Lead Ban Chronicles – And Now It Is Complete. AB711 Is Law.
October 14, 2013
It’s all over but the crying (and lord knows there’s plenty of that). California Governor Brown signed Ab711 into law last week, and with the 2019 hunting seasons, lead ammunition will be illegal for hunting in the Golden State.
It’s not a good thing.
Let’s reiterate what I’ve been reiterating for a long time now. AB711 will not provide any valid conservation or environmental benefit in California. The health risk to humans is extremely minute (and debatable), and has always been limited to hunters and those who eat wild game meat killed by hunters. AB711 provides absolutely zero protection to the general public… because there was never any risk to the general public in the first place.
What this law will do is increase the burden on California hunters by generally increasing the cost of the hunt, as well as creating a real challenge for many hunters to find useable ammunition.
Nevertheless, it’s law now.
So it’s not a good thing, but it’s not the end of the world. There are, rightfully, a lot of angry hunters right now. The rhetoric is pretty negative, and I think that’s to be expected. I’m hearing a constant litany of “oh, this is the end of hunting in California!”
But once the dust settles a bit, I’m fairly certain that we’re not going to see a massive rate of attrition among CA hunters. Hunters love hunting, and the majority of us will do what it takes to keep pursuing the sport… even if that means adjusting the ammo budget or even retiring Grandpa’s old carbine.
I remember the uproar in the 80s when lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting. I remember using some of that early ammunition, and how lousy it could be. But we learned to adapt. The industry improved their offerings. We upped our shot size, adjusted for the faster loads, cut back on the long shots, and waterfowl hunting continued… especially as the populations rebounded. Yes, it still costs more than lead. Yes, older guns can’t handle steel and must shoot Bismuth or Hevi-shot Classic (which are both extremely expensive). But the droves of hunters never left the sport, and waterfowling is alive and quite well.
Now we’re going to have to make similar adjustments for the rest of our hunting. We’ll need to budget more for ammunition, re-zero our rifles (lead free generally does not shoot to the same point of aim as your lead bullets), change our preferred bullet weight (Barnes recommends a 15 grain drop from your lead…e.g. go from 180gr to 165), and possibly learn to handload. We’ll probably alter our range protocol, shooting lead ammo for trigger control and muscle memory, and shooting our hunting ammo to zero and maintain accuracy… because, face it, who can afford to shoot 20 or 50 rounds at the price of copper ammo?
We’re also going to have to get past the anti-copper mythology.
Copper doesn’t fragment like some lead bullets, and it generally passes clean through…even when it hits heavy bones. That’s a given. But the argument that it passes through without adequate terminal effect is largely unfounded. The horror stories of pinhole exits and no blood trail are mostly based on the old, monolithic Barnes X (which has evolved nicely), or they’re re-tellings of someone’s adulterated, second-hand experience that can usually be traced back to a poorly placed bullet. These stories most commonly revolve around wild hogs, which are notorious for poor blood trails no matter what bullet is used.
In my experience, which is modestly extensive, the terminal performance of copper bullets has been completely and consistently proven on both large and small game. I have personally hunted with lead free ammo in .17hmr (excellent), .22lr (poor), .22wmr (excellent), .223 (good), .243 (excellent), .270 (excellent), .308 (very good), 30-06 (excellent), and .325wsm (awesome)… as well as the .44 mag revolver (very good). With that range of ammo and caliber, I’ve taken pretty much every thing from squirrels and rabbits to hogs and exotics. I’ve also guided or accompanied dozens of other hunters who have used lead-free bullets in many other calibers. What I saw was pretty convincing… that almost any game shot well, at reasonable range for the caliber, went down quickly and cleanly. I disassembled a majority of these animals, and while I’m not a doctor or wildlife biologist, there wasn’t much doubt about terminal performance when I looked inside those body cavities. In the relatively few cases where I’ve had to pursue blood trails, they have been sufficient to find the animal.
