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Choose Non-Lead Ammunition

Minimizing Risks to Wildlife and People from Lead Hunting Ammunition - A Report of the New York State Lead Ammunition Working Group (April 2022, PDF)

Progress Report - April 2023 (PDF)

Minimizing risks to wildlife and people from lead hunting ammunition is a high priority for both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH). For this reason, and due to the social, political, economic, and ecological complexity of this issue, the New York State "Lead Ammunition Working Group" was formed in December 2020. The charge to the Working Group, which is comprised of staff from DEC, DOH, Cornell University's Wildlife Health Program, the Venison Donation Coalition, the New York State Conservation Council, and Audubon New York, was to conduct a comprehensive examination of the risks posed by lead hunting ammunition to wildlife and people and recommend actions to minimize those risks.

During their examination of this issue, the Working Group conducted research to understand hunters' ammunition use and views on lead ammunition and non-lead alternatives and consulted with experts from state fish and wildlife agencies, state and county health and nutrition programs, non-governmental conservation groups, deer processing and venison donation organizations, and the ammunition manufacturing and retail industry. Based on the information received from these experts, peer-reviewed literature, and from New York hunters, the Working Group prepared a report (linked above) that provides a comprehensive assessment of this issue and a suite of prioritized recommendations to minimize risks to wildlife and people from lead hunting ammunition.

Watch this clips about choosing non-lead ammunition, and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

Non-lead Ammunition

lead versus non-lead bullet on impact comparison
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 did
not fragment 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.

High-Tech Bullets and Slugs: Non-Lead Ammunition PDF

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.

Lead Ammunition

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

Image of lead fragments in an animal carcass
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) (e.g. rifle bullets).
  • When it is a low weight for the respected rifle caliber.
  • When it has a fast expansion rate upon impact (e.g. ballistic tip or soft point).
  • When it lacks an encased core that is fused to the outer casing or jacket (e.g. non-bonded bullets).
  • When it impacts dense objects, such as bone.

Tips to Reduce Lead Consumption in Wild Game

For Hunters

  • 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 processors 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

View a list of commonly used lead and non-lead bullets by manufacturer (PDF) in a printer-friendly document.

A comprehensive list of non-lead certified ammunition is available on the California Department of Fish and Game's website (leaves DEC website). 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 (leaves DEC website).

For questions on potential health effects from lead consumption, call the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) at 1-800-458-1158 (x27820), or visit the NYSDOH website for general information about lead exposure (leaves DEC website).