Lead substitute cartridges are mandatory for use on waterfowl in England – Vic Harker takes a look at some steel alternatives

As the law stands in England, the shooting of waterfowl with anything other than non-toxic ammunition is illegal.

The justification for this legislation is open to debate, but for the gun-owning section of society with a special responsibility to remain within the law, our duty to comply with it is not. With this in mind I have been looking at the latest offerings from the ammunition industry, which is constantly striving to improve the performance of lead substitutes.

It is very important to know that your ammo is effective because we shoot to kill, not to wound, and this should always be uppermost in our minds. At the same time, our own safety is a concern and we must be completely certain that the guns we use with non-lead cartridges are compatible with the pressures they are proofed to and can be used without damage.

To kick off the wildfowling season I’ve been trying some heavy steel loads. While the industry is constantly researching the possibilities of all kinds of lead substitutes, at present it is steel that represents the best price/lethality equation – but to use it you need a gun that’s up to the job.

For this test I shot the Beretta X400 Xplor 3�” magnum auto, and with its capability to digest the most powerful ammunition safely and comfortably, I could not have made a better choice.

Eley Lightning Steel 3”

At 1,640ft per sec velocity 2� metres from the gun’s muzzle end, these cartridges deliver a payload of 32g of 5 shot significantly faster than the competition.

They are not at present CIP-approved because normally that kind of speed would require pressures that exceed their rules, but Eley’s newly developed powders don’t exceed the rules so these cartridges can be sold and purchased legally and used safely.

I used Lightning Steel with an open choke on mallard flighting onto corn stubble and the results were more than satisfactory. I am looking forward to using them on larger quarry at longer ranges.

Load: 32g Shot sizes: 1, 3, 5

Case Length: 76mm

Price: �190 per 1,000


Gamebore Mammoth 3�” Hevi-Load

This is the kind of cartridge that the Beretta was designed for. With a 3�” case length and a 42g shot load, the fowlers on the Humber I have spoken to swear by this cartridge when the geese are up to 40 yards away.

Great for a dedicated wildfowler with the right gun, I patterned some samples through a � choke barrel and would use this load on targets at that range with confidence.

Load: 42g Shot sizes: BB, 1, 2

Case Length: 86mm

Price: �550 per 1,000


Hull Steel Game Extra

Last year I used this load through a Browning over-and-under with excellent results. As always with Hull, this is a top quality cartridge with moderate recoil that can be used through any modern, suitably proofed shotgun.

The game shooter who, at the end of a pheasant day, finds himself at the Estate’s lakeside would do well to have some of these cartridges in his pocket. Not only will he be able to bag his fair share of duck, but he will also, as they say, be ‘street legal’.

Load: 32g Shot sizes: 4, 5

Case Length: 70mm

Price: �204 per 1,000