The game shooting fraternity is slowly getting used to the idea that lead is probably on the way out as an acceptable projectile for shooting birds.
The cheapest alternative is steel. Steel is not, in my opinion, yet, a safe choice for users of valuable old English guns. We simply lack sufficient data on the long term effects of using steel shot in barrels not designed for it. Until we do have that data, I'm advising people to use bismuth. The main objection to this is the cost - about £1.10 per shot.
A new product recently launched onto the market and it is intended to mitigate the worries of the more tight-fisted among us and take away some of the anxiety many shooters have about steel.
The shot in Bioammo Blue is about 25% lighter than lead; it is a mixture of aluminium, zinc, tin and bismuth. It is apparently safe to use in any gun with the appropriate chamber length and with any choke combination. I bought some to try this season. Bioammo contains no plastic and no lead. The case and wad are made from vegetable-based 'biopolymers', which compost. They are degraded by bacteria in the soil in the same manner as other natural compounds, like wood. Unlike some plastic substitutes, they are not water soluble.
a bird missed with Bioammo remains just as healthy as a bird missed with lead!
The wad is a knife-cut tube, protecting the shot as it travells down the bore. Blue shot is not as dense as bismuth but it is denser than steel. It is not as soft as lead but it is softer than steel, it is not as maleable as lead but it is less brittle than bismuth. It costs around fifty four pence per shot, so it is half the price of bismuth and about 20% more than cheap steel and only five or six pence per shot more than a premium lead cartridge. It is unquestionably a compromise but is it a good one?
Bioammo and independent testers concur that this game load is effective within 30 yards, which, (willy waving aside), is a range within which a lot of British game birds are shot; be they hedge-bursting partridges, ducks coming in to a flight pond or snap-shooting pheasants in covert drives. Those currently wielding 8lb goose guns and firing 40g of lead towards 'extreme' pheasants will have to look elsewhere.
The cartridges are quite 'punchy', equating with a good game load like Gamebore Regal or Eley VIP for felt recoil in my 7lb, 1875 Thompson hammer 12-bore. This I re-proofed in 2003, extending the chambers to 2 3/4" (70mm) in the process, making it suitable for these Bioammo Blues. For those shooting guns with 2 1/2" chambers, there may be a delay until a shorter-cased load arrives.
First impressions are that it works. Any field test of a new product is suspect as we are all prone to attribute a failure to kill to the kit rather than ourselves. I can say with certainly that a bird missed with Bioammo remains just as healthy as a bird missed with lead! Those that I have killed so far, appear to have died as convincingly as they would with conventional amunition. I shall continue the trial into the rest of the season and report back. Anecdotal evidence from other sportsmen is generally favourable.
In the meantime, other manufacturers are stepping up to the challenge, with Gamebore announcing a new Regal Steel Game cartridge for 2 1/2" chambered guns, competing with Eley's Grand Prix Traditional Steel product. We will test these in due course.
Bioammo will not be a perfect like-for-like lead replacement but it does offer an effective, reasonably priced, less complicated alternative to steel for users of some vintage guns. It will only get better.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )