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Biodegradable shotgun cartridges – questions still loom

Robin Scott says some questions need to be answered before he is convinced of shooting’s eco revolution of biodegradable shotgun cartridges and wads, and steel shot

The move towards biodegradable shotgun cartridges, and wads and steel shot gets closer and closer by the day, but there are still some questions that need answering on the ramifications of the transition.

I’ve been using the stuff on and off for years on shooting grounds that allow its use. It certainly dusts the discs. Then again, so would cement-coated popcorn if the targets were close enough.

It also kills birds, but in my somewhat-limited experience not as well as lead, a material that comes with several huge advantages over its rival. Chief of which is incredible versatility. It can be used in guns of all ages, chamber lengths, bore sizes and chokes. Steel can’t. By nature it is unyielding and tiringly restrictive in the field – something more of us will discover to our regret once the unnecessary ban on lead shot finally kicks in. We’re told the restrictions will only apply to live quarry shooting, but don’t bank on it, anything could happen once the politicians get to vote on it.

For more on the move away from lead:

Biodegradable shotgun cartridges – the quandary

The only thing I can say about steel is that (touch wood) my gun barrels are still intact, free of damage and in proof. And this happy state of affairs is down to just one thing – cheap, simple, effective, heavy-duty plastic shot cups, which prevent metal-to-metal contact between shot and tubes. But these wads also face the axe in the drive to save the planet from plastic litter. Which is why we appear to be in something of a quandary right now.

Cartridge makers have worked up wads that are seemingly nature-friendly but the materials, it transpires, need more research to make them as tough and durable as the shot cups they’re supposed to replace. Some doubt still remains, which is why two influential MPs have asked Defra to delay any lead ban in order to give the cartridge industry more time to develop their products. Who knows, like the Holy Grail, a solution may never be found. And if so, where’s Plan B?

Biodegradable shotgun cartridges

The sun is setting on lead and plastic but there is concern about alternatives

In spite of the uncertainty I made a resolution of sorts back in summer to bite the bullet, put aside my reservations over steel and give ‘green’ cartridges a go, at least for the last month of the game season. But it didn’t happen – that half a slab of eco steel loads bought for the ‘trial’ still sits in a cupboard, unused.

Investigations into biodegradable shotgun cartridges

I’ve decided that my small supply is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust. But therein might lay another issue; the instructions on the box are quite specific as to the temperature and humidity at which the cartridges should be stored. Why? Might the integrity of the wadding be compromised in some way if the guidelines are ignored? There’s no way I can match the recommended requirements here at home, so what are the consequences of long-term storage in less than perfect conditions?

My lead loads – some many years old – are kept in much colder conditions than those stipulated by the loader of these steel cartridges. They still work perfectly. Is temperature key to the composition of degradable wads, and might adverse storage arrangements compromise their effectiveness? If so, shouldn’t each box then carry a ‘best before’ date to help avoid possible problems and give users much needed reassurance and peace of mind? The last thing I want is to risk ruining an expensive set of gun barrels because of a wad failure.

Yet the manufacturer of these cartridges – and others, for all I know – makes it clear in the printed list of dos and don’ts that no liability will be accepted for any damage they might cause to the barrels. I’m not sure if that wriggle-free clause is entirely legally binding (maybe Trading Standards could shed some light on it?). And if a loader is prepared to distance itself from its own product like this, why should I buy its cartridges and play Russian roulette with a set of barrels I can ill-afford to replace if the worst happened? Or are we covered by the insurance policies that come with our memberships to the shooting organisations driving calls for the lead shot ban?

Answers on a postcard, please.