Are there exceptions? There are always exceptions. The same is true for any bullet material from any manufacturer. I’ve seen a .30 caliber, 180gr Speer boat tail deflect off an elk rib and trace the rib cage under the skin all the way around to the shoulder. I saw a 140gr Nosler Partition in 7mm Remington Magnum deflect off of a 150lb boar’s skull at less than 100 yards. My brother shot a whitetail doe with a 180gr Sierra Game King and had the bullet enter and exit on the same side. Ejecting a relatively tiny piece of metal at nearly Mach3 is bound to result in occasional anomalies.
When it comes to positive results with lead-free ammo, the only real exception is the .22lr. Unfortunately, it is apparently a steep challenge to develop an affordable, lead-free bullet that provides consistent accuracy and terminal performance for this cartridge. I’ve shot hundreds of rounds of both CCI and Winchester .22lr, lead free at small game as well as targets, and the experience has been pretty disappointing. I’m also finding that the lead-free ammo doesn’t cycle in either of my semi-automatics (Marlin 60 and Walther P-22). I’m hoping that Winchester and CCI are on top of these issues, and will soon have a new .22lr round available.
The only area in which I don’t have experience, and where I think there are justifiable concerns, is with lead-free shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets. The ballistics available for both shotguns and modern muzzleloaders have enabled these traditionally short-range firearms to reach way out past the old limitations. In general, I find this troubling for a few reasons. It just stands to reason that a large, hard projectile moving at relatively low velocity isn’t going to expand particularly well. Again, though, I believe this applies as much to lead as to copper. On top of this, the further away the animal when you shoot it, the more difficult it will be to pick up a trail. I have shot deer inside of 50 yards with a .50 caliber muzzleloader bullet (lead), and watched them run off as if unharmed without leaving a drop of blood to trail them by. It just makes sense that the odds of this increase with distance. It also makes sense that copper, since it is harder than lead, will also increase the odds of seeing this type of performance.
I don’t have the perfect solution, except to suggest that you ignore the marketing hype and keep your shotgun or muzzleloader shots to more traditional distances… usually inside 100 yards. Make sure your gun is accurate with the loads you’ll use (don’t just stick some slugs in your bird gun and expect MOA accuracy), and then practice enough to maintain mastery, so that when you do get that shot, you make it good.
Regardless of these challenges, the lead ban is the law. Or, more accurately, it will be the law. The CA Fish and Wildlife Commission have until July 1, 2015 to develop an implementation plan, and until July 1, 2019 to fully roll out the regulations. What this means, or should mean, to CA hunters is that you have time to lobby for a plan that will address real concerns and challenges. And you should definitely be doing that… inundating the Fish and Game Commission with emails and calls to make sure that the plan they implement is workable.
One of the first areas of concern that would be in my mind, if I were still a CA resident, is the strong likelihood that certain ammunition will not be available by the 2019 deadline. This would include obscure or archaic calibers, as well as things like smoothbore slugs. It should also include viable offerings for the .22lr. Five years is a good bit of time for the industry to adjust, and there are some pretty smart folks who visit this blog and feel that the industry, once forced, will adjust in time. And I’m sure that there’s truth to their arguments. But I still have strong doubts that all the gaps will be filled. In fact, I’m reasonably certain that some ammo won’t be available at all… at least not from the major manufacturers. It just doesn’t make sense that they’re going to go through the process of loading certain cartridges for calibers that account for a tiny fraction of overall sales.
There was an exception drafted into the law that allowed for firearms that had no commercially available, lead-free ammo. Unfortunately, by the time the final bill was passed, this exception had been narrowed down to account only for the possibility (ridiculously unlikely) that the BATF would find lead-free bullets “armor piercing”, and thus ban them from the marketplace. Here’s the language from the bill that Governor Brown signed:
(j) (1) The prohibition in subdivision (b) shall be temporarily suspended for a specific hunting season and caliber upon a finding by the director that nonlead ammunition of a specific caliber is not commercially available from any manufacturer because of federal prohibitions relating to armor-piercing ammunition pursuant to Chapter 44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States Code.
CA hunters should be pushing hard to get this revised, or at least clarified, so that it addresses any case where factory loaded, non-lead ammunition is unavailable. Barnes may manufacture any number of odd-sized bullets, but it shouldn’t be enough to simply have the components. It’s one thing to force someone to switch ammunition. It’s another thing altogether to require them to take up handloading.
