The L Word: rifle shooters embrace move away from lead ammo

man shooting rifle

Rifle shooters have embraced the move away from lead with more enthusiasm than the majority of shotgun shooters - Credit: Archant

Rifle shooters seem to be embracing the idea of moving away from lead ammunition faster than shotgun shooters says Tim Weston, as he implores readers to keep an open mind

I am not someone to shy away from saying what I think, and this applies to many topics including fieldsports. I am very lucky in the fact that the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, for whom I work, actively encourages us to have our own opinion and to express it if we feel we want to. I have often written about social media and how it gives an insight into what people are thinking, but it always seems to show a false negative. By that I mean it only seems to show the negative side of what people are thinking. For instance, one very rarely reads a good review, but when you have had a bad meal or poor service people seem to want the world to know and that is where social media really comes into its own. When it comes to shooting sports, this really shows its head when someone mentions the L word! Lead, there I said it. Just by writing that word, I expect that this magazine’s mail box will be flooded with letters from Mr Will Neverchange and Mrs What and Why, but just hear me out. 

rifle and bullets

On the whole, it seems rifle shooters like to play around with their firearms and make them work as well as possible. They are ready to embrace new technologies and help to develop them. - Credit: Archant

Broadly speaking, ammunition falls into two categories. We have shotgun cartridges and metallic firearms ammunition. Within those two categories, we have so many different disciplines they would be impossible to list, but we have two distinct camps: those who are open to using a different compound or projectile and those that broadly are not.  

Now, I will be open and honest here. I am much more of a rifle shot than a shotgun shooter, but I have noticed that those who shoot rifles seem to be much more open to change. For instance, I run a couple of deer stalking syndicates with 20 rifles on the largest. I asked them who was using lead ammo and who was using an alternative on our WhatsApp group and was surprised to find that eight out of the 20 regularly used non-lead ammunition and five of the others were experimenting with non-lead to see what results they got. Why was I surprised? Well, usually when we speak about moving away from lead it is in terms of shotgun cartridges and not rifle ammo and it seems to me that the most vocal people who don’t want to try something different come from that sector of shooting sports. 

On the whole, it seems rifle shooters like to play around with their firearms and make them work as well as possible. They are ready to embrace new technologies and help to develop them. Some, of course, will resist change – it is human nature after all – but if we look at things logically, change more often than not is good.  

I wonder if, when we moved from stone balls fired out of a muzzle loader to lead, the shooters of the day were up in arms because they were going to have their stone bullets taken away and have to use this new compound called lead? Many of us have embraced modern technology in our shooting sports. I wear Gore-Tex and have a modern shotgun with ejectors and everything – I bet most of us do. Some will still use old shotguns but there is now the technology out there so they can fire steel without any modifications at all. 

rifle and bullets

Rifle ammo is more expensive, but you fire less of it and, most rifle shooters are embracing the change and looking forward to testing - Credit: Archant

The cost of non-lead ammunition is also something that is considered a negative. Well, I have been using steel shotgun cartridges for three full seasons now and, yes, they are more expensive. BUT, they are not very much more expensive. I was pigeon shooting last week, using steel, 32g No.5s which cost me £309 per 1,000 – the lead equivalent was £267 per 1,000, which works out to less than half a penny per bang. That equates to about the price of a Kit Kat for every 140 shots of lead you fire – so it’s not going to break the bank. Even by spending the extra £42 on cartridges, they were still the least expensive thing that I had with me in real terms; my gun and other equipment were worth more. The same can be said for driven shooting. The cost difference between 1,000 lead and 1,000 steel cartridges in this instance is one bird. Rifle ammo is more expensive, but you fire less of it and, as I have said, most rifle shooters are embracing the change and looking forward to testing. 

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My personal experience with non-lead shotgun ammunition is fine. On my average shoot day, I hit and killed quite a few, missed even more and some the dogs had to retrieve wounded, just like I did when I used lead.

Now, I am not saying that we should all go out and buy lead alternatives right now; what I am asking is that you have an open mind. Try the new cartridges that are available, test them and see for yourself. I know that there some challenges and that we are not quite there yet in terms of production, but let’s not be another factor ourselves in those challenges and problems. Let’s all look forward and work to getting a product that does exactly what we want. The only way to do that is by testing and giving constructive feedback. I imagine that some readers remember the change from paper-cased cartridges to plastic; I wonder what the reaction to that was? Times have changed... and so should we!