By: Nick Charney
The latest rave of popularity in the Shotshell world over the past couple of years has been the increasing use of Tungsten Super Shot. Most commonly referred to as “TSS,” which refers to a high-density alloy composed of 95% or more of Tungsten. The result is Shotshell pellet with a density of 18g/cc or greater. Pure tungsten comes in powder form at a density of 19.3g/cc. It is then mixed with other elements to form an alloy in the shape of a pellet. Varying methods of manufacturing then dictate the vague shape of that pellet. The process utilized to form TSS ultimately leaves an almost perfectly shaped spherical pellet. Different alloys with different densities can be achieved by utilizing ratios with elements like copper, nickel and or iron. While there are many other less dense options on the market, they simply increase the amounts of less dense metals like iron which will results in a lower overall density product ranging from 9.5g/cc to 15g/cc. Bottom line, just because a product contains tungsten, does not qualify it to be labeled as Tungsten Super Shot.
One of the most common complaints of hunters utilizing high density USFWS approved non-toxic shot is the associated costs of the material. Many believe this to be a marketing scheme or price gouge when in reality, the global market of tungsten mining coupled with several major contributing factors make the shear cost far greater than traditional lead or steel. First and foremost, all tungsten mined in the United States is by law, directed to be utilized solely for defense purposes. Therefore, all tungsten utilized for Shotshell purposes, must come from overseas, which is supplied mainly from China. With only a handful of mines in the entire world, basic supply and demand, coupled with certain variables such as shortages of mining equipment and environmental regulation, make the availability and price fluctuation consistently unpredictable. This ultimately ends at one of the most important considerations to a customer and a product, the retail cost.
It is important to note the uniqueness of how tungsten is mined compared to other elements. China leads the world market in mining with an 80% stake hold compared to other countries. According to Investingnews.com, China produced 86,400 metric tons of Tungsten in 2016. The second closest country was Vietnam with a total of 6,000 metric tons. Therefore, if anyone purchases Tungsten, chances are it comes from China.
The physical properties of Tungsten make the element a bit more difficult to mine and process into pure form for desired products. Tungsten has the highest melting point of any element, upwards of 6000 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it must be chemically extracted. Due to China’s recent signing into the Paris agreement, many environmental regulations are now imposed on the extraction of “tungsten ore.” This is one of the most primary factors leading to the increased cost of TSS recently. As the raw “ore” is mined, it is then processed and chemically extracted to attain the end result of pure tungsten, in powder form. This powder is then sent to manufacturing plants in order to create Shot shell pellets, either in China or the United States. The powder is then sintered with elements like nickel, copper and or iron to thus form the Shotshell pellets manufacturers utilize to create tungsten based hunting rounds.
To summarize this brief overview of TSS and tungsten based Shotshell pellets, it is imperative to note that not all Tungsten based Shot shell pellets constitute TSS. More importantly, all tungsten shot, whether manufactured either in China or the United States, starts in powder form and is mined and produced from overseas.