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Lead Shot Ban Frequently Asked Questions

What is happening with the lead ban now?

The main landowning and shooting organisations are calling for a “phased transition away from the use of lead shot in shotgun shooting for all live quarry”. They are also working towards a voluntary ban on all single use plastics (including wads and cases). The aim is for this to happen within the next five years.

Why a 5-year time frame?

The landowning and shooting organisations, such as BASC, feel that this will be a “suitable time for the industry to respond with new product development and ensure adequate supply.”

What does a lead ban mean for me now?

There is NO immediate rush to do anything as lead cartridges have not been banned by the authorities and are likely to be available to use to shoot game for some time to come. However, we would advise you to plan for the future, particularly if you were thinking of what gun you intend to use in the longer term.

Can’t I just stockpile lead cartridges now, before they stop making them?

Please do not think that the way to get around the problem is to buy thousands of lead shot cartridges “to see you out”, as when their use is stopped, it will probably be illegal to use them, or even if it is not illegal, the Game shot will not be able to be used in the human food chain.

What are current environmental regulations on the use of lead ammunition?

Restrictions were put in place in 1999 in England, in 2002 in Wales and 2004 in Scotland, over wetland areas and for duck/geese shooting because of evidence that wildfowl were ingesting lead shot.Currently, in England and Wales, lead shot is banned on or over any area below the high-water mark, on or over certain Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and for the shooting of ducks, geese, coot or moorhens. In Scotland and Northern Ireland lead is banned for shooting anything on or over wetland. This information has been sourced from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust website.

Why are we moving away from lead in game shooting?

There is a move towards a ban on lead as it is known to be dangerous to human health. For example, lead in petrol was banned due to it being in a gaseous form and as a result, it had an easy uptake by humans. Whilst it was not at all unanimous, the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) report in 2015 confirmed that they believed there was an issue with humans ingesting lead from shot game. The biggest driver to move away from lead shot will almost certainly be from the dead Game perspective.

What effect will the lead ban have on the game meat market?

Approximately 60% of all shot game in the UK is exported to Europe. If Europe declines to accept game shot using lead, this will mean alternative materials will need to be adopted by UK Guns, in order for game to be sold into the European marketplace. Waitrose announced in 2019 that they will not buy game to sell to their customers from 2020, which contained lead. We are told that Waitrose buy approximately 300,000 units of dead game a year (although this figure has recently been challenged), therefore some immediate changes are likely to be required to meet their demand for the coming season. In addition, the British Game Alliance have confirmed that most of the major food companies which are now proposing to buy shot Game, will only do so if there is a move away from lead. The combined purchasing power of these processors could markedly improve the dead game industry.

Why is this happening now?

There has been increasing pressure from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) over the past few years with regards to the health risks associated with human consumption of lead, especially from shot game. A requirement from the European market to sell lead free game is likely very soon, and indeed many UK distributors are already requesting this. Furthermore, ongoing research and concerns over the negative impact of lead on wildlife (in particular wild birds over wetlands) and the suggestion that current wetland / wildfowl restrictions are not being fully adhered to, have all pushed us towards a ban. The shooting organisations believe a voluntary ban could help to pause or slow the Government in creating a legal ban.

Is there any proof to support the lead ban?

There have been studies carried out regarding the effects of lead shot on wild birds around wetlands and it would appear there is some evidence to suggest lead poisoning is possible. A report from the European Journal of Wildlife Research in 2013 stated that, “Our results indicate that lead poisoning has continued to affect a wide range of British water birds long after legal restrictions were introduced.” More studies regarding lead and wildlife can be found on the BASC website. The risks to humans, however, appears to be very low indeed and we are definitely not of the view that there is necessarily either the science or the logic to justify the lead ban.

When will lead shot be banned?

We foresee a time, probably not more than 3 – 4 years or so away, when most shoots will not allow lead shot cartridges to be used. The time frame from the main landowning and shooting organisations is five years.

How will it affect my shooting?

Firstly, you will need to check if your gun is steel proofed and then decide which lead alternatives are most suitable for you and your gun. More information regarding the alternatives can be found further on. There is no doubt that shooting using steel or Bismuth shot cartridges, as opposed to lead, does take some getting used to. Please do not think that you will shoot the same if you change from lead, because most people will not, and practice will be needed.

What are the alternatives to lead shot?

Currently: i. Steel (soft iron) ii. Bismuth iii. Tungsten Matrix

How does steel compare to lead?

