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A shotgun shell generally contains multiple projectiles or pellets called shot. A single projectile in a shotgun shell is called a slug. Shot and slugs are traditionally made of lead, because that dense, soft metal puts considerable mass in a small object, and that mass helps to carry energy to the target.

Environmental concerns have caused all states to limit or ban the use of lead shot for the hunting of waterfowl (to keep the potentially toxic lead shot out of the wetlands). Some federally regulated areas have also banned lead shot for upland bird hunting. So for all types of waterfowl hunting, and for some types of upland hunting, non-toxic shot. To check the regulations in the area, and for the game you will be hunting, use the Upland Life complete directory to the natural resource and game regulatory agencies in all fifty states.

Non-toxic shot can be made of or with steel, bismuth, tin, tungsten-iron, tungsten-matrix, or tungsten-polymer materials. Such materials have a different density (and thus different ballistics) than traditional lead shot, and will thus behave differently for the shooter. Though it can be a little more expensive than normal lead target loads, ethical hunters will want to practice using the same ammunition with which they will ultimately hunt. This will make them a more confident shot, and will ensure quick, humane work in the field. Most shooters new to non-lead (or lower-lead) shot will find that the shot is faster out of the muzzle, which means that for close-in shots, they won't have to lead their targets as much. The lower density shot, though, gives up its velocity more quickly as it travels through the air, and will have less punch out at longer ranges. Getting a feel for those differences, especially for shooters that have long used a favorite lead recipe, can take some practice.

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