By Tom Roster
Photograph by Dale Spartas
For years I have made every effort to evaluate new shotshell introductions in the US by requesting samples for testing. Then, when testing has been completed, my policy has been to report on the successful loads and ignore those whose performances have been lacking. Up to the late 1980s this was manageable, because shotshells were available from only three manufacturers—all in the US—and all had their new loads pretty much ready for shipment by late February after announcing them at the SHOT Show in early January.
Alas, no more. Currently there are no fewer than 15 shotshell manufacturers—10 in the US and approximately five foreign—plying their wares in the States. And typically these days their new products are not available until mid- to late summer, which greatly delays testing. Following are noteworthy new introductions for 2019. At press time I had not been able to obtain samples of any of them, so test results will have to await reporting in a future issue.
While a great gauge, 16-gauge ammunition continues to languish on the new-load-introduction scene. For 2019, however, Browning Ammunition has introduced a 2¾", 15/16-oz, 1,350-fps 16-gauge load of No. 2 steel for waterfowlers and pheasant hunters where nontoxic shot is required. Browning also has introduced a 2¾" 16-gauge 11/8-oz load of No. 6 quality lead shot at 1,295 fps and a 1-oz load of No. 8 hard lead at 1,165 fps for clay targets and small gamebirds such as doves or quail.
Backridge Ammunition is a recent start-up manufacturer in Tennessee. The company is unique in loading ITX-10, a soft tungsten-based nontoxic pellet of about 10 density, and ITX-13, a hard tungsten-based pellet of about 13 density. Loads are predominantly 12 gauge, but there are plans to expand into 10, 16 and 20 gauge. Backridge already loads 28-gauge ITX-13 loads as well as two different No. 8 lead loads. Last year I experienced excellent lethality with the 28-gauge ITX-13 loads I was sent for testing. Backridge also does quite a bit of custom loading for various hunting clubs.
For 2019 Kent has upgraded its Fasteel line with the introduction of numerous Fasteel 2.0 loads. Basically, Fasteel 2.0 loads feature significant increases in velocity to between 1,450 and 1,650 fps in 3½" and 3" 12 gauge plus one 3" 20-gauge load. Thankfully Kent has retained a 1,300-fps load in both 3" and 2¾" 12 for those seeking traditional velocities. Fasteel 2.0 steel pellets are now all zinc-plated for corrosion resistance and precision ground for high sphericity. Hulls also have been upgraded on these loads to optimize functioning in semi-autos, and the metal heads are now nickel-plated for corrosion resistance.
For 2019 Rio has introduced far and away the most lead loads. In target loads there is a new value-priced Wing & Target line of 2¾" 12-gauge light, low- and high-velocity loads of No. 7½s and 8s. Helice shooters will find no less than six new 12-gauge loads of high-antimony No. 7½s and 8s from 1,250 to 1,350 fps in paper hulls called Vintage 1896 Helice. There also are three new Vintage 1896 Paper 24-gram loads of No. 7½s, 8s and 9s at 1,335 fps. Rio also introduced a low-recoil target-load line generating softer recoil that is loaded with high-visibility blue wads that the company claims shooters can use to follow the trajectories of their shots.
But far and away the most innovative new offering from Rio is its Rio Eco BlueSteel 3" 12-gauge steel load with its new Pro Eco wad. This wad is the first 100% biodegradable, water-soluble wad. Its components are of vegetable origin and turn into compost when wet. Such a wad is long overdue to replace the bulky plastic steel-shot wads currently being used. These plastic wads do not degrade and remain highly visible sources of pollution in many waterfowling areas.
Environ-Metal, maker of HEVI-Shot, has improved HEVI-X for 2019 by loading a higher-density tungsten pellet of about 10.1 g/cc. This should up the lethality of those loads. The company also introduced a new line called HEVI-Metal Longer Range, which contains a layer (30%) of higher-density bismuth pellets over the bottom layer (70%) of steel pellets. Because of their greater density, the bismuth pellets are slightly smaller than the steel pellets. Also, because the contents are primarily steel shot, this load is suitable only for chokes that can handle hard shot.
Also new for 2019 is a lower-cost version called HEVI-Hammer, consisting of a layer (85%) of steel pellets beneath a layer (15%) of bismuth pellets.
Lastly, the HEVI-Shot folks are introducing an all-bismuth line this year. Called HEVI-Bismuth, the pellets contain 6% tin, have a density of 9.6 g/cc and, because they are soft, they can be shot through any choke.
To consult with Tom Roster or to order his manuals on reloading buffered lead and bismuth shot, reloading HEVI-Shot, or having shotgun-barrel-modification work performed or his instructional shooting DVD, contact: Tom Roster, 1190 Lynnewood Blvd., Klamath Falls, OR 97601; 541-884-2974, [email protected].