Lead-free shotshells

More about steel and bismuth…

When it comes to select a specific material for building shotshell pellets, several criteria must be considered: the pellets sphericity to ensure straight flights, the material density and its elasticity for the energy transfer. The easy access to the material for an industrial production as well as an affordable price for the end-user are also critical criteria.


Because the steel pellets are practically non-deformable, their sphericity is preserved and it ensures an excellent pattern density. However, its lower density (30% lower than lead) requires a higher muzzle velocity and to go up 2 sizes the pellet size number used for lead to maintain the same final energy. To guarantee optimal results at longer ranges, it is necessary to adapt the payload and the velocity.

A significant advantage of the steel shot excellent penetration (+ 5-10%). The shot pattern is more regular, denser, but shorter (up to 50%) compared to lead shots. Moreover, the pricing can be kept at an affordable level, an important advantage for all shooters and hunters.

Winchester has a large range of efficient and highly performing steel shotshell.


Bismuth is a heavy metal with a density very close to lead and it offers similar performances. Its main advantage is to be soft enough to be shot in all types of barrels (even in not steel proofed shotguns). Thanks to the material’s softness, bismuth shotshells can be loaded with a traditional felt wad.

The high density and deformation properties at impact of bismuth generate high energy transfer. It means, when using bismuth, you can keep using the same shot size number you used to shoot.

The Winchester Bismuth shotshells are available in 12 and 20-gauge.

CIP rules

According to the CIP, there are two types of steel shotshells homologations for lead-free cartridges: “Ordinary Pressure” and “High Performance”.

Ordinary Pressure” Steel shotshells can be shot in any shotgun proofed at 930 bar.

High Performance” Steel shotshells can only be used with steel proofed shotguns proofed at 1320 bar and bearing the CIP fleur de Lys mark. It is highly recommended to use ½ choke or less when using “high performance” shotshells.

In both cases, the shotshells homologation type must be mentioned on the packaging as well as on the shotshell tube.

Ordinary Pressure

Lead-free shotshell

High Performance

Lead-free shotshell

Maximum shotshell pressure

740 bar

Maximum speed

425m/s at 2,5m

Pellets diameter restriction

< 3,25mm

Removable Chokes allowed




Guns allowed

Removable chokes only

Proofed at 930 bar or more


Maximum shotshell pressure

1050 bar

Maximum speed

430m/s at 2,5m

Pellets diameter restriction


Removable Chokes allowed

Pellets > 4mm : maximum ½

Removable Chokes recommended

maximum ½ for all pellets sizes

Guns allowed

Removable chokes only

Steel Proofed at 1320 Bar

Marked Fleur de Lys


Always safety first

Whatever the material, when shooting shotshells, the following basic safety rules must always be strictly followed.

Make sure to understand what the proof marks on your barrels mean, and what shotshells you can safely use. It is also important to understand the difference between “Ordinary pressure” and “high-performance” steel shotshells and which of these you can safely use.

Always bear in mind the possibility of a ricochet, particularly across water or off branches and vegetation; never shoot unless you are certain of your target and can see it clearly; do not allow shotshells of different bores to become mixed.

When using a shotshell with a wad made of an alternative or a so-called “degradable” material, make sure the barrel remains protected and the pellets will not damage the inner walls of the barrels.

A new hunting method?

Because steel has a lower density, the residual velocity will be lower too and your aiming (lead) will need to be adapted accordingly. Steel shotshells allow you to shoot with optimal results between 25 and 30 meters.

Steel pellets are non-deformable and an optimal and tight patterning is guaranteed by using a choke up to ½ (not more!). When choosing a new lead free shotshell, it is always recommended to have a training session on a shooting range to better understand how the pellets pattern and perform at different distances.

Bismuth has a higher density than steel, allowing you to shoot at longer ranges, up to 55 meters (60 yards). Bismuth pellets are on the contrary to steel more deformable, meaning that you can keep your usual chokes selection.

What shotshells are available for my calibre?

Good to know

HP = High Performance

So-called high-performance shotshells can only be fired from proven steel pellet shotguns at 1320 bar and generate a maximum pressure of 1050 bar.

SP = Standard Pressure

A Standard Pressure shotshell can be fired from shotguns that are only tested to 1040 bar and generate a pressure of less than 830 bar. The maximum diameter of the pellets is 3.00mm (nr. 5). The words “Standard Pressure” are written on the shotshell.

Fleur de Lys = proven steel pellet

All hunting and sporting shotguns bearing the fleur-de-lis stamp can fire “high-performance” steel pellet shotshells.

The stamp is applied to the barrels of shotguns by a certified proof house.

The new stamp includes the CIP marking above the fleur-de-lys on recent shotguns.

marquage Fleur de Lys + CIP sur canon

12-gauge shotshells

See high-pressure products available in 12-gauge: Section 1

See standard pressure products available in 12-gauge: Section 2

20-gauge shotshells

See high-pressure products available in 20-gauge: Section 1

See standard pressure products available in 20-gauge: Section 2

28-gauge shotshells

See high-pressure products available in 28-gauge: Section 1

.410-gauge shotshells

See high-pressure products available in .410​-gauge: Section 1

Popular resources

CIP Standards

The C.I.P. lays down common rules and regulations for the proof of weapons and their ammunition in order to ensure the mutual recognition of Proof Marks by its member states. Fourteen countries are C.I.P. Member States.

Winchester website

You can find all our products on our WINCHESTER website.