The Column, No. 69:
Stick To Your Guns Radio, Daria Bruno . . . and Steel Shot
What the heck is "Lock, Stock and Daria"? It is the name of a one hour radio show hosted by Daria Bruno that covers firearms issues and related topics in Rhode Island. Also known as “Stick To Your Guns Radio,” the program airs Saturdays from 11 AM to Noon on WHJJ 920-AM. Good for Daria and her team. Mike, host Daria Bruno and Tom Murphy are shown above, obviously in good spirits.
All too often, firearms and firearms ownership are treated a bit like the crazy aunt that's locked up in the attic. Everybody knows she's there, but no one seems to want to talk about it. We naturally talk about things in which we are interested, whether it is the kid's soccer game, gardening, or just the weather. Why not guns? There is a lot of room for friendly, intelligent discussion about firearms. Guns were covered regularly in Sports Illustrated, Consumer Reports and many general periodicals in times past with little fanfare and no drama. With somewhere close to half of households owning guns in the United States to the tune of three hundred million firearms, it could hardly be more mainstream. Of course, no one really knows exactly how many people own firearms and we likely never will.
Those who shouldn't own firearms won't answer any such survey. The crux of the biscuit has always been that gun laws only affect the law abiding who follow them. The irrational fear of guns is hard to understand, particularly when the National Center for Health statistics reports that “poor diet and physical inactivity” kills close to four hundred thousand Americans a year. Drug use, including alcohol, tobacco, prescription and non-prescription drugs has been estimated to take over a million lives a year. Again, no one really knows, as comprehensive internal surveillance of American households is not yet complete. Merely passing laws doesn't change human behavior.
What we can do, as Daria and her team are doing, is keep each other informed about how to better enjoy firearms responsibly and how to keep up with the sludge of incomprehensible firearms laws. Responsible people try to do that, those who don't care never will. Consider what Martin L. Fackler, M.D., wrote over ten years ago"
“I must confess to being a member of a very dangerous group. I am a physician: We cause more than 100,000 deaths per year in the USA by mistakes and various degrees of carelessness in treating our patients. Why does society tolerate us? Because we save far more patients than we kill. Firearms are entirely analogous. Although used in far fewer deaths - they are used to prevent about 75 crimes for each death. Firearms, like physicians, prevent far more deaths than they cause.”
It doesn't sound like Daria Bruno is going to run out of things to talk about anytime soon. Through the long-distance electronic magic of the telephone I recently had a little visit with Daria and company.
Tom Murphy, who refers to himself as an “occasional co-host,” had inquired about the use of steel shot in a 1950s Ithaca with a 1970s barrel for just a few shots, as some clubs now require steel or other “no-tox” shot materials, even for hunting upland game birds. Steel shot was mandated for use on migratory waterfowl in 1991 or thereabouts. The problem is that most firearms manufactured even ten or fifteen years prior to that were not tested with steel shot.
Steel shot, even for waterfowl hunting, remains a murky topic. We have increased crippling rates, danger from ricochet, gun damage, secondary injury and damage in the lumber industry. The thicker, non-biodegradable wads used in steel loads have become their own environmental issue.
Damage to firearms from steel shot is well-known, even in firearms claimed to be designed for steel shot. Browning published evidence of this in their 2011 catalog, showing a forcing cone irreparably damaged after five hundred shots. In Europe, the CIP publishes firearms standards for the CIP member nations, with safety for the consumer being the impetus. The CIP limits steel shot size to 3.25 mm (British No. 3) in standard proof shotguns, with a maximum velocity of 1310 fps. Even the “high performance steel proof” C.I.P. shotguns have a 1410 fps maximum velocity limit.
It remains a confusing set of facts, as U.S. manufacturers do not follow C.I.P. Standards, we have our own SAAMI Voluntary Standards. The SAAMI standards are not accepted by the CIP or in much of Europe. While Tom Murphy's question is a common, intelligent, and responsible one, there is no easy answer. You can only properly damage a shotgun barrel once.
If your shotgun has a readily replaceable barrel and is rated for steel shot by the firearm manufacturer, blaze away. You can minimize steel shot damage by using smaller shot diameters, light choke constrictions and moderate velocities. Minor scratching to your barrel often does not appreciably affect performance and a small barrel bulge by the choke is not considered a safety issue by most manufacturers, merely a cosmetic one. However, high velocity, letter-sized shot with tight chokes is the best way to destroy a fine double.
There are several options for no-toxic shot that is easier on your barrel and more effective than steel. Bismuth, Kent Tungsten-Matrix and Nice Shot are three of them. For hunting that is not high-volume shooting, the extra cost of the better “no-tox” lead alternatives is trivial compared to the total cost of the hunt itself. They are easier on your barrel, more effective than steel, less prone to ricochet and are unlikely to send you to the dentist for a new crown.
The sole resistance to the better no-tox shot materials is cost. Bismuth has the issue of brittleness, though that is claimed to have been improved somewhat. Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth, in fact the sole active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol is bismuth subsalicylate. I believe that's what Tom ended up using on his pheasants, but not for the purposes of soothing a rooster's irritated digestive system. Most of the other lead-sub composites use tungsten to achieve lead or near lead levels of density and effectiveness. The price of tungsten is what will keep these shells pricey, compared to steel, for the foreseeable future.
I've never run steel shells through any of my doubles and I don't plan on doing so. Browning A-5s are some of my most often used shotguns and buying new A-5 barrels is nothing I care to do, so none of my A-5s get any steel loads run through them. Sometimes, due to the type of hunt, availability of ammunition and the volume of hunting (snow geese, for example), I've used my fair share of steel. It has been primarily through screw-choked Browning B-80 and Beretta 390 autoloaders and I have plenty of extra barrels for them. My understanding is that Daria was using steel through her “old reliable” screw-choked Remington 870, a far better vehicle for steel than any vintage shotgun.
Hunters support conservation far more than any other group of people, with the Federal tax on every box of ammunition sold and every firearm purchased in the United States. At the risk of being Captain Obvious, no one cares more about healthy, vibrant game populations than hunters. We revere and respect the magnificent birds and big game we pursue and we fund game management with every tag, every box of ammunition and every firearm purchased. I can tell you that there are few meals as tasty and healthy to enjoy as pheasant and wild rice under glass.
I'm personally delighted that we have an experienced, thoughtful, intelligent radio host like Daria Bruno on the air, bringing her unique common-sense perspective to the “stick to your guns” dialogue. Check out Daria Bruno and friends at sticktoyourgunsradio.com. If you have some interesting questions or topics you'd like to hear discussed, send them along to Daria for her consideration. She deserves our support, as well as support from the firearms industry. I'm glad Daria is enthusiastic and wants to make a contribution; she is doing just that.
Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.