Another section/subsection in the law has been there since the original in 2007, and calls on the State to provide support in the way of vouchers or coupons for lead-free ammunition “if funding is available.”
(d) (1) To the extent that funding is available, the commission shall establish a process that will provide hunters with nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge. The process shall provide that the offer for nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge may be redeemed through a coupon sent to a permitholder with the appropriate permit tag. If available funding is not sufficient to provide nonlead ammunition at no charge, the commission shall set the value of the reduced charge coupon at the maximum value possible through available funding, up to the average cost within this state for nonlead ammunition, as determined by the commission.
(2) The nonlead ammunition coupon program described in paragraph (1) shall be implemented only to the extent that sufficient funding, as determined by the Department of Finance, is obtained from local, federal, public, or other nonstate sources in order to implement the program.
Of course, we all know that funding was never available and this was never implemented under the original Ridley-Tree Condor Act, but it is part of the law. Since the law is now statewide and impacts all CA hunters, I believe there’s justification to push for some version of this program, at least in need-based cases where the cost of lead-free ammo is prohibitive. The State should be on the hook to encourage adoption of the new law through non-punitive methods. Otherwise, I know for a fact that there are hunters out there who won’t drop $50 for a box of bullets when they can take the chance (a good chance) of getting away with just using that $12 box of lead.
Which brings up a third critical concern… enforcement.
Do you know how the wardens check your ammunition right now? They look at the box, if you have it, and if not, and if it’s not obviously lead (e.g. exposed soft point), they ask you if it’s lead-free. They might have a photo guide to go by if they’re diligent. Some manufacturers of tipped bullets use color-coded tips to designate the bullet type. But there’s no metal test, either in the field or the lab. And unlike the wardens who check your shotshells at the refuge, they can’t check it with a magnet. In other words, it isn’t that hard to get away with using the wrong ammo. I’m not saying this to encourage disobedience, but to point out just how toothless this legislation is.
To make it even less effective, the odds of getting field checked in most parts of California are practically nil. With around 200 law enforcement officers to cover about 164,000 square miles (not including coastal waters), CA is woefully understaffed to police the state’s hunters down to the individual bullet.
So how does CA plan to fairly enforce the lead ban?
There are a lot of questions and challenges here, and hunters should be pushing for answers sooner, rather than later. Not only should you be pushing the agencies, you should also be beating down the doors of your hunting and gun rights advocacy organizations to support your positions. The only way to be heard is to have an organized and coordinated front with logical, fact-based arguments. And it may take legal action, which is where you’ll need the strength and funding of the organizations that claim to support your interests.
Or you can sit on your asses, bicker amongst yourselves, and take what you get. That appears to have worked so well for CA hunters in the past.
(And I recognize as I write this strongly worded admonition, that I’m probably fortunate to have five CA hunters actually reading this blog. Ah, well…)
So moving on… I expect that there are some folks out there who find themselves wondering what to do about selecting lead-free ammo. For whatever reason, you never thought this law would pass and find yourself hopelessly hooked on your PowerPoints, Core-Lokt, or Partitions. I can offer some thoughts, based on my experience with a few of the main options out there. But after you read this, I strongly suggest you get out and try these for yourself. Every gun is different, and nowhere have I found more truth in this than with copper ammo.
Oh, and these reviews are of bullets and ammo with which I am directly familiar. There’s a bunch of stuff out there I haven’t used, particularly varmint and predator bullets. I also haven’t reviewed any lead-free shotgun slugs (yet). As far as lead-free shot, that’s a big topic and one that I’m not ready to approach since I don’t do enough bird hunting to have formed much of an opinion.
Keep reading if you want to see some bullet recommendations and personal experiences.
Probably the oldest U.S. brand in lead-free ammo, Barnes offers the widest variety of bullets. However, until fairly recently, they didn’t offer factory loaded cartridges. Their bullets have traditionally been loaded by other manufacturers, such as Cor-Bon and Federal. A couple of years back, though, Barnes started manufacturing their Vor-TX line of cartridges. I’ve had the opportunity to use their Vor-TX 30-06 and their .44mag loads at the range with excellent results, but have not used them on game yet.
