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The shooting organisations that many of us subscribe to in order to keep us shooting in the UK have made a very bold move in asking us, the shooters of the UK to voluntarily move towards using non-toxic shot in taking game birds (including pigeons) over the next five years. At present, THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE A BAN on using lead but is offering us the opportunity to do the right thing on a voluntary basis.

Why do I say do the right thing? Well the fact of the matter is that lead is toxic, we cannot argue that. Yes it comes from the ground and is going back in the ground and all other relevant statements BUT as the world goes through it's Snowflake transition and is guided by the few that are not interested in facts just sound bites it is in our own interests to keep shooting viable in the UK and be the bigger person to set the rules ourselves rather than the ill-educated minorities setting them for us. Steel kills game, end of story. Many shooters blame steel shot for not making a clean kill but the reality is that if you hit a bird in the kill zone it will fall from the sky, whatever you hit it with.

Your gun can shoot steel if it is Nitro Proof. This normally means cartridges up to 32g with no. 5 steel shot in it and NOT high performance. To shoot high performance steel shot you need the Fleur de Lis proof mark on your barrels or the words STEEL SHOT on your barrels. Your manual will instruct on which chokes can be used with steel but unless you have a modern Fabarm, Caesar Guerini or Longthorne shotgun you probably should not use tighter than half choke with steel.

This is not a lead ban, this is a move that shooters should take in order to keep game shooting relevant in the UK in the 21st Century and one that will be much easier to embrace than to fight. Higher authorities than us will impose this eventually and then the costs of everything will be higher if we have no choice!. If we drive the market over the next five years then the market costs should stay lower, after all steel is cheaper to produce than lead!

The cartridge manufacturers have stated that they feel that this timescale is too ambitious based on the current technologies in our very small industry and we suspect that they might be right, however this should not be used as an excuse to do nothing, we shooters need to be in the driving seat and we need to push for this to happen during the 20's. Ignorance is no longer an excuse!

Do not panic about this transition, it will come sooner or later so let us embrace it and move forward. At present this does not include clay shooting (we don't eat clays) so as you were with clay shooting guys.

Visit BASC website for details of steel shot etc. pop in a see us or give us a ring

Can Your Shotgun Shoot Steel Shot?

Determine what type of steel shot you can use in your shotgun. Check the proof marks on your barrels.

  • If your barrels are stamped with ‘STEEL SHOT’ and/or have a fleur-de-lys proof mark, you can use high performance steel shot.
  • If your gun is not proofed for high performance steel, but is proofed for ‘nitro’, you will need to use standard steel shot.
  • If your gun is not ‘nitro’ proofed, you cannot use steel shot without risking bulges appearing in the barrels, which might rule out having the gun re-proofed and its value may fall. You should instead use bismuth or tungsten – see below.
  • With an old gun it’s worth checking that it is still in proof. This can be done by a gunsmith.

High performance steel shot cartridges should be marked as such on the box and on the cartridge. The shot size (pellets) will most likely be larger than number 4 (3.1mm) and the load heavier than 32g. Small shot high performance steel cartridges are likely to be produced in the future so checking the markings on the box and the cartridge is a positive habit to adopt before shooting. What chokes you can use depends on the size of the shot and if you use multi chokes. You can check with a gunsmith if your chokes are suitable. If in doubt do not use any more than half choke. For 10 and 12 bores you should not use shot larger than BB in a choke tighter than half. For 16 and 20 bore you should not use shot of size 3 or larger in choke tighter than a half.

Standard steel shot will be smaller in shot size (pellets) than British number 3 (3.25mm) and may be used through any choke. For traditional light weight game guns the British Proof Authorities recommend no more than a quarter choke.

When choosing a steel shot cartridge, you should increase the shot size by at least two sizes. If you normally use lead no 6 shot (2.6mm), you should go up to steel no 4 (3.1mm). The tighter patterns of steel shot will compensate for the loss in total numbers of shot and so there is no need to increase load weight.

Steel shot patterns tighter than lead. Steel shot through a half choke patterns more like lead shot through a full choke so consider opening up the choke you use. You may find that when you fire steel through a choke greater than half the pattern begins to widen again – but you won’t know without a visit to a pattern plate. If your gun has fixed chokes they can be opened up by a gunsmith. You should consider having your gun re-proofed after this is done.

Practice on clays. Studies in the field have found that those who shoot cannot tell if they are using steel or lead shot. When changing cartridges you should always pattern your gun / cartridge combination and practice on clay targets. This will help you get the best out of steel cartridges when you shoot live quarry.