deer hunting
Nick Leghorn for TTAG
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By Elizabeth McGuigan

It’s hunting season and that means it’s also time for the pseudo-science cautionary news articles claiming traditional ammunition is a health threat. Don’t believe them.

A recent piece in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology describes an analysis of metal fragments in game meat. This weak research report is clearly part of an ongoing effort to reject the CDC’s blood lead level thresholds and assert that there is no non-dangerous level for humans.

Despite hundreds of years of evidence that it is safe to consume game meat taken with traditional ammunition that contains lead components, anti-hunting groups argue that the potential for metal fragments to remain in game meat poses a threat to humans.

The analysis published in the Bulletin is thin at best. The authors used a very small sample of only 10 deer. And, while the research assumes that “the number of deer being sampled was equal to the number of deer submitted by the hunters for processing,” there is no evidence to support this extrapolation.

Winchester 350 Legend
350 legend ammunition (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study of blood lead levels in North Dakota hunters validates what hunters have always known: consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition containing lead does not pose a human health risk.

  • The average lead level of the hunters tested was actually lower than the blood lead level of the average American, including non-hunters.
  • The average lead level of children in the study was only .88 micrograms per deciliter of blood; the CDC’s level of concern for lead in children is 10 — more than 10 times the amount found!
  • The difference between participants who ate wild game harvested with traditional ammunition and non-hunters was only .3 micrograms — a clinically insignificant number.


The study involved radiograph imaging of their game samples to find “potential metal fragments” based purely on appearance. This technique is fraught with error, as the imaging cannot reveal what the potential fragments actually are. Rather than metal, they may have been bone fragments. The notion that tiny pieces of lead can disperse widely through dense flesh is dubious at best.

Even with the small sample, and the flawed use of imaging, the results show that most of the packets did not contain suspected fragments. According to the report, “Thirteen of the 27 ground venison packets (48%) from shotgun-harvested deer contained at least one metal fragment…In packets from shotgun-killed deer that contained metal fragments, the number of fragments ranged from 1 to 3,” again not showing a vast disbursement of fragments.

Fact or Fake news

Further eroding the methodology, the authors note that, “Due to budgetary limitations, not all suspected particles could be analyzed. Seven suspected metal fragments from six packets were chosen for chemical analysis because they originated from a single deer via a single commercial processor.” This means that out of the 10 deer the samples came from, only samples for one single deer from one processor was tested to see whether it was lead.

Shifting Standards

When this small sample was tested, the report found, “The elements copper, manganese and lead were below detection in 93.9%, 10.2% and 79.6% of the analytical subsamples, respectively. At least one subsample from each sample had a detectable quantity of lead.” These underwhelming results are far from a persuasive argument against the use of traditional ammunition.

The authors seem to agree, stating that “An average serving selected randomly from any one of our packets (shotgun-harvested, commercial processor) would be predicted to have lead concentrations within the range from BD to 8.42 μg g−1, or a dose from~0.00 to 4.4 mg of lead in one serving.” Despite the small, cherry-picked sample from a single deer and processor, the analysis still found that a serving of meat from that deer could have a dose of 0.00 mg of lead.

ar-15 deer hunting
Liberte Austin for TTAG

In the authors’ discussion of other literature on this topic, they note that there are studies that have found even less lead exposure from game meat. The authors argue against averaging lead concentrations across an entire animal, as other researchers have done, although that “may be a statistically more rigorous measurement of lead concentrations…” They argue that their less rigorous measurements better estimate the actual ingesting of one or more fragments.

It is easy to dismiss such thin research in an academic setting. But unfortunately, the study made it into the news, further promoting the flawed results. In the news article, the authors equivocate metallic lead shot with other sources of lead such as paint chips, without any mention of the fact that metallic lead is not as easily absorbed by the body.

At the very least, the researcher quoted acknowledges that he does not know how much of these fragments would actually be absorbed by adults. Although, he inexplicably leaps to an argument that children would “take up about half the lead they ingest into their body” with no research cited in the article or in the study itself for that assertion.

