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Lead Ban Chronicles – And Now It Is Complete. AB711 Is Law.

October 14, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesThis is gonna be a long one… please bear with me.

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.

Barnes:

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

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).

Remington

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.

Federal/CCI (ATK)

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

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.

Nosler

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.

 

 

 

 

Comments

17 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – And Now It Is Complete. AB711 Is Law.”

  1. Holly Heyser on October 14th, 2013 17:32

    Well done, Phillip! I especially appreciate the call to action – I do not believe we will reverse this law, but we can play a role in its implementation.

    As far as non-lead shot: I’ve been hunting birds exclusively with non-lead for three years and I have not been disappointed with the performance (if anything, it’s been better than lead).

    For some reason my new Beretta A400 Xtreme hates Winchester Xpert steel 7s (sometimes doesn’t fire, often double-feeds from the magazine), but that’s not a function of ballistics. I started my dove season with that and after swearing vigorously at no less than six dove gimme shots that didn’t happen because of that failure, I switched to Federal steel 7s and had zero problems.

    I don’t hunt pheasant often, but for those who do: The Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve has required non-lead for hunts for a couple years now – if you know anyone who hunts there, ask him or her what the experience has been like.

  2. Phillip on October 14th, 2013 21:19

    Thanks, Holly, and thanks for the Facebook share.

    I realize this is probably waaaayyy too long for the average, short attention span blog reader, but I hope it gets the point to the folks who are looking for real information. Should have just made it three or four posts… but I’m too impatient to stretch it out like that.

  3. Shotgunner on October 14th, 2013 22:35

    I have just two thoughts.

    #1) My 30-06 shoots nickel size 100 yard groups with lead Sierra Game King Boat tails – 150 grain, 3000FPS. The same rifle shoots nickel size groups with 150 grain TSX bullets, 3000FPS. It’s only one gun, but I do not believe the bullet is in the air long enough for the extra bullet length to become a factor. For instance, at 600 ft (200 yds) the air time for the bullet is…. what? 0.21 (ish) seconds? While barrel vibration will throw a different weight bullet off, for same velocity/weight bullets the minimal change in spin requirement does not change POI at up to 200 yards. At least in my single gun, and that of my old shooting buddy.

    #2)Despite Holly’s learned input, for me, dove season ends in 2019. Not gonna pay $2 a shell to hunt Dove. My average for over a decade is just under 2 shells per bird and dove meat ain’t worth $4 a breast to me, even if Hank cooked it to perfection.

    @Holly, dig ya’, keep at it!

    @Phil, thanks for your thoughtful perspective. It is truly appreciated.

  4. Shotgunner on October 14th, 2013 22:37

    Alright, if Hank is cooking, I’ll bring a limit of birds… 😎

  5. Phillip on October 15th, 2013 04:32

    Thanks for the two cents, Shotgunner.

    I’m glad you’ve found that your rifle (and your buddy’s) shoot to the same point of aim with lead and copper. That will certainly make your practice sessions at the range a little cheaper.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the case for every rifle. It’s been a long time since I compared, but if I remember correctly, my 30-06 prints about two inches different with 180gr Nosler Partitions than with 180gr E-Tips. My .325 was the most extreme, showing something like a 4″ difference in POI between Winchester Power Points and Barnes TSX, although that was a 20 grain bullet weight difference. My girlfriend’s .270 won’t group the TSX at all, but puts every lead bullet I ever gave it into nice little clusters.

    The point is only that hunters shouldn’t just change and hope for the best. Try different ammo to see what prints best with your specific rifle. A lot of folks are going to have to re-zero.

    And unless you’re shooting Hevi-Shot or Bismuth on those doves, you should pay about the same for steel as you do for lead. Finding it may be a challenge, but when you do, I’ve found that the prices are consistently under $10/box. The Winchester Super X Game and Target steel can be had for $74/case… which is exactly the same as their lead version.

  6. Holly Heyser on October 15th, 2013 09:44

    Ditto on the price of the dove shells – don’t have my receipts handy but I think Phillip’s got it about right. But yeah, they’re hard to find – just checked Cabela’s and Mack’s Prairie Wings and couldn’t find them. I’ll probably work with my local store to see if they can get me a case before next season starts.

