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By Reese Johnson via

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has completed a two-year study of dove hunting, comparing the effectiveness of lead shot versus non-toxic shot. This was a “double-blind” study with neither hunters nor observers knowing what they were shooting to remove bias. Both hunters and and observers recorded data based on these hunts to determine the effectiveness of the loads. The results may surprise you . . .

In the end, lead and non-toxic performed virtually equivalently in the field. There was no significant data pointing either way to give one an edge. The main difference between the two loads is price because of the metals used.

Whether lead or non-toxic shot is used will remain a variable and a concern between private and state hunting areas. It’s key to know your local regulations and what’s required in your area, however you can feel safe in knowing that your steel shot will pile up those doves just the same.

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  1. What is “non-toxic”?
    Are we talking steel, bismuth, or what?

    I would surely hope that bismuth performs as well as lead.

    If steel performs equal to lead in real world hunting, that would be a pleasant surprise.

    • The study examined three, 12-gauge, 2¾-inch loads designed and manufactured to mirror loads that are used most often by dove hunters. The different load types included: 1⅛ ounce of No. 7½ lead shot, 1 ounce of No. 6 steel (iron) shot, and 1 ounce of No. 7 steel shot.

  2. OK I don’t think it really matters, however, what about the “so called” “environmental” impact. I think it’s a crock, however, the tree hugers will. They have been trying to ban lead rounds for a while. In conjunction with the anti gun nuts.

    • Under the right soil conditions, lead oxidizes producing a salt. This is what is toxic, and it can mobilize into the groundwater. Where it goes matters. Where and how deep is your well, for instance?

        • “Remind me. Where does lead come form again? I mean the ore. Where do we get that from?”


          Mine the rock, grind it into a fine mud with a ball mill, feed that into a tank of water with some chemicals that stick to the lead, bubble air through it, paddle off the foam (that has lead stuck to it) that floats to the top of the float cell, dry it and smelt it.

          And trust me, there’s a metric sh!t-ton of EPA and OSHA paperwork to go along with it.

        • Yes I get your point. It comes from somewhere other than where we ballistically place it. Or did before 0bola shut down the last primary smelter. Again, lead salts are the problem, not stable lead ore. I don’t know that hunters place enough lead in the wild to be a problem, but it sure can be at ranges. My club is adjacent to (and predates, thankfully) a residential area on well water. The typical conditions at my local club that support salt formation include acidic sandy soils. We mitigate that by spreading an alkaline product on and in front of the berms to keep the ph up where it needs to be to limit salt formation. We also have a lead recycler scoop the sand and sort out the lead. You can read more if you like, nothing wrong with being proactive good stewards of the land:

        • The vast majority of lead in the USA is recycled from vehicle batteries and the like.

          Gun ranges screen their backstop media to recycle the copper and lead.

          There are very few (If any) mines in operation.

        • We’re (the USA) importing lead ingots.

          Not sure from where, Russia or maybe Mexico probably.

          The only place in the world where tetraethel lead (motorfuel additive) was last made was Russia, not sure if it still is. You can still buy TEL on-line, so someone is still making it.

        • Lead producing countries – China, by far is #1, followed by Australia.

          No surprise it’s China…

      • Under the right conditions everything causes problems. Antis don’t give a shit about any thing except banning guns by any means. And if lead ammo is declared illegal for hunting we have a problem

        • Pick your battles. You’re right about the antis, but others don’t care about your guns, they just care about lead poisoning of birds. Dad worked for Audubon for 31 years. Not all conservationists are anti-gunners. Many are hunters.

    • About 20 years ago on our local national wildlife refuge I saw 5 different geese over the course of a month with lead pointing in the swimming in the impoundment…they could not hold their head up, and died slow deaths…very sad. The employes had let some water down in the public hunting area and if you scooped up a hand full of mud, many pellets were apparent.
      That said, in areas that fire is not concentrated year after year, such as an open prairie, I don not believe there is significant enough lead accumulation to bother any fauna.

  3. Results did not surprise me. I reckon patterning and hunter skill is far more important in dove hunting than the metal selected for the ammo. After all, a load capable of killing a hippopotamus won’t do jack if you don’t hit your target.

  4. Go over to Randy Wakeman Outdoors for more in depth information.
    He gets pretty deep into this type of stuff.
    Lead will outperform steel as it is denser and it will make a difference on larger game shot at longer ranges.
    Dove hunting is not a great test for steel versus lead.
    There are good lead substitutes, but they are more expensive.
    I just do not see lead to be the problem the enviro-nazis say it is in that the pellets are going to very dispersed over a large swath of land.

      • “Dove hunting is not a great test for steel versus lead.”

        Probably a true enough statement, but since this is a TPWD study their interest is on dove hunting, which in Texas accounts for a far greater number of hunters than geese or ducks.

  5. One redeeming feature of steel shot is that it is less likely to deform and keep its round shape which makes its performance somewhat better than many ammunition experts expected.

  6. Having hunted dove with steel 8 shot “dove loads” and 7.5 shot lead “dove loads” I can say from experience that lead out performs steel by a wide margin. Longest clean kill with lead was 78 yards. Longest clean kill with steel was 25 yards. However, 6 shot steel duck loads did ok on dove if you don’t mind the larger holes and wasted meat.

  7. Lead comes out of the ground, lead shot goes back in.

    As far as I know, there’s no reactor banging niobium atoms against one another really hard to increase the amount of lead in the environment.

    • Elemental lead is not a problem.

      The problem is when lead shot is in soil that is acidic or acidic rain falls on it.

