TSS: What It Is and Isn’t

Federal Ammunition
Federal Black Cloud waterfowl loads blend TSS with steel shot and cost about 60 percent of the price of comparable TSS-only loads. Courtesy of Federal Ammunition
By Tom Roster

TSS has been receiving a lot of hype lately. If you are a turkey hunter, you no doubt have noticed that several US shotshell manufacturers have begun offering TSS turkey loads. And TSS now is being marketed to waterfowl and upland hunters. 

So let’s look at what TSS is and isn’t based on its ballistic characteristics. First, TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) is another nontoxic tungsten-composite type coming from China. Second, it is available in two densities: 15 g/cc and 18 g/cc. Third, TSS pellets are very hard, like HEVI-Shot and steel shot, requiring steel-shot-type wads to properly protect barrels and chokes from scoring and erosion. And fourth, TSS pellets are the roundest, smoothest, most uniform-sized pellets I have ever seen or tested. 

If we were to make an objective rating of TSS based solely on its ballistic characteristics, then it possesses the highest densities of all currently available shotshell pellets—toxic or nontoxic. It also has the highest form-factor (shape) of any ball-shaped pellet ever available for handloading or assembled in a factory shotshell load. Because TSS is also very hard, this ensures that the pellets, like steel, will emerge from the muzzle essentially undeformed and without need of buffering. This promises high patterning performance. And because of their extremely high density, the pellets also promise superior downrange per-pellet retained energy and penetration potential. TSS’s very high density also should allow a smaller-diameter pellet to get the same job done as a larger lower-density pellet. 

Sounds good, right? Indeed, but because of TSS’s extremely high tungsten content, all this promise comes at a record high price. As a comparison, currently TSS in 18 g/cc density is selling to the reloading market at $42 to $47 per pound compared to 12-density HEVI-Shot at ~$36 per pound, 9.7-density bismuth at $15 to $20 per pound, and steel or lead at only $2 per pound. This makes TSS the world’s most expensive shot ever. And hunters will pay about $7.50 to as much as $10 per shell in 12 gauge (usually in five-round boxes of No. 7s or 9s) for factory Federal or HEVI-Shot TSS turkey loads, to name two current brands. There are also 10-round packs of Federal Black Cloud waterfowl loads that blend 60 percent TSS with 40 percent steel shot that are available at about 60 percent of the price of comparable TSS-only loads.

And now for the wild claims. First, to their credit, the following claims are not being made by shotshell manufacturers but rather by anonymous hype-sters on the Internet. They are saying that an 18-g/cc TSS pellet will deliver equivalent performance to a lead or HEVI-Shot pellet three or four times larger. For example: a TSS No. 7 pellet is claimed to kill as well as a lead No. 4 or a steel No. 2 pellet. And TSS will do this with “vastly more pellets” in the shell, because the pellets are so much smaller. Several individuals cite unidentified gelatin-block “tests” (with test-method details omitted) to “prove” highly superior TSS-pellet penetration on birds. Some Internet hunters are speculating that with TSS No. 7s they should be able to kill turkeys at 70 yards. And last, some hyping TSS for waterfowling are saying that this means that you now can efficiently kill large Canada geese with a .410! I’m not making this up. 

First, gelatin as an accurate predictor of pellet penetration on birds was repeatedly discounted by the findings of the 13 scientific steel-versus-lead or HEVI-Shot field tests on wild waterfowl, turkeys, pheasants and doves that were conducted in the US from the late 1970s to 2012. In those tests more than 28,000 one-shot-kill birds were X-rayed and necropsied to measure penetration on specific birds that individual hunters took. No correlation in penetration—not even relative penetration—was ever found between what happens in gelatin blocks and wild-bird bodies. Second, the field tests repeatedly found the penetration in bird bodies to be most closely correlated to the shapes and weights of the pellets striking. Thus No. 2 steel, for example, was found to penetrate closely to the depth of No. 4 lead (the two pellets weigh about the same). 

I have invested several thousand dollars in purchasing, loading, pattern-testing and starting to take and X-ray/necropsy ducks, geese and pheasants with TSS in shot sizes No. 7, 6, 5, 4 and 3 in a variety of gauges, especially sub-gauges. Space does not permit delineation of the as-yet-incomplete results here, except to say that thus far I have found that at reasonable ranges TSS can be a definite ballistic boost to sub-gauge lethality, especially with handloading. I intend to revisit TSS in this column when my field-testing is more complete. Until then, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

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, tomroster@charter.net.

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Shooting Sportsman Magazine, July/August 2020

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