Bismuth, the first non-toxic alternative to steel shot, is back. With the price of tungsten ammo going from expensive to “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” prices, that’s good news, at least for those who can pay $2-$3 per shell for shotgun ammo. Bismuth pellets are actually a bismuth-tin alloy that is almost as dense as lead. It’s brittle, rather than hard, so it doesn’t damage gun barrels and it reacts to choke about the way lead did. Bismuth is a good choice for those who hunt waterfowl with older guns and nice doubles that can’t tolerate steel.
Bismuth shot appeared in the 90s, first sold in the U.S. by the Bismuth Cartridge Company, then by Winchester, then under the Bis-Maxx brand, then it went away. Now it’s back, loaded by Rio Ammunition of Spain. Rio is actually owned by the same parent company as Eleyhawk, the English ammo maker that originally sold bismuth shot, and Rio had a hand in loading previous incarnations of bismuth. The new bismuth should be available at some larger mail order outfits like Natchez Shooting Supply this fall.