by John McDougall
As mentioned elsewhere in this duck season feature, there are basically two types of steel shot loads so far as the proofing of guns goes. Then there is also bismuth, a third alternative available in Australia, albeit quite expensive. Steel shot proofed guns are now readily on offer in Australia so most of the loads discussed will relate to the High Performance (HP) loads although Gamebore also has a selection of loads with smaller sized shot for shooting close-range ducks or for what are called ‘swatter loads’ – for the despatch of wounded ducks.
My assessment of the following loads comes from both testing them and sharing the technical expertise of my good friend, Glenn Falla, who was a former ballistics technician at Winchester Australia and has recently established his own duck safari company for overseas shooters. I have shot ducks with Glenn on several occasions and his input has been invaluable.
Eley – distributed by NIOA, Queensland
Eley VIP Bismuth is a preferred load of mine as a non-toxic substitute for lead. I like it because of all types of non-toxic offerings, bismuth is the closest to lead shot in performance and it has no adverse effects on your gun, regardless of whether it is steel shot proofed or not. I have shot ducks consistently out to 40m with excellent results but a packet of 25 shells costs around $65. It is expensive but I take fewer shots than using steel for outright kills so I make up for it in less quantity of shooting. It is a 32-gram load in a 70mm hull travelling at 1362fps.
Eley VIP Steel travels at 1410fps and comes in a 76mm loading in 32 grams. I have been quite impressed with this load out to 40m with size four shot and larger and can highly recommend the load, especially for shooting over decoys and pass shooting along rivers and creeks. Prices vary depending on shipping expenses to dealers so it pays to shop around.
Eley Lightning Steel is travelling at 1410fps and loaded in 36 grams and a 76mm hull. This is the premium of the Eley loads and picks up on pattern with the extra pellets from the heavier shot load. Being around the 1400fps mark it is good out to 40m for all types of duck hunting and is great for overhead shots in swamps or large waterways. It is easy to stretch the load on more distant ducks but I prefer to keep the range around 40m for clean kills. Another excellent load from Eley.
Eley VIP Lightning Steel is a premium 36-gram load travelling around 1410fps and loaded into a 76mm hull. I have used this load successfully on the rice, stretching the barrel and load out to 70m dropping ducks – not that I would ever suggest such shooting, especially during the game season. I used size four shot to good value and can certainly vouch for the performance of this load for those who shoot mostly around the 40m mark. Using them on close ducks is really a waste of a cartridge and money. Great also for overhead shooting on swamps.
Federal Steel – distributed by NIOA, Queensland
The Federal Steel Waterfowl Load is a basic steel shot all-round load in a 70mm hull which suits most older guns chambered in the shorter 2¾” instead of the semi-magnum 3” chambering. Travelling at 1375fps it is successful over decoys and to taking ducks out to 35m. I have used it over the rice fields during the duck season and have found it to be a strong performer for in-close ducks. The outlay can vary so it helps to shop around for a competitive price due to freight charges and volumes ordered by dealers.
Gamebore – distributed by On Target Products, Melbourne
Gamebore Super Steel is available in either 28-gram or 32-gram loads in a variety of shot sizes. This is an ideal load for shooting ducks over decoys or short pass shooting along a river or creek. Travelling at 1400fps and offered in a 70mm hull, this load is suited to many older guns but I would not encourage shooting any larger than three shot through a modified choke as maximum.
Gamebore Hyper Steel is a 32-gram load travelling at 1500fps while still offered in a 70mm hull suited to 2¾” chambered guns. I have dropped ducks out to longer than imaginable distances with this load with some success on the rice. It is well suited to pass shooting on large waters such as lakes and swamps and is deadly over decoys set out to 40m.
On Target Products also has a great range of sub-gauge steel shot loads for those shooting other than 12-gauge loadings.
Hevi-Metal – distributed by OSA, Melbourne
This is what I would call a duplex load which means it is loaded with both Hevi-Metal and steel shot. The steel shot is to the forefront of the shell with the Hevi-Metal to the rear. Travelling at 1500fps and in a 76mm hull containing 36 grams of shot, I found these lethal out to 40m and maybe so far as 50m for those who like some long-range gunning. These are almost twice the price of standard steel shot loads but once again, it pays to shop around for the best value.
Remington – distributed by Raytrade, Melbourne
Remington Nitro Steel loads are also a good all-round load. Travelling at 1390fps and offered in a 32-gram load and 70mm hull for use in a variety of guns, I would not recommend their use in guns choked more than modified. I have used these successfully over dams and decoys and suggest them for that type of shooting. Also great for pass shooting on rivers and creeks out to 35m, they are quite affordable and available from a wide dealership network supporting Remington products.
Remington HyperSonic loads are offered in a 76mm hull and are cited at 1700fps, making them the fastest of all steel shot loads up for grabs. I have shot these over the rice with some success and favour them for pass shooting out to 50m which is somewhat of a barrel stretch. Being a 36-gram load they also have plenty of pellets to fill in any voids at such distances as cited. These are only suitable for use in steel shot proofed guns with a choke constriction of no more than modified.
Winchester – distributed by Winchester Australia, Geelong
Winchester Duck Load High Velocity Steel is a 34-gram load packed into a 70mm hull and is cited to be travelling at 1500fps. These are only suited to steel shot proofed guns due to their velocity and should also not be used in guns with more than half choke constriction – remembering half choke lead shot is equivalent to full choke steel. Great all-round loads although a little savage on close ducks over decoys but they kill. I prefer these in size four shot for my first barrel and size two shot for my second with passing shots on creeks and in swamps.
Winchester Blind Side Hex Steel is a premium Winchester load travelling at 1400fps and in a 76mm hull. A massive 42 grams has been packed into the hull and despite its purposeful non-spherical shape the load kills ducks well. I have had great success over billabongs and creeks although it was a little overkill on farm dams. As a premium load it is more expensive than the Winchester Duck Load but would be well appreciated by the serious hunter. Costs vary so as with all ammunition featured, it pays to shop around for best prices.
In conclusion, as we are in the age of the internet and Google, websites can be searched for local dealers stocking the products listed. I will be using my bismuth loads this opening as steel shot can be unkind to birds with serious bleed-outs and macerated flesh as it passes straight through ducks at short ranges. With bismuth I like size four shot for humane kills and less bruising while for steel loads I prefer four shot or three shot in my first barrel followed up by two shot for a second barrel. Of course on dams for closer shooting, size four and six shot come into their own with six shot in my first barrel and four shot as a follow-up load. Enjoy your duck season during 2018 and become good stewards of your sport. Pick up your empties when you can and don’t shoot protected species. Until next time, safe shooting.