Steel shot is less dense than lead and reduces the range and ability of hunters to down ducks and geese. One seeming solution to this problem is to increase the speed of steel pellets. Most major manufacturers now offer higher-speed steel shot on the premise that faster shot will hit harder and help to reduce the lead-ban handicap. However, the laws of physics apply to round balls differently than bullets, as Shotgun Life’s Tom Roster clearly explains. Roster was formerly the Ballistics Research Director at Oregon Institute of Technology and then served as a Ballistics Specialist for the Department of the Interior. In these capacities, he designed and administered the world’s six most extensive lead versus nontoxic shot duck, goose, pheasant, and dove shooting tests ever conducted. Here’s his take on high-speed shot:
All shotshell manufacturers now have them: high velocity steel loads. You probably already know that most steel loads have higher instrumental velocities than most lead loads. Well, each company now offers even faster steel loads. The idea is not new, but the loadings are. If you search any shotshell manufacturer’s catalog you can now find 10, 12, and 20 gauge steel loadings with velocity levels above 1400 fps, up to 1675 fps. Are these high velocity loadings more effective than slower loadings?
The honest answer for most applications is: maybe. Another important answer is that for some shooting styles, yes; for other styles, no. Let’s examine the details. The first important fact to recognize is that the physics of balls is not the same as the physics of bullets. This is particularly true where downrange retained velocity and energy are concerned. If one starts a pointed bullet with 150 fps greater instrumental velocity than another bullet of equal mass and shape from the same rifle bore, down at 60 yards it is highly probable that the 150 fps faster bullet will retain almost that full 150 fps increased velocity and thus momentum advantage over the slower bullet. All shotshell manufacturers now offer high velocity nontoxic shot loads – especially steel – with velocities well in excess of 1400 fps. How long this trend will continue remains to be seen.