December 11, 2022
The lackluster terminal performance of first-generation steel shot when compared to standard lead loads plagued waterfowl hunters for decades since the U.S Fish and Wildlife imposed the lead ban in 1991. Manufacturers answered our plea for better downrange performance with an onslaught of deadly, non-toxic waterfowl loads, but these premium loads come with a hefty, often cringe-worthy price tag. If these premium options are simply too expensive to justify the means, not all hope is lost.
Steve Meyer, Manager of Shotshell New Product Development at Winchester, has worked within the walls of Winchester Ammunition for 34 years. During his tenure, Meyer has not only seen first-hand the progression of steel shotshells, but with the help of those around him, has been a part of creating some of the best steel loads on the market today. Meyer contributes these advancements in modern steel loads to three key components: wad design, better propellants, and higher quality steel.
“We have spent an excruciating amount of time researching and testing various wad designs, wall thickness, and wad materials,” said Meyer. Ultimately, Winchester developed their proven DryLok Wad System, which both seals the powder from moisture and delivers consistent and reliable patterns due to its four-petal design.
Advancements in propellants also give hunters an edge over the sluggish and often unstable propellants that were used early on. Newer propellants not only provide higher, consistent velocities but are substantially cleaner burning than the generations of steel loads before them.
Last, but certainly not least, higher quality steel is a huge contributing factor to steel’s terminal performance. Early steel pellets were often crude and far from their intended round shape, resulting in sporadic patterns and loss of energy. The uniform roundness of modern steel contributes to tighter patterns and subsequently more dead birds. Manufacturers have also taken steel one step further by plating their pellets in zinc or other materials to prevent rust and improve performance.
While on the topic of modern advancements in steel, I picked Meyer’s brain about their new BlindSide 2 Waterfowl loads. The hexagon shaped pellets seemed to go against what he had told me about round shot flying and patterning better, but the advantage that they provide is the ability to fit 13% more pellets in the same shot column. Winchester also slightly altered the hex shaped pellets from the original BlindSide loads. The pellets still feature six sides, but the edges are rounded as opposed to squared. This slight alteration still allows the greater number of pellets in the shot column, while increasing pattern density with more aerodynamic pellets.
Winchester’s testing of the BlindSide 2 loads showed a slight decrease in pattern density compared to perfectly round steel loads, but the increase of pellets in the payload more than make up the difference by putting more pellets inside a 30-inch circle. Hex shaped pellets also exude greater energy transfer upon impact, increasing their terminal performance and decreasing the number of cripples the dog has to chase down. From a non-scientific point of view, the BlindSide 2 loads performed in spades on mallards at the renowned Nilo Farms earlier this year. Shots ranged from cupped mallards at 10 yards to high-fliers out to 45 yards. No matter the flight pattern or distance, the BlindSide 2 loads lived up to their reputation, leaving a path of destruction in their wake and a large pile of delicious greenheads for table fare.
Meyer ended our conversation with a simple but profound statement about steel. He said, “Steel loads have come a long way in the last 30 years, but despite our best efforts, they will never be lead. It is our responsibility to recognize and know the limitations of what we are shooting.”