  7. Ben on October 15th, 2013 10:14

    Well said.

    I have been giving away non-lead ammo around the state and I have found most of what you said to be dead on. I have given away ammo at gun ranges in ~20 different calibers and shot every rifle and handgun that I can get my hands on with non-lead ammo, and the way I put it is that it is a different tool for the same job. It takes a little getting used to, but in the end it works fine.

    If it’s any help, we have been listing the manufactures and some retailers for non-lead on our website ( http://huntingwithnonlead.org/ ) and we are working on putting up our results from shooting many of them into gel at 100 yards. We try to show how each works in comparison to each other. We do have the pictures up on our facebook page from our weight retention shots into water( https://www.facebook.com/huntingwithnonlead?ref=hl ) .

    As of March, I was able to find 121 different caliber designations either available-in-stock, or offered by custom loaders. This doesn’t include many case limited cartridges (such as 45-120. the same bullet as 45-70, but the cases are hard to find at prices that allow affordable loading) which are often available by request or if the customer provides brass. I know that now it is hard to find ammo, but this list was made in March of 2013 during the current ammo crisis. That being said, there are still very few cartridges that are unavailable (mostly antique European rounds that take a metric bullet that don’t have a standard counterpart) that may not be due to low demand for the bullets in that specific caliber.

    If anyone has questions, it is my job to help hunters adapt to non-lead
    Ben Smith
    nonlead@iws.org

  8. Phillip on October 15th, 2013 11:12

    Holly, I found the Winchester steel game and target loads at Cabelas for $74.99/case, but I didn’t check to see if it’s in stock. That’s always a crap shoot.

    Ben, thanks for chiming in. I just realized I don’t have you guys linked on my sidebar any more, since I changed blog sites. I’ll fix that ASAP, because your site is a good resource. Since I’m down in Texas these days, I don’t have first hand info on local sources of ammo like I did when I lived in the Bay Area.

  9. JAC on October 15th, 2013 21:25

    Holy cow! A post for the ages.

    Phillip: I can’t possibly match, or even emulate, your depth and precision, but I would like to offer two points: First, as anyone who has the patience to read my drivel knows, I fully expect the market will respond to AB 711 by offering more and better non-lead alternatives. If I’m right, drinks on Phillip. Who says liberals don’t believe in the invisible hand of the market? I’m a maven for it!

    Second, while I’m no wound expert, before I represented police, I sued police and I came to meet some wound experts. I think I heard one explain that a flat-front projectile does more damage than a mushroom and therefore, losing the petals off a copper bullet is the best outcome since it leaves a flat-front cylinder displacing tissue. I can’t say that that is what happens to a TSX/TTSX/E-Tip though since they weren’t around when I was still suing police. I’d look it up, but October 15 is tax day and I need to curl up around two fingers of scotch and one ice cube. I’m pretty sure I’m correct on the general proposition though, and it’s worth checking out.

  10. Phillip on October 16th, 2013 07:49

    John, to your first point. We’ll see. Personally, I think the best the folks with the really arcane calibers can hope for is custom loading houses. Otherwise, it will be handloading only. I consider this from two perspectives. One, the industry simply won’t find it cost effective to switch production for certain niche calibers just to meet CA’s law. They already drop calibers that don’t sell enough units to be profitable.

    Second, when CA passed the firearms safety requirements on handguns, several manufacturers simply said, “screw, California,” and instead of conforming their production and QA process to meet CA regulations, they just sell their guns elsewhere.

    But we’ll see. I have no doubt that most people will be able to find lead-free ammo for their hunting weapon by 2019.

    As far as the metplat debate, it goes a lot deeper than I’ll try to tackle here. However, what I will say is that terminal performance varies depending on several variables. In a large, slow projectile (e.g. .357 magnum), there’s a strong argument that a large metplat delivers more shock and penetration than a projectile that uses energy to expand and “mushroom”. This is why there are a lot of handgun hunters who swear by cast lead bullets for game like wild hogs. I used to use cast lead bullets (190 gr) in my .30-30 for a few years, and they were absolute hammer-of-god-like death on whitetail deer.

