The Truth About Lead Shot


Since the 1980’s a growing political attack on lead as used for shooting sports ammunition has been subject to a massive effort across a very wide base of conspirators driven mainly by animal protectionists backed by Mr Blair’s New Labour government and amazingly evidence exists of Country Sports Representative bodies being implicated as contributors towards the campaign to secure a total ban on the use of lead as ammunition.

Politically driven, the public has been subject to a propaganda campaign ranging from the dangers to children coming into contact with paint containing trace elements of lead, the lead weights ban imposed on anglers in 1986 because it was claimed swans were dying from lead poisoning, to poultry egg production being affected by clay shooting ground lead contamination, and a growing campaign against eating lead shot game meat to which the Food Standards Agency, (FSA) a public funded body, made its contribution in a public statement in October 2012 that:

 “Pregnant women, or mothers with babies, should not eat lead shot game meat”

All of which can be proven to be misleading and duplicitous.

In 1637 Charles II granted a Royal Charter for the establishment of The London Proof House whose priority purpose was to inspect and proof test all guns before they were made available through sale to the British public, as a Health and Safety Service. That charter contained a clear and unequivocal operating statement that the material used for proof testing must be lead. A stipulation which remains unchanged 377 years later to this day. As a result, every gun sold in Great Britain is obliged to have passed through proof testing, whether English proof or, as in recent times (since 2006) the higher-pressure standard of CIP Continental proof, which legally applies only to guns imported from Europe.

As a result of the 1637 Royal Charter, all guns sold to the public are obliged to be used with ammunition compliant with the safety pressures to which the gun has passed through proof and to which it has been officially proof-marked to be safe to use.

Despite CIP-proofed guns being made available following the 1999 lead ban imposed for shooting of any wildfowl or wader, more than 95% of guns currently in constant use are only legally able to use ammunition which complies with English Proof Standards which have been tested and marked safe using lead test loads.

Where does this leave the several lead alternatives which have been offered for sale ‘over the counter’ to Wildfowlers since the 1999 lead shot ban?

Mr Swift as Chief Executive Officer of BASC (WAGBI) made a public statement to members in 1998 that any lead alternative would be required to meet 4 priority conditions before it could be accepted for use in English proofed shotguns.

  • SAFE in all English Proofed shotguns.
  • EFFECTIVE as a ballistic material for cleanly killing live quarry.
  • AFFORDABLE compared with the then current price of lead ammunition.
  • ENVIRONMENTALLY acceptable to the countryside and humans.

To date no lead alternative has met all 4 criteria and some meet none.

Steelshot is simply not effective but is the cheapest alternative although costing at least x4 the price of lead ammunition. It is unsafe in English proofed guns unless protected by massive plastic wads, is used with very little choke, but it has been proven in Europe to cause serious environmental damage to trees and herbage. Used on live quarry it penetrates, breaks blood vessels, causes little ‘shock’ trauma, but kills from causing internal bleed not instant death, which does happen up to hours after initial injury, usually on feeding grounds inland from coastal roosting grounds.

So, how poisonous is lead?

Lead is a natural element extracted from the earth and processed from ore into an inert metal. It has been used widely by man for centuries because of its malleability and acid protective properties also as ammunition for more than 350 years, because of its weight to volume characteristics and its ability to distort on impact thereby spreading its full energy delivery in the most trauma shock-and-penetration effective manner, making it the finest/safest/most effective ballistic ammunition used over 350 years for achieving clean and humane kills of live quarry.

Once killed by lead ammunition, game meat has been safely consumed in enormous quantities by the public, worldwide, for centuries.

During New Labour’s thirteen years in Government, it conducted a multi £million (£150m) investigation to establish how many human deaths have been attributed to ingestion of lead shot from game meat. Its research, which was intensive, thorough, and very costly, found not a single death recorded.

The facts about lead are really a matter of scientific record.

Until either chemically contaminated or elevated in temperature to very high levels, lead is an inert metal and not poisonous. As its volume to weight ratio is second only to materials such as pure tungsten or mercury, pieces of spent lead shot in common shot sizes because of its “heavy weight” will pass through the digestive systems of both wildlife and humans so quickly that no chance of chemical contamination can occur. And even the grinding action of a bird’s gizzards which mixes shot with grit, as is common practice with game birds and pigeons, merely reduces lead shot to smaller pieces of inert metal which still pass through the intestinal system so fast (x3 hourly defecation is the norm in a mallard) that ‘creation’ of injurious “lead poisoning” remains an impossibility.

