legendary Black Cloud. Carrying a payload of 100 percent FLITESTOPPER steel delivered by FLITECONTROL wads; it's engineered to achieve full, dense patterns on decoying birds. Available in 3-inch hulls for 20 and 12 gauges.

Price: $23

Blind Side High Velocity

Shred the skies with faster-than-ever hex-shaped Winchester Blind Side. Bumping muzzle velocity up from 1,400 fps to almost 1,700 fps, Winchester's new high velocity shells make for more forgiving leads and greater per-pellet impact energy, resulting in more ducks and geese for your trusty Lab to retrieve. As always, a Diamond Cut wad launches shot consistently for nice even patterns, and Drylok construction minimizes duds.

Price: $24 to $27

Fiocchi Tundra

There's nothing that sounds quite as sinister as tungsten, and few words are more evocative than Tundra. Pair the two into a duck-slaying load, and you have migration-stopping panache of Fiocchi Tundra. Housed in a charming European hunter-green hull with a high-brass base taller than Hessian riding boots, the 3-inch, 12-gauge load delivers 1³„8 ounces of BB-No. 3 pellets at 1,300 fps.

Price: $28

Spectra Shot

Ever get in an argument over just who dropped that wood duck in the decoys? Now you can prove you're the top shot. Spectra Shot builds debate-ending waterfowl loads stoked with colored pellets. Your choice of orange, blue, yellow, or green pellets are coated with a non-toxic color coat that won't leave residue in the chamber or bore, or flake off on impact. Shotshells push 1¼ ounces of shot at 1,400 fps.

Price: $23

Kent TealSteel

We dedicate special seasons to teal, so why wouldn't we want a special load engineered just for shooting them? Ever in tune with our fowler emotions, Kent TealSteel has introduced a zippy 3-inch, 12-gauge load that punches 1¼ ounces of No. 5 Fasteel out the muzzle at 1,350 fps. The load has also proven its mettle on close-working, smaller birds like woodies.

Price: $TBD

Hevi-Shot Hevi-Metal

We killed cupped up Canadas and giant honkers at 40 yards last fall with Hevi-Shot Hevi-Metal. The loads, available for 20, 12 and 10 gauges, performed flawlessly whether the birds were working tight or skirting the edges of our spread. Hevi-Metal combines steel shot with a layering of Hevi-Shot to produce an absolutely lethal load.

Price: $22 to $26

Rio BlueSteel Super Magnum

Rio's new BlueSteel 3 ½-inch load works magic on distant, spooky birds. Choose either 1³„8 ounces of your favorite pellet size at 1,550 fps, or a thumping 1¹„‚‚† ounces at 1,300 fps. According to Rio, it takes conservation and preserving the environment very seriously, touting research that has paid off in clean, efficient cartridges as well as consistent shot patterns. And at such a low cost, it's tough to beat, especially with the way we shoot.

Price: $16

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