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Study: Lead Bullets Result in Lead in Venison

October 20, 2008.

For a while now, studies have been revealing what should seem obvious: when lead bullets fragment as they pass through an animal, they leave lead fragments behind. Some of this lead ends up in our venison.

As a result of an analysis that showed lead fragments in hunter-shot venison in midwestern food banks last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conducted a study to systematically analyze the extent to which lead fragments are left behind by bullets passing through animals.

The Minnesota study was conducted by shooting sheep carcasses with high-power centerfire rifles, muzzleloaders, and shotguns with slugs.

The results:

  • Yes, lead bullets fragment and leave lead behind.
  • Slow-moving shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets leave behind less lead than fast-moving high-power rifle bullets.
  • Controlled-expansion lead bullets do not leave behind significantly less lead than rapid-expansion bullets.
  • Copper bullets do not leave behind lead fragments.

Key recommendations from the study:

  • Choose non-lead bullets to eliminate lead contamination.
  • Because lead fragments are found much further from the wound channel than expected, it is impossible to recommend a safe distance from the wound channel to trim.
  • Lead fragments in venison will likely be too small to see, feel, or detect when chewing.
  • Children six and younger and pregnant women should not consume venison harvested with lead bullets.
  • Ground meat is likely to have more lead.

The Center for Disease Control is currently conducting a study to examine the long-term effects of eating potentially lead-contaminated venison. Hunt The West will post an update when results from the CDC study are available.

For more information:

For more information on unleaded bullets:

  • Article on the Barnes series of copper bullets.
  • Information on the Nosler E-Tip
  • Check out Cabelas, in particular the Federal Premium line of ammo.


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