WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT LEAD FREE AMMUNITION?
With all the innovation in the industry and a recent push for reduced lead exposure to consumers, it begs the question why is reducing lead so important all of the sudden and why would anyone want lead free ammunition anyways?
NOTE: this is not an article about why we don’t shoot lead pellets out of our shotguns in watershed or marshland areas, or in pursuit of waterfowl, there are clear reasons why that makes sense, and most shooters/hunters have no issue with that from a health and a conservation perspective.
Recently the state of California initiated phase 2 of their lead-free hunting regulations, whereby all game hunting had to eliminate lead-based ammunition from the hunting equation. Previously it had been in specific areas only or was in a phase-in schedule for hunters.
At ranges all throughout the United States, lead based ammunition has long been under scrutiny, though many shooters point the finger at “cheap range owners” looking to minimize their maintenance costs, or profit from selling range specific ammunition. Some of that is true, but largely, you see the industry moving towards lead free ammunition for niche specialties.
Specifically, you have probably seen a push towards a lead-free primer option. You have seen fully enclosed bases on FMJ cartridge builds and you have seen a decided push towards all-copper bullet technology. Let’s explore each of these three topics and the facts that surround them.
Lead free primers are used for a couple of reasons, but the intent seems mostly straightforward and honest. The primer can be a legitimate source of hot, vaporized lead particles. In an enclosed environment that extra lead can be a hazard in the right quantities.
“But there is no history of anyone getting lead poisoning from airborne lead as a shooter” you say.
And this is, by no means a public service announcement of a lobbyist proposal, but there truly have been no long-term studies by qualified teams, to study the effect of lead exposure for high volume shooters.
Note: shooting sports have been popular for more than a century in some form or another, but the ballooning rate high volume shooters has been growing exponentially only for the past decade or two.
Some might wonder: “Is there a legitimate risk from airborne lead particulate to shooters, like what we saw with second hand smoke, before we knew that was a thing?”
Lead free primers are a compromise many of us can make, at least for range shooting or volume practice, where we don’t mind an occasional primer hit issue.
Certainly, industry experts wouldn’t advocate for a wholesale swap, even for duty and personal protection ammunition if we couldn’t see a substantially similar low failure rate with leadless variants.
Fully Enclosed Base Projectiles
For the same reason that lead-free primers are a thing, fully enclosed base projectiles are a thing. They offer a 0% chance that hot gases and burning powder could contact the lead core/base of a projectile and then vaporize some lead for the shooter or nearby shooters to breathe in.
The methodology is sound. Why we have these designs is up for debate. Some might say it’s “politicians trying to regulate us to death”, others might say: “we know the dangers of lead, and if I can reduce that danger so that I can enjoy my favorite hobby/sport longer, then I can handle shooting FEB (fully enclosed base) ammunition”.
As for now, we may not have a choice, regulations are popping up in jurisdictions everywhere. It may be a range standard practice at only a few ranges you know of, but it will grow, especially as we see new regulations passed to support the type of environment at the shooting range that this trend is promoting.
All copper bullets on the other hand can claim to have a legitimate performance-based claim to their existence. It is not so much about doing away with lead, as it is an improvement on performance metrics for certain use cases.
Benefits of all-copper bullets:
· Better weight retention, lack of projectile mass shedding
· Faster velocities
· Harder material with better penetration (in most cases)
· Reduction in fouling
There is a lot more to this story and you can read some of it at by seeing our article about All-Copper-Bullets
Lead is not a throwaway though, now that we have made a real push towards copper projectiles for certain applications. Lead is malleable, which gives it very desirable qualities for a bullet material. Lead is cheap. Lead is familiar and it makes sense on many levels.
Going from a billion rounds produced on average (or more) for the top 8 manufacturers per year, from lead to copper, would change the economy of shooting exponentially. It would not be a sustainable transition at this point. Not only would costs go up for consumers, it may significantly affect revenue for several of the major makers to procure materials. It would simultaneously cause major issues in the industrial copper industry.
From a conservation and a health perspective, less lead makes a lot of sense. We don’t want lead in our fresh waterways; we don’t want dead animals because of lead contamination. Similarly, we don’t want to see unnecessary regulations just for the sake of regulation. What we need to do is recognize the importance of lead for where it makes sense now, but to also recognize the ability for other materials to shine in specific use cases.
The enhanced or improved environment in a shooting range situation just makes sense, as long as there is not a massive price increase or no chance for buy-in from the shooters themselves.
- Benjamin Worthen