June 14, 2022
By Colton Heward
Winchester’s new waterfowl Bismuth load is the most recent player to enter the premium, non-toxic shot arena. Toting Winchester’s tradition of excellence, the new Bismuth waterfowl loads will, no doubt, be a force in the waterfowl world—and with good reason.
“We designed our new bismuth load to be the best of the best,” said Ben Frank, Winchester’s Product Manager. The inferior performance of early steel shot plagued waterfowl hunters after lead shot was banned in 1991. Since then, many a cuss word has been spewed by disheartened waterfowl hunters frustrated with the terminal performance of standard steel loads. This growing resentment opened the doors for ammo companies to expand their horizons in search of a deadlier non-toxic shot. The result? An onslaught of premium non-toxic loads with impressive claims of tighter patterns, increased terminal performance, and extended lethal ranges.
What’s in Winchester Bismuth?
The science behind bismuth’s superiority over steel is straight-forward. Steel shot carries a density of 7.8 g/cc (grams per cubic centimeter). Bismuth shot weighs in at 9.6 g/cc, 20% denser than its steel counterpart. Simple physics tells us that the heavier an object is, the more energy it will carry and subsequently transfer into your intended target down range. The result is quick kills and fewer clean-up shots.
The idea behind bismuth shot makes sense, but it also presents its own unique set of challenges. Mainly, bismuth can be brittle and is prone to breaking and fracturing when placed under pressure. Once bismuth breaks, its ability to maintain energy down range diminishes.
Winchester overcame this hurdle by incorporating a buffer, made of tiny polymer beads, into the payload creating a two-fold ripple effect. First, the buffer protects the bismuth from fracturing or breaking when fired. Second, by maintaining the integrity of the bismuth pellet, the buffer drastically tightens the pattern.
Field Testing Winchester Bismuth
With the promise of improved patterns, it was time for some testing. Using a 12-gauge Benelli SBE3 with the factory Crio modified choke, I fired three shots into 30-inch circles at 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards. I then counted the holes in each circle to determine the average pattern percentage at each distance. When I broke open multiple 3-inch #4 shot loads, they contained between 198 and 205 bismuth pellets.
The results were as promised. At 30 and 40 yards the new load put an impressive 80.3% (163 pellets), and 69.95% (142 pellets) into their respective 30-inch circles. At 50 yards the pattern opened up but still held a 45.81% (93 pellets) pattern. By the time the load hit 60 yards it had expanded substantially putting 25.12% (51 shot) of the payload inside the 30-inch circle.
It is also worth noting that when counting pellet holes on the patterning paper I found zero dents or impressions from broken bismuth. Winchester also integrated two key features into their new bismuth loads to “keep water out and keep powder dry,” said Frank. First, they utilized a double sealed wad specifically designed to keep moisture out of the powder pocket. Winchester then lacquered the primers to give another seal of protection from the potentially damaging side effects of prolonged exposure to water. I wouldn’t advise purposely dunking them in water, but you can expect them to stand up to the severe elements that waterfowlers put them through.
Winchester’s new 3-inch 12-gauge loads push a 1 3/8-ounce payload of #4 shot an advertised 1,450 fps. They will also be offering this new load in 12-gauge #1 shot, as well as a 20-gauge offering in 3-inch #4 shot. All of this sounds good on paper, but can it perform in the field? I can confidently answer that question with a resounding yes. I field tested this new load on a recent trip to Kodiak Island on hearty sea ducks as well as closer to home on a mixed bag of puddle ducks that included a beautifully plumed “storm” wigeon. I never attempted to reach out and shoot past about 45 yards, but the birds that I did shoot were dead when they hit the water with the exception of a single drake Barrow’s goldeneye that caught the back half of my pattern.
A box of 25 shells will run $40-$50. Pricey? Yes, but on par with other bismuth and the slightly more expensive price per shell will be offset by the decreased number of shells you will need for finishing wounded birds. From the rigorous demands of hunting sea ducks on the salty coastlines of Kodiak, to puddle ducks close to home, Winchester’s new Bismuth waterfowl loads will deliver less cripples, less cuss words, and more birds in the bag.