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Why I’m finally giving steel ammunition a proper test this season

The arguments against steel ammunition are falling away with the introduction of protective shotcups. It's time to give it a proper test writes Alasdair Mitchell

steel shot cartridges

Steel shot, shotgun cartridges and bag

Biodegradable shotcups suitable for steel ammunition have been available for a while.

Gamebore has some 76mm wildfowling loads with its Silver Steel Bio-Wad fibre shotcup, while Eley Hawk has recently launched a range of 70mm steel loads with its new starch-based Pro Eco shotcups. These will, they say, protect shotgun barrels like a conventional plastic shotcup, but then dissolve into harmless organic matter when exposed to water.

Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco

Cross section of the Eley VIP Steel Pro eco cartridge showing the biodegradable wad

Non-lead ammunition

For this season, I am going to use non-lead ammunition for all my shotgun and centrefire rifle shooting. The only exception is my .22 rimfire — there doesn’t seem to be a non-lead alternative for that particular round, as far as I know.

I confess, I have always had a dim view of steel shot but when I examine the basis of my view, I find that it is based on prejudice. In truth, I have hardly ever used steel. Some of the more recent research into the effectiveness of modern steel loads seems compelling. And now that manufacturers seem to have cracked the issue of biodegradable shotcups, steel may be set for take-off.

The crux of the matter is this: if biodegradable shotcups are effective in shielding your barrel walls, and if steel can be made to kill about as well as lead, then why wouldn’t you use it? Nobody needs to use lead if there is a viable, cost-effective alternative, and arguments about the toxicity of lead become redundant.

Walked up shooting

Walked-up shooting

Game and walked-up shooting

For my game and rough shooting I am planning to use Eley VIP Steel Pro Eco Wad cartridges containing 32g of steel No 5 shot in a 70mm case. According to Eley Hawk, this is a ‘standard steel’, as opposed to ‘super steel’ load. I am hoping to use it in my normal game gun, which is modern, in good order and only lightly choked.

Deer stalking

For deer stalking, I am going to use Slovenian-made Fox ammunition, supplied by Edinburgh Rifles. My favourite deer rifle is chambered for 7mm-08 Remington, which is not exactly mainstream. But Fox ammunition is available in this calibre, as well as most others. I have ordered some with a 130gr monolithic bullet made of a copper-zinc alloy. I shall be interested to see how they group when fired from my Steyr Scout.

On paper, the expansion of Fox bullets looks impressive. And being monolithic, their weight retention is better than anything achieved by lead-cored bullets. One of the key drawbacks of conventional bullets is the surprising amount of lead dust and other fragments that end up being sprayed well outside the wound channel. Some of the scans shown in research papers look like photos of Halley’s Comet.

Mind you, I note that the hollowpoint nose of a Fox bullet is protected by a tiny bead made of what appears to be plastic. Hmm. I wonder if this can be replaced, or simply removed before use?

I am looking forward to my forthcoming season of non-lead shooting. If my trial of non-lead ammunition is successful, then I am minded to finish with lead for good. We shall see.