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Lead alternatives cartridge review

Some well informed people claim the sample and methodology used for the Defra-funded survey was badly flawed, totally misleading and therefore untrue.

They might well be right but the coverage gained by the WWT with its deliberately timed media campaign has been damaging for shooting: the bad press simply gives more fodder to the antis at a time when lead shot in all forms of shooting is under the microscope.

The present law on the use of lead shot over UK wetlands might well be bonkers (except for Scotland where policy makers thankfully used a more joined up way of thinking) but we are under increasing pressure to toe the line.

Far be it from me to preach to inland wildfowlers, but the law is the law and we are expected to comply with it.

With this in mind then, maybe now is an opportune time to remind ourselves of what shot alternatives we’re supposed to be using for inland flighting and driven duck on commercial shoots.

We all know that lead does the best job of all and is therefore the most humane tool for killing cleanly. But there’s one notable exception!


LYALVALE EXPRESS HEVI-SHOT
The exception of course is Hevi-Shot – a material that’s even heavier than lead and actually produces a better performance.

Lyalvale Express Hevi-shot cartridges

Its higher specific-gravity ensures it not only delivers increased striking energy but also increases the range at which we can kill birds cleanly by up to 20%.

Hevi-Shot is an alloy of nickel, tungsten and soft iron that happily exhibits similar properties in terms of malleability to good old lead shot, a property, in my view, that give pellets better killing power.

The malleability transfers energy more easily and therefore maximises trauma.

In conclusion, Hevi-Shot is better than lead, so the only thing likely to put you off is the price which starts at around £80 for a box of 50 in 26gm loads.

The more mainstream 31gm load in 4 or 5 shot is about £90 (ideal for ducks) and the 3in 34gm 3 shot at a massive £103 for 50 is enough to make you cry.

But, mark my words, it is the best.

Express Hevi-Shot 12-bore 26gm, 5
» Case Length: 65mm
» Wad: Plastic
» Powder: Vectan
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps


Express Hevi-Shot 12-bore 31gm, 4 & 5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Plastic
» Powder: Vectan
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps


Express Hevi-Shot 12-bore 34gm, 3
» Case Length: 76mm
» Wad: Plastic
» Powder: Vectan
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps



STEEL SHOT
Steel is now actually cheaper than lead but while this definitely makes it more accessible to the grass roots shooter, it still lacks effectiveness, in my view.

Gamebore Steel Shot cartridges

All the major cartridge loaders produce a range of steel shot cartridges starting at about £165 per 1,000 for 32gm loads.

While they are eminently affordable, please do bear in mind steel’s capabilities, or lack of them.

Steel Generally 12-bore 32gm 3, 4 & 5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Plastic
» Muzzle Velocity: 1375fps



GAMEBORE IMPACT TUNGSTEN MATRIX
Next up in the performance stakes is Impact Tungsten Matrix manufactured solely by Hull-based Gamebore.

Gamebore TMX cartridges

This is basically tungsten powder mixed with a polymer, which has the effect of making it more malleable than pure tungsten – the resultant material is just slightly less dense than lead, so again it’s fit for purpose.

Gamebore make a broad range of tungsten products and for inland duck the 32gm (1.1/8oz) load in 3s or 5s is the most popular choice starting at about £33 for a box of 25 with the fibre wad version a fraction more at £35 a box.

There’s also a good range of heavier loads right up to 56gms in a 3½in cartridge but at £3 a pop, you will need a small mortgage if you fire more than a handful of shots on a regular basis.

Gamebore Impact Tungsten Matrix 12-bore 32gm 3, 4 & 5
» Case Length: 70mm
» Wad: Fibre or Plastic
» Powder: B & P
» Muzzle Velocity: 1400fps



ELEY BISMUTH
Bismuth is fractionally less dense than Tungsten Matrix but it’s well up to the job in most situations.

Eley VIP Bismuth cartridges

Bismuth has previously suffered a reputation as being brittle, but this has been solved with the new generation Evo III loads.

One of the big advantages of Bismuth is that in the lighter loads it can be used with a genuine fibre wad – it has always seemed a little incongruous to me that supposed non-toxic loads were pretty much only available with non eco-friendly plastic wads.

Anyway, the most common 1.1/8oz load costs around £25 per box of 25 and are therefore the cheapest of the non-toxic loads that, in my view work reasonably well.

Bismuth is also available in all common bore sizes, which gives it another unique selling point.

Eley Bismuth 12-bore 32gm 3, 4 & 5
» Case Length: 65mm
» Wad: Fibre or Plastic
» Powder: Maxam
» Muzzle Velocity: 1375fps



CONCLUSION
A lot of hot air is talked about non-toxic loads and their supposed non-effectiveness but having field-tested them all, I can assure you that Hevi-Shot, Tungsten and Bismuth all work perfectly well.

Steel, I feel, is seriously lacking when it comes to killing humanely.

While I will admit that most of the other non-toxic alternatives are not as good as lead the shot load still has to be put in the right place.

We are all capable of missing or winging a bird, whatever cartridge we are using!

Read more cartridge reviews!

  • Simon Mansell

    The “Lead debate” is the equivalent “The Emperor’s New Clothes” The benefits of not using lead can be likened to the Emperors a new suit of clothes – they are invisible to all but the green anti shooting lobby and it has nothing to do with animal welfare. Most of us reading this have been brought up on water piped through lead and the anti lead science is based mainly on USA flight ponds shot over by thousands of semi autos over many years. I would warrant the damage to wildlife through wounding with steel or entanglement with plastic wads far exceeds the risks of digestion of lead shot. When guns use lead illegally it is the equivalent of when a child cries out, “But the Emperor isn’t wearing anything at all!”

  • Martin Holcroft

    I agree that it is an own goal not to use what you call non toxic shot when shooting wildfowl. Lead, or as I shall call it from now on, toxic shot, should not be used for wild fowl even when they are being shot on the same drive as pheasants which may be shot with toxic shot. This law is ridiculas and more effort should be made to explain this to the idiots who see it as their job to control us.
    Following on from the above,do you think that game birds should be sold for food with a warning that they were killed using toxic shot or would that be another own goal. Alternatively we could start using the term “non lead” instead of “non toxic”!

  • graham howse

    Remmington 3″ and 3 1/2″ steel in BB or BBB will kill geese as far as any responsible wildfowler will want to take them

  • Robert Moray

    In the second paragraph of the article you state;

    “Some well informed people claim the sample and methodology used for the Defra-funded survey was badly flawed, totally misleading and therefore untrue.”

    Can you please name the individuals and the rational behind their assertions?

    I would be extremely interested to learn about the flawed methodology as repeating the experiment with this knowledge would surely lead to contradictory results.

    Regards

    Robert