Yet amongst the common staples of human diet, potatoes, cereal and tap water will deliver annually up to 40 times the amount of ingested lead that a shooting season’s eating of normal quantities of game meat could deliver to the human ingestion system.

In October of 2013 a significant restaurant chain based in Birmingham but with businesses throughout the whole country, withdrew its game pie from its published menus. When questioned why, the Company Statement sent to all restaurants and required to be quoted, was that “Game meat contains poisonous lead”.  Other establishments have since followed, ignorant of the science.

The 1986 “attack” on anglers’ use of lead weights for fishing was based on swan deaths ‘claimed’ to have been caused by swans ingesting lead weights picked up from the bottom of lakes and waterways. No conclusive forensic analysis was performed to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that lead weight ingestion was in fact the true cause of any significant swan deaths but legislation was nevertheless enacted and certain sizes of lead fishing weights #6 to 1 ounce were subject to a total ban.

Anglers do not throw away lead weights, making the incidence of any lead fishing weights discarded into water frequented by wildfowl completely unfounded as a means of poisoning swans or any other waterfowl.

Subsequently, and after the great publicity campaign had died away, swans were still found to be dying, and properly conducted autopsies were carried out on the mostly summer period swan deaths, which proved that botulism was the cause of death.

The infectious toxin Clostridium Botulinum which causes botulism, is commonly found in soils and particularly in the mud of lake and waterway bottoms which becomes revealed during summers when winter rainfall has been low and depleted summer water levels allow both swans and ducks to reach and “dibble” in the mud bottoms while searching for invertebrate food items, thereby extensively exposing both ducks and swans to botulism. In January 2014 a warning was issued to mothers of babies not to feed them honey or honey content products because honey contains Clostridium Botulinum and can cause fatal botulism in babies.

From 1975 to 1980 the highly acclaimed and well-regarded US Fish and Game Wildlife Service carried out a science-based research project in which it proved beyond any reasonable doubt that mallard ducks’ ingestion of lead shot caused neither terminal nor ill effects over the entire normal 5-year life cycle of these waterfowl. However, their findings were never widely published because a federal ministerial threat was delivered to the effect that bald and golden eagles were endangered and had to be protected from lead rifle bullets used to shoot deer where lead remained as trace elements in the bullet entry tracts and that was claimed to be imparting fatal poisoning (unproven) to eagles which feed on ‘abandoned’ carcass carrion.

The case against lead ammunition was being blamed for eagle deaths again despite no scientific based proof ever being established. This “threat” to the US Wildlife Service was to the effect that a federal injunction would be drawn up that would involve the US Fish and Game Wildlife Service in an horrendously costly legal battle, which even if they won, their expenses and time required to devote to the case would be so injurious that “they would be best advised” to conceal their “distracting” 5 year scientific research finding into lead ingestion by mallard.

In 2010 DEFRA under the Blair New Labour government founded the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) formed around a committee of so called “Representative” interests having both opinion and concerns about any detrimental effects which might be able to be laid at the door of lead ammunition.

LAG’s final report was published in 2016 after massive delays. Members of the committee ranged from high profile animal protectionists to people who the shooting community have a right to expect to honestly represent science-based fact. Under the Chairmanship of former CEO of BASC Mr. John Swift, nothing remotely approaching any fair or science-based case against lead ammunition has been able to be formulated. Yet, singular public statements by Dr Deborah Pain condemning without any proof whatsoever, the use of lead shot for sporting purposes, has also been supported in TV interviews by her colleagues from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust – a body founded, grown, and operated into a fair-minded national research “treasure” by Sir Peter Scott, one of our most respected, knowledgeable and acknowledged wildfowler / environmentalists.

Put simply and honestly there has, and never can be, a case against lead ammunition which is able to withstand scientific scrutiny into it being a “proven” lethal poison to humans, wildlife or the environment.

The 1999 ban on use of lead shot for wildfowl and wader shooting was never based on scientific fact, but purely on political pressure against both the public ownership of sporting arms (guns) and the enormously powerful lobby from the voting public supported animal protection lobbyists. Subsequently the EU has resurrected the 1930’s case – pursued by Adolf Hitler – that public ownership of any variety of gun must be banned. As the British shooting public, we have been unmercifully attacked by protectionists and failed by our very own country sports representative bodies.

I reach the following 5 inescapable conclusions:

1. None of the Membership Representative Bodies within the British Shooting Community presented an effective defence of British Shooting Sports against the 1999 ban on use of lead shot for waterfowl shooting.