On the other hand, I’ve had a significant amount of experience with their TSX bullets, both handloaded for my .325wsm and 30-06, and factory loaded for the .270 and .243. I’ve also had friends and clients who’ve used other calibers, as well as the TTSX (Tipped TSX), and I’ve shared in their experiences.
The Barnes TSX in a nutshell, is a deadly bullet under most circumstances. While it consistently delivers through-and-through penetration, the bullet generally expands to almost double its diameter on the way through. This means that even a little six millimeter will expand to nearly a half inch on exit. The bullet also delivers a significant wound channel, particularly inside the chest cavity. The animals I’ve taken apart after the use of this bullet are definitely dead, which is what you want before you start the disassembly process. Lungs are generally turned to mush, and a heart-shot is devastating.
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned “most circumstances”. Here’s where experience may vary slightly from theory, but I have found a couple of key limitations in my own experience. First of all, I have two .270s, a Remington 710 and a Browning A-Bolt, and neither of these rifles have performed well with Barnes TSX from any manufacturer (Federal, Cor-Bon, Black Hills Gold). I’ve heard from other hunters that they’ve experienced the same problem. My own research and hypothesizing has led me to the assumption that this problem is consistent enough to be mentioned as a caveat to anyone looking for lead-free .270 ammo. I would try the TSX, but I wouldn’t make it my first choice. More on that in a bit.
Something else that I have heard, but have only seen once, is that the TSX may tend to “shed petals” at higher velocities (over 3000fps). The way the bullet is designed, the hollow point will peel back into four petals as it penetrates. These increase tissue damage and provide additional shock as they go through the wound channel. However, if the petals shear off, you are left only with the solid bullet base. When this happens, you get the dreaded “pencil hole” exit wound. If the petals shear off too soon after entry, you don’t get much of a wound channel and limited shock to the vital organs… and all of this can mean a long, frustrating tracking job.
Now I’m not a ballistics expert, and I won’t pretend to state this as incontrovertible fact, but it seems consistent with what I’ve only seen once, but heard many times from sources I consider reliable. It makes enough sense to me, though, that if I’m recommending a lead-free bullet to someone who shoots one of the super-speedy calibers, I don’t recommend the TSX. I understand that the TTSX may have addressed some of this, and the performance I’ve seen certainly shows that it’s a deadly bullet, but since there are options, I prefer to go with them. That’s personal opinion, by the way, not ballistic expertise.
So with the TSX, I’ve seen or experienced very good results in .243 (accuracy could be a little better), 7mm-08 (including one impressive performance on a hog at 240 yards… total firehose effect) .308, .300 winmag, 30-06, and .325wsm. I can’t recall all of the other calibers I’ve seen used over the years, but the only times I know of issues have been with the .270 and with a friend’s 25-06.
When the lead ban began to look imminent in 2006 or so, I started loading the Barnes DPX for my .44 magnum revolver. I’m no great shakes with a handgun, so I can’t speak much for the groups or consistent accuracy of this load, but when I practice, I shoot it well enough that I’m comfortable hunting at short range (if I stay in practice, I can consistently hit vitals at about 40 yards). I’ve since killed two hogs with this gun and load, and was very pleased with the results. Prior to using Barnes, I loaded this gun with Partitions. While the Partition definitely killed the one hog and one buck I shot with it, it didn’t pass all the way through either animal. I also used it to finish a couple of hogs at coup de grace range, and the bullet stayed inside the animal. The Barnes blew clean through, even on a head shot. I didn’t need a blood trail, but it was there if I had.
There aren’t many other alternatives for lead-free handgun hunting bullets at this time.
Handloading (I am no handloading expert, and I will not share my recipes so don’t ask… I don’t need the liability.):
I strongly recommend getting the Barnes Reloading Manual if you’re going to load these bullets. They’re not the same as loading for lead, and unsafe conditions can crop up if you don’t do things right.
