In a standard high-brass 2�-inch load, steel shot will travel 100 feet-per-second faster than lead shot. Because steel is one-third the weight of lead, it also slows down much faster, especially after 35 or 40 yards. But at 35 yards there is virtually no difference between steel and lead shot, and at 40 there is only a minimal difference in knockdown power. Indeed, tests show that at 40 yards steel shot packs nearly the same wallop as lead and has 25% more pellets. While he may hit more birds with lead, the skilled hunter will kill more with steel. But it's important for hunters to remember that in replacing lead loads with steel, they must account for the difference in weight and use steel loads that are at least two shot sizes heavier than the lead loads normally used for waterfowl.
There is little evidence to support claims that steel shot cripples more birds than lead. In a dozen field studies in which hunters didn't know what kind of shot they were using, there were no significant differences in the number of ducks crippled by lead and steel shot. For years hunters have charged that steel shot chewed up their gun barrels. True, early steel loads did scar barrels, especially those produced before 1950, when barrels were made with softer steel. The newer steel loads, though, are manufactured from a softer, annealed carbon steel and packed in plastic wad cups that prevent the shot from rubbing against the barrel or affecting the gun's choke.
Steel loads are still more expensive than their lead counterparts, but not by much. In the past, price differences were as high as $10 for a box of 25. Today, several companies are selling 2�-inch, 1?-ounce steel loads for about $14 a box; lead loads go for about $12.
For some sportsmen, the most difficult step toward accepting steel shot is simply giving it a try. Even if a hunter has never shot anything but lead, he can still do fine with steel if he will but take the time to learn how to use it properly. If he does, he'll get his ducks.