2. In 1986 None of the Membership Representative Bodies within the British Shooting Community had the foresight/ motivation to challenge the erroneous legal case being brought by the Animal Protectionist lobby against anglers lead weights causing significant deaths of swans, whereby ‘split shot’ from #6 to 1-ounce weights were made illegal.

3. The major membership bodies at the time comprised:

  •      *BASC (WAGBI)
  •      *British Fieldsports Society (BFS), shortly to become The Countryside Alliance
  •      *CPSA
  •      *NGO was not formed until 1997 after deciding that Gamekeepers were not effectively represented through being a “Section” within the BASC.
  •      *BDS British Deer Society.

None, individually or collectively, challenged either the fundamental case against lead angling weights being toxic, or the obvious ramifications of any lead shot being accused of being toxic and causing the death of wildlife, or its potential knock-on effects on humans eating lead shot meat.

4. In 1998, BASC, against the proposed threat to lead shot being legally banned for shooting of any wildfowl or wader, announced that any “nontoxic” alternative to lead shot must meet FOUR CRITERIA before it could be accepted by the British Shooting Community. Since the 1999 ban on lead shot none of the several “alternatives” to lead shot have met all 4 criteria, one, steel, the cheapest meets none and the most expensive/effective has been proven in America to be carcinogenic even from merely handling by humans. In the 15 years since the lead ban for wildfowl, BASC has neither challenged the basis of proof on which the 1999 law was founded. Neither has BASC sought to address the shortcomings of the “nontoxic” alternatives, and most blatant of all the inability of steel shot in English proofed guns to be safe or effective. Is there an underlying reason for BASC’s acquiescence in not challenging either the basic case or the suitability of the so-called lead “alternatives”?

5. The whole history of the last 30 years of the failed defence of British Shooting Sports by its member funded representative bodies is littered with inadequate representation and acquiescence in the face of serious long term damaging attack, a failure to either commission or conduct adequate research into the claimed toxicity of lead ammunition, and this despite BASC having a Director of Research in place for the whole duration of the 20 year period in question, while the Game Conservancy Trust (funded to carry out research by the shooting community since the 1940’s) has never entered into a scientific research program to prove whether lead ammunition represents a significant danger.

The biggest failure of all British country sports’ representative bodies, has been their failure to amalgamate under a single federated body as a collective representative VOICE with which to confront any potentially injurious and unfounded attacks made against any element of British Country Sports, especially by the highly organised and politicised animal protection bodies whose disproportionate influence over politicians has grown to become the only voice listened to when any matters concerning the British Countryside are under discussion.

Now is the time to change. It is not too late. Let the Countryside now fight back hard.

Brian D Dunn is a retired management consultant from the Chilterns. An experienced foreshore wildfowler (Holkham) for 25 years, Clay Competitor to World Championships FITASC and 4x County Champion / Winning County Team Member, having also experienced 35 years of Driven Pheasant / Partridge shooting on prestige estates from Hall Barn 25 years, Highclere Castle, Beaulieu, Yattendon, etc, and 24 consecutive Seasons in a Hampshire Syndicate, Brian knows his field sports.


(i) Angling Trades Association (ATA) Warns Against using Illegal Lead Fishing Weights.

(ii) Wikipedia PROOF MARKS page 3. Proof Testing in C.I.P. regulated countries

(iii)  Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, A History page 8. Ref Royal Charter 1637.

Manner of Proof: – With good and sufficient gunpowder the weight of a bullet of lead sizeable to every several gun according to the bore of the piece

(iv) Angling Trust: – What Science based, Peer Reviewed proof of anglers split lead shot used as weights, has been found to cause significant deaths of waterfowl and in particular swans? None

(v) Camden BRI: – Clostridium Botulinum causing botulism and infecting humans, wildlife as a commonly found toxic organism in soil / mud especially in lake and waterway bottoms.

(vi) BASC, W&WT, CA, DEFRA, LAG: – What proof, none exists of science based, Peer Reviewed Research that spent lead ammunition has been proven to be the significant cause of waterfowl mortality, none can be accessed as Indisputable record?

(vii) US Fish & Game Wildlife Service: – Scientific Research, Peer Reviewed and available on record exists as proof that between 1975 and 1980 a 5-year study of 2 Control Groups of mallard ducks established that lead shot ingestion caused neither terminal or debilitating injury to either “lead shot fed” Control Group or a naturally feeding Control Group.