      Then it makes its way into the groundwater.

      It’s debatable how much a problem that it is, for decades the lead in gasoline exhaust fumes filled the air and precipitated out into the soil…

      • >> It’s debatable how much a problem that it is, for decades the lead in gasoline exhaust fumes filled the air and precipitated out into the soil…

        And we know have some interesting data on how the presence of lead in gasoline (and its subsequent ban) seemed to have correlated very well with a spike in crime rates (and its subsequent reduction). Down to specific countries and even cities.

        • I remember encountering that in human ecology class, and everyone laughed like it was a — then the prof hauled out the raw data for us to work it out for ourselves as homework. It was much-sobered class that gathered the next day.

  8. I live in CA so either I use steel, or lead substitutes that must be made of gold judging by their prices. Steel shot seems to pattern better from my shotguns. But it does not seem to hit as hard as lead.

    I routinely used lead #6’s for most of my small game hunting in the day. Now I use steel #5’s. For dove season I will be using steel #7.

    I also used a 20 ga for a lot of my small game hunting. Thought it was the perfect bunny gun. Now I use the 12 exclusively. More shot means better chance to anchor the animal when using steel.

  9. I believe the prohibition of lead shot was first dreamed up in California (home of the whackos), in the Calif Condor Preserve. IIRC the stated purpose was to Save The Environment, because the birds might accidentally ingest some lead shot.
    And because, you know, Lead is Bad.
    The prohibition was later enlarged to include hunting projectiles as well as birdshot, and the areas affected were also expanded.

    I don’t remember any specific mention of groundwater concerns at the time.

    Nor do I recall any concern for the larger number of crippled, wounded and lost birds due to the less effective lead substitutes.

    Now, I am no Expert, but I doubt there is enough stray lead shot laying around out there to pose a creditable threat to groundwater. In recent years there has been some hand-wringing about lead at gun ranges (because, you know, Lead Is Bad.)

    I believe this is more about persecuting gun owners, than any genuine concern for the planet at large, or the health of gun owners in general.

    Because, you know, Guns Are Bad…


    For the record, I suggest eating as little lead as possible.

    • Banning lead shot started at the federal level. Nationwide there has been a ban on lead shot for waterfowling for a good 30 years, if not more.

      CA just added to the stupidity.

      • When the lead ban for waterfowl went in place I saw a lot of older hunters who were on fixed incomes gave up hunting as their old guns couldnt take the steel shot. Saw the same thing here in the condor range when the lead ban went into effect. Paradoxicaly, this created a slight uptick in the number of hunters in the area because younger hunters who had switched to lead free saw the newly created vacuum and rushed into the area to fill it. At the end of the day the lead ban just ran out the older folks, which is sad for many reasons, but for me I have always learned the most from the older guys.

        • I’m an older guy that left hunting, not because of lead shot, and had not been afield in over 30 years. Got the bug again from my son. Now I’m relearning a lot of the skills I had as a youngster.

  10. I use steel shot in my stoeger coach gun (fixed chokes) hundreds of rounds, NO damage. From tinkering around with it I’;ve figured out that @ 25 yards it drops appx one choke size. ie. Shooting steel thru IC choke equates to using a mod choke.(pattern size at range) For me turkey hunting using lead #6 in the mod barrel and #4 steel in the IC barrel has proved to work really well. (standard 2 3/4 shells) This also solved the “short” and “long” range problem when using a double(forward trigger/rear trigger)- Now I have two barrels just about the same that work at X range. BUT the steel loses energy faster at range hence the #4 steel instead of # 6 steel. So many people NEVER do ANY patterning with their scatterguns be it hunting OR Home Defense. To me it’s stupid not to. Sure shooting 3 inch mags out of a coachgun is like getting kicked by a mule that knows karate- #6 1 7/8 oz mag loads kick harder than standard buck shot or slugs.

    ** not really related but I’ve found that mod chokes work much better with SOME shotguns using buckshot than the full choke. So EVERYBODY go shoot those scatterguns!!!

  11. This is one battle we simply should be on the right side of despite the antis trying to use it as well.

    The hunting population and the conservation movement are tied and usually the same people.

    Lead shot acidifies and eventually gets into the water, The snarky response of “where does lead ore come from” fails. Do some reading. It does not degrade into the surface and water table when in rock. It does when shot as shot out tens of millions of times.

    We ought to be think of smart ways to push for steel shot during hunting that insure that this is maximized, while not playing into the anti’s strategy of banning/super-taxing lead ammo in any form, including target ammo, in order to a) decrease availability b) increase price c) make gun owners seem like people who don’t care about the environment (when the opposite is the case).

  12. Friends who hunt with raptors (falcons, hawks, eagles even) make convincing arguments against lead shot and bullets.
    I challenged their desire to ban ALL lead ammo. “If you had said ‘…except for self-defense ammo and at shooting ranges.’ I would have been more open to point. But ‘all lead ammo’ sounds like a gun-grabber is in charge of the effort.”
    My friends agreed. Their point: Wild raptors eat lost game birds and deer gut piles and get lead poisoning.
    “How about ‘No leaving gut piles in the field.'” (Where I live it’s easy to find two or three deer-processing places close to the woods.) They seemed agreeable.
    P.S. If you ever have a chance to hunt with a raptor, do it.

    • Why in the world would there be lead in a pile of deer guts? The only thing I can think of is sloppy shooting.

  13. Interesting topic, but poor test subject. Doves are too easy to kill. If they wanted a real bird to check it on try pheasants or bigger grouse


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