Non-toxic cartridges review.
It’s just about now universally accepted that we must use non toxic shot for wildfowling except over dry land in Scotland which means we are stuck with (in ascending order of price) steel, Bismuth, Impact Tungsten Matrix or Hevi-Shot.
There’s a line of thought that says you can reduce the cost of non-lead cartridges by using light loads which can be fired through guns with 2.1/2in chambers.
To a point you can but firing steel through grandad’s heirloom is a definite ‘nono’ which means we are left with a choice of the other three.
Hevi-Shot’s density of 12gms/ccm (compared to lead’s 11gms/ccm) means it performs better but the only Express Hevi- Shot cartridge loaded in a 65mm case is 26gm of shot size 5 – nothing more than a game load for shooting pheasants over SSSI’s perhaps.
Why can’t they fit a larger load into that 65mm case on the basis that you can get up to 34gms of lighter lead pellets in that same 2.1/2 inches?
Then again, take a look at pictures of the pellets and you may understand why…
There is also the fact that the special wads were made for the previous incarnation of Hevi-Shot which as you may remember was not regular in shape – or size for that matter!
Don’t worry about the shot size 5 though, because being heavier than lead, you find that this actually performs more like a shot size 4 in lead, exactly the opposite rules to steel then – confused yet?
Add to this a list price of about £18 for a box of 10 and you will have to make your own mind up.
Eley’s extensive Bismuth range does, thankfully, offer a lot more choice for the man who likes to use his 2.1/2in chambered game gun.
Bismuth’s specific gravity is a fraction less than lead at 10gms/ccm so if you’re thinking of going down this route you should consider moving up a shot size to maintain lethality.
Eley’s Bismuth range has been noticeably improved with the arrival of the new Evo III version and its improved shot which, I understand, is not as brittle as the previous stuff.
Bismuth’s biggest advantage in my view is the fact that it is eco-friendly and hardware friendly too.
You don’t need to fret about the maximum amount of choke you can or cannot use, and it won’t score your barrels or damage them in any way.
Furthermore they are also available with a genuine fibre wad.
So what loads can we squeeze into our 65mm chamber? 28, 30 and 32gm loads in shot sizes 4 or 5 and that maximum 34gm load in 3s or 4s.
Plenty of choice then. Sadly, after a long period of price stability, Bismuth has recently taken more than a bit of a hike, so expect to pay about £34.50 for a box of 25 of the most popular 32gm load.
And so to Impact Tungsten Matrix (ITM) manufactured by Gamebore. With a density of about 11gms/ccm it exhibits properties very similar to lead and in the polymer matrix, it is also malleable like lead and therefore one shouldn’t feel disadvantaged using it.
However, ITM was never cheap and with the increase in commodity prices, the Tungsten price has risen by more than 60%.
Gamebore have now taken the decision to stop making this product for the time being as it would simply price itself out of the market.
There is however considerable stock left, so expect to pay £34.50 for the 32gm plastic load and £16 for a box of ten 2.3/4in 36gm loads in shot sizes 1,3 or 5.
It’s not cheap and it’s not going to be available for ever; but it’s effective. The 32gm load is also available with Gamebore’s patented fibre shot cup.
Move up to 2.3/4in chambered guns and the cartridge choice really grows. Hevi-Shot is now available in a useful 31gm duck load (4 or 5 shot) and is the best in my view if you can afford it at more than £2 a pop.
Bismuth becomes available in a 36gm (1.1/4oz) 3,4 or 5 shot at almost exactly £2 a pop and then there is steel which, as we all know, is cheaper than lead and outsells all the other non-toxics put together.
All British manufacturers produce a steel load with Hull delivering a 28gm steel as well as the ubiquitous 32gm that all the others produce.
Prices start at just £6.45 for a box of 25 compared to the alternatives. So which is the best?
Well from my point of view, none of them as I don’t like steel, not one little bit.
At less than 8gms/ccm it is more than 20% less effective than lead and can only be used over shorter distances.
You will also need to use a pellet size two up from what you would normally use in lead.
However there is one steel product I would recommend and it’s Bornaghi’s 36gm in 4 shot. Why?
Basically it’s the only 1.1/4oz steel load you can get in a 70mm case thereby giving the added advantage of increased pellet count, which can only be a good thing when using a product that is not perhaps ideal.
It is certainly suitable for all inland eventualities and a fair few on the foreshore as well.
At £9.75 for a box of 25 it is also reasonably priced when compared with other 36gm loads which all have the disadvantage of being three inches (75mm) anyway.
I would hate to see people having to give up their favourite sport because they felt they couldn’t afford the ammunition, so for this reason, steel fills a vitally important sector of the market.
True, it isn’t the best, nobody could argue with that, but if used sensibly and within its limitations then it provides a viable alternative to the ideal.