Lead ammo’s days could be numbered


It may have been slow in coming, but change is in the air for hunters, shooters and even fishermen.

Not tomorrow and not next month but in the future lead-based ammunition will be in the spotlight as something that must change. Indeed lead is the culprit, the basic material in almost all current bullets, lead shot, and fishing tackle that sinks.

It’s been over thirty years since waterfowl hunters involuntarily switched from lead shot to steel and other kinds of “non-toxic” ammunition. Non-toxic being any material that if ingested or otherwise contacted does not harm wild fowl. The switch was traumatic because steel, and several other inventive shot materials to follow, had significantly different shooting characteristics.


Steel shot, which is still around and still popular with cost-conscious hunters, is much harder than lead, faster out of the barrel, and less effective at similar distances. Because steel is less dense that lead, it has less knockdown power at distance. Forty yards became the new 50 yards as the maximum effective range and waterfowlers learned very quickly that they simply could not shoot as far.

They also found out that older shotgun barrels and restrictive chokes could not handle steel, a much harder metal that played havoc with older shotguns. To protect barrels, manufacturers built shotgun ammunition with newly designed plastic wads that held pellets together in tighter patterns than lead loads. Hunters answered that problem with more open chokes that allowed the shot pattern to open sooner. And of course new shotguns helped ease the pain.

Similar change

It appears now that all ammunition containing lead bullets and pellets may be in for a similar changeover to non-toxic materials. Already, some states have posted certain waters and controlled public access areas as lead-free areas. Examples are lakes and rivers where lead sinkers are not allowed, and public hunting lands that are posted as lead-free for all hunting and shooting activities.

I’m not a chemist, nor did I do well in the high school class, so I’m not familiar with all of the elements. But I do know that lead is toxic to living creatures, wild or human. I also know that wildfowl hunters have adapted quite well to non-toxic ammunition. It took years for the griping to stop, but adapt they have.

While steel and more premium shotgun ammo, built around alloys and mixes of bismuth, tungsten, tin, and others, is doing the job for duck hunters, it will take a lot of new products to satisfy rifle and handgun shooters if and when change is regulated.
Oh, and black powder shooters are on the block too.

New products

New non-toxic shooting products are already being presented in anticipation of the inevitable. One to watch for is the ITX line of bullets, shotgun pellets, and muzzle loader balls. ITX claims that its products are very similar to lead in density and hardness but approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use.

Other manufacturers will add to their offerings as well. The use of lead shot, bullets, and fishing sinkers may never see change but don’t bet the farm on it.

Change will happen, but is likely that it will come in steps over time, not in an overwhelming swoop. That’s my guess.


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.


  1. I agree. I am an active shooter and have moved to lead-free and noticed a difference in how I feel when shooting indoor. Lead-free is the way to go.

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