President’s Message by Jim Vashro
Through a lot of hard work and luck, my family has basically lived on wild game for nearly 50 years. Other than an occasional beef steak for the grill, we eat deer, elk and antelope. We like the taste and health benefits of wild meat. That’s why an x-ray of lead bullet fragments in a deer, scattered well beyond the entrance hole and bloodshot meat, gave me pause. Standard bullets will commonly lose 30-40% of their lead on impact. Lead is nasty stuff, causes kidney and brain damage, weakness, and memory loss. I figure I need all the brain cells I have at this point. Initial tests didn’t show hunters to have higher lead levels but a follow-up study did show increased lead levels after eating hunter-killed venison but the levels subsided over time. Lead has been banned from gasoline, paint and plumbing and, of course, waterfowl ammo. I don’t reload, for many years I shot common factory ammo. Hoping for better accuracy and performance, I switched to premium ammunition. It costs about 50% more but accuracy did improve. After seeing the x-rays, I tested non-lead (copper) ammunition. My Savage can get fussy about what it is fed, the first brand didn’t group well. But the second brand, Wow! I was shooting MOA groups. Even more impressive was performance. On a quartering shot on a cow elk, the bullet busted ribs going in, drove through the lungs and far shoulder and was under the hide on the far side. The cow made a few wobbly steps and collapsed. The 180 grain recovered slug had mushroomed perfectly and weighed 179.6 grains. 99.8% retention. A similar angled shot with a 20 gauge 240 grain slug on a whitetail buck yielded the same results. And that 20 gauge slug gun shoots 2” groups at 100 yards with copper sabots. All my other shots on 20-30 animals have been pass through. An interesting thought is that copper bullets need speed to mushroom. Since copper bullets penetrate well with retained weight, it is possible to shoot a lighter bullet (150 gr. or 165 gr. vs 180 gr. 30 caliber bullet) for more speed and a flatter trajectory while still getting great penetration.
There are other positive points. Local bird rehabilitators Kari Gabriel and Beth Watne have taken in sick raptors with lead poisoning from bullet fragments, presumably from scavenging carcasses. California and some refuges have now banned the use of lead-based ammunition for big game hunting. And, of course, starting in the early 1990s, lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting. Duck hunters had to adapt but have found steel and other options to be lethal when used correctly.
Downsides? Copper ammunition isn’t stocked everywhere. You’re not going to find it in a gas station in eastern Montana so you have to buy ahead. It’s about the same price as other premium ammunition, sales and rebates can help. More ammo manufacturers are adding copper bullets to their line-up, watch for prices to fall and availability to increase as happened with waterfowl ammo. Shooters also complain about increased copper fouling and a loss of accuracy. When you think about it, all rifle ammo is copper clad and produces copper fouling. Some claim that jacketed bullets add about 5% tin, reducing fouling but that isn’t much. Good old Hoppes No. 9 is good for removing powder residue and crud but it takes a lot of brushing and soaking to really get any copper fouling out. Better to use a different solvent specifically made to remove copper. I should probably clean my rifles better anyway.
The previous statements are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.