Lead Ammo Can Fragment

Hunting Regulations Icon Indiana Hunting


Lead ammunition, especially when fired from high-velocity rifles, may fragment into tiny pieces and spread throughout big game, such as deer. By comparison, shotgun and muzzle-loading ammunition produce far fewer lead fragments and travel shorter distances from the entry wound.

Such lead fragments cannot be completely removed during meat processing. In fact, some processing may result in higher lead exposures. For example, ground venison may have higher lead concentrations than whole muscle cuts. Cooking game meat that still contains lead particles may increase lead exposure even if particles are removed before eating.

Negative health effects of lead exposure are well documented in both humans and animals, and may affect multiple organ systems. Currently, there is no known safe lead exposure level for children, who are at higher risk while they grow and develop. Even low levels of lead in children, or in women who are pregnant, have been associated with decreased IQ, behavioral changes, hypertension, and learning disabilities. Older age groups also are at risk of the same non-lethal health effects; however, lead exposure from eating game meat may not affect adults, unless lead-tainted meat is eaten frequently.

Hunters concerned about personal and family lead exposure should consider the following advice:

  • When purchasing ammunition for deer hunting, especially rifle ammunition, choose a non-lead alternative such as copper or a copper alloy.
  • If you choose to purchase lead ammunition, select ammunition the manufacturer indicates has high mass retention after impact, such as bonded core bullets.
  • When processing your harvest, trim liberally around the wound channel to reduce exposure to lead fragments, and dispose of the carcass in a way that limits exposure to scavenging wildlife.
  • Shot placement determines the extent of lead fragmentation. When harvesting game, opt for a humane shot while avoiding dense muscle tissue and bone. Bullets entering the thoracic cavity (as in the typical behind-the-shoulder shot) tend to leave more fragments in the organ tissue and less in the muscle tissue.

Be aware that some processors co-mingle meat from multiple harvested deer when producing ground venison, so ground meat may contain lead even if your deer was harvested with non-lead ammunition.