Nontoxic Shot and Shot Size

Of the many approved types of nontoxic shot, each has its own characteristics and benefits. Some, such as steel, are harder, pattern tighter, and have more pellets in each load than lead shot. Others are more expensive, but have characteristics similar to lead. Regardless of what you choose, learn how it works with your shotgun before heading out to hunt.

Learn your shooting range

Many hunters underestimate distances and shoot birds out of range. Find your effective range with nontoxic shot by shooting at a target 20 yards away. Once you have that down, increase the distance to your target in small increments. This will help you learn to judge distances and how far you can effectively shoot before you go hunting.

Take a class

To help hunters become more efficient and ethical harvesters of waterfowl and other game using nontoxic ammunition, the Conservation Department offers “Effective Wingshooting for the Hunter.” These classes were developed based on peer-reviewed scientific research by the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program. Certified instructors teach participants how to choose the correct choke, load, and shot size for different game, how to estimate shooting distances, and how to effectively lead their target. For more information, visit the Events page.

Suggested shot size selection for waterfowl

Shot size can also affect accuracy and pattern, and suggested shot size varies by waterfowl species.

Recommended non-toxic shot for hunting different waterfowl
Waterfowl Species Minimum Typical hunting conditions Minimum desired pattern density
(hits/30" circle)
Small ducks
over decoys
6 steel*
6 tungsten allow
6 – 4 steel
6 – 4 tungsten alloy
135
Medium ducks
over decoys
6 steel*
6 tungsten alloy
6 – 3 steel
4 – 6 tungsten alloy
115
Large ducks
over decoys
6 steel
6 tungsten alloy
6 – 6 steel
4 – 6 tungsten alloy
85
Large ducks
Pass Shooting
2 steel 2 – 1 steel 85
Small geese 2 steel
2 bismuth
4 tungsten alloy
BB – BBB steel
2 bismuth
2 tungsten alloy
60
Large geese 2 steel
2 bismuth
4 tungsten alloy
BB – BBB steel
1 – BB bismuth
2 – BB tungsten alloy
50

Close range is less than 35 yards; all shots should be limited to less than 45 yards. Velocity on all loads should be a minimum of 1,225 FPS.
* Note: Small shot (#6) is an excellent choice for close range swatter loads for finishing cripples.

Check the Code

This is NOT a legal document. Regulations are subject to revision during the current year.
Refer to the Wildlife Code.

Waterfowl Hunting Digest Cover