A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. —Aldo Leopold
For the last couple of years, I've been leading a lead-free hunting life. I feed a steady diet of Kent Bismuth shells to my Darnes, steel shot to my duck guns and copper bullets to my 30-06. Now, I want to go plastic-free.
Well, think about it. When you take a bottle of water into the field you don’t just leave it or its plastic cap on the ground when you are done right? Of course not. And you’d probably be pissed if you saw someone else do it. But when we pull the trigger on our shotguns, no matter what type of shot we are shooting, we send a plastic wad, basically the equivalent of a plastic bottle top, sailing into the environment where it can remain for centuries. And to be honest, that was never something I really thought about before. My main concern was figuring out how to stop adding lead to the environment, an ounce at a time, throughout the season. Then, last fall when my nephew and I were hunting a well-known spot in the Delta Marsh in Manitoba, the mess I’d been making with plastic reared its ugly head.
We set up before dawn, on a narrow point of land jutting into a large bay where diver ducks tend to congregate. From the look of the quad tracks and footprints leading to it, we were probably the 100th pair of hunters to hunt there during the season. As the sun rose, we saw what looked like frost or foam at the water's edge. However, upon closer inspection, we realized that it wasn’t frost and it wasn’t foam. To our horror, we realized that it was a massive collection of plastic wads that had somehow collected on the shore. At first, we tried to pick them up. But after filling a couple of plastic bags, we gave up in despair. There were just too many wads laying about, and they were everywhere. I couldn't help thinking about how many other wads were out there floating on the waves or sitting at the bottom of the lake. And when I realized that every time I took a shot I was actually adding even more plastic to the situation, I decided then and there that the next step in cleaning up my ammo act would be switching to shells with non-plastic wads.
But first, the bad news. Cartridges that have non-tox shot and non-plastic-wads are as rare as hen’s teeth in North America at the moment. So, for now at least, I have no choice but to stick with the same Kent Bismuth shells I’ve been shooting for the last couple of years. But there is good news on the horizon! More and more companies are introducing alternative wads made of more eco-friendly materials such as fibre, something called 'bio-plastic' and even wool. In some parts of Europe and in much of England, not only are shells with fibre wads easily found, but in some areas, they are now mandatory. Even better, it seems that a lot of shooters actually prefer the performance of fibre wads. So as soon as I can get my hands on some on this side of the Atlantic, I will make the switch.
Here is a short list of what is currently available or coming soon to an ammo dealer near you. If you know of any others, please send me the info in the comments below.
Kent Cartridge has also announced their ELITE BIO-FIBER & BIO-WAD, saying that they are “…FINALLY able to respond to the growing requests for fiber wad loads which eliminate plastic wads. These shotshells are offered in target AND hunting loads with an environmentally friendly biodegradable wad. Multiple options are available including Bismuth, Diamond Shot, AND Precision Steel.”
GreenOps Ammo, based in Virginia USA, is … developing a complete line of shotgun ammunition incorporating our patented biodegradable shotgun wad technology. We have developed shotgun shells using biodegradable wadding that performs as well as, if not better, than commercial loads that use plastic shotgun wads. Our wads have a unique mechanism of action that provides a cleaner release of shot, thereby yielding improved shot patterns.
Eley hawk is the first UK manufacturer to launch a fully biodegradable and dissolvable wad for steel cartridges that will leave no trace in the environment. The wad is made of Hydrosoluble ingredients that dissolve within 24 hours in water ( less if the water is moving) It leaves behind no plastic residues and breaks down into biomass and with it’s trace minerals will actually have a positive composting effect on the soil it breaks down into. The new hydro soluble wad is 100% biodegradable and all its additives are of vegetable biomass origin, making it compliant with International standards. Not only does the wad not harm the environment, but it turns into compost (CO2, mineral salts and biomass), actively adding positive nutrients into the soil.
Gamebore in the UK now has three bio-wads.
Their Fibre Wad is The highest quality, single piece, none fragmenting 100% fibre wads with no plastic components to deliver excellent gas seals and patterns.
Their Bio-Wad FSC is an Exclusive, innovative fibre wad technology designed specifically for steel shot which utilises a fibre driving wad and a protective collar to enclose the shot and deliver outstanding patterns where the standard plastic wad normally required for steel loads is undesirable.
Their Wool Wad is a Unique wad system using 100% British lambs wool which delivers significantly reduced recoil, improved patterns and a perfect gas seal even in back-bored guns, these wads are essential in heavy loads for high birds where a natural wad is required.
As hunters, we have a moral obligation to protect our wild lands through conservation and sustainable practices. So it is our duty to always seek ways of lowering our impact on the environment. One sure way to do that is to get the lead and plastic out of our shotshells.
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