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Lead shot, are we in or out?


The talk around lead shot has really heated up in recent weeks. It started with the major shooting bodies making a joint statement to phase out lead in 5 years. A week later the cartridge manufacturers release a statement about the timeframe being impossible. So where does that leave the shooting community and what do we need to make the transition effective.

Why ban lead?

There is a reason for the move away from lead. To enable mass support of game meat it needs to be more consumable. With lead being removed from many other items like fuel and paint it becomes difficult to justify it in food, steel, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same negative qualities as lead. While many of us have consumed lead shot birds without adverse effects, there is still a danger to pregnant women etc. With lead out the picture, steel shot game becomes a fantastically viable food option to the masses.

What does this mean for shooting people?

The problem that we have is up until this point guns have been designed to shoot lead. From the chokes in the tubes to the lining of the barrels.All the progress and development in the UK market has been lead focused. Fixed choked guns for high bird shooting which has become ever popular in the UK are fixed beyond what you can safely shoot the high performance steel required. Brands like Miroku have never made steel proof barrels but they have made brilliant game shooting guns. For the owners, they are forced to wait and see what the cartridge manufacturers produce. The problem exists for people shooting older guns too especially side by sides with short chambers. They are stuck between a hard place and a rock. Keep a traditional gun that you’ve loved and cherished or modernize onto something new but without the sentimental value.

What’s wrong with steel?

The original statements from the shooting bodies sites the success of steel shot in the USA but it’s hard to draw comparisons. While the cartridges are very capable they are built to specifications that many European guns aren’t built too. Big steel loads designed for wildfowling are often put through heavy duty semi autos but I fear that even if the barrels were strong enough to deal with the increased pressure I don’t think highly figured walnut would cope with the vibrations or the user with the recoil. With that said should we expect sporting birds to change? With the lack of density and to get the same weight of shot you’re impeded by increased surface area effective range is limited. 50 yards with #2 shot seems a conservative estimate for maximum range. Famous high bird shoots regularly push birds beyond 70 yards which is pushing the limit of denser lead shot.

The solution then is a little complicated. What we wish for to an extent may not be possible. To have the same result from steel that we do from lead is fighting physics. Unless the loads change our expectations will have to. To expect the manufacturers to work out how they can fit everyone’s requirements is unlikely especially in this time frame. With work on the powder and the materials we may find a solution yet but unlikely to happen in 5 years.

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