Rio Bismuth Shot Review

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/â‚„-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.

Recommended for You


Sweet Jalapeño Grilled Duck Recipe

Scott Leysath, "The Sporting Chef"

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will...


Ducks Unlimited: A Duck Man's Best Friend

David Hart

To date, Ducks Unlimited has played a role in conserving 14 million acres.


Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Arkansas Snow Geese

Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles took this short video showing all the Snow Geese flying. Let's just say, he had a very good hunt!

Picking a Puppy

Wildfowl contributor Mark Romanack shares advice about choosing your next retriever.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...


Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!


Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

See More Stories

More Ammo


How It's Made: Exploring Rio Ammunition's New Texas Facility

John Taylor - July 15, 2015

The familiar clickety-clack of loaders turning out boxes of shotgun shells in mere seconds is...


Waterfowl Loads: Spectra Shot Review

L.P. Brezny - November 14, 2013

The debate over who makes the best waterfowl load is never-ending. And when Spectra Shot...


Kent TealSteel: The Real Deal

John Taylor - March 21, 2016

They're small birds that buzz the spinners tight, sometimes swinging wide and landing close...

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.