Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lead shot - fading into history?

Last week California passed a ban on lead ammunition for hunting purposes. It's not the first state to do this - other states have banned lead in certain areas and for certain types of hunting - but I believe it's the first to issue a blanket prohibition.

Lead ammunition
I haven't read the research and won't venture to debate the validity of it, but given that lead is generally accepted as toxic it would be hard to say it doesn't have some detrimental affect on the environment. It would be equally hard to say that a lead ban won't have some detrimental affects to hunters' wallets, and possibly to the sport itself.

At this point in my life if I had to pay $12-14 for a box of steel shot to shoot dove it wouldn't be the end of the world, but there was a time when it might have been the end of the sport for me.  As you get older you realize that there are a handful of things that give you great pleasure and, through years of accumulated wisdom, you figure out ways to make sure you always have enough time and money for them.  As a youngster, however, a lot of what you do is dictated by what you can afford.  Doubling the cover charge may be a great way to help the environment but it might not be the best way to bring the younger generation into the pastime. Conspiracy theory alert: This might be what certain legislative factions have in mind.

The issue isn't just about wallets or the environment or endangered species or the future of hunting any more than stream access issues out west are just about water rights or landowner rights (for a spot-on piece on this topic, see Miles Nolte's column in the Nov/Dec '13 issue of Gray's). It's a combination of all of these and just as quick as you see yourself in one camp you'll find another that maybe isn't completely wrong.
I still find myself squarely on the fence, and a fencepost in your butt isn't the most comfortable perch. From a personal standpoint I haven't made a voluntary switch to no-tox yet.  Hell, I still shop for the best deal I can get on lead. Steel shot, next in line from a cost perspective, is not the most user-friendly load.  Its ballistics tend to give a bit on the longer shots, as most duck hunters know, which leaves the more exotic loads such as tungsten, bismuth and medleys of these brewed with copper, iron, tin and nickel. While the ballistic performance is superior to steel I've yet to find one that is cost-competitive.

For what it's worth, the demand for lead overseas is increasing at a surprising pace, and there's a chance that it won't be too long before lead shot is in the ballpark with no-tox. In the meantime I guess I'll continue buying lead shot until I'm overcome by wave of extreme guilt or the state outlaws it, whichever comes first and can't be cured.


  1. as far as price goes...
    Like any thing it has to do with what the market will support. We are paying $3.50 for a gallon of gas because no one else is offering it at $2.50. If lead was banned across the board you would see non toxic prices drop dramatically. You can already find many average grade steel loads that are cheaper than many premium lead loads. it is getting people wrap their mind around the fact that comparing steel shot performance and lead shot performance is like comparing apples to oranges. steel does have its advantages over lead and lead isn't necessarily better just because it can kill farther.

    1. Agree with most of what you say but I don't see no-tox prices dropping if lead is banned. We're paying $3.50 for gas because we don't have a viable alternative and the people who supply it know we're willing to pay $3.50 for it.

      If I'm a no-tox manufacturer and lead is banned I don't have any reason to drop my price because the guys who still want to hunt will have no choice but to buy my ammo. I might even consider raising my prices slightly. There's a sweet spot, obviously, beyond which the average man can't afford the ammo and quits hunting and sales fall off, same reason OPEC doesn't charge $200/barrel of oil.

  2. I hope your wrong, because the lead ban is coming wether we like it or not. I think the difference between my weak gasoline analogy applied to shotgun shells is we NEED gas, we can live without recreational shooting and hunting.

    I think the amount of people the shooting sports would lose because of a total lead ban would warrant ammo manufacturers to drop prices accordingly. Back when lead was banned for waterfowl I heard of and know of countless died in the wool water fowlers who walked away from duck hunting forever because they couldn't adopt steel shot. And who could blame them, back then steel shot was outrageously expensive and performed horribly - not to mention all the old duck guns it put into retirement because of potential barrel damage.

    If lead were banned everywhere with no affordable alternative ( some shooting ranges have banned lead shot already) I can see the same fallout but on a much larger scale due to higher price and that so many old guns would be rendered useless- which might inspire ammo manufacturers to figure out away to make things more affordable.
    Back when Bismuth hit the scene it blew peoples minds that a box of ten shells could run you $35.00 -$45.00, but people bought it because of its lead like qualities and that you could shoot it in your Granpas old model 12 safely. That competitive price point seemed to be the standard for all soft or heavy non toxics for years, $35.00 - $45.00 for ten shells all across the board, the people that could afford them bought them while those that couldn't bought steel shot - which has grown much easier on the pocket book. Now Rio is producing Bismuth loads at around $23.00 for a box of ten, Im guessing if they keep offering it at that price their competitors might adjust their own accordingly.

  3. Living in the state of SC as you do, I wouldn't be concerned about the legislature banning lead shot. Same here in Georgia. The likelihood of lead shot being banned in SC is about as likely as cadets at the Citadel firing on Ft. Sumter. ;) Gil

    1. Stranger things have happened around here. Remember the lizard man of Lee County?

  4. For turkeys, I've made the switch to high density tungsten shot several years ago. The stuff I use has a density of 18 grams/cubic centimeter and is not available in commercially loaded shells. Lead shot is about 11 g/cc. For reference, depleted uranium is 19 g/cc. Tungsten shot of such density is expensive with limited sources but it enables me to use significantly smaller shot than lead which means lighter loads and gauges for turkeys. A .410 can be made a lethal 40 yard turkey gun. 20 gauge guns shooting the tungsten shot have or exceed the lethality range of a 12 gauge gun shooting any commercial lead load. With a Georgia limit of 3 birds, the cost of shot and ammo is irrelevant as far as turkey hunting goes. I'm more concerned about gasoline costs during the season. .

  5. The news that the only primary lead smelter in the US is closing at years' end is receiving comment at the hook and bullet forums. The Doe Run facility in Missouri is the only smelter in the US that turns lead ore into lead bullion for shipment to secondary smelter which make bullets, tire weights, shot, etc.
    The relatively small size of the operation makes me wonder if the US relies more on imports than domestic primary smelting for lead products. If not, this closure could do more harm to hunters than legislation.
    In that Doe Run made the announcement 3 years ago, have we been asleep at the switch regarding this news?