St. Paul – Lead fragments from some high-powered rifle
ammunition travel farther into deer than hunters may have assumed,
according to a DNR study released last week.
The study also showed that hunters can reduce the amount of lead
they might ingest by purchasing certain types of ammunition.
Copper bullets didn’t leave any lead, and fragmented little, as
did non-exposed lead-core bullets. Ballistic tip bullets had the
highest fragmentation rates (an average of 141 fragments per
carcass) and fragments were found as far as 14 inches away from the
Soft-point bullets left an average of 86 fragments (average
maximum distance of 11 inches from the wound channel), and bonded
lead-core bullets left an average of 82 fragments (average maximum
distance of 9 inches from the wound).
Shotgun slugs and bullets from muzzleloaders left far fewer lead
fragments than did ballistic tip, soft-point, and bonded lead-core
The study found that about 30 percent of the fragments were
within two inches of the exit wound, and researchers found low
levels of lead as far as 18 inches from the exit hole.
“Trimming around the hole isn’t going to get all the fragments,”
said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator. “These
fragments travel a lot farther than we thought they would.”
In conducting the study, the DNR examined 72 dead sheep that
were used as a surrogate for deer. Each sheep was shot once. The
study was the result of testing that showed that some of the
venison donated last year to food shelves had lead in it.
DNR officials say hunters will have to determine what the
results mean to them. Cornicelli, for his part, has shot ballistic
tip bullets for years, but switched to copper bullets this
He’s shot a couple of deer with copper bullets this year and was
satisfied with their performance.
“It’s a small sample size, but nothing went further than
straight down,” Cornicelli said.
The state Department of Health advises hunters to make a
decision based on their concern about lead exposure.
“We are still recommending that pregnant women and children
under 6 year old not consume venison that has been shot with lead
bullets,” said department spokesman Doug Schultz.
The DNR offered the following tips for hunters:
€ Enjoy the hunt. The study doesn’t suggest that hunters
shouldn’t go hunting.
€ Take exposure seriously, but note lead in venison hasn’t been
linked to any illnesses.
€ Shooting deer in the hind-quarters results in high levels and
widespread fragmentation of lead.
€ Trim liberally around the wound channel.
For more information, check dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/lead.
Changes to the state’s venison donation program – including that
only whole cuts can be donated and that processors must attend a
training session – appear to have reduced processor
Twenty-one processors attended one of the first two training
sessions, and another 14 were signed up for a session earlier this
week. That session was the last one scheduled for the year.
More than 70 participated last year.
If there are additional processors interested in the training,
more sessions could be added, said state Department of Agriculture
spokesman Mike Schommer.
Some of the information from the DNR study has been incorporated
into the training sessions, he said.
“The bottom line is that is useful information as we work with
the processors to make sure we are doing everything possible to
make sure we don’t have problems like this again.”