NSSF encourages the media and hunters to carefully read studies that attempt to disparage the consumption of game taken with traditional ammunition. For more information about valid research on this topic, see a review online here.

Hunters, while evaluating studies, should also follow sound field dressing practices, including trimming around the would channel, to reduce potential exposure.


Elizabeth McGuigan is Director of Legislative and Policy Research at the National Shooting Sports Foundation. 

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  1. The ONE study used to ban lead from waterfowl use was scientifically pathetic.

    It was theater to limit lead in ammunition. Pure and simple.

    It has used as a benchmark to ban lead ammunition for other game on some other government land.

    Not really science when it has an agenda.

    • Science always has an agenda. But the agenda is to do your level best to DISprove your own position. When you try and fail to do so, then you get to say you’re right (to the best of your knowledge.)

      Political agendas like this one, however, are about making anyone who opposes you look bad. Being right is not a requirement. In fact, it’s often a deteiment. Most people would rather be lied to than to admit they were wrong.

    • “Not really science when it has an agenda.”

      Wonder about the science of Marxist Leftardism,if it’s on their agenda they push it whether it’s scientific or not, by any means necessary push the agenda.

    • There were (and are) a LOT of studies on lead and waterfowl. The issues isn’t shooting them, the issue is the lead shot that ends up in ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands that fish end up consuming and birds and people then end up consuming the fish that have significantly elevated levels of lead in them. Same reason why the EPA guidelines for shooting ranges absolutely ban them in wetlands areas, especially shotgun ranges.

      Lead consumption from shot game on the other hand has a lot of studies supporting it is perfectly safe. Don’t be an idiot and eat blood shot meat from a game animal. Spit out any bbs you encounter from birds/animals shot with a shotgun. You are good to go.

    • Similar studies are being promoted to claim that bald eagles ingesting deer carcasses that were wounded but not found are dying from eating lead in the carcass meat. About all anyone has to do is look around to dismiss this brilliance: there are now an abundance of eagles nation-wide today. When I was a kid in the 1960s we’d drive miles to perhaps catch a glimpse of an eagle in the dead of winter over the open water of the dams on the Mississippi. Today I have a nest 20 feet from my summer cabin door in MN.

      If such lead would be harmful to eagles, I have to believe it’d be likewise for crows and trukey vultures which now are seen in numbers around here like never before. Vultures and crow all over Des Moines, never 35 years back.

      Crazy stuff, but “science” is saving us from the Chinese virus, so hey- better get on board and lockdown the hunting. Don’t know what the various state and national DNR-type organizations are going to do about all the lead in the earth that’s naturally-occurring.

  2. Up until the early 20th century, all game was taken with lead projectiles. 100% of those hunters are dead. Therefore, they all died from lead ingestion. Because… science!

  3. another of the brain meltingly awful certs required for my job. lead exposure from skin contact and inhalation are the primary dangers. i can chew all the .44mag slugs i want. bite the bullet!
    jeremy s. should asemble a pink pork sword for miss liberte.

    • “jeremy s. should asemble a pink pork sword for miss liberte.”

      Are you implying that he use the one he was born with? 😉

      Gotta say, I miss the posts by Ms. Liberte Austin. They really brought out the haters…

  4. All the proof I need that “game meat” does a body GOOD is covered in this vid….
    S Twain grew up eating NOTHING but the stuff, even beaver.
    Funny, I don’t see anyone who looks as good as that walking out of a McDonald’s or Church’s Chicken. They may want to focus their studies on fast food a little bit more.
    Trump/Pence 2020

    • I understand that beaver is low in calories, beaver is high in protein, and beaver is warm, tender and juicy………….. what were we talking about again? My train f thought completely derailed there. 😉

    • Hahaha. Why did I know the discussion was going to drift there as I typed “beaver”. 😀
      Trump/Pence 2020

      • “ward…”
        thankyou for my newfound awareness of the walther p5, sig p6, and hk p7- i never knew that was a nationalistic progression.

