News

09 February 2012

Shotgun shooting - Steel versus Lead shots

Lead is a common element of the earth crust. It is deposited as leads minerals that are more or less insoluble in water, not as a pure metal as are for example gold or silver. Pure lead is easily made from the minerals; it is cheap and is used for many very important purposes. It was used for water pipelines thousands of years ago. Today enormous amounts are used for batteries.

Lead is a common element of the earth crust. It is deposited as leads minerals that are more or less insoluble in water, not as a pure metal as are for example gold or silver. Pure lead is easily made from the minerals; it is cheap and is used for many very important purposes. It was used for water pipelines thousands of years ago. Today enormous amounts are used for batteries.

It has been known for centuries that lead ingested by food or drinking water or absorbed by lungs is toxic, and since lead is so ubiquitous we will always get a small amount with the food. However, we absorb only a small percentage of the ingested lead (children may absorb a larger percentage). The absorbed lead is secreted, and the blood concentration will be below a certain limit. If the intake by an accident or by elevated environmental concentration, the blood level may increase and we will get an acute or chronic lead poisoning, which may be very serious. Several shooting ranges has been investigated in order to prove contamination of the ground water. To our knowledge, not a single range has been found dangerous. (If lead shots are used for waterfowl hunting in shallow lakes, there is a possibility that the birds eat lead shots and may show all signs of lead poisoning with fatal results. This was in fact the start of the great lead shot discussion). Several countries has banned or will prohibit the use of lead shots for all purposes, however without any scientifically good reason.

Lead mixed with a few percent antimony has been used as the main material for shots as far back as we have had shotguns. It is cheap; it has a very high density and therefore perfectly suited for shots for hunting and for clay target shooting. No other metal or mixture of metals can compare to lead. However, since some countries do not allow lead shots, other substitutes are used. For clay target shooting, steel or iron may be the only affordable alternative.

A) Since the steel shot is very much harder than the lead shot, the internal ballistics is quite different. The pressure in the barrel increases faster than usual, and will reach a higher level. Accordingly, guns for steel shots must be built to tolerate higher pressure.

B) Lead shots will more or less disintegrate when they hit a hard surface - stone, concrete or even a nail head. The steel shot will rebound with a dangerously high velocity if the above-mentioned surfaces are hit. The energy of the rebound shot is high enough to penetrate an eye. All hard surfaces represent a possible hazard. Stone, concrete, steel (a nail head) are all typical examples of dangerous materials.

Any range that shall be approved for steel shots must be free of any obstacles or surfaces that may cause the possibility of rebound steel shots. For example must skeet towers be covered by wood constructions free of nail heads facing the shooters or other people.

Conclusion: Steel shots must not be allowed unless the range is inspected and declared free of any surface that may cause rebound shots.