The number of plastic cartridge cases strewn across the countryside is depressing — is it really that hard for people to pick up their empties, says Alasdair Mitchell

What do you do with your empty plastic cartridge cases? Plastic wads are already verboten on many game shoots. But plastic cartridge cases are another matter. They are still very much the rule rather than the exception. Unlike wads, which are blasted to God only knows where, cases are much more likely to land somewhere predictable. Given this, you’d have thought it would be a common courtesy to pick them up.

Depressing sight- plastic cartridge cases

Surprisingly, however, there are still some shooters who don’t even attempt to pick up their empties. Many of these folk are gravitationally challenged. Others just go through life thinking it is somebody else’s job to clean up after them. I find it depressing to walk on to a stand at a driven shoot and find the immediate area blighted by dozens of used cases.

I remember reading an account by an environmentalist about a moorland walk. She was not ostensibly anti-shooting, but her description of crunching across faded and flattened cartridges cases near a line of butts made me cringe. On some driven shoots, the keeper asks you to leave empties in a neat pile at your peg, so they may be collected afterwards. Others ask you to pick them up wherever possible and provide a bucket at the game cart for disposal. I have been embarrassed at the quantity of empties I tip out of my pockets after a drive, compared with the vastly smaller number of birds I bagged. For those of us who like to kid ourselves about our cartridges-to-kills ratio, collecting empties can be a sobering experience. I often pick up other people’s empties as well as my own from the vicinity of my own peg, but this can be a tedious business. If I were better organised, I’d get one of those magnet sticks to obviate the need to bend down so many times. I never seem to remember to bring a folding bag for empties. Instead, I put them in my pockets, where they mix with live cartridges and sometimes make everything damp.

It is probably best to wait until the end of a drive to pick up your empties, for obvious reasons. Naturally, I seldom take my own advice. I have lost count of the times I have been bent down searching for an errant empty during a lull, only to have a bird come silently sailing right over me. Picking up empties can become surprisingly addictive. Of course, you can’t pick up every case, every time. Some will fall into water or thick cover. That’s one reason why I use paper cases when I can get them. But the real problem comes when you use a semi-auto for pigeon or wildfowling. If you are shooting from a hide, you stand a chance of finding your empties, though not if they are being ejected into rushes, or when you are on a dusk flight.

Many people point to problems of damp with paper cases, though our forefathers seemed to manage. Perhaps we’ve become so used to the convenience of plastic that we’ve become too idle to take basic precautions to keep our ammo dry. A new breed of biodegradeable cartridge cases has appeared. I wonder if, in time, we will look back at plastic cartridge cases in the same way we look back at single-use plastic shopping bags?