Richard Negus tests the latest 'eco-cartridges' and is highly impressed
Margaret Heffernan, the writer and entrepreneur, said: “For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument and debate.” Shooting has had this in spadefuls of late, largely on the topic of cartridges. In February 2020, the British shooting organisations unanimously voiced their support for the phasing out of lead shot and single-use plastic in ammunition within five years. The British cartridge manufacturers responded by pouring cold water on these aspirations.
Steel bio wad cartridges?
They argued such innovation was impossible in the time frame. It appeared that shooting was at an impasse and our collective cheeks reddened when the mainstream press picked up on it. In the midst of this rancour a lone voice sought to tell anyone who would listen that he had the solution. That voice came from Nick Levett-Scrivener, who owns Shooting Star Ltd, a wholesale cartridge company based in the depths of Suffolk. As the sole UK distributor for Spanish brand BioAmmo and French Jocker, he knew that the two companies had made great leaps in non-lead shot and biodegradable wad technology.
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Nick had given me prototypes from the two ‘loaders’ over 18 months ago; I wrote about my early findings in the Shooting Times last season. Curiously, Nick appeared to have been largely ignored by British organisations. However, over the months we have maintained a correspondence, Nick keeping me up to date on the developments in Spain and France.
Last week, I received a phone call. An ebullient Levett-Scrivener invited me to his farm. In his store now sat pallet upon pallet of the Jocker in both game and clay steel loads. Alongside these lay slab after slab of BioAmmo.
The Jocker uses a recycled cardboard cup and wad, the base cap is made from sustainable cork. The case is standard plastic which, like all cases, is fully recyclable. These 12-bore, 70mm cartridges have taken a lot of research and development to create. Currently they are available in steel loads of 21g 7 and 32g 4.
There are also cardboard wadded lead and ‘bio alternative’ options. The latter is a shot made from alloy containing zinc, nickel, bismuth and aluminium. This month, 67mm versions – ranging from 21g 7s to 30g 4s – arrive in the UK to cater for those with old English guns.
BioAmmo, a name new to many, is based in Segovia, Spain. The firm has been at the forefront of the development and manufacture of 100% biodegradable and compostable ammunition.
Its state-of-the-art factory has succeeded in creating not only a wad and cup that is made from 100% plant polymer but, uniquely, the case is also made from the compostable, biodegradable material. The combination of bio wad, cup and case with steel shot makes it the world’s first fully eco-friendly cartridge. Currently available in 12-bore 70mm cases, its steel offerings are 24g 7s, 28g 7s, 30g 5s and 32g in 3 and 5. There are also lead alternatives.
Firstly, the Jocker and BioAmmo cartridges were trialled on clays by Duane Morley, the World Cup Fitasc Sporting winner and double European champion, and his England team-mate, Carson Revell.
The pair shot 21g and 28g loads in steel and lead on targets up to 60 metres. Carson was enthusiastic about both brands, noting that the differences between lead and steel were negligible. He saved high praise for the Jockers, describing them as an equal to his usual RC competition cartridges. His comment: “Far better to voluntarily use environmentally friendly cartridges now, rather than have legislation forced upon us later,” echoes the thoughts of the shooting organisations.
Next my friend ‘Deadly’ Darren Sizer and I pattern tested, at 35 yards, the Jocker Bio Iso Steel in 4 and BioAmmo Lux Steel in 3 and 5. We used Darren’s Bettinsolli X Trail and Browning Maxus with full Carlson chokes and my Hatsan Escort Magnum using ½ choke. We used the Eley VIP 3s steel as a comparison cartridge. On a 30in plate the following was seen:
• BioAmmo 5 full choke 193 pellets, consistent pattern slightly blown left
• BioAmmo 5 half choke 254 pellets, perfect pattern
• BioAmmo 3 full choke 123 pellets, good pattern
• Bio Ammo 3 half choke 145 pellets, good pattern and slightly elongated
• Jocker 4 full choke 164 pellets, pattern blown markedly left
• Jocker 4 half choke 169 pellets, pattern slightly blown left
• Eley 3 full choke 105 pellets, holes at the top of the pattern
• Eley 3 half choke 115 pellets, good pattern
Darren is an experienced home loader and has a good grasp of ballistics – and he is not easily impressed. His comment that: “The BioAmmo are impressive, I’d buy these,” is something that the Spanish firm should take to the bank, it is high praise indeed. Later that day, using the BioAmmo Lux Steel 3s in his Maxus, he shot a triple of rooks, the furthest more than 60 yards away.
We did note that the Jocker wad became ‘confetti’ on occasion with half choke, yet saw no marked lack of performance or accuracy when this occurred.
Over at Flea Barn, my friend Ed Nesling had drilled over 40 acres with wild bird seed mixes 10 days previously. Having germinated in a few days, the delicate seedlings were now being devoured by rooks and pigeon. I set up a small pattern of pigeon decoys and a twirler. My hide was tucked in behind a hedge.
It became evident that the thundery weather conditions were not conducive for pigeon decoying, with few on the wing. Not so the corvids. Switching off the twirler, my pattern was soon being investigated by a nonchalant crow. He drifted unhurriedly away and as he turned I fired using a BioAmmo 32g 3; the bird folded. I knew that my shot was at distance, confirmed by the length of time it took Mabel to return with the retrieve. I retraced her steps and paced 65 yards. I assumed this to be a lucky pellet but upon inspection the crow exhibited four fatal wounds clearly visible in its breast. I clean killed a further nine rooks and crows at ranges between 30–50 yards. These corvids need to be hit hard to kill and both brands are clearly more than equipped to do that. The kick of the Jocker 32g 4s was more noticeable compared to the light recoil from the BioAmmo, and the wads on the BioAmmo fly prestigious distances leaving an overall impression of a powerful precision cartridge.
I gave my test report to Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner, who responded: “One of the reasons shooting organisations came together to make the announcement about the phasing out of lead ammunition was to stimulate the market for alternatives. It is very good to see that there are a range of effective steel bio wad cartridges becoming available.”
Steel bio wad cartridges offer real alternative
Tim is correct. These steel bio wad cartridges are a real alternative. The Jocker is remarkably clever. It combines cutting-edge technology with a wad material as old as shooting itself. As the cheapest option (approximately £325/1,000) the Jocker is a value-for-money game or pigeon cartridge that would work equally well on a flight pond. The BioAmmo Lux Steel is more expensive (approximately £389/1,000) but you feel you are getting a more premium product.
I would have no hesitation in using the Lux 5s on driven game. However, the Lux 3 is something special. There is nothing to dislike about it. It is hard hitting, consistent and if you inadvertently leave a spent case on the foreshore it is no more polluting than a lettuce. Next season I will be using the innovative BioAmmo Lux 3s on the foreshore. I have seen the future and I like it.