Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead-Free Ammunition Trends From SHOT 2012

January 27, 2012

To be honest, I really didn’t have high hopes of learning anything new about lead ammunition at this year’s SHOT Show.  Of course I knew the manufacturers like Barnes, Hornady, and Nosler would be adding new calibers to their menus.  That’s an ongoing effort, and probably much needed as more and more voices are being raised against lead ammo around the country.

Why is it much needed?

Unless the hunters and recreational shooters around this country get up and start fighting this thing, California-style ammo bans are going to start popping up all over the U.S.  That’s not just pessimism on my part, folks, the machinery is already in motion.  Anti-lead propaganda is running rampant in editorials everywhere and the uneducated are eating it up while almost no reasonable voices are challenging the lies and misinformation.  This is how policy happens.

So, with that in mind, maybe it’s a good thing that a “trend” I thought I saw coming last year is really starting to develop.  I guess it started with Remington a little earlier.  Their initial lead-free ammunition featured the Lapua Naturalis bullet.  They phased that out and moved to a proprietary copper bullet, the Remington Copper Solid (they did something similar when they moved away from Hevi-Shot to their own heavier-than-lead shot pellets).  By switching to their own bullet, they reduced the dependency on a third party, and also reduced the cost to produce.

At the 2011 SHOT Show, I learned that Winchester was releasing their own lead-free bullet in the Power-Core 95/5 (and also in the newer RazorBack XT).  They didn’t phase out the successful Nosler ETip, but if the Power-Core takes off, I can see where their dependency on Nosler will decrease… especially with the price difference between the ETips and the Power-Cores.  Right now, I expect they’ll keep both lines, with the ETips in the “Supreme” (black box) line, while the Power-Core will fall into their standard (silver box) line.

This year I learned that Federal-Premium is now rolling out their proprietary lead-free bullet, the Trophy Copper, which will be loaded in their Vital-Shok line.  I haven’t had a chance to use this one yet, but I’ve got a request in for a few boxes to sample.  From what I hear, though, the engineers at Federal have taken the criticism of other lead-free bullets into consideration and made a concerted effort to develop and deliver a bullet that expands well at a wide range of velocities, and also provides a better ballistic coefficient to enhance longer range performance.

Meanwhile, Barnes is expanding their line of factory-loaded cartridges in the Vor-TX line.  I’ll try some more of these out on game soon, but on paper, I found that the Vor-TX does shoot well out of my Savage.  The point of impact is somewhat different from the 180gr ETips I’ve been shooting, but the groups are pretty tight.  Maybe I’ll get the chance to try these out on a Hill Country hog later this year.

Hornady, of course, has been loading their GMX bullet in the Superformance line.  Those of you who’ve been following the Pig Man tv program have probably heard him rave about the performance of this bullet.  I’ve shot some of my own handloads on paper, and the bullet does perform well at the range.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get a chance to put these into the field.  I hope to change that later this spring.

Bottom line, I think it’s fair to start hoping for some more affordable, lead-free ammunition over the coming year.  That may turn out to be a very good and timely thing!



17 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead-Free Ammunition Trends From SHOT 2012”

  1. Colby Williams on January 29th, 2012 18:43

    Hey Phil, just my input on the gmx. I shoot them out of my 25-06, and you’re right when you say they dont hold the tightest group on paper…but as far as I am concerned my field tests and experiences show that they haven’t let me down…ive been able to place them behind a hog’s ear at 200-300 yards…200 yards on multiple accounts…and they seem to have the knockdown power that suits my 25 perfectly. And with the extra speed behind them, its helping out on all those running shots I take as I back up others if a wounded hog is getting away…so until I start missing with them in the field they will remain my round of choice…just thought I would share my field experiences with you…


  2. Phillip on January 29th, 2012 22:40

    Good info, Colby, thanks! Are you handloading, or is this the Superformance ammo?

    I’ve got a bunch of .270 bullets, but I almost never hunt with that rifle.

  3. Tony on January 29th, 2012 22:11

    Dear Phillip,
    Given that copper is currently around $ 3.90- $ 4.00 a pound, while lead alloys common for lead-based ammunition are around $ 1.90 per pound or so, “affordability” of copper ammunition for hunting is a relative term.

    But given these disparities in raw material cost, I do not envision a time when economy of manufacturing scale will bring copper alloy projectiles down to the cost of “traditional” lead core projectiles.

