The RSPB's Mark Avery, who sits on the Defra Lead Ammunition Group, makes some interesting comments in response to my blogging on lead shot.
The RSPB has been trialling non-lead (actually copper) bullets for deer control on its reserves for a couple of years, with promising results. There's a scientific paper on the subject here (pdf).
In fact, the results aren't quite as rosy as Mark suggests. Copper bullets in .270 calibre seem to do a good job on roe and red deer. But in southern England, shooting sika with a .243 (the most common deer rifle calibre - and I've just gone and bought one!) the figures show a significantly increased risk of wounding, even with a perfectly placed chest shot. The paper goes on to imply we should all switch to head shots, as if that was the simplest thing in the world. Hmm.
As you can tell, I'm still not 100% convinced - but at least we have some real UK-based scientific evidence, presented (relatively) impartially, and out in the open for all to discuss.
By contrast, I was surprised to see BASC's Dr John Harradine fulminating in Shooting Times this week at last week's article by Tim Woodhouse on the efficacy of steel shot.
I'm sure Tim, like me, would cheerfully admit that he's fallible. But I know he holds the truth in high regard, and in proper scientific fashion he welcomes any challenge to his ideas. For Harradine to launch an ad-hominem attack in a public journal does him and his organisation a disservice.
Harradine seems to feel he has evidence that steel shot is really rather good, although I've heard doubts expressed about the validity of his tests. Woodhouse believes that steel has severe practical limitations, making it a less than adequate substitute for lead in many types of shooting as we know them today.
What we're sadly lacking here is proper, independent scientific research carried out under UK conditions and properly peer reviewed. Without it we're guessing.
At the risk of being slated for 'misinforming' and 'prejudicing' the shooting public, to my simple mind it seems likely that Harradine's view of steel's efficacy will be the 'official' BASC view presented to the Lead Ammunition Group. If it turns out that view is over-optimistic, it won't do shooting any favours.
We need to make sure the group's decision is based on solid science, and I'm far from convinced that science exists at present, at least in the area of the efficacy of 'non-toxic' alternatives to lead-based shotgun loads.
Perhaps it's time to commission some science we can all trust and believe in.