Don Wilson may have put steel shot usage in perspective when he observed that this season duck hunters probably destroyed more ducks losing cripples than would have been killed by lead shot ingestion. “Nova Scotia isn’t on a major flyway and we never had a large number of hunters using lead shot over feeding areas,” Wilson said in effect. “Forcing duck hunters here to use steel shot is ridiculous.”
Most waterfowlers will agree with Mr. Wilson’s observations.
After I was talking with Mr. Wilson I discussed the pros and cons of steel shot with ardent waterfowler Ulli Poehl. Every season Mr. Poehl makes the trek to the Prince Edward Island goose fields. This season he hunted geese with lead and steel and the observations he makes about use of the latter are alarming. “Steel loads are good in close,” Poehl said, “but at the range at which geese are usually bagged, a lot of birds are being hit and not being dropped.”
Poehl said that in one area where waterfowlers “hunt” by retrieving wounded geese from water near pay-to-hunt fields, the number of cripples has almost tripled. The guides who keep counts of such things attribute the increased number of crippled geese to the use of steel shot.
Then there’s the other side of the coin.
Bob Williams, one of the most active hunters in this area, tells me he is satisfied with the performance of steel shot. “I use number 4 steel loads for ducks and I have no complaints,” Williams says, adding that he is “100 percent pleased” with it.
After I talked about waterfowl hunting with Williams I discovered that our experiences with steel loads are similar. Up close – 15 to 20 meters and even up to 25 meters or so – steel shot hits ducks hard. If you’re on the bird with your pattern, steel shot is still effective at slightly longer ranges. If you’re a sloppy shotgunner, however, you will cripple birds that are at varying ranges, including the close shots.
Bob Williams and I discovered that some of the first things we were told about steel loads are true: Steel loads will not forgive poor shooting. When using steel loads waterfowlers will have to pass on birds that are at questionable ranges – or should I say at the longer distances where lead shot was effective but steel isn’t; if they don’t, then the number of crippled and lost birds will mount up.
The dean of Annapolis Valley waterfowlers, Clyde Earle, tells me as far as goose hunting goes, he can’t see a lot of difference between lead and steel shot. While he’s lost a couple of geese that “should have come down,” he’s found that on close shots steel loads are extremely effective.
“It’s like this,” Earle said. “If a hunters hits a bird and brings it down, steel loads are good; if he misses, steel isn’t worth a damn.”
I believe this sums up the case of steel versus lead. The hunters who take birds at ranges where steel is effective will adapt to the banning of lead shot. The hunters who don’t will have problems.