We are all beginning to rethink how we use plastic; is it time for the whole shooting industry to ban plastic wads? Tom Payne investigates.
Whether we like it or not, shooting is facing a lot of hurdles and many of them have been created by us.
If we want generations to come to enjoy the outdoor life that we do, we are going to have to grasp a few nettles. The environmental issues facing the planet are huge.
I called Dylan Williams at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School (RBSS) for his view on plastic wads. It clearly wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it. “It’s time to stop, think and listen or we will be in a huge mess,” he warned. “The RBSS has never bought plastic-wadded cartridges for use on the school but, as of 1 March, we will insist on being 100 per cent fibre only, which includes what clients bring.”
The shooting community has always prided itself on its conservation credentials and rails against those who despoil our countryside, from the fly-tippers to the litter-dropping hikers. However, there are still countless Guns who think it is fine to shoot plastic wads on game days in the selfish hope that it might allow them to hit slightly higher, faster birds.
Like dumping a plastic bag
But the figures are stark. A plastic wad weighs 2.5g and a supermarket plastic bag weighs 5g. No prizes for working out that anyone who double- taps a long partridge with plastic has just effectively dumped a plastic bag in the ditch. When you think that some people go through a slab a day, the reality becomes apparent.
I guarantee that every perpetrator would fly into a fit of rage if they saw a vehicle driver tearing down the lanes, throwing hundreds of plastic bags into the verge, so what gives us the right to poison the land?
Toxic as those wads may be, there are some who protest that they do produce a better performance. In a bid to find out whether that view holds any weight, I did a little unscientific polling. Robert Everitt, head of sales at Hull Cartridge and keen grouse Shot, believes Hull has always led the way on fibre wads: “It is an acknowledged fact that we produce the smoothest and most consistent fibre wad high-performance cartridges in the UK. We continually develop our loads through extensive in-field testing.
“Our High Pheasant Extreme is capable of shooting any sporting bird in the UK and for the side-by-side shooters we offer Imperial Game 28g No.4, which has blistering performance and very low recoil,” he added.
Robert is a spectacular salesman but his pitch holds water and his parting words were wise: “Plastic wads don’t make up for poor accuracy; a well-placed shot with fibre wad will always outperform a sloppy shot with plastic.”
Game shooting instructor and top game Shot Simon Ward takes a similar line: “I have been using fibre wad ammunition for all of my game shooting for the past 20 years, he said proudly. Simon has been involved in developing fibre-wadded cartridges with Gamebore over the past decade and now believes the choice is a no-brainer, saying: “Why would I want to leave the countryside littered with plastic?”
A South African friend, Marcus Janssen, previously editor of Fieldsports Magazine and now brand director at Schöffel, is a conservationist through and through. My mention of plastic rather offended him. “That anyone would consider using plastic wad cartridges for game shooting shows a flagrant disregard for the countryside, and for the rest of the shooting community. It is irresponsible and, quite frankly, reprehensible,” he said.
All the rage
Mark Osborne, joint owner of sporting agency William Powell, confirmed that he would like to stop selling plastic wads as soon as possible. He wondered whether paper case cartridges with felt or other biodegradable wads “might become all the rage again”.
John Queen, headkeeper at Linhope estate, said: “Linhope has a 100 per cent plastic wad ban. We pride ourselves on maintaining our beautiful estate and many more should follow suit. Conservation is at Lord James’s [Percy, owner of Linhope] heart. It is unacceptable to be shooting plastic wads for any form of game shooting.”
I was delighted by the calls across the industry to stamp out plastic wad use but a comment from shooting instructor Andy Castle struck a nerve. “We need to look to our World and European clay shooting organisations,” he said. “It’s those guys who need to play a major role in pushing this campaign forward.”
He seemed to think that, even if the game shooters get on board, the aspiring clay Shots might need a bit of persuading. In some ways, the clay shooting fraternity might be justified in saying the area they are shooting over is smaller, therefore the impact is less, but they are still covering the countryside in plastic. In some cases, the wads can be picked up but for those registered shoots that operate on farms around the country on the 28-day rule, is this the case?
Though there are currently some clay Shots using plastic — and given that there is a perceived advantage — there are few of their competitors who would be prepared to disadvantage themselves. But the answer is surely a simple one — ban plastic and create a level playing field.
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Mark Winser, who shoots clays internationally, said that if he is shooting in a controlled “shooting ground” environment, he doesn’t see using plastic wads as an issue. But, crucially, he doesn’t believe they give much of an advantage.
“I like to tell the story of when I shot the Royal Berkshire high tower challenge of 25, which featured some of the hardest high birds you will ever shoot,” he said. “I mistakenly picked up some Gamebore 28g No.8 fibre wads instead of plastic and shot a phenomenal 23×25, consisting of one of the highest scores to be shot before the final, where I went on to win the overall High Gun prize.
“I wouldn’t be at all worried if going forward we all had to shoot fibre only, so long as everyone adhered to the rule,” he added.
“Where gameshooting is concerned, we are doing ourselves no favours as an industry using plastic wads. On both fronts, I will be interested to see what the future brings.”
For that future, the time has surely come to get our house in order on this before we are regulated from the outside, which would be bad PR for the sport we love. The wonderful thing about this issue is that we can all start making a difference the next time we order some cartridges. Let’s make 2019 the year we make the shooting field plastic-free.