The TSX and TTSX can be a little tricky to handload due their extra length (copper is lighter than lead, so the bullet is longer to allow more weight). The manufacturer recommends downsizing your lead bullet weight by about 15 grains to get similar performance out of this bullet. I’ve also found that the TSX is pretty sensitive to seating depth. The standard recommendation is .010″ off the lands, but you may find yourelf tweaking it a little to get the accuracy you need. Once I got something I liked for the .325, I have not changed it.
Handloading the DPX, on the other hand, wasn’t too tough. Straight-walled handgun cartridges are pretty easy to build… although you want to watch your pressures. My loads are pretty hot, but I’m shooting a Ruger Super Blackhawk that can withstand the beating. I’d probably step back for less rugged revolvers.
Winchester first entered the lead-free ammo market with the Nosler E-Tip bullet (more about Nosler in a bit), and I have to admit that this quickly became my go-to round for my 30-06. The bullet is accurate, and it hits hard. I know my results are hardly scientific, but when I compare terminal performance during the skinning pole post mortem, it seems like the E-Tip delivers a little more damage than the Barnes TSX. Maybe that’s just perception, but after poleaxing everything from blackbuck antelope, blacktail deer, mule deer, whitetails, and big boar hogs, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is a good bullet. The E-Tip also outperforms the TSX in my .270, as well as some other speedster calibers that my friends and clients have used over the past few years.
As soon as they release a load for my .325wsm, I may very well retire the handloaded Barnes. That’s how much I like this bullet.
Winchester has also developed their own, proprietary lead-free bullets, the Power Core 95/5 and the RazorBack XT.
I had the opportunity to use the RazorBack XT in .308 during a Winchester sponsored hunt in Georgia, and while I was skeptical at first, it turns out that the bullets performed pretty damned well. The cartridge is designed with depredation hunting in mind, so the whole thing is a little different from the ordinary. In addition to the lead free bullet, the powder charge is designed to reduce muzzle flash so you don’t get blinded while shooting at night or low light. I don’t know if the average hunter will find this feature useful, but it doesn’t hurt anything. They’re still rolling these out in new calibers, so availability is still a little limited. I think this is a good round, though, and definitely something you should consider trying.
Last year, they released the RazorBack XT for handguns. I’ve got a bunch of these for my .44mag, but so far haven’t had a chance to shoot anything besides paper. In the handgun, though, I do find that I appreciate a little reduction in muzzleflash, especially in low light. I’ve been carrying these rounds when I go over to my buddy’s place to hunt axis, but so far the right shot just hasn’t presented itself.
As to the Power Core 95/5, I have some reservations (and this is probably a total breech of some kind of protocol but I’m going to put it out here because I believe in honest reviews). As good as Winchester has been to me, and as much as I love their other products, I have a hard time recommending the Power Core bullet. I shot these in both of my 30-06 rifles (Savage 110 and Savage Axis), and in both rifles I got damage to the firing pin and ejectors. Now the 110 has been in service for years, and I’ve probably fired well over 1000 rounds through it… including some of my own handloads and samples from other manufacturers. But the Axis was brand new. When I checked the casings, the primers had blown clean out which indicates a pressure issue.
At first, I thought maybe the problem was that I had been sent some pre-production samples for my testing. I send the remaining loads back to Winchester to research. I also talked to my contact at Winchester and explained what had happened. He seemed surprised, especially since they had just filmed a Texas hog hunt with this ammo, and using Savage rifles no less, and they hadn’t had a single issue. Shortly afterward, they sent me another half case of production ammo. I fired one shot from the Axis and the ejector was locked up again. I haven’t touched this ammo since.
And this is really a shame, because the biggest selling point about the Power Core ammo is that, unlike most other lead-free offerings that sell for two to three times (or more) the cost of lead, this stuff is priced about the same as mid-level, lead ammo. This fills a much-needed gap in the marketplace for affordable ammunition.
Now I’ve read reviews on a few major sites that rave about the Power Core 95/5. I’ve heard that it delivers solid accuracy and terminal performance. And of course, you can’t beat the price point. So you kind of have to take it for what it is…But based on my own experience, I won’t recommend it right now. Maybe I’ll get another chance to try it out (with someone else’s rifle), and I’ll change my tune. If any of you readers try it out, I’d love to hear from you… good or bad.
