UplandJitsu – The Art of Upland Hunting

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Whether you agree with it or not, Non-Toxic ammo restrictions are becoming a reality and are picking up steam. For instance, California has completely banned lead ammo, including shot for upland game. Believe it or not, MANY states already have some form of restriction on lead shot for pursuing many types of upland game species or when hunting on certain wildlife refuges or state ran lands. States like Arizona have been encouraging hunters to make the shift, especially in areas where condors exist. Federal law has required the usage of non-toxic shot for harvesting waterfowl for years already.

If you live in California or hunt in a non-tox restrictive area, you have some choices to make! Steel is the most readily available form of non-toxic ammo for shotguns, but there are a few drawbacks. Using steel shot is simply not an option for people who want to use their old-vintage guns, as the steel shot’s hardness will eventually ruin the barrels, especially those with fixed FULL chokes. This relegates your old grand-pappy’s hand-me-down Browning A5 or that vintage Parker double you spent your 401K on to a closet queen. No if’s or but’s. Keep steel shot away from older guns. I recommend steel shot for modern guns and chokes that are specifically designed to use steel shot. Some people will tell you it’s okay to shoot through vintage barrels as long as they are not FULL choked, but I rather err on the side of caution when it comes to barrels that were not made with steel shot in mind.

Furthermore, steel shot is less dense than lead, which means it loses it’s energy much more quickly than lead shot at the same ranges. This can mean shortened effective ranges and velocity, causing missed birds or worse, crippled birds. I have personally experienced this a few times and it was enough for me to swear off steel for awhile. You may be able to compensate, however, by going up one or two-shot sizes and upping your FPS. Do not let this scare you from using steel, however! With technological advances with cupped wads and other ammo components, there are plenty of premium steel loads out there that are very capable of clean kills and provide adequate takedown power. Like any premium ammo, expect a premium price, however!

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For high-volume shooting like dove-hunting, you might consider buying the cheap steel loads, rather than the expensive steel or other non-tox loads. This might ensure that you do not have to take out a mortgage for ammo on the dove opener!

Aside from steel, there are various other non-tox options that I would actually prefer to use over steel, especially since I enjoy bringing out my old vintage Ithaca pump-gun to the field, rather than my modern guns. Bismuth, NICE, and ITX have been on the scene for a few years but Bismuth is currently the most readily available, outside of Hevi-Shot ammo. I have yet to find NICE or ITX shells at any of the larger ammo retailers.

Bismuth quickly became the first and favorite non-tox/non-steel ammo option among waterfowl hunters and upland hunters alike. The element known as bismuth is actually one of the main ingredients for the popular “Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea” medicine, Pepto-Bismol! When a small amount of tin is added to bismuth (for integrity purposes), it creates one of the best non-toxic options out there, in my humble opinion! It closely resembles lead ammo options as far as ballistics go and is quite easy on vintage barrels, which is a big plus for me and other guys who use their old antique guns in the pursuit of upland game!

I personally have used Kent’s Bismuth Upland loads through my old 37, and I have been more than content with results thus far. It patterns nicely and hits hard. While Bismuth is denser than steel, it is softer, making it a great option for vintage barrels.

Although Bismuth loads are not cheap ($30-65 a box), they are becoming the most readily available alternative to steel loads and we are starting to see prices come down dramatically. Bismuth is currently used by various ammo manufacturers such as Kent, RST, and even Environ-Metal (Hevi-Shot).

NICE shot is another non-toxic and steel alternative. The manufacturer of NICE shot claims it is denser than Bismuth but slightly less dense than tungsten blended loads like Hevi-Shot. The primary “ingredient” to NICE shot is tungsten, blended with other materials I was not able to confirm at the time of this writing. Not as readily available, but when it is in stock, you can purchase directly from the manufacturer (limited options) and from RST (when available).

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ITX is newer in the non-tox ammo scene. Comprised of a unique blend of tungsten, copper, nickel, and iron, ITX is denser than Bismuth and is also a lot cheaper! I did some searching and found that the primary ammo manufacturer that uses ITX was completely out of #6 shot loads. ITX does not seem to be readily available just yet, but at $10 cheaper than Bismuth, it is worth a shot, if you can find it!

Hevi-Shot has been a game-changer for waterfowl hunters looking for an alternative to steel shot for years! Recently, Hevi-Shot has turned its attention to the upland hunting market and came out with some great non-tox options! With far-reaching and hard-hitting loads, Hevi-Shot is a worthy contender! It is worth pointing out, that although Hevi-Shot is softer than steel, it actually much harder than Bismuth or lead, and they actually do not recommend shooting through full-chokes on their disclaimers. Hevi-Shot pellets are a blend of tungsten, nickel, iron, and other proprietary materials, and typically only come in boxes of 10 shells, although some of their products are starting to show up in boxes of 25. Hevi-Shot’s Classic Doubles shotshells only come in a box of 10, for instance, and retail well over $60 a box, making them the most expensive tungsten blend option mentioned in this article!

Speaking of tungsten, there are rarely any 90-100% tungsten loads on the market today, just because tungsten is such an expensive material. It is not practical for most hunters to shoot ammo with high tungsten content. Some of the above options (as mentioned) do contain tungsten blends, so for all intents and purposes, I will not get into pure (or close to pure) tungsten ammo (which is typically designed as “specialty” ammo, think turkey). The price of tungsten is steadily rising, and I suspect that other options such as Bismuth will become even more financially attainable for all soon.

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The following is a list of great non-toxic shotgun ammo that I compiled after scouring the internet for my own non-tox ammo needs. Unless previously stated, I have not personally tested these loads and I encourage you to do your own research as it pertains to appropriate pressure loads, shotgun and choke compatibility and your own personal safety. All vintage guns should be thoroughly inspected by a competent gunsmith and all manufacturer recommendations should be heeded.

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1). Backridge Ammunition ITX

2). NICE Shot Inc.

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3). BOSS Shotshells Copper Plated Bismuth

4). Rio Bismuth

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5) RST Bismuth

6). Federal Upland Steel

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7). Federal Prairie Storm FS Steel

8). Hevi-Shot Hevi-Bismuth Upland

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9). Hevi-Shot Classic Doubles

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10). Kent Cartridge Upland Fasteel

11). Kent Cartridge Bismuth Upland

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As you can see, there is no shortage of options for non-toxic ammo, however, retailer availability will be the weakest link. In California, for instance, it appears that retailers are still well-stocked with lead ammo options, but non-toxic ammo makes up very little of stock on hand. What little they have, will likely disappear quickly in the weeks and days before the major seasons kick-off, so plan ahead and buy now! As everyone adjusts to the transition, I believe retailers will catch on and start stocking more non-tox options in the future.

I talk to a lot of people about the lead ban in California, almost on a daily basis. There is a lot of frustration and disdain for the ban. I shrug my shoulders and think to myself, well, we knew this was happening since 2013 and had plenty of time to adjust and prepare. Why are you mad? It’s easy to be upset and throw our arms up in the air in defeat… but I would much rather embrace the change, adapt and hunt up some birds.

God Bless & Happy Hunting,

-J.R.

This blog expresses the opinion of the author. All information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. UplandJitsu.com makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>