In the few short months since our shooting organisations announced the voluntary phase-out of lead shot within five years, a lot has happened.
At the time, many commentators, notably those involved with commercial pheasant shooting, especially ‘extreme’ pheasants, typically shot at long range, cried treason, claiming the pro-shooting groups had sold-out their members. They saw no reason to capitulate to the pressure being applied from anti-shooting and anti-polluting lobbyists.
It now seems that regardless of the voluntary phase-out that has begun to settle in the mind of most shooting people, events have over-taken plans. On September 3rd 2020 the EU REACH Committee (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) discussed and then approved legislation for the European Union that effectively enforces a lead ban for hunting everywhere within two years.
To be precise, it claims to cover only ‘wetlands’, stipulating no lead shot is to be fired within 100 yards of standing water. However, since a puddle can quality in their criteria as ‘standing water’, nowhere is likely to be exempt during the shooting season in Europe.
The UK is set to leave the EU on December 31st 2020. If the proposal becomes EU law before that date, the UK will have to comply with it, unless we decide to find time to specifically repeal it. That seems unlikely.
BASC and the CA are now using their voluntary five-year transition as a weapon with which to fight the abrupt two-year ban.
Meanwhile, the major cartridge manufacturers, who collectively told us in March that meeting the demands of universally appropriate, lead-free, ammunition within five years was ‘impossible’ have been hard at work developing alternatives. Already, some impressive strides have been made.
We can now take a look at what has emerged so far that may have benefits for users of vintage guns, which are not suited to the extra wear and tear most commercial steel loads put on the barrels and actions.
I first saw Bioammo at the Shooting Show in February. Prompted by the move against plastic pollution, then prominent in the news, the company had created a cartridge that is entirely plastic free. Now they have a lead-free version too.
Bioammo is a company based in Spain and it is distributed in the UK by Shooting Star. The plastic case and the enclosed cup wad is re-formulated using a vegetable polymer. It degrades in water and soil and leaves nothing but water and inert bio-mass behind, with no toxic residue or micro-plastic. The material sinks in water, which helps the decomposition process. At home, they can be thrown on a compost heap, where they will naturally degrade.
A steel shot load for Bioammo is now available but, unfortunately for vintage gun users, it is a High Performance load, so will not be any use to us. However, a 65mm cased load is on the way.
Along with the promised 65mm cases, we are told a new type of shot (called ‘Zero’) will be available soon. Made from an alloy of bismuth, aluminium, zinc and tin, it will be suitable for use in any vintage gun with any choke constriction.
Because it is lighter than lead, it will only be possible to load 25 grams into a 65mm case but there will be more pellets per gram. I await test results to see how it performs at longer ranges, where the lighter shot will begin to lose energy and penetration.
The cost of Bioammo, for comparison with quality game cartridges, loaded with lead shot, is encouraging. Bioammo lead loads are about 40 pence per shot, steel loads are 38 pence per shot and ‘Zero’ loads will be around 60 pence per shot, which is half the price of Bismuth. Currently, a quality lead game cartridge cost about 35 pence.
The development in tandem of lead-free and plastic-free ammunition appears to be a phenomenon. Gamebore launched a new cartridge incorporating what they call a ‘Quad-Seal’, which is made from bio-degradable material, claimed to dissolve in a few months. This is combined with a new, biodegradable shot-cup wad, the ‘Bio-wad’, which protects the barrel walls from the hard steel shot.
Quad Seal conforms to the CEN 13432 European standard for compostability. This standard covers: Ecotoxicity (does not impede plant growth) Heavy metal content (does not contain heavy metals above the permitted level) Biodegradability ISO 14851 (conducted in an aqueous environment) Disintegration – Compost (breaks down passing though a 2mm sieve after 12 weeks composting)
Launched in August 2020, as ‘Dark Storm Precision Steel’, a standard pressure version is available in 70mm cases and 32 or 34g loads. This will be suited to vintage guns with 2 3/4” chambers and a maximum choke of HALF.
Gamebore continues to warn shooters not to use their standard steel ammunition in guns that pre-date 1954 proof markings with 2 3/4” nitro proof stamps. However, we feel this is n insurance policy the company is employing rather than a scientific calculation that Damascus barrels and older guns cannot safely shoot the loads. Barrel condition and proof marks must be assessed by a competent person to determine this.
The Grand Prix Traditional Steel load is a, steel shot, standard pressure game cartridge with Eley’s Pro-Eco biodegradable wad. This is suited to vintage guns with 2 1/2” chambers, nitro proof, with HALF choke or less.
So, already we have some choices for the coming season. If you want to start experimenting with loads in your vintage guns, those with 2 1/2” chambers can try the Eley Grand Prix with steel shot, while anyone with a gun proofed (or re-proofed) with 2 3/4” nitro proof stamps already has more choice.
Expect greater variety in due course, as manufacturers bring on smaller gauges and shorter chamber-specific options. I’m quietly confident that technology will make this transition less painful than many of us thought is might be.
Finally, for readers who still harbour some hope that lead will remain in use for some time to come, this presentation by John Gregson, former editor of Shooting Times and current Decision Maker at supermarket Waitrose, explains why his company announced they will stop selling game that has been shot with lead.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )