NEBRASKAland November 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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NOVEMBER 2016 • NEBRASKAland 71 shotgun hulls and wads are made from either high- or low-density polyethylene – referred to as HDPE or LDPE, respectively. Those plastics are at or near the top of the scale for decomposition properties. How fast both brass and plastic breaks down depends a lot on its exposure to the elements. A spent hull or wad is likely to stay above ground and receive ample exposure to water and sun, speeding its decomposition to a period measured in years instead of decades and centuries. Regardless, most surely agree that any litter is bad litter. Some manufacturers have taken notice and are marketing products that break down more rapidly. West Virginia-based Kent Cartridge and its sister company Gamebore of England are recognized as leaders in this area. In some of its game and target loads, the companies offer Bio-Wad, a fiber alternative to the plastics that is reminiscent of the paper products of yesteryear. Also in their line of products is a photodegradable wad, a plastic product designed to deteriorate quickly when exposed to light. Company spokeswoman Linda Barnhart said decomposition of the Bio-wad begins from the moment a shot is fired, with heat from the discharge aiding the process. With a little ensuing moisture, such as pond water or precipitation, the wad can completely break down in weeks or months compared to the years as it takes plastics. "The exact time it takes to break down depends on a lot of variables," Barnhart said. "We put a few of the wads in water and within just a few hours they started to open." Going one step further, scientists at the College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science have been developing a wad using polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHAs. The PHAs are polyesters that are produced by bacterial fermentation and found naturally the world over. The goal of the institute's effort, which has formed the start-up company GreenOps Ammo, is to create a wad that has many of the same performance characteristics of plastic but transforms to water and carbon dioxide when swiftly biodegrading. Dr. Jason McDevitt, who serves as GreenOps Ammo's CEO, said the product still needs refining before becoming commercially available, but that the wad has gained favorable attention after review by one of the nation's largest ammunition suppliers. They hope to someday see it being used on a large scale, especially in marine environments. "Based on our conversations with hunters and shooters, many would be happy to pay a premium for a wad that didn't litter the land or water, provided it still performed up to expectations," McDevitt said. "Obviously, maintaining performance is the key, and we want to make sure we do not launch a product unless it meets or exceeds all performance specifications and environmental specifications. Unfortunately, the product will carry a premium price tag, but hopefully the price difference will fall close to negligible once sales hit a reasonable volume." In some cases, environmentally friendly components are actually favored for how well they function. Hevi-Shot, for instance, uses biodegradable forest products for its Speedball pellet accelerator, which is credited for improving performance, and has substituted plastic beads with flaxseed at the other end of the cartridge as a better way to aid the crimping process. The seed, which is demolished upon firing, is not only biodegradable but is less expensive, said Ralph Nauman, the company's president. Of course, a long-time method for stretching the dollar and extending the life of materials is to reload spent hulls. Some shotgunners not only reload cartridges, but also opt for biodegradable components when doing so. Such components may be hard to come by, though, and even shells already on the marketplace, such as Kent's Velocity line with the photodegradable wad, and the Gamebore's Silver Steel waterfowl loads with the Bio-Wad, are scarce when doing a search with major online retailers. Understandably, many shotgun owners are going to be most influenced by performance, price and availability, and retailers will cater to what the shooters want. If manufacturers produce more eco-friendly alternatives that function as well as the time-tested models, and do it for a competitive price, more hunters will surely jump on board. After all, hunters have led the way in North America's conservation efforts and are always looking for ways to retain the beauty of the lands from which they pursue their game. Nature-friendly components aside, one of the best ways for shooters to ensure hunting lands remain litter-free is to pick up after themselves and after one another. While one hunter might not be able to track down a wad or hull, a future visitor may stumble across it. With a "leave a place better than you found it" approach, hunting lands will remain free from litter of all kinds and improve the visit for those who follow in every hunter's footsteps. ■ It can take years for a shotgun shell hull to decompose in the field. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN HAAG

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