Take a look at the science and history behind tungsten super shot (TSS)
More than 25 years ago, the federal government banned lead shot for waterfowl hunting. In the years and decades that followed, old-timers ranted and raved about “the good old days” when lead was still an option. Knocking down honkers at 50 yards was not a problem, they stated. Steel was the first and seemingly only option for many years. Then, materials like bismuth, iron alloy, and nickel were being tinkered with. Finally, tungsten-iron alloy, tungsten matrix, and tungsten super shot were developed.
Currently, there are more than 13 commercial options for materials in modern shotshells. In my findings, people who have utilized tungsten for waterfowling are reminded of “the good old days” due to its amazing range and knockdown power.
Change is inevitable, and education never ends. The more we learn about the environment and the impact we have on it, the more things change–not only from a legal standpoint, but from an ethical standpoint as well. “Non-toxic shot” is a term that is becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. We all care about clean water, minimizing unnecessary deaths of game and non-game species, and we all want to come out of the field feeling like we left the smallest possible footprint on nature. When it comes to turkey hunting, tungsten took a while to become mainstream, but it has taken over as the king for lethality and eco-friendly shot over the last couple of years.
Whats is TSS or Tungsten Super Shot?
Tungsten super shot (TSS) is a tungsten-alloy material that has a density that is 22 percent higher than standard tungsten, and 56 percent more dense than lead. This equates to longer terminal velocities, the ability to use smaller shot sizes, and cleaner kills. To break that down, tungsten is lethal at longer distances. #9 shot is more lethal than #5 lead shot, as a result, more pellets fit into one shell. More pellets hitting the target, harder than ever, results in fewer wounded birds. Many turkey hunters have even started utilizing .410 bore shotguns with tungsten super shot, and regulations are changing across the U.S. to allow hunters to do so.
The History of Tungsten and Shot Shells
Tungsten is nothing new. Many people in the reloading community have been making their own shells utilizing tungsten for ages. It wasn’t until 2018 when Federal Premium dipped its toes into the tungsten pool that the trend really caught on. In 2018, the company revamped its turkey shotshell lineup with a long list of new products that offer performance benefits beyond those any hunter had ever seen. That meant all previously available turkey products from Federal had been replaced by several loads in three product families including Heavyweight TSS.
Most recently, Federal added to the Heavyweight TSS lineup by adding new duplex loads that blends two different sizes of shot to increase overall pellet count. The result–more shot striking the target. Heavyweight TSS is available in 12-gauge, 20-gauge, and .410 bore.
The Range of TSS Loads
The introduction of TSS loads has brought up a significant debate on the ethics of range when it comes to hunting. It certainly seems a lot similar to the development of the compound bow and the leap from ethics created around the distance of recurve, long bows, and even early compound bows. Many have reported successfully shooting turkeys with TSS loads at 75 yards after patterning their shotguns! The ethical question is based around many things like is shooting a turkey at that distance sporting? Is a hunter’s accuracy good enough to make a successful shot at said distances?
No matter what any of us think, as states begin legalizing the use of varying TSS loads the ethical question lies in the hands of the user. New waterfowl loads in the TSS genre boast ranges over 50 yards in effectiveness closing huge gaps that steel previously could not reach.
The Cost of TSS
The greatest downfall of tungsten super shot is the cost. Turkey loads are reaching prices as high as $11 per single shell. Waterfowl loads are as high as $4 per load. Although this metal is believed to outperform lead in many ways, it has yet to do so in price.
Tungsten is rare as far as earth metals go. According to Chemistry Explained “The abundance of tungsten in the Earth’s crust is thought to be about 1.5 parts per million. It is one of the more rare elements.” It was not mined in the United States until 1996, and China, Russia, and Portugal are the largest producers of this rare metal.
People might read this and ask, “What’s the catch?” Lead is a natural material, and it is very inexpensive. Materials such as tungsten super shot take time to make, and are quite expensive. Due to the increase in utilization, manufacturers are helping keep costs as low as possible, but a box of tungsten shot is still quite a bit more expensive than lead. There are simple justifications to buying tungsten, however. Less worry about downing birds ethically, not leaving toxins in the ground, and supporting habitat are just a few. A portion of all proceeds from each and every one of Federal’s Premium lines of turkey loads is donated to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
Matt Breuer has been working in the outdoor industry for over 15 years, guiding, writing, promoting, volunteering, and working with several conservation groups. He’s on the Board of Directors of the MN Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, and is a recruitment and retention coordinator with RGS. He owns and operates Northcountry Guide Service & Promotions in northern MN. Link up with Matt by visiting www.northcountryguides.com .