  4. Phillip on January 29th, 2012 22:39

    I’m not sure that it’ll come down to the price of the Core-Lokt or the Wolf ammo, Tony. That’s true enough. But the Power-Core is already as cheap as most of the other silver box Winchester ammo, and significantly cheaper than the ETips. By making and loading their own bullets, the manufacturers are definitely able to offer better pricing, even if it never gets down as far as the cheapest lead ammo. It’s not the whole enchilada, but at least the sauce is a little more palatable.

  5. Dann on January 30th, 2012 09:04


    Tried the 95/5 in my Tikka and had trouble grouping less than 3 “. It was faster than advertised, around 3020 fps/average.

    Good enough for 100yd hogs I thought. Took a shot at 43 yds, got a good hit (blood trail and bone chips) and it got away in the fading light. I suspect I was too close and it passed thru w/o mushrooming.

    Needless to say, I was disappointed in the ammo, I had high hopes. Went back to the e-tips.

  6. Phillip on January 30th, 2012 10:56

    Dan, if you got bone chips it probably mushroomed… even at that range. I watched them in ballistic gel, and they open pretty well, even fairly close. I can’t remember, is your Tikka 30-06?

    Colby, that 25-06 of yours is a tack driver. I bet you could tailor a pretty sweet load for it.

  7. colby williams on January 30th, 2012 10:49

    Hey Phil,

    I’m using the superformance loads. Have gotten into hand loading yet, but it is on my list of things to do. It would be nice to see if I can get a better group with the gmx if I hand load and compare them out in the field. I used to use the Barnes triple shock, and they worked great, but the gmx have seemed to increase my accuracy while in the field. And they both put alot more knockdown power behind that small 25, that the lead bullets didn’t seem to have.


  8. Neil H on January 30th, 2012 15:13

    Hi Phillip, and Colby

    What in your opinion is the best expanding all copper bullet? I got to try some Barnes yesterday, which have a good reputation. They shoot well in my gun but I wasn’t super wowed with the terminal performance. Of course, operator error comes into play, I hit high and back (thank god not far enough back for a gut shot), and hit the liver, but only got one little hole through it. It looks like it really expanded passing through the other side, but that’s a little late. It was a pretty rough scene, with no blood trail, and I had to just go on other sign. This poor thing just didn’t die, not from the initial shot, a second while looking for it, and two in the neck. It could be a fluke, but I’ve never had anything close to that with lead while pig hunting.

    Thoughts? I know you like the etips, and Colby GMX but I shoot factory ammo also for now in a 7mm-08. It’s done pretty well for me with lead, with a string of one shot kills, but I’d like to go lead free.

  9. Phillip on January 31st, 2012 08:17

    Neil, you’ll hear horror stories about every lead-free bullet. But really, if you’ve been around long enough, you’ll hear horror stories about most lead bullets too… from Core-Lokt to Nosler Partition. And if you’ve shot enough, you’ve probably witnessed some odd behavior as well. I’ve seen premium bullets do some really strange things (deflecting off ribs, cratering, etc.) that, on their own, would turn me against that bullet forever. But other times, the same bullet performed flawlessly.

    Point is, copper really isn’t any different. One bad experience out of a dozen is certainly remarkable, but it’s not an indictment of the whole line.

    As to my favorites so far, since I haven’t hunted with the GMX I’ll lean on Colby’s experience. I know he’s not the type to blow a lot of hot air, so if he says the bullet is working well, I’d trust that. I do know the GMX is designed for superior performance in the faster calibers (e.g. the 25-06), which lends him even more credence.

    I have shot the Barnes TSX and the ETip fairly extensively, and I think both are perfectly fine bullets. While this isn’t scientific by any means, my own observations suggest that the ETip delivers a little more in the way of expansion and tissue damage. However, I’ve taken apart a lot of hogs shot with the Barnes, and the organ damage has always been pretty danged impressive.

    For me, the choice would hinge around what’s most accurate in your rifle. Accuracy trumps terminal performance any time. If you can put the pill where it belongs, that’s the majority of the battle.

  10. Colby Williams on January 30th, 2012 23:46


    I have hunted successfully with both the barnes and the gmx. I just have personally liked the gmx a little better than the barnes, as they are a little faster, and have inproved my personal accuracy in the field. I have not had the opportunity to try the etips out of my 25 yet, but I am happy with what I shoot right now. I have never tried any hand loads either, and have more than happy with the factory loads both companies put out. After guiding on over 120 hogs last year, I would say that all copper loads work well. I believe that the gmx expand the quickest (although I don’t really have any constants to match them up against), and they seem to do the most internal damage from the carcasses that I have examined. The damage done to the insides seem to be the most like that of a lead bullet so far that I have seen, but with even more penetrating power.

    All in all, I suggest trying a couple different ones in the field, and see what suits you and your rifle the best.

