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I purchased a box of shotgun shells in the United States. On the box it says they are for pheasant. But it does not say if the shot is lead, steel or some other nontoxic material. We know from the question I have an older shotgun designed for lead shot, can I use steel shot? that the type of shot is important.

I didn't think about this when I grabbed the box. Now that I have sat down and read the box, I am not sure. There is a very small bit of print that says

This item may include the following SVHC: lead styphinate; 2.4 Dinitrotoluene; Dibutyl phthalate

As written there may or may not be lead as part of any component of the shell (or box).

If the material the shot is made of is not clearly identified, what is it?

  • You could open one up. Obviously this has risks. You don't want it to go off in the process (hence I've not put this as an answer). If your not 100% confident you can do this, don't try. – user2766 May 20 '16 at 10:51
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    Go back to the store you bought them from and ask. Or, ask the manufacturer directly. The name should be printed on the box. – Olin Lathrop May 20 '16 at 11:51
  • Post a photo of the box. and one of the shells. Alternatively: brand and product description, or even just UPC are probably enough to determine exactly what it is if it was made in the last generation. – feetwet May 20 '16 at 14:19
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    Non-toxic shots? depends on which side of the rifle you are standing in front of... ; – Erik vanDoren May 20 '16 at 16:26
  • @ErikvanDoren now you have made me go and ask another question! – James Jenkins May 20 '16 at 16:49
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Put a strong magnet on top of a shell and turn it upside down. If the magnet sticks then you know it contains steel shot.

If it doesn't, then you could have either lead or "non-toxic" shot. If you paid less than $10 for the box, and/or the box doesn't make a big deal of stating that it's non-toxic, then the shells almost certainly contain lead shot.

If you really need to know what it is then you have to open a shell. It is perfectly safe to cut into the hull anywhere in the shot column. If in doubt just cut off the top, or cut and pry open the crimp. Now dump some shot out. If you can't tell by looking at it whether it's lead then put it on an anvil and hit it with a hard hammer. If it flattens easily it's lead. If it doesn't flatten before shattering, or if it begins to powder as you hit it, then it's "non-toxic" and contains primarily tungsten or bismuth (and you really should have been charged more than $10/box!).

Amendment: The lead warning on the box is referring to the primer compound (lead styphnate). Dinitrotoluene could be used in either the primer or powder. Dibutyl phthalate is probably used in the hull, assuming it's plastic, but could also be a binder if the shot is "non-toxic."

  • I used the magnet test, the magnet is not attracted to the shot, but it is attracted to the lower metal part of the case that looks like brass but is not. – James Jenkins May 21 '16 at 11:22
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    @JamesJenkins - I would conclude based on that observation that it's almost certainly lead shot: I don't know of any manufacturers that would put pricey "non-toxic" shot into shells with steel heads, which are used instead of brass only on the cheaper product lines (because they are prone to corrosion). – feetwet May 21 '16 at 16:12

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