Articles‎ > ‎


posted Jun 1, 2011, 12:42 PM by Peter Lucas
by Richard Norton

Over the past couple of years a buffered load of NiceShot Number 4's has become my favorite non-toxic load in my muzzleloading shotguns when hunting for  ducks; especially for the larger seaducks like whitewing scoter and eiders.  A load of Bismuth #2's is a close second. This non-toxic shot preference is switched for cartridge guns in favor of the Bismuth #2's.

    My experiments with NiceShot were borne out of necessity. 
For a year or two bulk Bismuth shot was simply not available.  That left most of us in the muzzleloading world of waterfowlers scrambling for a legal "soft" non-toxic substitute. Like many, I was forced to shoot steel shot. To say that I wasn't happy with steel shot would be an understatement and a subject for another time. When ECOTUNGSTEN NiceShot showed up during this period I was definitely interested.

Shot is advertised as a non-toxic lead substitute.  NiceShot is as heavy as lead and almost as soft. Unlike other non-toxic options, NiceShot does not require special wads. The only drawback to NiceShot was and continues to be the price.  One kilogram of NiceShot (2.2 pounds) costs $60 plus shipping and handling. One kilo of shot can load (20) 1-12/ ounce loads, (25) 1-3/8 ounce loads, (31) 1-1/8 ounce loads, or (35) 1 ounce loads. That works out to approximately $2 per shot if you use a 1 ounce load and approximately $3 per shot with a  1 1/2 ounce load.  I settled on 1 ounce of Niceshot #4's to get the most out of the cute little boxes that the UPS man dropped off.

    My first pattern session with Niceshot #4's was a little disappointing. I simply tried my standard lead shot load, and at the time I only had the factory choke tubes for my 12ga Pedersoli. Patterns were a little thinner than I like, even from the full choke tube, but the pellets were evenly distributed, lacking the clustering evident with most of the "hard" or belted non-toxic shot types. I soon realized that I was on to something. Anyone that has ever patterned any of the "hard" non-toxic shot types, like steel shot, tungsten iron or hevi-shot understands how elusive uniform pellet distribution can be. I started digging through my old lead loading data and came up with an old lead duck load that looked like a good starting point. After quite a bit of very expensive trial and error with the Niceshot #4's, this is the load I came up with for most of my reproduction 12ga percussion guns ...
  • 110gr Goex FFG
  • 2 - 1/8" nitro cards (12ga)
  • 1 - Ballistic Products 1/4" felt wad (12ga)
  • 1 - 11ga overshot card on top of felt wad
  • 1oz of Niceshot (#4's) with 16.5 gr of Ballistic Products mix #47 buffer
  • 1 - 11ga overshot card on top of the shot
   The 1/4" felt wad is lubed with my standard black powder lube of 1/3 crisco, 1/3 alox, and 1/3 beeswax (by volume). This lube combination has been very clean over the past 30 years, and I rarely have to clean the gun before I get home even after four rounds of skeet or a round of sporting clays.

    The overshot card on top of the felt wad prevents the shot/buffer mixture from becoming embedded in the felt wad and pushing its way through the shot column, exponentially reducing the odds of donut patterns. Remember no "tamping." Apply smooth, steady, firm pressure with the ramrod, making sure that the entire load is firmly seated against the powder charge.

    In the field, shot and buffer are poured down the barrel together from a shot packet or a 35mm film canister (diabetes test strip containers work very well also). The important part here is to gently bump the butt of the gun on the top of your foot or ground 2 times (I shouldn't have to say it but...), of course making sure the muzzles are pointing away from you and that there are no caps on the nipples or powder in the pan. This is to get the proper mixture of shot and buffer before you poke down the final overshot card. 

    Each of these steps is important to produce the optimal patterns.  The pictures at the bottom of this article illustrate the dramatic effect which each of these steps can have on pattern densities.

Patterning Results:

Patterning Results

    Here are my patterning results using the load listed above (110gr FFg  with two Nitro Cards,  +1/4" felt + 11ga OS + 1oz Niceshot #4's w/16.5gr of mix #47+ 11ga OS).  One ounce of Number 4 NiceShoot contains approximately 135 pellets.  Tests were conducted using Pedersoli Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full choke tubes.  Tests were also conducted using Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full Choke Tubes from Carlson. All patterns here were shot at 40 yards.