    But when you pump up the velocity to modern, centerfire standards, that equation changes. You get fast, through-and-through penetration with nominal tissue damage. This is why we don’t hunt with full-metal jacket bullets. It’s also why we don’t hunt most thin-skinned game with copper monolithics… and why many hunters were so turned off based on experience with Barnes’ early offerings. You’d get little entry, not much of a wound channel, and little exit… which meant not much of a blood trail.

    So no, shearing the petals is definitely a bad thing. Even the good folks at Barnes will tell you that.

  11. Sol on October 16th, 2013 08:46

    Phil,

    Thanks for the write-up. Based on your previous posts, I actually did spend some time reading literature on the toxicology of lead and exposure to hunters. Based on that, I decided to voluntarily switch to non-lead ammo. What this law does is take away my ability to make an informed decision as we will, in six years, have only one choice. Thanks again for your years of following the lead ammo issue.

    Sol

  12. Phillip on October 16th, 2013 09:48

    Thanks for that, Sol. You are doing exactly what I think a lot of hunters would do, if they were only able to cut through the politicized B.S. and take the time to learn about lead ammo for themselves.

    As I’ve said before, there are good reasons to switch from lead. For the conscientious and careful hunter, the research suggests that it’s a solid, ethical, personal choice. For hunters who can afford to switch, and can find viable, lead-free ammo, why not? Odds are slim, but you might save an eagle. And while I personally find it highly unlikely, I won’t tell anyone to ignore the possibility that feeding lead-killed game to our loved ones might be harmful. That’s a personal call.

    People who don’t know me beyond my opposition to the lead ammo ban don’t know that I switched to steel waterfowl loads two seasons before the law made me do it. I switched to lead free big game ammo in CA well before it was the law as well. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my switch was the recognition of an imminent ban on lead, but part of it is also because I felt like it was the right thing to do, personally, in the interest of conservation. I knew it wouldn’t save the world, but it would lighten my personal footprint just a little bit.

    I’m not opposed to hunters making the informed decision to switch to lead-free ammo. But as we all know by now, I just don’t see it being the kind of decision that should be defined by law.

  13. JAC on October 16th, 2013 13:54

    Phillip: I don’t know what the folks at Barnes think but the fellow who developed the GS Custom monometal bullet disagrees with you. Referring to the book Bullet Penetration by Duncan MacPherson he writes: “His research reveals a couple of things:
    1. It removes all doubt that the most valuable wound trauma incapacitation mechanism is a single large wound channel.
    2. It proves conclusively that the most reliable instrument with which to inflict the maximum amount of disruption was a vertical faced, sharp edged projectile.

    The reason why a cylinder shape is so much better than all other is because of the manner in which it displaces the tissue it encounters.

    A rounded shape of any description displaces tissue to the sides of the wound channel in the time it takes for the front of the shape to move forwards and be replaced by the full width of the shape, creating a primary wound channel. Although this happens very, very fast, a rounded shape therefore contains a time and distance element that translates to a level of force imparted to the tissue. This makes the tissue continue to stretch away from the bullet path, creating a temporary wound channel, until the elasticity of the tissue overcomes the force and brings it back to the original position. Some of the tissue would have been disrupted and this would add to the total size of the primary wound channel.

    A cylinder shape encountering tissue, displaces the tissue to the side vastly faster on a time/distance basis than any other shape. This imparts a far higher force to the tissue, pushing it much further from the primary wound channel, disrupting more tissue beyond the limits of elasticity and ultimately contributing to a much bigger primary wound channel.”

    He continues: “At higher speeds, HV bullets will lose the petals entirely, shedding 12% to 20% of weight and presenting a flat cylinder shape to the direction of movement. The HV concept thus offers, at worst, a good double caliber mushroom, with extremely high retention and, at best, a high speed cylinder shape for dramatic primary wound trauma and deep penetration.”