On a brighter note, Winchester is one of the only companies currently offering a lead-free rimfire option. This includes .22lr, and 22wmr. I’ve used both of these on paper and on small game. The .22lr comes with one key caveat, and that’s to keep the shots reasonable close. The tin bullet hits with reasonable authority, but it tends to drift a bit when you stretch out the range. Sometimes, squirrels can be unexpectedly tough, but I had to hit a couple more than once for a kill at about 60 yards. Head shots rule, of course, but that’s tricky with these bullets.
I am wondering if other folks are having challenges with these rounds in semi-automatics. My “test” guns aren’t exactly ideal, as my Marlin 60 is older than I am, and has seen thousands of rounds through it. The Walther P-22 is brand new, and I think it needs a little more shooting to loosen up and cycle properly. Both of them fail to cycle occasionally, regardless of what I feed them (Walther is better now, but still doesn’t cycle the lead-free rounds.)
The .22 magnum, on the other hand did a great job on squirrels and jack rabbits. The accuracy was good out of a lever-action rifle, which was all I had to shoot them with. They were also reasonably consistent out to 100 yards on targets… at least as accurate as the rifle and marksman could make it, anyway. The meat loss was a little heavy, which I’ve come to expect with the lead-free rimfires and the frangible bullets. It wasn’t as extreme as what I’ve seen with my .17hmr, but it was enough to remind me that headshots rule (see previous paragraph).
I don’t have a lot of info here, as I was never able to establish a relationship with Remington to get samples. When they first got into the lead-free market, they were loading the Lapua Naturalis bullets which I have found to perform on par with Barnes. They switched to a proprietary bullet shortly afterward, but so far I’ve only had one client using this bullet and the hog he shot was not well hit. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable blood trail… so there’s that.
Remington recently released their “Hog Hammer” cartridge, which is loaded with the Barnes TSX. I know what the TSX is capable of, but I haven’t used the Hog Hammer, and I don’t know anyone who has.
ATK has rounded up several companies to create a fairly solid conglomerate, and when it comes to ammunition, it’s hard to be a combination of CCI and Federal.
Federal started out loading the Barnes bullets in their premium, lead-free offerings, and this option is still out there. However, like the other major manufacturers, they have developed a proprietary bullet as well… the Trophy Copper. Unfortunately, I’ve only used the Trophy Copper on paper so far, and while it worked just fine in .308, I don’t know anyone who’s actually used it to take game yet.
What I have used from Federal, and from CCI, however, is the TNT Green rimfire ammunition. The .17hmr offering is pretty much my go-to bullet for shooting squirrels and jack rabbits, as well as for plinking around out back. It’s light, like most other .17 bullets, so wind drift is definitely a factor, but otherwise it’s like shooting a laser. The TNT Green is frangible, which is nice when you’re worried about ricochet (it doesn’t ricochet… it splinters into dust), but it can be messy if you’re shooting for the pot. Again, this is the same problem I’ve always had when meat hunting with the .17, but at least it may comfort some folks to know that those tiny shards of bullet aren’t lead.
A couple of years back, the guys from ATK gave me a bunch of CCI Short Range .22lR. This was a lightweight, tin bullet and, as the name implies, it’s designed for short range. The bullet loses energy really quickly, and I found that even at 40 yards, it was hard to keep a decent group. If I were shooting rats in the barn, though, this might be a good option. This round will not cycle in any semi-automatic I’ve tried, rifle or pistol. When I visit the web site, I don’t see this offering any longer, which may mean that they no longer have a lead-free .22lr offering.
For the .22 mag shooters, CCI and Federal both offer rounds with a couple of TNT Green bullets. I’ve found they both shoot well, but for hunting small game I liked the hollow point a little better than the V-Max as it carries a little extra energy on those longer shots. It will flatten a ground squirrel out to about 100 yards, and still kills reasonably well out past 100. On targets, I was able to consistently smack a six inch spinner at 150 yards (after some bracketing in), but there was no wind. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable shooting game at that distance with it.
