The science of lead bullets and deer hunting

Thursday, November 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:19 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 12, 2009

The study: “Lead Bullet Fragments in Venison From Rifle-Killed Deer: Potential for Human Dietary Exposure” by researchers with The Peregrine Fund, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Washington State University and Boise State University.

Findings: This study, published in April, examined the carcasses of 30 white-tailed deer shot by hunters with lead-core, copper-jacketed bullets. Metal fragments were widely dispersed throughout the carcasses. After the carcasses were taken to meat processors, researchers still found metal fragments in 32 percent of the resulting ground meat packages; those packages came from 80 percent of the deer. Of the 27 metal fragments examined, 93 percent were identified as lead. Pigs that ate some of the venison containing metal fragments showed elevated concentrations of lead in their blood.

Conclusion: People who eat venison from deer killed with bullets containing lead — including 10 million hunters and their families, as well as people receiving donated venison — risk being exposed to lead from the fragments.

Call to action: The authors suggest hunters use lead-free copper bullets, which the authors say are "widely available" and "comparable to lead-based bullets" for hunting use, in order to reduce lead exposure and avoid having to discard potentially contaminated venison.

Find the study online:

More online: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Web site includes a multimedia presentation about a study of bullet fragmentation.

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