  14. Phillip on October 16th, 2013 14:43

    John, sorry, but I am not going to sit here with you and try to resolve a debate that has been raging since well before I ever picked up my first gun.

    I spoke for quite some time with your guy at GS when they showed up at SHOT a couple years ago. I’ve still got his literature laying around here somewhere (never got my sample ammo, though). We were shooting his ammo out of (if I remember correctly) a .416 Barret at 800 yards. Ringing the gong was fun, and his pitch sounded solid, but his argument is neither revolutionary nor new. Proof is in the pudding, as I told him, and so far you’re the only person I know who has bought his bullets. I’ll wait and see what you think after you’ve knocked over five or six critters with it.

    Beyond that, YouTube and the Interwebz are full of videos, diagrams, theoretical constructs and everything else that proves and disproves the various arguments about the best bullet type and shape. Feel free to have at them if you’re so motivated.

  15. Neil H on October 16th, 2013 22:17

    Thanks for the coverage of this issue of the last few years, Phillip. You’ve probably presented the least spin and most thoughtful insight into this issue of anyone I’ve read.

    I also switched to lead free a couple of years ago. My observations:

    My main hunting rifle, an FN era model 70 7mm-08 shoots Federal TSX better than any other round I’ve tried. It varies point of impact with various ammo types. A recently purchased pre-64 model 70 I more or less bought for nostalgic reasons, is in .270. It seems to shoot cheap Winchester Super -X and $50 barnes vortex ttsx the same; really well. It also shoots to the same point of aim.

    I have a .300 Savage I’d like to hunt with a time or two, that I haven’t used since I was a kid because my eyes aren’t quite up to the iron sights (a ghost ring tang sight) anymore and I’m not drilling the receiver. There is one manufacturer, DoubleTap. They also make .257 Roberts for my dad’s rifle. Unfortunately they are one silly law that bans mail order ammo away from not being available. The lead ammo ban prove a good lobbying point should that come up again, at least.

    I’m not super convinced of terminal ballistics. Anecdotally they seem to not put things down as fast.

    Still, I’ve stayed with it. My issue with the California approach is that rather than a more progressive, voluntary approach like that of Arizona, it was imposed by a hostile legislature doing an end run around the Fish and Game Board. Even if on balance there are more positives than negatives, the expansion out of the immediate condor zone is an affront to the idea of science based, non-political management. As I’ve said before, it’s a bad precedent. Nothing anyone here doesn’t already know is a bad thing.

  16. Phillip on October 17th, 2013 07:28

    Thanks, Neil… and this isn’t over yet. With CA down, you can bet this will be taken to more states. Efforts to get something on a national level are also still alive, and we can count on seeing more lawsuits and petitions in the near future. I don’t really have a crystal ball to tell me how the lead ban will fare across the country. Some states, like AZ, have constitutional protections for hunters that will make it very difficult to force a ban on lead ammo. Utah has instituted a voluntary program that is very similar to AZ, but at this time only has about 20 or 30 condors in the extreme, southern end of the state. But in other states, like Washington (Californa’s northern extension), there’s already been some activity that looks like it could be stirring up the people for a ban.

    On the national level, the fight was taken to the EPA, which is the wrong place for it. I think the reasoning here is that the anti-lead folks think there might be more sympathetic ears in the EPA than they would find in the US Fish and Wildlife Service. But I can guarantee that, despite being routed twice, they will keep coming back… and learning more from each effort.

    And not that it’s a bad thing, altogether, but there’s definitely a quietly growing shift away from lead ammo in various government agencies. Even here in Texas, the folks at Texas Parks and Wildlife are required to use non-lead ammo (where practicable) for the despatch and control of nuisance, sick, or injured animals at Texas State Parks.

    Point is, this conversation hasn’t come to an end yet.

  17. Almost The Weekend : Hog Blog on October 17th, 2013 08:55

    […] The truth is, I just haven’t had a lot to write about of late.  I mean, there’s more to write about the lead ammo ban, but I expect many of you are sick to death of that one, and for now, there’s not a lot that I can say beyond what I covered in Monday’s post. […]

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