    Hope this helps a little.


  11. Colby Williams on January 31st, 2012 10:55

    Phil is right about the etips. Even though I have not had the opportunity to use them myself, from what I have seen out of the clients that use them, they offer great knockdown power, penetration, expansion, and accuracy. I know that they generally have the highest ballistic coefficient out of all the non-lead bullets that I have researched so far, giving them the best down range performance (in carrying their energy). I know after hunting with Phil several times, and even getting the opportunity to use his rifle once (placed the shot right in the pocket, blowing out the heart and lungs at 200 yards), the etips he had for it worked great. Phil keeps up on his research and his opinion is one that I would definitely take to heart and value.


  12. Neil H on January 31st, 2012 11:34

    Thanks guys.

    My dilemma brings up a point Phillip has made with the whole lead free issue; if you shoot a slightly less popular caliber your options become much more limited unless you load your own. I think in factory loads my choices are TSX, or GMX.

    I appreciate the experience from you folks that have guided, since it gives far more breadth to looking at these things. The fact is most people are dealing with such low numbers of animals that everything is anecdotal. I’ve only been hunting again for about 3 years, so I have a total pool of only about 10 pigs and deer to look at. I’m pretty typical of people, in that I am super happy with the caliber I shoot because it worked the times I’ve used it. Most were pretty well hit, predominantly straight through the heart, or neck, so honestly, almost anything would have. The couple of times where things didn’t go as well, I put most of the blame on myself. So even more so, you can’t really judge a round by those few times.

    I’ll give the GMX a try, at the range first, obviously. I also still have half a box of TSX.

    I did notice a whole lot less fragmentation, and of course no lead bits, which is one reason I went this route. I hunt in the Bay Area and northern California so I don’t actually need to be lead free. But I want to be sighted in and ready if I ever get an opportunity to hunt in within the condor zone and have to go on short notice.

    Colby, I’m guessing you’re Colby of Williams guide service? I also seem to remember your name as a guide down on T. Michael Riddle’s property from an article a couple years back too. I appreciate the experience of both of you guys.

  13. Colby Williams on January 31st, 2012 12:36


    Yes, I am from Williams Hunting Service, and I also used to be one of the full-time guides out at Native Hunt, but I only make it out there part time now, since I started a family of my own. But, I primarily guide in my own family business now. I am glad that you thought my input was useful.


  14. Neil on February 1st, 2012 10:34

    And they do make 7mm-08 in Power-Core from Winchester! Great to see this handy and practical cartridge get more choices behind it.

  15. Leland on February 6th, 2012 01:49

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to chime in quickly on some of the bullet performance questions. We’ve done a lot of testing in ballistic gel, water barrels and other test media with most of the current non-lead rounds. Across the board they all seem to perform very similarly as far as expansion and the wound channels. If you are having issues with expansion one thing to look into is the tipped bullets (gmx, e-tip, tipped triple shock) which seems to drive the bullet to open up slightly quicker as well as increasing the ballistic coefficient.

    As Phillip says it’s all about accuracy. If you put any of the different manufacturers bullet in the vitals it will do it’s job. Last year I put together a list of available non-lead bullets to make the search a little easier for folks like Neil. It’s downloadable from as an excel file. With the new bullets that have come out in the last several months it is going to be in need of updating but has separate lists for reloading components and factory loaded. I’ll be working on updating the list and hope to have it finished sooner than later.

    We are also hoping to get some testing done with the new rounds from Federal and Winchester so we can get that info out to folks like Neil who have questions on the comparable performance of the different rounds.

    Personally, I’ve been using the Barnes TSX 130 grain in .270 win to remove pigs. I took 20 in the last year or so, at ranges from 5 to 200 yards and haven’t had a single animal go more than 30 yards after being hit. It’s all about finding the round that your rifle likes and putting it where it needs to be.

    Hope some of that is helpful and if you ever have any questions please let us know. We are trying to get as much good, useful info into other hunters hands as possible.


  16. Phillip on February 7th, 2012 21:15

    Thanks, Leland.

    Let me know what you get on the Federal ammo. I’m still waiting for my test batch, but I’ll probably have to send a reminder. It’s a busy time of year for the industry, with all the big shows going on right now.

    To CA hunters, make sure that if you find a new, lead-free bullet, you check it against the CA approved list. Also remember that frangible ammo (e.g. Extreme Shock and a few others) is not legal for big game in CA. It’s not really a good choice anyway, in my experience, as it tends to destroy meat.

    There may be a couple of new options coming down the pike in the next couple of months as well, so stay tuned!

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