Ammunition: Non-lead or Lead?
Information for Big Game Hunters and Meat Processors
This page provides information on the positive factors of using non-lead ammunition compared to lead ammunition, some helpful tips for both hunters and meat processors to decrease bullet fragmentation in meat, a manufacturer list of commonly used ammunition and other helpful resources.
Comparison of two .270 caliber bullets shot into
a modified rain barrel for collection. The copper
jacket lead-core bullet (left) is heavily fragmented
compared to solid copper bullet (right) that
retained its original shape upon impact.
(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service)
New development of alternative non-lead ammunition allows hunters the same performance and accuracy of traditional lead-based ammunition without fragmentation. Non-lead ammunition consists of solid copper or copper alloys (90-95% copper and 5-10% zinc) and is available in a large variety of calibers and bullet weights for rifle, shotgun and muzzleloader.
Benefits of Non-lead Ammunition
- Less prone to fragmenting as it is harder than traditional lead.
- Eliminates bullet fragments in the wound channel as it forms a"mushroom" or peels back upon impact.
- Delivers devastating hydrostatic energy and shock to a game animal.
- Yields more high quality meat as it retains 95-100% of the original bullet weight.
- Reduces risk of harming other wildlife, particularly eagles, from getting sick and dying from lead consumption.
Consuming Lead in Wild Game
Did you know small lead fragments can be present in hunter-harvested deer and bear, particularly in ground meat? Often, lead particles are too small to detect by sight or feel, making removal practically impossible.
Nationally, several federal and state agencies have investigated the potential impacts of ingesting lead fragments in harvested wild game to raise hunter and consumer awareness; offer educated decisions for bullet selection; and provide steps that can be taken to decrease the possibility of lead in hunter-harvested meat.
To date, there are no reported human illnesses related to the consumption of wild game shot with lead ammunition. Nevertheless, lead is still a known neurotoxin. Hunters should consider potential exposure risks from the consumption of lead fragments and make educated decisions to limit the chances of lead exposure.
Factors That Increase Lead Bullet Fragmentation
Radiograph of a deer's chest illustrating lead fragmentation
of a ballistic tip rifle bullet.
(Image courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)
A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources demonstrated that ammunition type is a key factor in the degree of bullet fragmentation when harvesting wild game. They found that the degree at which lead fragments scattered varied between 2-18 inches away from the wound tract.
Based on this research, lead bullets fragmented more under the following conditions:
- When fired at high velocities (greater than 2,000 feet per second, i.e. rifle bullets).
- When it is a low weight for the respected rifle caliber.
- When it has a fast expansion rate upon impact (i.e. ballistic tip or soft point).
- When it lacks an encased core that is fused to the outer casing or jacket (non-bonded bullets).
- When it impacts dense objects, such as bone.
Tips to Reduce Lead Consumption in Wild Game
- Use alternative ammunition that is less prone to fragmentation, such as non-lead (copper) or high-weight retention ammunition (controlled expansion) bullets.
- Use heavier bullet weight for a given caliber. Avoid lightly constructed bullets.
- Sight in your firearm when using a new style or new brand of ammunition prior to hunting.
- Use shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets as they fragment less in big game than commonly used high-powered rifle bullets.
- Practice marksmanship and outdoors skills to get cleaner, closer and precise shots.
- Avoid shots at running deer as this decreases accuracy.
- Ask commercial processor's to process your deer individually and trim generously around the wound channel.
- Discard meat with excessive shot damage. Trim a generous distance away from bullet wound channels and discard bruised or discolored meat, as well as meat contaminated with hair, dirt, bone fragments or grass.
- Reduce intake of ground meat as it tends to contain more lead fragments than whole muscle cuts. If you do grind venison, regularly check and clean your meat grinder.
- Avoid consuming internal organs as these may also contain lead fragments.
For Meat Processors
- Discard meat with excessive shot damage.
- Trim a generous distance away from bullet wound channels.
- Discard bruised and discolored meat, as well as meat contaminated with hair, dirt, bone fragments or grass.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Grind meat from each deer individually, check grinders for lead fragments and clean grinders between grinding meat from each individual deer.
Other Helpful Resources
Ammunition by Manufacturer
A list of commonly used lead and non-lead bullets by manufacturer is available below and is also in a printer-friendly document (PDF, 32 KB).
Boattaill Hollow Point
Premier Corelock Ultra Bonded
Copper Solid Sabot Slugs
Match Powermax Bonded
XP3 shotgun slugs
Razor Back XT
Power Core 95/5
Vitalshok-Sierra Game King BTSP
Vitalshok-Sierra Game King BTHP
Vitalshok-Nosler Ballistic Tip
Vitalshok-Trophy Bonded Tip
|Vitalshok-Barnes Triple Shock
A comprehensive list of non-lead certified ammunition is available on the California Department of Fish and Game's website (link in the right column of this page). You can also ask your local ammunition distributor about non-lead ammunition. Prices will vary, but most non-lead ammunition is comparable to premium grade lead-ammunition.
New York State Department of Health
For tips on good sanitary practices when butchering, storing and preparing venison, as well as for advice on potential diseases or toxins in wild game, visit the NYSDOH Advice on Contaminants in Game webpage (link in the right-hand column of this page).
For questions on potential health effects from lead consumption, call the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) at 1-800-458-1158 (x27820), or visit their website for general information about lead exposure (link in the right-hand column of this page).