Steel is only around 70% as dense as lead, and also less soft (and malleable). Modern steel shot cartridges are actually “soft iron”, not steel, and are significantly better than they used to be. Steel must be used in a shot cup to protect the barrels from direct contact, which would otherwise cause damage. In the main these are made of plastic, but other options are available, such as Gamebore’s fibre shot cup Silver Steel and Eley’s PRO ECO, as well as other materials which are currently under development. To make steel shot cartridges roughly as effective as lead, it is recommended to reduce the size of the shot by two sizes. Therefore, if you normally shoot 6 shot lead cartridges, shoot 4 shot steel ones.

How do Bismuth cartridges compare to lead?

Bismuth cartridges are about 85% the density of lead. Modern Bismuth cartridges are significantly better than they used to be with some manufacturers, Gamebore in particular, using a process which ensures the shot is malleable like lead. An increase in one shot size (from 6 to 5 for example) is recommended, to compensate for the lower density and to optimise effectiveness.

How do Tungsten Matrix cartridges compare to lead?

Tungsten Matrix has almost identical properties to lead in terms of density and cartridges made using this material, we believe, are just as effective as lead shot cartridges.

Will it be more expensive to shoot when lead is banned?

The current price of an average lead shot game cartridge (65mm and with a 30-gram load) is between £0.30 and £0.35. The current price of a similar steel loaded cartridge is £0.23 to £0.28. These are based on 32gram of steel and a plastic wad. Bismuth is more expensive than both lead and steel, with the current price of a 30 gram 5, 12 bore cartridge at £1.20. The closest match for lead shot would be Tungsten Matrix, but they are much more expensive, currently costing £2.23 for a 32 gram 5, 12 Bore cartridge.

What are the options for smaller gauges?

Currently steel cartridges are not readily available in the UK for 16-bore, 28-bore or .410 guns. Tungsten Matrix and Bismuth cartridges are available for the majority of gauges but will be more expensive than we are used to.

How will this affect high bird shoots?

Neither steel nor Bismuth cartridges are as effective when shooting high birds as the equivalent lead shot cartridges. Tungsten Matrix would be the only alternative to lead that we believe is just as effective at shooting high birds.

Can I use steel in my gun?

Proof marks on your guns barrels and action are the only way to tell if your gun has been proofed for steel shot. If you are not sure, we urge you to take your gun to a qualified, experienced gunsmith who can advise you. A steel proofed gun will either be suitable for ‘standard steel’ or ‘high performance steel’ loads. The ‘Fleur-de-Lys’ is the proof mark that represents ‘High Performance steel’ proofed. If your gun does not carry the ‘Fleur-de-Lys’, it should have Nitro proofed markings. These marks show that guns bearing them can shoot ‘Standard’ steel cartridges, provided the gun is in proof and does not have Damascus barrels. However, these guns cannot be used with High Performance steel shot cartridges. Please refer to our tables to see what each proof mark means.

What are the options for older guns?

There are currently no “soft iron” shot cartridges available in the UK which are 2 ½” / 65 mm long in 12 gauge. This is mainly due to the reduced payload necessary in a 2 ½” 12-gauge steel cartridge given the lower density of steel shot. For example, a 28g lead load would be reduced to around 19.5g using steel. NO steel shot cartridges should be used through any gun with Damascus barrels and under no circumstances should ANY gun be shot which is out of proof. We would also suggest that guns originally made for use with black powder, but which have been reproofed for nitro, should be checked very carefully by a qualified and experienced gunsmith or the Proof House, before using with ANY steel cartridges. Both Tungsten Matrix and Bismuth cartridges can safely be used in old English shotguns, or guns with thinner (but still nitro proofed) barrels.

Why can’t I shoot steel in a gun that isn’t proofed for it?

A shotgun that has not been proofed for steel shot or High Performance steel has not been tested and deemed safe to handle the pressures involved with shooting these cartridges.

Why do chokes affect a guns ability to shoot steel?

If a gun is choked tighter than half, then the shot will be forced to constrict too tightly as it moves through the chokes. Steel shot is less soft (and malleable) than lead, and therefore will not “adapt” when it meets the choking in the barrels. This could cause considerable damage to the barrels and pose a safety risk to the shooter and those around them.

How and why should I check my guns chamber size?

We are increasingly aware that some people now use 2 ¾” / 70mm cartridges in guns with 2 ½” / 65mm chambers. This “shorter” chamber length is what most side by side guns have, unless they were either built for wildfowling, live pigeon shooting or were built quite recently. The chamber length is also stamped in the same area, normally in the format of 12-65 or 12/70 for modern guns and old English guns usually have a stamp of 2 ½" or 2 ¾". It is HIGHLY DANGEROUS to use the wrong sized cartridge regardless of whether it is lead or a lead alternative. There is currently NOT a Steel Cartridge available in the UK, which is suitable for any 65mm chambered 12 Bore.

