What Type of Shotgun Pellets Are Allowed for Waterfowl Hunting in the U.S.?

by LegalFix
Posted: August 24, 2022
guns, knives, weapons

Waterfowl hunting differs from other forms of hunting because the laws that hunters must abide by depend on the body of water and the state in which the person is hunting. Although some hunters observe geese and ducks on land most of the year, you’ll find most of them near the water during hunting season. 

Unlike upland hunting, waterfowling has “flyways,” which are north-south routes that geese and ducks migrate through yearly. In North America, there are four primary flyways which are referred to as the Atlantic, Mississippi, Pacific, and Central.

 Waterfowl hunters must adhere to different laws and regulations than upland hunting because each state manages upland population and conservation in accordance with the population of game birds that they currently have.

 In contrast, populations are overseen by the Federal government because they migrate to different regions. Furthermore, the Federal government mandates that anyone above the age of 16 that wishes to partake in waterfowl hunting purchases a Federal Duck Stamp. In some states, people have the option to purchase stamps that raise funds to conserve migratory waterfowl.

 Hunting may be an exciting sport for enthusiasts to partake in, but you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of your state’s laws and regulations to enjoy the sport legally. One of the most important components of your next waterfowl hunting trip will be the ammo that you use. Assess the laws and regulations in your state to ensure that your shotgun pellets use the legal materials.

What Are The Main Types of Shotgun Pellets?

There are only a few shotgun pellets hunters can legally use for waterfowl hunting. Before your next hunting trip, select an option from below to avoid fines and legal fees. If you’re unsure about the laws in your state, there are online resources that you can use to obtain specific legal information directly from lawyers to prevent any confusion.

Shotgun Steel

You’re most likely to find hunters using steel pellets in the United States. Laws in the U.S. only permit waterfowl hunters to use steel pellets with plating contents lower than 1% nickel, copper, or zinc. These laws reduce injuries amongst non-target birds because steel will not fragment upon impact with the target. Before purchasing steel pellets for waterfowl hunting, ensure that they are plated with nontoxic metal so that you may use them legally. As an added benefit for hunters, steel pellets are less expensive than other options. Since steel pellets are less prone to corrosion or rusting, they’re the ideal choice for long-range shots.

Tungsten Pellets

In recent years, tungsten-basted pellets have grown in popularity for their remarkable performance. Since Tungsten-based pellets have a greater density than lead, they’re capable of penetrating the target much more deeply than other options. 

There are three types of tungsten pellets: tungsten-matrix, tungsten-iron, and tungsten-polymer shots. Since tungsten-polymer pellets are composed of both metal and plastic, they do not harm the meat as much as the other option. Due to this, tungsten-polymer pellets are becoming the most popular choice for waterfowl hunters.

Bismuth Pellets

Another option that waterfowl hunters often use is bismuth pellets. These shotgun pellets are manufactured using tin and bismuth. These materials are unique because although bismuth is nontoxic for humans and most other mammals, it is deadly upon coming into contact with waterfowl. In addition, the tin in bismuth shotgun pellets is also nontoxic for humans. The tin within these pellets decreases their overall weight. As a result, bismuth pellets are much safer than lead pellets, which are toxic to humans and birds.

Why Aren’t Lead Shots Allowed in Waterfowl Hunting?

In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) banned the use or sale of lead shotgun pellets due to concerns regarding lead poisoning in waterfowl in the U.S. Lead poisoning from shotgun pellets may not only occur when hunters shoot a bird – it can also happen when birds accidentally ingest lead pellets. Lead poisoning can have devastating effects on waterfowl, such as weight loss, neurological disorders, reproductive problems, or even death.

The only pellets that are currently legal in waterfowl hunting are referred to as “nontoxic shots.” A nontoxic shot has no lead or other toxic metals that could poison humans, birds, and other living creatures. 

However, some hunting enthusiasts often wonder why the use of lead pellets is not illegal everywhere. Essentially, these laws are based on the fact that waterfowl are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an international treaty that gives the U.S. government total control over management and protection.

The USFWS decided to outlaw the use of lead ammunition upon learning of calculations that stated that lead pellets had lethal effects on 2 million ducks per year. Shortly after bans on lead pellets, the Mississippi Flyway discovered that lead poisoning deaths in mallards decreased by an astonishing 64%.

Although federal law mandates that hunters may only use nontoxic ammo when hunting swans, geese, coots, and ducks, there are some states in which hunters can only use lead-free shotgun pellets for all migratory game birds. For example, California has one of the strictest bans in the United States, complete with hefty fines. However, states like Minnesota have the least stringent regulations while allowing people to use lead tackle.

In most states, a person found in possession of lead shot pellets will face a minimum of a $500 fine, along with the confiscation of their lead pellets. Continuing to violate this ban could lead to fines as high as $5,000, so consider using tungsten, steel, or bismuth shotgun pellets during hunting season to participate in this sport as you please.