Hornady is making one of the few lead-free bullets to get much air time on hunting television, the GMX. They load this bullet in their Superformance ammunition, or you can buy it separately for handloading.
I haven’t used this bullet too much yet, although I did load up a batch for the .270 and found that they shoot very well… much better than the Barnes TSX. I have a few friends who use this bullet on my recommendation, and they love it. The design of the GMX is well-suited to the high-speed calibers so it’s less likely to shed petals, even on impact with bone. The result is significant wound channels and clean kills at velocities in excess of 3000 fps. As with most lead-free, big game bullets, the GMX tends to pass through almost every time, so recovered bullets are unusual.
One of the things I like about the GMX bullet is that the reloading data is the same as the lead equivalent. There’s not really any special treatment required, and no new books to read. My load for a 180 grain, 30-06 boat tail will work with the 180gr GMX. It’s not a really huge thing to the serious reloader, but for folks like me who just load to hunt, it’s a nice thing.
Another big deal from Hornady is a lead-free offering for traditional lever-action rifles. Like several people, I semi-retired my 30-30 when the lead ban was first implemented because I couldn’t find ammo for it. The pointed bullets, like the TSX and E-Tip can’t be used in a tube-fed rifle, because of the risk of the tip impacting the primer of a following bullet and causing it to fire in the magazine. Not cool.
Hornady released their Lever-Evolution design a while back, which provided levergun shooters with a high-performance, “flex-tipped” bullet that could be used in tube magazines. According to the hype, this new bullet improved both the range and accuracy of lever guns liks the .30-30 and .45-70. A couple of my buddies tried it, and swore that they could now shoot effectively out to 150 yards or more. Soon afterward, the need for a lead-free, lever-action round drove them to create the Mono-Flex bullet, a copper alloy bullet with a flexible, polymer tip.
I picked up a box of these for my Winchester 94 Trapper in 30-30, just to see if they made that much of a difference. Now my Trapper is a carbine, with an 18.5″ barrel (and a mis-aligned front sight that puts me about four inches to the left at 50 yards), so I wasn’t looking for 150 yard performance. But with most lead ammo to date, I was generally pretty happy to get minute-of-pie-plate accuracy. I set up a target behind the barn, and took my first shots at 50 yards. Three shots went inside four inches with a flyer. I backed off to 75 yards, a range at which I often had trouble just hitting a pie plate, and managed to get all four shots into the kill zone (aiming at the far edge of the target). I fell apart at 100 yards, but I think it was more to do with me and the rifle than with the ammo. It got me excited enough to start looking into a replacement sight for this rifle, so I can start using it for deer and hogs again.
I mentioned earlier that I am a big fan of the E-Tip bullet from Nosler, at least as it’s loaded by Winchester. I haven’t tried any handloads of these myself, but I’ve got a few friends and acquaintances who have had some pretty good luck with them so far. One of those friends, in fact, is headed out on an elk hunt this coming weekend, and I look forward to reading about his success. Maybe he’ll make a note of bullet performance while he’s at it. (Hint hint, John.)
Like Barnes, Nosler went from selling bullets and components to actually loading their own ammunition. While the price point for Nosler ammo is on the high side (like most, quality lead-free ammo), they make a solid and consistent product. Unfortunately, my experience with Nosler ammo to date is limited to the one box I bought to try and compare with the Winchester loads. Fortunately, I guess, I found that they performed almost identically. I don’t shoot with a chronograph, and my testing pretty much always involves shooting targets and comparing groups, so I can’t say that one load had any significant advantage over the other. But what I know of the E-Tip bullet, and the accuracy I got from Noslers loaded ammunition tells me that if I couldn’t find my Winchester ammo, I would be just fine to pick up a box from Nosler.
So that’s about it. This is easily the longest post I’ve ever written, and kudos to any reader who gets to the end of it. I hope it’s got some valuable information that you’ll find useful. And if you’ve got something to add, experience with various lead-free ammo, suggestions, or comments, then please don’t hesitate to share.