Nontoxic-Shot Developments

In late 2023 there were two important nontoxic-shot developments announced that should become readily available in 2024.

RotoMetals’ Prototype Bismuth Shot

RotoMetals, a manufacturer of bismuth shot located in San Leandro, California, has been refining a prototype method of manufacturing bismuth shot. RotoMetals is important, because as far as reloading is concerned, the company probably sells more bismuth shot to handloaders than any other US source. 

RotoMetals’ original bismuth shot has been available for several years. In my testing, the company’s original product produced very uniform and quite spherical bismuth pellets. And what’s more: RotoMetals’ original bismuth shot, when tested for fragmentation against competitive bismuth shot, has always produced an extremely low fragmentation rate—significantly lower than many of its competitors as of 2023. This is due principally to the 6-percent tin content in RotoMetals’ original bismuth. I have measured up to a 50-percent fragmentation rate with some competitive bismuth-shot products—reloading and factory—compared to RotoMetals’ 10-percent-or-less rate.

RotoMetals’ motive for its prototype bismuth shot is an effort to reduce the price point. From my calculations, the prototype bismuth has been selling for about 15 percent less for 10 pounds than the company’s original bismuth product. RotoMetals’ prototype bismuth is available in three mixed sizes: No. 3s and 4s, No. 5s and 6s, and No. 7s and 8s. My testing found the actual pellet-size range to be about three pellet sizes. There was also noticeable slag and odd-shaped pellets in the mix. Happily, the fragmentation rate of RotoMetals’ prototype pellet tested out at only 10 percent. When I pattern-tested it, I couldn’t tell much difference at distances of 25 yards or less between the prototype and the original product. But at 25 to 35 yards there was about a 15 percent fall-off in pattern density for the prototype. All of this was with unbuffered loads. Keep in mind that this new bismuth product is in its infancy, and RotoMetals is working to improve it. 

Before going further, I want to emphasize that fragmentation is the weakest characteristic of forming the element bismuth into a pellet for the simple reason that bismuth is by its nature highly frangible. Frangibility is not a problem with any other metal or mixture of metals currently being formed into pellets, including lead, steel and the various tungsten composites. 

This does not mean that bismuth shot cannot be a successful pellet type for bird hunting. It can be—and is—if employed within its unique frangibility and deformation limitations. These make unbuffered bismuth loads principally a close- and medium-range nontoxic-ammunition choice. The one proven method to get longer-range performance out of bismuth shot is to buffer it.

For more information, visit

HEVI-Shot HEVI-Metal Xtreme 

In late 2023 HEVI-Shot Ammunition announced the introduction of what it calls its “All-New” HEVI-Metal Xtreme waterfowl loads. HEVI-Metal Xtreme is not so much a new load as it is a reintroduction of the original-formula HEVI-Shot HEVI-Metal (no Xtreme in the original name) waterfowl loads. 

HEVI-Metal Xtreme loads are layered nontoxics consisting of 70 percent steel shot beneath a 30-percent layer of the company’s original 12-g/cc HEVI-Shot in pellets three sizes smaller than the steel. The idea behind the load is that the three-sizes-smaller, 12-density, tungsten-composite pellets are of similar weight to the larger steel pellets and thus retain similar downrange energy. But because the 12-density pellets are smaller, by making up 30 percent of the shot charge they greatly increase the pellet count. And because both steel shot and the 12-density tungsten-composite pellets are essentially non-deformable, the load, which inherently patterns very densely, now has a significantly increased pellet count. This has resulted in HEVI-Metal Xtreme being a truly effective and lethal layered-pellet nontoxic load that has performed very well in my field testing.

The reason this load is a significant improvement over a straight-pellet steel load and other current mixed-pellet-size or layered nontoxic loads is that finally we have a sufficient amount of the smaller-size, higher-density pellets being added to the bulk of the load. As I’ve written before, just sprinkling a little high-density tungsten-composite shot on top of a steel- or bismuth-shot load does not improve lethality; it just increases the load’s price. But when you up the higher-density tungsten-composite pellet content to at least 30 percent, the lethality of the load has been truly increased, especially pattern-density wise. 

The way one should interpret the performance capability of a HEVI-Metal Xtreme load is to recognize that its lethality is directly proportional to what the steel-pellet size in the load can do. For example, in both 3" 12 gauge and 3" 20 gauge there are two duck-load choices: No. 4 tungsten composite with No. 1 steel and No. 6 tungsten composite with No. 3 steel. The two loads containing No. 1 steel would be the long-range large-duck loads, and the two loads containing No. 3 steel would be the medium-range large- and medium-duck and pheasant loads. In late fall 2023 a 3" 12-gauge goose load with No. BB steel and No. 2 tungsten composite was also added. The 3" 12-gauge loads are 1¼ oz at 1,450 fps, and the 3" 20-gauge loads are 1116 oz at 1,350 fps. All of the loads should be comfortable to shoot recoil-wise. 

About the only really new component change in HEVI-Metal Xtreme is that the pellets are now contained in Federal’s FliteControl FLEX wad. This is a softer-petal version of the original FliteControl wad and was designed to not hang up in ported choke tubes. 

For more information on all products from HEVI-Shot, visit

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