Each year most shotshell manufacturers introduce new loads and/or changes to existing loads. Some years a few loads are introduced that prove to be downright revolutionary. I have chosen to focus on that short list of worthy loads for 2022 here.
I have been working for months trying to develop predictable and repeatable sub-gauge handloading recipes for 18-g/cc tungsten-composite, nontoxic TSS (Tungsten Super Shot). I now have achieved only a couple of recipes that lab testing has confirmed meet those standards. But most recipe efforts have failed due to yielding erratic ballistics. Hodgdon Powder Company has recorded the same problematic readings in its ballistic lab and as a result has stated it “has not and never will publish TSS reloading data.” Another big issue holding back TSS is its astronomical cost and unreliability of supply. It currently sells with shipping for a little more than $50 a pound compared to steel at about $2.25. This makes TSS about 22 times more expensive.
Given these factors, for now I would recommend that those interested in shooting TSS shot check out Apex Ammunition. This recently formed US company run by veterans offers the most extensive group of TSS factory loads available: from 3" 12-gauge through 28-gauge (excluding 16-gauge), with .410 loads available upon request. Apex’s two principal pure TSS loads are its Upland Bird TSS and Waterfowl TSS. It also offers a variety of TSS/steel layered loads.
I have tested all of these Apex loads and found them ballistically excellent, producing remarkable long-range patterns. In short, they ain’t cheap, but they are good! Right now I think Apex is the shotgunner’s best bet in TSS loads.
Bismuth shot has firmly taken hold the last two years among waterfowl and upland bird hunters who must use nontoxic shot. It is an attractive pellet, because it can be fired in any shotgun that can handle lead and can be loaded with lead-shot components. But it’s not a perfect pellet or cheap, selling for about nine times more per pound than steel shot.
I have cautioned that among the characteristics holding it back from being deadly at all distances is its proclivity for fragmentation during combustion and barrel travel and the fact that it is soft and easily deformed. These two qualities truncate its patterning performance, which from my testing can lead to a high rate of wounding whenever bismuth is shot much beyond 35 yards at large birds like ducks, geese and pheasants. Shoot it at 35 yards or less, however, and it is fully serviceable.
Bismuth performance and ranging capability can be upped substantially provided the load is buffered. Notice I did not say provided the bismuth pellets are merely plated with something. Bottom line: If you want 40-plus-yard lethality from bismuth, you need to go to buffered loads, not just plated bismuth pellets.
There now are at least six US shotshell manufacturers offering bismuth loads. But only one offers buffered bismuth loads: Winchester. Starting in 2018 Winchester introduced the first factory buffered bismuth load in its Xtended Range Bismuth: a 3" 12-gauge 15⁄8-oz buffered load of No. 5 copper-plated bismuth shot. And these loads patterned great past 40 yards. This year Winchester has introduced another buffered bismuth load. Currently available in 3" 12-gauge and 3" 20-gauge with No. 4 tin-plated bismuth shot, it is called Winchester Bismuth. Look for a drake mallard on the box. Winchester claims that, like Xtended Range Bismuth, it delivers 50 percent more pellets in a 30" circle at 60 yards than non-buffered bismuth loads. And I believe it, because that’s what I found in my testing.
If you are a handloader, I detail numerous buffered bismuth-load recipes in my latest reloading manual. Contact me at [email protected] for details.
New Advanced Target Loads
Don’t overlook that, continuing this year, Winchester has introduced and expanded the hardest lead-shot target-load line ever offered. Called AA Diamond Grade Elite, the loads are available in a variety of 12-gauge offerings with copper-plated No. 7½ lead shot containing a whopping 8 percent antimony. Another version is Diamond Grade Elite Trap with 8 percent un-plated No. 7½ lead shot. Besides being the hardest lead shot in the industry, the lead pellets in these loads are precision sorted. Both versions are aimed at producing deadly long-range clay-target and small-bird patterns.
Also introduced this year was Federal Premium’s 12-gauge High Over All Target line. Featuring a one-piece, tapered-wall plastic hull and new plastic wad, this soft-shooting target load contains “hard high-antimony lead shot.” The entire hull design and all-brass head are aimed at reloaders.
I have written previously about eco-friendly shotshell loads starting to enter the world market (see “Rio’s Pro Eco Wad,” May/June ’20). Manufactured in Europe, these loads feature biodegradable wads made from plant-based materials that decompose in the environment, especially when they get wet. For several years European target loads containing lead shot protected by cardboard shotcups also have been marketed. Now the US is getting into the act.
New for 2022 Federal has introduced several loads—lead and steel—containing cardboard shotcups. These cups have four petals and look just like the plastic shotcups Federal loaded years ago. The loads are designed so that the paper shotcups completely contain all the pellets.
One new load is Federal’s Top Gun With Paper Wad. Available in both lead and steel shot in clay-target-pellet-size options, its paper-based wad and accompanying cellulose-based cushion and overpowder wads disintegrate in the environment. Initially, this target load will be available only in 12 gauge 2¾".
Federal also will be introducing an Upland Steel load in 12 gauge containing upland-bird steel-shot sizes held in the same paper wad column as its new Top Gun target-load offerings. This will go a long way toward reducing the plastic-wad litter in public hunting areas and especially on private shooting preserves.
I think we can expect that all this will be only the beginning of a growing expansion of biodegradable wad columns and hulls in shotshell loads.
To consult with Tom Roster or to order his new Advanced Lead & Bismuth Shot Handloading Manual, his current HEVI-Shot and HW-13 manual, or custom loading data, contact Tom Roster, 1190 Lynnewood Blvd., Klamath Falls, OR 97601; 541-884-2974, [email protected].