Pedersoli IC






avg 40%

Carlson IC






avg 48%

Pedersoli M






avg 50%

Carlson M






avg 63%

Pedersoli IM






avg 62%

Carlson IM






avg 78%

Pedersoli F






avg 80%

Carlson F






avg 90%

Since pattern percentages are only 1/3 of a pattern, here are my overall evaluations of the pellet distribution for the patterns from each choke tube:

Pedersoli IC- too thin for 40 yards and a little clumpy

Carlson IC - better than Pedersoli IC but not by much still too thin for 40 yards

Pedersloi M- a little thin for 40 yards but real even ,very consistent

Carlson M - a little thin for 40 yards but even, works nice at 30 yards , consistent

Pedersoli IM- almost identical to Carlson M a little thin for 40 yards but even

Carlson IM- much better than Pedersoli IM, has some C/D, but fringe is a little thin, consistent

Pedersoli F- not bad at all, C/D,but fringe is a little clumpy and a little thin, consistent

Carlson F- nice and fairly even...really dense w/good C/D, but fringe is a little thin, consistent

  As shown on the accompanying table, my one ounce load of NiceShot produces very dense patterns.  When fired from the left barrel of my 12ga Pedersoli with a Carlsons (.700) full choke tube  patterns hover around 90% with a decent central density and an even fringe. I have actually gotten (1) 100% and (1) 97% pattern from this load with hand sorted pellets. "Hand sorted" means that I dumped the bag of shot on a cookie sheet and picked out the pellets that weren't perfectly hand.

    The Carlson's improved modified also had some nice central density (C/D) with a fairly even fringe. However, the fringe of the pattern is a little thin. Percentage-wise, all of the other Carlson's choke tubes pretty much patterned as expected. The kicker with this non-toxic load is the uniform pellet distribution and the dead birds... no lost cripples if you hit them well. I normally run patterns in sets of 10 shots, but with the price of Niceshot I ran patterns mostly in sets of 5 shots.

I have found, after spending a lot of time at the patterning board, that with large plated buffered lead pellets (#BB or larger) that this extra overshot card isn't as necessary, as these large lead pellets seem to separate from the felt wad just fine. The extra overshot card on top of the felt wad is just for small lead shot and non-toxic shot regardless of shot size or type.


The Patterning Board a shotgunner's best friend

The following photographs graphically illustrate the importance of each part of the loading sequence.  All patterns were shot at 40 yards.  A properly loaded shot charge is capable of 100% patterns.

Pattern with no buffer and no overshot card on top of the felt wad

Pattern with buffer but no overshot card on top of felt wad

Pattern with buffer but no overshot card on top of felt wad.  This happened only one time in the five shot string.  That is one time too many.

Pattern with shot and buffer just dumped in and not properly mixed

Pattern shot with hand selected shot.  Three of the five patterns recorded a 94% pattern density at 40 yards.

The holy grail!  A 100% pattern with hand selected pellets.  This only happened once, but it did happen.

Although I make my own fiber wads for lead shot loads, I have yet to find a better patterning fiber wad in my 12ga muzzleloading shotguns for Bismuth, NiceShot and large lead pellets (buck) than the 12ga Ballistic Products 1/4" felt wad. Believe it or not a 3/4" overshot card punched from a Redman Gold or Southern Pride chewing tobacco box has proven to be my best patterning overshot card to date, regardless of shot type or shot size. Overshot cards punched from a Levi Garrett chewing tobacco box patterned the about the same as those punched from a cereal box, neither of which patterned as well as a Circle Fly 11ga overshot card.

    This same load also works well with 1oz of Bismuth #2's though Ballistic Products BSB buffer is hands down the buffer to use with Bismuth. Bismuth #4's proved too light for us on the larger seaducks (whitewing scoter and eider) but they didn't work bad at all for oldsquaw (long tailed duck) and smaller ducks like bufflehead. Precision Reloading buffers didn't work well for me with any of the "soft" non-toxic shot types but are the buffers of choice when using a plastic wad/shotcup and the "hard" non-toxic shot types like steel shot, tungsten iron or hevi-shot.

    If this load doesn't pattern for you, try decreasing the powder charge first, then experiment with the volume of buffer (up to 20 gr max). Remember that only the bottom 2/3 of the shot charge needs buffer to improve your patterns and that too much buffer can destroy patterns. If this load still doesn't pattern well, the next buffer I would try is Ballistic Products BSB buffer.

    I hope this will at least give a starting point and is not intended to be a substitute for actual patterning. ALL shotguns are individuals and your muzzleloading shotgun may pattern NiceShot well enough that it doesn't need any buffer. Which can only be discovered by actual patterning. The more you put into something the more you can potentially get out of it.

    Pattern photos are all from the left barrel of my 12ga Pedersoli with a Carlson's (.700) full choke and show the evolution of my pet load of Nice Shot #4's. I chose this combination and these patterns because the results are the most dramatic.

     Remember to always follow standard safety procedures and never exceed firearm manufacturers maximum loads.

Editor's Note:

  This article was written by Richard Norton.  In a recent email exchange, I mentioned to Rich that I had to work up a non-toxic load for an up coming waterfowl hunt.   Rich is an avid waterfowl hunter and has tried every legal non-toxic shot type on the market.  Rich was kind enough to share his experience with me and write this article.  I owe Rich a solid for sharing some of his findings on the NiceShot #4's.  Rich's insights will certainly save me time and money in working up a non-toxic load.  I have already ordered some NiceShot and buffering material.