BOSS Warchief Review | Buffered Bismuth Waterfowl Hunting Ammo

August 21, 2023

I have long been a fan of BOSS Copper Plated Bismuth shotgun shells for hunting waterfowl. I did maybe the most thorough research and review of the shells on the internet.  So when BOSS announced that they were releasing a new game changing buffered load I was very excited. I was also a little bit skeptical. 

You see, I am a regular hunter who just so happens to have a PhD and a low tolerance for marketing hype trying to help people find out what really works and what doesn’t.

The waterfowl hunting ammunition industry is very competitive, and my testing has shown that often the marketing speaks louder than the results. For anything to be “game changing” it really has to provide significant improvement and innovation. BOSS claimed very directly that their new shells would do that without being significantly more expensive than their original legacy bismuth loads. So, I was ready to put these shells through their paces the moment they became available.

I embarked on a series of pattern tests, ballistics gel tests, choke tests, long range tests, and shell analysis to get the real story. To summarize everything, BOSS delivered on their promise with the new BOSS Warchief shotshells.

Disclaimer: this review is not sponsored or incentivized by BOSS. I have been a BOSS fan and customer for a few years at this point and have hunted with their shells across numerous duck, goose, turkey, and pheasant seasons. 

What Makes The BOSS Warchief Different?

BOSS saw an opportunity in the market to develop a bismuth shotshell to extend the maximum range of waterfowl hunters well beyond 40 yards. The biggest change put into place with these loads is the use of biodegradable buffering material. The buffering is like a course powder mixed in with the bismuth pellets in the shot cup.

This cushions the pellets when they are fired which keeps the pellets from bouncing around against each other as they leave the barrel, and it is provides support which keeps the pellets on the bottom of the shot column from deforming as they accelerate from 0 to 1,350 feet per second. This results in a much tighter pattern with fewer flyers and fewer broken pellets.

This makes sense to me. The next claim BOSS made did not though. They said the buffering also results in an additional 8% of ballistics gel penetration. The reason is that some of the pellet’s energy is lost in deformation when you pull the trigger and deformed pellets also fly slower due to being less aerodynamic. So, if you buffer the shot, the pellets do not deform, and you gain more ballistics energy.

Now to put this in context, most of BOSS’s competitors use higher velocities, 1450 fps vs BOSS’s 1350 fps. I did a detailed video comparison on the top bismuth shells on the market, and several other videos beyond this one and found that the faster loads had between 2% and 8% more penetration than the BOSS but with much more recoil.  So, this innovation would put BOSS ahead of their competitions in terms of ballistics energy at the target, and with less recoil

BOSS also designed a special wad to use with the Warchief and obtained the equipment to create the wads in house. So, they have engineered the wad to further improve patterns and they are able to add a chemical to the plastic that enables the shot cups to biodegrade in the field after five years. This does not help performance, but it is a huge step in the right direction and will result in less habitat damage. It also gives some piece of mind because most shot cups are left in the field. If you are newer to the waterfowl ammo landscape, here is a podcast episode I did titled: All About Shotguns & Shells For New Duck Hunters.

Warchief Pellets Per Shell

As soon as the new buffered load was announced people began to speculate if the buffer material would count towards the weight of the shot, thus resulting in fewer pellets per shell to make room for the buffer material. BOSS assured people that this would not be the case and they would not sacrifice pellet count. I’ve heard that before, so one of the first things I did was open up a few shells and count the pellets.

I counted the pellets in the #5, #4, and #3/5 legacy shells and then the new Warchief shells, all for the 2.75″ 1.25 oz loadings. In every pellet size, the Warchief shells had more pellets than advertised, and were equal to the non-buffered legacy loads. BOSS not only stuck to their word, but they over delivered by at least a few pellets in every shell. Being one the few companies out there that give you more than you pay for, in an industry plagued with corner cutting. 

Pellet Data For Boss Legacy vs. Warchief Shells

BOSS Legacy vs. Warchief Testing

The next step was to take the new shells to range and test them against their equivalent legacy shells to see if we can find any significant improvement in performance. So for the first round of testing, I patterned the legacy shells #5, #4, and #3/5 against the same size Warchief shells. That was a really awesome test and you can watch the entire thing right here:

In short, the Warchief shells did better across the board, resulting in an average 22% increase in pattern density. That is massive. With the Carlson’s Bismuth Bone Buster extended range choke tube that I tested, I got an average pattern efficiency of 89% across all three shot sizes with the Warchief, vs. 74% with the original legacy shells. The impact of this is big, and I’ll talk more about it when I get to the long-range testing.

