Lead vs Copper Bullets

Lead vs Copper Bullets


Hi, My name is Jim Petterson. I’m a lifelong
hunter and wildlife biologist who first got interested in the outdoor as a kid, tagging
along with my grandpa when he went hunting and fishing. For years my family ate moose
and deer with little thought for whether or not the meat contained lead bullet fragments.
We assumed that if we cut out the bloodshot sections, we had also removed the bullet and
all lead fragments. But now we know this isn’t always true. Recent scientific data has been
published that documents how lead rifle bullets fragment into hundreds of small pieces when
they strike an animal, specifically white-tailed deer and mule deer. Based on that, myself
and some other hunter biologists decided to compare lead bullets and the newer non-lead
designs. We decided to compare premium bonded-core lead bullets, conventional lead bullets, and
newer non-lead designs comprised of copper and copper alloys in terms of penetration
and fragmentation by firing them into ballistic gelatin. and also into a modified rain collection
barrel. This allowed us to collect the fragments that resulted upon impact. We used bonded-core
lead bullets because they had been specifically developed by bullet manufacturers to reduce
the degree to which fragmentation occurs as compared to less expensive soft point bullets.
All tests involved .30-06 bullets that were fired from a Remington model 700 at fifty
yards. The two bonded-core bullets used were the 165 grain Nosler Accubond and the 180
grain Federal Fusion. The non-lead alternatives were the 180 grain Barnes Triple-Shock, an
all copper design, and the new 180 grain Nosler e-Tip which is a copper alloy. The ballistic
gelatin was purchased from Cabellas and is called Permagel. After firing the bullets
into ballistic gelatin, we took the gel blocks and had ten x-rayed to see how well they held
together after striking the gelatin. We also weighed each bullet to see what percentage
of weight was retained. Finally, we measured the distance each bullet traveled into the
gel blocks to document the penetration. It should be noted that this type of ballistic
gelatin is used by the bullet manufacturers to simulate, in a standardized fashion, the
tissues that a bullet would pass through after striking a large mammal. To recover the discharged
bullets and the resulting fragments, we also fired the same bullet types into four one-gallon
water jugs that had been placed in a modified rain collection barrel that had been thoroughly
cleaned out. This then allowed us to weigh each bullet afterwards and gather the fragments
up after each firing This allowed for more complete retrieval than trying to pull the
fragments out of the gelatin blocks, shown here for comparison between the four bullet
types. You can see that the Accubond shed a substantial number of lead fragments compared
to the e-Tip, and while the Fusio fragmented less than the Accubond, it nonetheless lost
a lot of fragments along the bullet channel while the Triple-Shock showed a similar wound
channel, but without any fragmenting occurring. Here you can see the weight retention compared
between the five bullet types after being fired into the water jugs. The copper bullets
on the right of the graph retained greater than 98 percent of their original mass while
the bonded-core lead bullets only retained between 76 and 78 percent. The unbonded Core-Lokt
lead bullet was even worse with only 70 percent weight retention. Penetration results were
much better for the non-lead bullets as compared to the lead designs. If you look closely at
the following gel block, you will see the copper bullet strike the upper portion and
pass through completely on the left after expanding and passing 40 inches through the
ballistic gelatin and out the other side. By comparison, the lead bullets penetrated
between 19 and 29 inches. Based on these results, we decided to repeat the study and open it
up to local hunters to give them an opportunity to try non-lead bullets and compare them against
conventional lead bullets. At a local shooting range, we shot 180 grain Core-Lokt lead bullets
and Barnes Triple-Shock copper bullets into the same kind of bullet collection barrels
and ballistic gelatin blocks as we used before. [voices] Oh, there’s a little bit of copper
down there. Yeah, just a little bit, but not, uh… Oh, and there’s the, uh… They typically
retain about 98 percent. Look at that! Barely punctured that one but… Look at the bottom.
See all that? Wow. If that was a hog on the side, you shoot him right in the lungs, that’s
a lot of lead. And to think my grandson eats a wilt hog sausage and that… [Jim Petterson]
The ballistic gel results were similar to those obtained last time also. The first shot
into the gel is of a lead bullet, and the second of a copper bullet. This segment shows
the two bullet wound channels side by side for comparison. The lower channel shows the
lead fragments surrounding the bullets path while the upper channel is of the copper bullet
and as you can see, lacks the similar fragmentation. So why is fragmentation a concern? The following
photos are of x-rays from the study cited earlier that examined lead bullet fragmentation
in mule deer. The first photo shows the wound channel in the chest of a mule deer after
being shot with a Remington 7mm mag bullet. Notice the location of the 9mm carbon rod
inserted into the bullet path and the many lead fragments found as far as three inches
away from the wound channel. The lead fragments appear on the x-ray as opaque white shapes.
Any bone chips would be nearly invisible due to their much lower density. For instance,
