If you are giving up lead, the three contenders for your shotshells are steel, tungsten and bismuth.
All these materials have their advantages and disadvantages. If you are giving up plastic wads or ‘cups’, you can only use bismuth. Both tungsten and steel are delivered in plastic cups. There are other disadvantages, too, including the price. Haggis Hartman of West Country Guns says FOB Vario Tungsten cartridges cost £2.70 each.
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Why do I need to give up lead and plastic?
On Monday 24th February 2020, the organisations announced they want an end to the use of lead and single-use plastics in shotgun ammunition for live quarry shooting by 2025. The Times newspaper reports the story, alongside an opinion piece by BASC chairman Eoghan Cameron.
The problem is that lead is bad for humans and for the environment. “We know that lead is toxic,” says Jen Brewin of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. “It’s toxic to humans and to wildlife. We know that wild birds suffer from lead poisoning. They may use it as grit in their gizzard or they may mistake it for food, depending on the species.”
How bad is it for humans? “At higher doses, it can cause extreme damage and even death. At lower doses, long sustained exposure to lead could result in higher blood pressure, and in children there is definitely evidence that it affects their neurological development and behavioural issues, including decreases in IQ,” says toxicologist Michael Quint of EH sciences.
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The organisations say significant recent advances in technology have enabled the transition to take place. But they are taking a beating on social media, where some shooters question whether this move is greenwashing, and many are frightened they will be forced to buy either a new gun, or purchase non-lead cartridges at up to 10 times the price of lead shells. Some say this could mean the end of challenging, high-bird shoots.
The shooting organisations are calling for the support of the wider shooting community. They are united in saying this change will benefit wildlife and the environment while also safeguarding the growing market for healthy game meat. A spokesperson says: “The shooting community must maintain its place at the forefront of conservation and environmental protection. Continued development of non-lead shot and recyclable and bio-degradable plastics means the time is right for a complete transition.
“The five-year proposal allows for a smooth transition giving both the shooting community and the industry time to adapt. As organisations that serve our members, we will be leading the way with this transition ensuring that it is successful.
“This is a significant announcement, but one the shooting community should not fear. British wildfowlers and other European countries have already moved away from lead without detriment to participation or performance.
“While tradition is important in shooting and should be defended where possible, so is evolution if we are to continue to maintain our position at the heart of the British countryside. Shooting has changed greatly over the years and this move is just the next step in that illustrious history.
“Our organisations urge the shooting community to support the Gun Trade Association and cartridge manufacturers as they further develop ammunition for every situation involving live quarry. In doing so, they will enhance shooting community’s reputation as the rightful custodians of our countryside.”
Is everyone happy about this?
The row over how the ban was handled continues. Angry shooters want to know who’s telling the truth. At the end of February 2020, Britain’s leading shotgun cartridge manufacturers condemned the decision to phase out lead shot – and added that they weren’t consulted. A raft of shooting organisations, including BASC, the Countryside Alliance, GWCT and the National Gamekeepers Organisation, said they were. BASC says: ‘The cartridge manufacturers were consulted before the publication by the shooting organisations of their initial joint statement on the proposed five-year transition to sustainable, non-lead ammunition.’
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In a statement, Eley Hawk, Gamebore, Hull Cartridge and Lyalvale Express accused BASC and the others of not consulting cartridge makers before the announcement. The manufacturers say: “We believe the organisations have looked at a limited amount of products and assumed that these are a viable answer to the issue at hand. Unfortunately, this is not the case.”
At first, the organisations welcomed the announcement from the directors of the UK’s leading shotgun cartridge manufacturers to seek alternatives to lead ammunition. ‘Their goal could not be more clear: “to develop new high performance ammunition for all shotguns and gauges using sustainable materials and therefore secure the future of shooting”,’ the organisations said in a statement. ‘To achieve all this in just five years is going to be a huge challenge, but we look forward to working with them and others to achieving our aim.’
SACS broke ranks and issued its own statement, saying: ‘It is SACS’ understanding that the trade and cartridge manufacturers were consulted about the proposed transition and that the Gun Trade Association itself had engaged with its relevant trade members. Furthermore, the GTA provided the organisations with a guidance document, which we shared with our members and community at the time of the announcement on Monday. SACS signed the joint statement on this basis.’
On Monday 2 March, BASC came back more strongly against the cartridge manufacturers statement. It said: ‘Representatives of shooting organisations were in contact with cartridge manufacturers at meetings where the proposed joint statement by the shooting organisations was discussed. A copy of the statement was given to cartridge companies in advance and they had the opportunity to comment.
‘BASC is seeking government financial support for the cartridge manufacturers to underpin the future development of sustainable alternatives to lead shot and had held meetings with ministers and Downing Street advisors to secure this support.
‘A senior representative of one of the cartridge manufacturers gave a presentation on the sustainable alternatives to lead shot in January to members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Shooting and Conservation.
‘The joint statement issued by the organisations last week was accompanied by material provided by the Gun Trade Association, of which the cartridge manufacturers are members.
‘BASC has always worked closely with cartridge manufacturers in delivering policy on ammunition and we will continue to do so. The shooting organisations are seeking an urgent meeting with the CEOs of the companies to agree the way forward.
The evidence against lead is strong. It kills wildlife and there is no safe level for humans. High-bird specialists and old English gun owners are furious, however, that the organisations did not consult them. They feel this action is an ambush.
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