        • No problem.
          The design and quality of German handguns from that era is incredible.
          A few in my collection came with test targets showing sub-1″ 5rd groups @25 meters (fired by hand off a bench pad).
          Trump/Pence 2020

      • Brother in law fed his dogs almost exclusively on beaver for years. I’ve never seen bigger, healthier, stronger, more fit dogs than those German Shepards.

  5. Traditional ammunition is a health threat to deer, waterfowl, upland game birds, coyotes and a host of other animals, but only when it enters their bodies at 2000 fps.

  6. It matters not that lead is a threat. The threat as perceived by these beta marxists is that people who hunt don’t need government assistance. It’s long past time for a reminder of why the 2A was worded the way it was.

    • We’d all be vegans if they had it their way. and then a hundred years in the future there’d be cries about killing plants and how it’s inhumane to harvest certain times of the year and certain ways.

      There is no pleasing these assholes

  7. From my own experience – I’ve seen deer hams blown to smithereens when the bullet tumbled and splintered. Only an idiot would eat the mess left behind. The best shots pass through the chest cavity , destroying heart and lung, often times not fragmenting much. My conclusion is, anyone who dies of lead poisoning due to game meat probably would have died soon anyway. Darwin spoke on the subject of ‘survival of the fittest’.

  8. ‘Scientific’ Study= Unproven BS Study!

    Animals were put here for Human Use as we have dominion over all…

    Only Libtards think animals are better than humans…….wait animals are better than Libtards…..1000%.

  9. Lead in the diet of hunter/wild game eaters was found to be lower than city slickers something like ten years ago. think it was done in Minnesota.

  10. I will put 600 years of meat-hunters over the basement dreams of some dope-smoking mama’s boys pipe dreams of a study he coppied from some manuscript from gore’s he can get one more semester of funds from daddy..

  11. A couple of weeks ago I helped a buddy, who drew a moose tag, harvest a fine bull. As I’m typing this I’m munching on a couple of jalapeño – cheese – moose peppersticks…absolutely delish!! Tomorrow morning Mama and I are having moose breakfast sausage with eggs and toast. He took the moose with one well-placed round from a .300 WM (from 120 yards) about 500 yards from our camp (seriously good luck). Perfect mushroom on the bullet with no fragments left in the animal. Five hours later we were back home and the moose was off to the processors early the next morning.

    Maybe next year it’ll be my turn to draw a moose tag…*sigh*

      • In Montana, for every year that you don’t draw a tag, you accrue points that, supposedly, give you an advantage in future draws…with my luck, I may be too old and decrepit when they finally draw my name…ah, it is what it is.

        A two pound package of ground moose is thawing out for burgers on Sunday.

        The only way this moose could taste better is if he was MINE.

  12. I feel left out. I have use an aluminum tube and some razor blades to kill the last few deer i have taken. Maybe they will start crying about aluminum poisoning now.

    • Start? They’ve been promoting conspiracy theories for years that Aluminum causes all kinds of disease and death when ingested or even applied externally as deodorant.

  13. Really, these people obviously very little to do with their free time. They are worried about lead in bullets?, all the while every vehicle in America is flinging lead wheel balance weights into every road shoulder and ditch in the country. And now with aluminum wheels on every new vehicle, the stick on wheel weights don’t hold very well and come off even easier then the older style crimp weights. But hey, why worry about an issue millions of times more important then lead bird shot or bullets. Cant fix stupid.

  14. Generally speaking the bullet path is discarded cuz’ it’s a mess of hair, possibly bone chips, crap like that.

    Be it cottontails or whitetails, there’s quite a lot more there to be eating other than the wound channel.

    And most folks pick any bullet fragments out of their food, they don’t cook it or eat it.

  15. I have an uncle in his 60s who eats wild game & fish exclusively, no other kinds of meat. This includes approximately 120 whitetails over the years, 2/3 of which died by some form of lead. His doc insists on testing him for lead every few years (was a pipe fitter), and the doc doesn’t understand why they’ve never found enough to be concerned about.

    Just clean the meat well.

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