The past few years have seen a lot of discussion on the issue of lead in hunting ammunition, especially rifle bullets. Regardless of who's saying what, most of us want to see the evidence behind an argument. This site is intended to act as a place to gather that information together and take a look at reasons to hunt with non-lead ammo.
1. Non-lead Bullets are Extremely Effective
Bullets made from 100% copper were initially developed by Barnes Bullets in the mid 1980's as a premium bullet for big-game hunting in Africa. Their monolithic design resulted in extremely consistent and rapid expansion, combined with excellent weight retention and associated deep penetration. In addition, they gained a reputation as being very accurate. A typical kill gained from a well-placed shot involves bone-crushing penetration, massive organ/tissue disruption, and frequently a sizable exit wound that aids in blood-tracking.
Continued advancements have resulted in more manufacturers producing numerous calibers and bullet weights using either 100% copper or guilding metal construction. While non-lead bullets have been used by reloaders for over 25 years, they are now available in factory loaded ammunition from Federal, Hornady, Winchester, and Remington.
3 shot grouping of Barnes 180 grain Tipped Triple Shock bullets sighted in at 2" high at 100 yards. Fired with a Remington Model 700 .30-06 rifle.
2. Ensure the Highest Quality Meat from a Harvest
One great thing about hunting wild animals is being able to put high quality meat on the table. When people invented lead bullets, it was because the metal is easy to work and makes an effective bullet. It's both heavy and malleable - so it's been a logical and effective choice for over 100 years. But no one intended that the lead would end up in people's food. So when the results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources study came out revealing that fragments from lead rifle ammunition can peel off and become lodged in tissue as much as 14 inches from the point of bullet entry, we took note and decided to look further into the issue.
3. Prevent Lethal Collateral Damage to Wildlife
Most hunters would agree that a good hunt is one that takes only one pull of the trigger and drops the animal with a quick, humane kill. The idea of accidentally poisoning other non-target wildlife isn't anyone's intention. But many birds and mammals feed on the gutpiles and carcasses that they find during and after hunting season. In many cases, these animals unknowingly eat lead when the carcasses have been shot with lead ammo.
So, what animals might end up as collateral damage when lead fragments remain in gutpiles or carcasses?
- Bald Eagles in Minnesota
- Bald Eagles in Iowa
- Stellar's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles
- California Condors
- Ravens & Eagles in Wyoming
What Ingested Lead Does to Wildlife
Once lead bullet fragments are taken into the digestive system, the lead is dissolved by the very acidic conditions found in bird and mammal stomachs. This dissolved lead is absorbed into the bloodstream and then into the tissues and bones. Once present, the lead destroys the myelin sheath that insulated the nerve fiber bundles. This disruption causes a number of problems, including tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, paralysis of the digestive system, and eventually either kills the animal outright or makes it too weak to avoid predators.
General Review - USGS Fact Sheet on Lead and Wildlife
Proceeds from scientific conference - Convened to examine potential implications for wildlife and humans from ingesting spent lead ammunition.
Advantages of Non-Lead Bullets
Non-lead bullet (bottom) doesn't fragment like the lead bullet (top)
Two popular non-lead bullets and one favorite lead bullet were fired into the same block of standard ballistic gelatin to compare expansion, penetration, and hydrostatic shock. As you can see, the 2 non-lead bullets compare very favorably to the lead bullet in terms of performance.
This is an x-ray of the same gel block as shown above. Note how the CoreLokt (middle bullet) sheds substantial lead fragments (~ 30% of initial weight) during it's travel through the block. The nearly 100% weight retention of non-lead bullets (above and below) results in greater penetration and tissue damage, since the bullet doesn't break apart and continues to do damage to the animal all the way through to the exit wound. The fully expanded non-lead bullets leave exit wounds approximately twice the diameter as the entry wound, resulting in greater blood loss.