James Marchington: Change is coming…

James Marchington gazes into his crystal ball and wonders what we’ll be shooting in years to come

Imagine you’re at your favourite clay ground, heading off to the first stand. You’re looking forward to a fun round of clays – but then you trip over and fall through one of those space-time portals beloved of science fiction writers.

There’s a blinding flash, a loud whoosh… and when you pick yourself up you realise you have been transported ten years into the future. What do you see? Are your fellow shooters dressed in space suits and carrying laser blasters? Or has clay shooting remained a little oasis, a refuge of good times in a rapidly changing world?

It’s tempting to think that our sport will carry on much as before. After all, the fundamentals of clay shooting have stayed the same since we adopted centrefire breech-loading cartridges and began shooting at little black saucers instead of live pigeons released from baskets.

Of course we could list all sorts of technological and socio-economic changes that have had an impact on the sport – more people now drive long distances to compete; the traps are now automatic so you don’t need a trapper pulling back the arm manually after each shot; branding, marketing and sponsorship now play a bigger part. 

But the basic challenge of shooting a clay target has remained the same for generations. You call ‘Pull’, a saucer-shaped disc flies out, you mount and swing your double-barrelled 12-bore shotgun, pull the trigger and a charge of powder propels an ounce or so of lead shot towards the clay.

That description is as accurate today as it was 100 years ago. OK, we have adopted plastic wads and cartridge cases in the meantime, but they do much the same job as their fibre and paper predecessors.

All that may be about to change, however, and clay shooting could be in for the biggest shake-up it’s seen since the invention of the breech-loader. 

There are many factors at work, but perhaps most significant is the rapid rise of ‘green’ thinking that has seen plastic bags and drinking straws disappear from our everyday lives.

Like it or not, everyday materials like plastic and metallic lead are coming under intense scrutiny, and are presumed guilty of environmental damage unless they can be proved innocent. It it pointless arguing that they have been used for decades with no evidence of harm; that counts for nothing.

Privately, a number of industry insiders have confidently told me that the days of plastic wads and lead shot are numbered. It’s not a question of ‘if’ they’re banned, just ‘when’. 

Opinions vary on how long we’ve got, but you’d struggle to find anyone willing to put money on lead shot and plastic wads still being around in five years’ time. The more pessimistic estimates I’ve heard suggest that one or both could be gone within a couple of years.

It’s reassuring to see the cartridge industry tackling this challenge head-on, developing steel shot and eco-friendly loads that come close to the performance of existing cartridges, and that can be used in the majority of existing guns. We can expect to see further improvements in performance as the technology is refined and developed.

I suspect that my time-travelling shooter would find his future counterparts’ clothing odd, but at least they will still be shooting 12-bore O/Us at little black flying saucers – even if the targets are ‘eco friendly’ and smashed with steel pellets that are fired in a biodegradable wad.

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