What is a forcing cone?

Forcing cones are the part of the barrel from the end of the chamber (where the cartridges sit) to the start of the barrel of the gun. In some older guns, this was very steep and was designed to house the old paper cased rolled turnover cartridges. Modern cartridges have crimp closure and these need chamber space for the crimp to open into. Some people think that increasing the length of the cone, or even the chambers themselves, is a good idea. However, this means removing metal from the chamber to the bore and any removal of metal in this part of a gun is likely to reduce its strength in a critical area. We would strongly advise taking expert advice from either a qualified and experienced Gunsmith or the Proof House before carrying this out.

Can you alter your gun’s chamber lengths?

The short answer is yes, this can be done, BUT if you get this work done by a very competent Gunsmith, the gun will then need resubmitting to proof.

Can you get your existing gun High Performance Steel Shot Proofed?

The answer is possibly yes. However, it really will depend on the design, construction, probably the age and definitely the condition of each gun, as to whether a gun which is currently nitro proofed, will stand being re proofed for High Performance steel shot. We have heard worrying estimates of how many “old” English side-by-sides are likely to fail when they are steel shot proofed, from one in three, to one in eight. We are only recommending that relatively new and very sound guns, with excellent barrel wall thickness, are sent to be High Performance steel shot proofed. Please remember that in most instances, when a gun fails being reproofed, it is then unusable and almost certainly of little or no value.

What are cartridge manufactures doing to help?

The four UK Cartridge Manufacturers have expressed concern that it is totally unrealistic to achieve the lead ban, within the five year time frame. They have stated that it is very unlikely there will be other realistic or suitable alternatives to lead, other than steel, Bismuth and Tungsten Matrix, developed in the future. However, BASC have stated that they are working closely with manufacturers, and lobbying for technical development grants from the government, to ensure that these advances continue apace.

What effect will Covid-19 have on this situation?

The effect the current pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on cartridge sales and the financial health of our UK cartridge business, does not bode well for them being able to self-finance additional research and development. It will, no doubt, delay the development of alternatives to lead shot cartridges.

Are the regulations different in other countries?

Millions of steel shot cartridges are made and shot in the USA, Scandinavia, Denmark and throughout Europe. However, the use of steel in these markets is with plastic wads AND many of these cartridges are loaded to a much higher specification than can be loaded for the UK, which operate under current CIP regulations. Therefore, you must be very careful when comparing the steel shot cartridges which are available in the USA and elsewhere, with those currently available in the UK. There are discussions, and some hope, that CIP (European regulator) may change their current rules so that higher performance steel shot cartridges may be developed and able to be used in the UK. This would be a massive improvement and something we all need to work towards achieving. According to BASC, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Flemish region of Belgium have stopped using lead shot.

What is the most pressing issue here?

The proposed ban on lead shot over wetlands, using a fuller definition of wetlands than at present, as well as introducing a buffer zone, (currently standing at 300m) is very worrying. If this were to occur, it would probably render lead shot illegal within 2 years on all Moorland, as well as over an estimated 50% plus of the UK Countryside!

How will this affect clay pigeon and target shooters?

According to BASC, research is being carried out to find lead alternatives for target and clay shooting. However, their advice is currently, “where lead ammunition is used in a contained environment, such as a range, or there is an absence of reasonable alternatives, we feel lead should continue to be used.”

How will the lead ban affect pest control with regards to foxes?

It has been advised that steel cartridges are not suitable for humanely despatching adult foxes. BASC have stated that they are currently researching alternatives similar to those used in the USA for the shooting of coyote and foxes. No alternatives are currently available in the UK but BASC are working with cartridge manufacturers to change this within the five-year transition period.

Is there likely to be a ban on plastic cartridge cases?

There is currently a push towards a voluntary ban on all single use plastics, in both wads and cases. Recycled plastics are now being used to make cartridge cases, which is something we should all support and encourage manufacturers to do. The ban is aimed towards single use plastics and non-biodegradable plastic wads, which are often not effectively collected during live quarry shooting.

Who should I contact if I am confused or unsure about this situation?

If you want to discuss any of this when we are re-open, please come and talk to us in our Gunroom at Carrs House, or call us on 01295 235233. Please do not do so, until the current “lockdown arrangements” are over. We would love to help you going forwards, but currently have only limited staffing and so PLEASE do NOT contact us until our Gun room is reopen, which will be advertised on our website. BASC – We have attached the latest recommendations regarding the use of steel shot from BASC and would strongly advise that you make yourself familiar with this advice. If you would like advice regarding your gun in particular, such as whether it is proofed for steel or what size the chambers are, we would strongly recommend taking it to a qualified, experienced gunsmith.