Tom Sykes

Shoot photographer, sporting author and seasoned wildfowler from the North West.

The lead ban for wildfowling came into effect when I was just 10 years old, so I don’t really remember “the good old days of lead” that people reflect on in my wildfowling club. I am a little more open-minded to the use of non-lead alternatives, particularly steel, as I don’t really know any different.

I use my fair share of steel cartridges throughout the wildfowling season. But there are plenty of places inland of the sea wall where steel cartridges are my go-to as well. Mixed bag driven days are a prime example.

I have been on days where ducks, partridges and pheasants are all likely to be encountered on the same drive, and I’m shocked to see that people have different cartridge belts and bags for lead and non-lead alternatives. I figure if a cartridge is good enough to bring down a duck, then surely it will bring down a partridge or a pheasant? There is also the argument that, for the sake of consistency, you are better to stick to one type and style of cartridge throughout the day.

From using steel when wildfowling, I have great confidence in its performance in the field for other quarry species when the correct load and shot size is used. The biggest drawback of the majority of steel shot cartridges is the need for plastic wads. If steel shot cartridges maintained the ballistic integrity without the reliance on plastic, then I would happily use them for all my shooting.

Fortunately, this issue is being addressed by our cartridge manufacturers. Both Eley and Gamebore now offer biodegradable steel shot wads, but only in limited loads and shot sizes, while companies such as Bioammo have been working towards viable biodegradable solutions for some time.

Bismuth is a great alternative, which I use often. However, the hefty price tag is a drawback. Ultimately it is up to us as responsible shooters to drive the change to plastic-free ammunition. If we don’t purchase the alternatives, the cartridge manufacturers won’t continue to develop them and our gun shops won’t stock them – it’s a classic chicken and the egg situation.

Steel more than a glance

From sceptics to converts, several experienced shots share their thoughts on shooting with steel.

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