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A cooperative research effort between the ammunition industry and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife is aimed at finding a suitable non-toxic substitute for lead shot. A contract study by an independent research organization evaluated ways of coating or detoxifying lead shot or replacing it with another metal. As a result of that study, the only promising candidate is soft iron. Previous tests of hard iron shot had suggested that its killing effectiveness was poor at longer ranges due to the lower density. In addition, its hardness caused excessive damage to shotgun barrels. A unique, automated shooting facility was constructed at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to test the killing effectiveness of soft iron shot under controlled conditions. Tethered game-farm mallards were transported across a shooting point in a manner simulating free flight. A microswitch triggered a mounted shotgun so that each shot was 'perfect.' A soft iron shot, in Number 4 size, was produced by the ammunition industry and loaded in 12-gauge shells to give optimum ballistic performance. Commercial loads of lead shot in both Number 4 and Number 6 size were used for comparison. A total of 2,010 ducks were shot at ranges of 30 to 65 yards and at broadside and head-on angles in a statistically designed procedure. The following data were recorded for each duck: time until death, broken wing or leg bones, and number of embedded shot. Those ducks not killed outright were held for 10 days. From these data, ducks were categorized as 'probably bagged,' 'probably lost cripples,' or survivors. The test revealed that the killing effectiveness of this soft iron shot was superior to its anticipated performance and close to that obtained with commercial lead loads containing an equal number of pellets. Bagging a duck, in terms of rapid death or broken wing, was primarily dependent on the probability of a shot striking that vital area, and therefore a function of range. There was no indication that iron shot would result in greater crippling loss. Despite the apparent effectiveness of this iron shot, transition to its use in waterfowl hunting is not now possible. The sample used for this test was produced by a laboratory procedure that is unsuitable for manufacture. There is no process for producing soft iron shot in the quantities needed. Industry is doing its best to resolve this problem.
Additional Publication Details
The killing efficiency of soft iron shot
Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference