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The Great Cartridge Debate!

Lead and steel cartridges, supply chains and what is to come

Perhaps the confusion (or indeed chaos) surrounding game cartridges at the current time is only mirrored by the extraordinary events of our Government in recent months. Sadly, we do not think that the cartridge market is necessarily going to get much better in terms of choice and availability of cartridges going forwards. 

The intention of our main shooting and land-owning organisations back in 2020 was to phase out lead shot cartridges within five years. This was always going to be optimistic. To be fair to those bodies and whilst their communication to the Game Shooting world was initially awful, they were under considerable pressure from Government to “do something” to get rid of lead shot in Game, a food product. What has now interceded and in a very dramatic way, are two events: the war in Ukraine and the worldwide supply chain problems. Game cartridges use some of the materials, particularly powder as used by the Military. The fact that most of the powders suitable for propelling steel shot cartridges come from the United States as well as the preparations the United States has been making both in respect of the Ukraine war and possible trouble in Taiwan, means that there are currently real supply problems for cartridge components. This means that no cartridge manufacturer has been able in say the last 18 months to make the cartridges that they have wanted to. If you add into this equation, that one of the main sources of the “steel” cartridge heads was Maripole in the Ukraine (remember the siege?) and then add to this the very significant worldwide shortage of plastic cartridge cases, the perfect storm has arrived. No-one ever thought that Avian Flu and its ramifications would be of benefit, but in this very limited way, the fact that the larger Game Dealers having originally said that they would only take in game shot with non-toxic cartridges after 1st July 2022, now means that this policy has had to be dramatically reversed, because of a real shortage of dead game, how so ever it was shot. As a result, lead cartridges have sold pretty well this season, while non-toxic loads have been slow to leave the shelves with only a limited number of shoots currently insisting on their use. That said, a good number of Guns have been trialling different steel and non-toxic loads, to see what suits them best as a replacement for lead when a ban in some form does come in. 

Where does this take us going forward?

We do not believe that there is going to be the availability of steel cartridges in particular, to realistically replace lead cartridges for game shooting until probably 2025. This is also likely to be the case with Bismuth for use in older English guns. In other words, and whilst we will see more non-toxic cartridges being used for the 2023 and 2024 Game seasons, lead cartridges will still be available and used, and if they weren’t, we would be in dire trouble sourcing enough game cartridges! It is interesting to note that at the current time, the price of steel shot is higher than that of lead; realistically we are all going to have to accept that the days of cheap cartridges have gone, and we do not think they will return. 

Our advice to our customers is to continue to use lead cartridges where they are able (largely as dictated by the Game Dealers who collect from that particular Shoot) and we suspect that you will probably be able to do so for the next year or may be two. We would not advise anyone to buy large quantities of lead shot cartridges, because the situation could change quite quickly, for instance if and when the Ukraine war ends, and the worldwide supply chain problems become resolved. We do however think that most Game Shots should be seriously thinking about trying out some non-toxic cartridges, definitely for next season, given that they will probably have to use at least some non-toxic cartridges for the 2024 season and almost certainly beyond. However, whether there will be sufficient non-toxic cartridges available for the game market by then is anyone’s guess.

Interesting times indeed!


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