Lead shot ban.

Whenever talk turns to suitable lead shot alternatives it’s not long before someone quotes the criteria that whatever might be chosen it should be “affordable and effective.”

If that’s the case then there’s no need to discuss Hevi-Shot, Tungsten or Bismuth as all three fail the affordability test.

But hang on a minute, what is the definition of affordable?

Is it in comparison with an equivalent lead product?

Or do we shooters need to take a means test?

I don’t know the answer to that one, but what I do know is that leaves us with steel, which in my view does not satisfy the “effective” part of the test.

I’ve previously talked about the risk of lead to human health and whilst lead is poisonous it has to be asked why we are not all falling off our perches having eaten loads of game killed by lead shot over the years, or guzzled drinking water fed through soft lead piping?

The reason, of course, is that humans have a tolerance to lead and tests will show that lead levels in our body fluctuate.

Expose yourself to lead and the level will increase, cut it out and it goes down.

This exposure is critical, as the lead levels needed to damage our health are significant, meaning that the risk to us is negligible.

Of course these days everything we touch seems to be carcinogenic or will damage us in some way or other.

So we need to keep matters in perspective.

It wasn’t too long ago that some scientist out there said butter was going to kill us, but when pressed as to the amount we would need to eat to commit suicide with the creamy stuff, it transpired to be a horrific amount devoured over a long period of time – plenty long enough then to write a million farewell notes, or perhaps even change your mind.

I still enjoy putting a good spread on my morning toast, as do millions of other folk.

As with lead, the risk is small and needs to be kept in perspective.

LEAD BAN?

The worst case scenario is that we eventually face a total lead ban – what then? On the basis of cost alone, I would venture that most shooters will turn to steel, which these days is cheaper than lead.

I am not a total advocate of steel shot but if push comes to shove, then needs must as they say.

Clay shooting will be unaffected, in fact its popularity could increase if we were forced to use cheaper steel.

Effectiveness would be immaterial, as a ‘wounded’ clay pigeon still counts as a kill on the score card. But what of game shooting?

There is no doubt that steel is indeed effective, but only out to a certain range. It is harder than lead, so does not deform as much on impact and it is also about 30% lighter than good old lead.

This means its killing power down range is seriously diminished.

Those people who support a ban would probably argue that to compensate for this lack of clout we should reduce the range at which we shoot birds.

If that thinking took hold then high bird shoots would definitely be affected, as steel would not do the job effectively against a 60yard pheasant.

That range would be reduced to about 40yards, which to be fair, is still a good pheasant in most peoples’ book.

STEEL YOURSELF

The advantage of steel, apart from the cost, is that because it’s 30% less dense than lead we get a lot more pellets in our cartridges and those pellets, being harder, suffer less damage during firing.

This in turn produces better and denser patterns which can sometimes prove to be an advantage.

Fact is, if the worst did happen, we would have to adapt the way we shoot to cope with the restrictions forced upon us.

Currently, the choice in steel loads is not huge and Gamebore is the only company offering any real diversity of choice, although I guess the other manufacturers would gear up accordingly if it came to it.

Because of its lesser mass, steel cartridges tend to be longer to accommodate the required shot weight.

For instance Gamebore’s Super Steel range starts at 32gm in a 2.3/4in (70mm) case with shot sizes 3,4 and 5 at £202 per 1,000.

Moving up to 36gm, with the case length extending to 3in (76mm) in shot sizes 1,3,4 and 5 expect to pay £280 and finally their Mammoth Steel in a 42gm load in a 3.1/2 in case in BB, 1 and 3 shot at £544.

Gamebore also do the only steel shot load available with a patented fibre shot cup in a 32gm shot size 4 only in a 76mm case at £369 per 1,000.

There is virtually nothing available in the smaller bores except a 20-bore offering as a 24gm load, so I guess my beloved 28-bore would be consigned to the rubbish skip.

Gamebore has a distinct advantage in making its own plastic wads for steel shot which, by necessity, have to be more robust than those for lead pellets.

The fact that steel loads normally require a thicker plastic wad means that there is virtually no choice in fibre wad.

Given that more than 80% of game cartridges are sold with fibre wads makes you wonder where that will leave us eco friendly Brits should a lead-free zone ever come about.

WHAT NOW?

The way forward with the ongoing debate about lead shot looks long and complicated with some members of the Lead Ammunition Group committee not being impartial and, annoyingly, driving their own agendas.

My view is that political correctness should be swept aside and an assessment of the risks should be made on scientific and independent evidence.

I feel that the risk to human health, wildlife and the environment is minimal so any decisions should be based on the actual levels.

Whatever happens, alternatives (although not ideal) are available, so while any further restriction would be a bitter pill to swallow, none of us would be forced to hang up our shooting boots.