notice that you can see right through the rib bones on the x-rays. The second photo
shows the gut pile, and again, how many bullet fragments remain behind. The last photo shows
an x-ray of a condor and the lead fragments found in the digestive system after the animal
was brought in for emergency treatment for lead poisoning. This is another x-ray of a
condor with lead poisoning that had been captured that shows the additional lead fragments in
the digestive tract. Notice in the close-up view that when you compare the shape and size
of these fragments, how similar thy are to the fragments in the deer x-rays. When crossections
are compared between the lead and non-lead designs, one can see why fragmentation is
not an issue with the non-lead bullets. Their all copper design means that because of the
hard metal, when the bullet impacts, the nose of the bullet peels back leaving a flower
petal shaped bullet intact that doesn’t come apart. Bullets made of much softer lead materials
erode away into little pieces under the tremendous forces present when a projectile traveling
at almost two times the speed of sound hits animal tissue. These results demonstrated
to us that while the bonded-core lead bullets showed less fragmentation than un-bonded designs,
they still fragment enough to be a hazard to both wildlife and humans consuming the
animals being shot. And as the x-rays of the deer showed, the tiny size of the lead fragments
and the large distance that they travel from the wound channel means that it would be impossible
to remove all the fragments while processing the deer, pig, or elk. Many of the fragments
were the size of pepper flakes or smaller. Being hunters ourselves and understanding
better now how lead rifle bullets fragment, the obvious next question we had was does
this lead end up in the meat after it was processed? A concerned long-time hunter in
North Dakota wondered the same thing after he became aware of the bullet fragmentation
data. This hunter also happened to be a medical doctor, giving him the opportunity to arrange
for the examination of ground venison packages using sophisticated medical imaging techniques
that permit a detailed look at internal body structures. He and a radiologist requested
10 packages of ground venison from the North Dakota State Food Bank program which receives
roughly seventeen thousand pounds of donated venison from generous hunters during the deer
season. The food bank randomly selected these 100 roughly one pound packages from three
food pantries in different cities, and gave them to the researchers who the put the packages
through a high definition CAT scanner and recorded what images resulted. They were shocked
to find out that 59 percent of the 100 packages contained metal fragments, most of the packages,
between three and nine pieces. Further examination of the packages by flouroscopy retrieval techniques
by a reputable lab in Iowa confirmed the composition of the fragments a s being lead. This three-dimensional
view shows a smaller twenty package sample that demonstrates how the fragments were dispersed
throughout the meat. In another view, you can see the CAT scanner take sequential five
millimeter slices through the packages going from top towards the bottom and again, notice
how the fragments pop into view as you move through the meat. Another study used lead
bullets in the legal harvest of white-tailed deer and took each of the deer to different
game processors and asked the processors to butcher the deer as they normally would and
give them back packages of steaks and ground venison. Packages of each were then randomly
sampled and x-rayed and it was found that 34 percent of the 324 randomly selected packages
of ground venison had lead fragments. Some packages had as many as 168 separate fragments.
Based on these investigations, other Mid West states also took a look at donated venison
to see how many contained lead. Minnesota found 25 percent of the packages they had
examined were contaminated with lead, while Iowa and Wisconsin found much smaller numbers
would be expected in states where the deer harvest is mostly by shotgun slugs which fragment
very little compared to centerfire rifle bullets. What remains to be determined is the degree
to which ingested lead fragments absorb into the bloodstream. While this has been studied
extensively for lead soil dust and lead paint chips, no studies have been conducted focusing
on lead rifle bullets because awareness of these potential threats is so recent. Studies
are currently being conducted by North Dakota and other states to better assess the risks
involved. The risks involved are beyond the demonstrated negative impacts of lead ingestion
on condors, eagles and other scavengers. Lead has been definitively identified as a toxic
substance which is why as a society we have removed it from water pipes, gasoline, and
paint. Lead is very well known to have harmful impacts of pregnant women and young children
which is why lead bullet fragmentation represents a human health risk also. Would you knowingly
sprinkle these lead flakes on the venison burgers you’re putting on the table for your
family? Being a hunter myself, I sure wouldn’t, and I don’t. Since we have non-lead alternatives
that are now available that are effective and accurate, why take the risk? By using
non-lead bullets, you can serve clean, healthy meat to your families. These tests are pretty
easy to repeat. We’d love to hear from anyone that goes out and does them on their own.
Contact us at the e-mail address or phone numbers which follow at the end of the video.
Thank you for watching.

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