Pattern Data for Boss Warchief vs. Legacy Shells

When it came to ballistics gel penetration, I tested the legacy #4 against the Warchief #4 and the new shells came out ahead with an extra 7.8% more ballistics gel penetration, almost exactly what BOSS promised. I was more than a little impressed when I ran the math. The Warchief performed very well in every test I did. But the shells did even more impressively when I began the second round of testing.

Warchief Choke & Pattern Testing

The next thing to do was test the Warchief through a variety of chokes and choke constrictions to find what works best with it. So I ran it through 9 different choke tubes, and counted over 1,500 pellets to try and find the best combination. To make a long story and awesome video short, the tighter the constriction, the better it performed. You can check out that video right here:

I do not want to spoil the entire video, but I was able to find a choke tube that gave me 101% pattern efficiency. Now that shouldn’t be possible, but like I said earlier, BOSS packs a few bonus pellets into these shells so I was able to get more pellets in a 30″ circle at 40 yards than are advertised as being in the shells. Those are some tight patterns!

Then came the long-range testing. And suffice to say, with 101% pattern efficiency at 40 yards, I was still able to get enough pellets on paper to kill a duck at 60 yards. The ballistics gel penetration at that range was also sufficient! That video and the exact details are coming some. Be sure to follow me on YouTube to know when it launches.

2.75″ vs. 3″ Shells

As of this writing, the Warchief only comes in two options for 12-gauge shotguns, the 1.25 oz in 2.75″ in shells and the 1.5 oz in 3″ shells. Stepping up to the larger 3″ shells gives you 20% more pellets but it comes at the cost of 5% more cash and about 30% more recoil. And that recoil increase is very significant. I was able to shoot the 2.75″ shells effortlessly, but the 3″ packed a much more noticeable wallop on the shoulder. 

Which of the two loadings is best will depend on you, your hunting style, and how much you plan to shoot. For most average hunters going afield in normal conditions with the expectation of shooting decoying birds, the 2.75″ shells are all you could ever want. There is no reason to use the 3″ shells, you cannot kill the birds any deader than what the shorter shells can do.

For hunting late season geese with #2s, jumping hunting birds from afar, or long-range pass shooting, you will be able to make use of the extra shot the 3″ shells give you, and you will likely be shooting less which makes it a bit easier on the shoulder. But honestly, the patterns are so efficient that the 2.75″ shells are putting more pellets in the 30″ circle than many other 3″ shells. They are very potent. Very few wasted pellets. 

Competitors & Pricing

I hate listing prices because they can change so fast as the season comes and goes but when I wrote this, here are real market prices from mainstream retailers on the top bismuth loads on the market, these are for 3″, as close to 1.5oz as possible. 

  • HEVI Bismuth = $2.12
  • Winchester Bismuth = $2.40
  • Kent Bismuth = $2.60
  • BOSS Warchief = $2.14 (Program members pay $1.68)

The retail price for BOSS Warchief puts it on the lower end of the bismuth price spectrum. And its patterning and ballistics performance is equal to or better than all the competitors, and it boasts nontoxic buffer material with the biodegrading wad at no extra cost, along with copper plated shot. However, for BOSS Program members, the cost for the Warchief is drastically lower and puts it at the lowest on the market by a wide margin.

The BOSS VIP Program is their customer loyalty initiative. Program members pay an annual fee to join and get discounts on shells ordered, free shells of their choice, new products in development for testing, swag, exclusive access to sales and restocked items, and numerous other benefits. There is a significant sunk cost but program members who buy a lot of shells report the program typically pays for itself very fast while providing all the other benefits. I am a paying program member myself.

Conclusions & Recommendations

The BOSS Warchief is a game changer for long range waterfowl hunting. For the price, they are the most effective shell on the market and provide outstanding performance while leaving biodegrading buffer material and shot cups in the woods that will utterly vanish. Being able to get 100% patterns at will is unbelievable, and having more penetration with less recoil than the competition is a huge bonus as well. Check out the new BOSS Warcheif shotshells for yourself. As a note, BOSS sent me these shells at my request to do this review, and Carlson’s sent me the choke tube, thanks to them for their support.

Be sure to listen to The New Hunters Guide Podcast and check us out on YouTube

Till next time. God bless you, and go get em in the woods!

George Konetes Ph.D. – Founder and Host of the New Hunters Guide.

The New Hunters Guide is simply what George wishes he would have had when learning how to hunt; a single place to get practical hands on knowledge about different kinds of hunting, gear, strategy, and tips that can improve your comfort and fun factor in the woods.