Pure Copper Shot.


In my previous post, I took a look at the various non-tox options available for hunters looking to go lead free. And one type of shot really stood out for me: pure copper. 

I discovered that French ammo maker FOB has been marketing an entire line of copper loaded shells called Sweet Copper since 2013 and another French company, Vouzelaud just announced similar shells loaded with copper shot and a bio-degradable wad. In Germany, Rottweil is now selling a shell called  "Copper Unlimited"

In Italy, reloading website Siarm lists a product called "Real Copper". It is said to be made of 99.97840 % pure copper and is currently available in #3 and # 6 shot sizes for reloading. I also found a recipe on the same site for a 12 gauge test load composed of 28 grams of pure copper shot and 2 grams of B&P's MBx36 powder. Test results indicated that it produced a peak pressure of 750 bar and a velocity of 450m/s (about 1475 f/s). 

So I wasn't suprised to see that Italian ammo giant 
Baschieri & Pellargi are also getting into the pure copper shot game now.  Here's a company rep at an outdoor/hunting fair in Germany announcing their new 'Dual Shock' shells that contain a half-and-half mix of pure copper #6 shot and zinc-coated copper #4 shot. 

And here is a video of Dual Shock shells being tested in the fields of Argentina and the UK:

Naturally, with all the buzz around copper shot in Europe, I have to wonder if it will ever make its way over to this side of the ocean. But that brings up a whole slew of other questions. Here are a few I can think of, and my best guesses as to what the answers might be. 

Is copper shot approved for use in North America? 
I don't really know. But if I had to guess, I would say that copper shot should be perfectly fine to shoot wherever lead can be shot. But pellets made of pure copper are not on the list of approved non-tox lead alternatives. However, as an ingredient in shells combining different elements, copper gets the green light. Here are the percentages currently allowed in approved non-tox shot types.

  • Copper-clad iron: copper cladding can be up to 44.1% of the shot mass
  • Tungsten-bronze: can contain up to 44.4% copper
  • Tungsten-iron-copper-nickel: can be 9–16% copper

Is pure copper shot toxic? There is no such thing as a completely non-toxic metal suitable for use in shotgun shells. So it comes down to figuring out which is the least toxic. And copper seems to have relatively low toxicity, especially when compared to lead. When copper is just one ingredient mixed with other things like tungsten, studies indicate that "the rate of copper release from tungsten bronze shot was 30 to 50 times lower than that from the copper shot, depending on pH".  And other studies indicate that the "mortality among mallards fed iron, copper, zinc-coated iron or molybdenum-coated iron shot was significantly less than in birds fed lead shot, and was not significantly greater than the controls."

I am sure there are many more studies out there, all of which undoubtedly reveal at least some level of toxicity, but what is important to note is that regulators in Europe, where environmental regulations tend to be far stricter than in the US or Canada, have determined that pure copper shot can be used where lead is banned. And that means they've chosen it (and other metals like bismuth and tungsten) as the 'least bad' alternatives to lead. 

Can it be shot out of a gun that is not approved for steel? I think so. But don't quote me on that. In terms of hardness, copper actually looks like it might fit the bill. It is harder than lead and bismuth, but it is softer than most of the others, including ITX (original) and Tungsten polymer, both of which were specifically designed for use in guns not approved for steel.

Copper is harder than lead, but softer than ITX and Tungsten Matrix shot

In terms of density, here is how it stacks up to some of the other options.

Copper shot is nearly15% denser than steel shot

And finally, what about price? Pure copper shot is more expensive than lead or steel shot, but, surprisingly, it can be as much as 3 times cheaper than other options. Here's how it compares on a dollars-per-pound basis (#6 shot).

Copper is more expensive than lead and steel, but way cheaper than all the other lead alternatives

I will leave it up to the reloading experts to figure out what a decent 20 gauge upland load would cost on a per shot basis since I have no idea what hulls, wads, powder and primers cost or how much shot you'd need of each type for a decent upland load. But if all the other components remain more or less the same, it seems to me that copper shot would be a relatively inexpensive choice for reloading.

So, will we ever see pure copper shot loads over here? Only time will tell.

UPDATE, December 17, 2015

An article with test results of 8 different pure copper loads appeared in a French magazine called "Armes de Chasse" (Hunting Guns) recently. I finally had a chance to read it today and here are some of the results.

NOTE: tests were done with a 12 gauge Beretta A400 with a 28 inch barrel and modified choke. The results in the magazine were given in metric, I've made approx. conversions to imperial.

Re Patterns: They ranged from 79% to 87% in a 30 inch (76cm) circle at 40-ish yards (35 meters)

These two loads are said to be safe to shoot in any gun. See my previous article "After Lead" to read about CIP's
specifications for loads specifically formulated to reduce (if not completely eliminate) the risks of shooting them in older guns not approved for steel shot.

Brand: FOB
Load: Sweet Copper
Pressure: 683 bars
Velocity: 1204 f/s

Brand: Vouzelaud
Load: 28
Pressure: 778 bars
Velocity: 1272 f/s

The loads below are designed to be shot only out of guns approved for steel shot and having a fleur de lys proof mark (ie: able to handle higher pressures).

Brand: Rottweil
Load: Ultimate 34 HP
Pressure: 767 bars,
Velocity: 1299

Brand FOB
Load Sweet Copper HP
Pressure: 914 bars 
Velocity: 1300

Brand B+P
Load: Dual Shock
Pressure 1043 bars
Velocity: 1400

Brand: FOB
Load: Sweet Copper Magnum
Pressure: 767 bars
Velocity: 1100

Brand: Rottweil
Load: Magnum
Pressure: 1050 bars
Velocity: 1265

Brand: B+P
Load: Magnum
PRessure: 957 bars
Velocity: 1368

And finally, I came across an interesing tidbit in the comment section of the B+P youtube video posted above. A viewer asked: "...Will that ammo be available in the States??" and the video poster relpied: "B&P assured me that in 2016 the three cartridges of the Dual Shock line will be available for US market."

So, once again....will we ever see pure copper shot loads over here? Only time will tell.

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