Is Hortonium the New Lead?

A Birmingham Gunmaker Thinks So.

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Gunsmithing & Technical|August 2023

The debate about lead shot replacement goes on.

Ammunition manufacturers are busy working to address the issues raised about pollution and littering associated with shooting.

First, they took on the plastic wad issue and have, quite quickly, improved the performance and degradability of new compounds, mostly derived from vegetable starch. Even steel-shot-capable wads are now available in these compounds and their use removes a common criticism of the shooting fraternity; that of littering with single use plastics.


he claims it is equivalent to lead in malleability, similar in weight to bismuth

The next issue is lead shot. It will, very likely, be banned this year. There will probably be a reasonable change-over period. The GTA is hopeful that it will be five years. They have told the HSE that this is necessary in order for the industry to gear-up to meet demand with lead replacement products.

One such product is emerging but is not yet commercially available. Birmingham Gun Maker Steve Horton has, with a British engineer, developed a compound, modestly named ‘Hortonium’, which he claims is equivalent to lead in malleability, similar in weight to bismuth and about 5%-10% less expensive than bismuth.

Lead has been loaded into cartridges since the days of pinfire. We are at the end of that particular road.

The main criticism of bismuth he makes is its frangibility. Tests have shown that a given number of pellets fired at a target do not reach it - Horton attributes this to the pellets fracturing en-route. ‘Hortonuim’ does not suffer from this problem.

In terms of application, he claims ‘Hortonium’ can be substituted for lead and requires no alteration of chokes or chambers.

Much remains a mystery. The developers will not tell me what is in ‘Hortonium’, they will not divulge its actual density or its actual cost. This is understandable, given that it is being patented and they are seeking commercial sponsorship from major ammunition manufacturers to take it mainstream.

it offers hope to the users of older guns who want to continue using them

We all acknowledge lead to be the ideal projectile. However, we all need to recognise that it will soon no longer be available for use for outdoor shooting sports. There are issues with steel shot (it is light, hard, unkind to older guns and does not deliver the shock energy that kills birds quickly that softer compounds do.

Bismuth has a tendency to fragment, even in its improved form, though it remains the best of the non-lead compounds. BioAmmo Blue has its uses at sub 30-yard ranges in choked guns but is otherwise unsatisfactory. TSS is very effective but prohibitively expensive.

Could Hortonium become a commercial success? If so, it offers hope to the users of older guns who want to continue using them for game and sporting clays.

Hortonuim has also been trialled as a .22 rimfire bullet and reports claim that it performs exactly like lead when formed into a 40 grain subsonic load.

Watch this space.



Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Gunsmithing & Technical|August 2023

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