Recent technological developments have made non-lead shot more effective, more widely available and more affordable. Equally, biodegradable wads are now a possibility. These advances are continuing at pace and it is now time for the wider live quarry shooting community to join the wildfowlers, who have used non-lead alternatives successfully for the last twenty years. In addition, there are over-burdening legislative changes coming down the line as a result of work being undertaken by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Despite Brexit we are expecting that these regulations will be implemented in the UK either due to a requirement to sell lead free game into Europe, or by UK legislation.
Why is using lead shot a problem?
Concerns around the use of lead shot limit the current market for game products, and retailers are increasingly asking for game that has been shot with non-lead alternatives. Additionally, lead has been progressively removed from other substances, such as petrol and paint. There is growing concern about the damage lead shot causes to wildlife away from wetlands. The fact that non-lead alternatives of suitable quality are increasingly available means that we should transition towards them.
Can I fire steel shot through my shotgun?
Steel shot is classified as either standard or high performance. If your gun is nitro proofed (i.e. it can fire modern lead loads) then it will be safe to fire standard performance steel. This is generally steel of size 4 or smaller. High performance steel must be marked as such on the box, and should only be fired through guns bearing the fleur-de-lys proofmark, and usually with the words “STEEL SHOT” stamped on the barrel. If you have any doubt about your gun, seek the advice of an expert gunsmith.
I have an old gun and am worried about possible barrel damage.
Tests have found that standard performance 24g steel loads did not cause any damage in thin-walled game guns, even after a thousand shots2 . However, if you are unable to use steel then your main alternative is bismuth, which is suitable for both muzzle-loading and Damascus-barrelled guns. Bismuth does cost more than both lead and steel but, ultimately, this is all about choices and securing the future of sustainable shooting.
What about ammunition for: rifle target shooting, including with muzzle loading and historic arms, clay shooting and live quarry rifle shooting (including pest control and large game shooting)?
Viable alternatives are being researched. Where lead ammunition is used in a contained environment, such as a range, or there is an absence of reasonable alternatives, we feel lead should continue to be used.
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