Aug 14, 2014

Environmentally-friendly (100% lead-free) ammunition

In pursuit of 100% lead-free, non-toxic ammunition.
It may surprise some of our readers, but we're open about it: We here at the Tampa Bay Conservation League are all active shooters and believe, without boundaries, in gun rights.

However, we are, at the core, conservationists.  And we cannot overlook the danger and health issues with lead-based ammunition.  Without getting into the endless debates about whether or not it's really right to leave lead in our hunting areas, we believe the debate really should look at something else as well:  The effect not only on animals, but on humans.  And, not necessarily you, but children, most notably, children 6 and under, where even small amounts of lead ingestion can have harmful results.  So if you have kids, or are around kids, it's worth being considerate about lead.  

Countless studies have proven, without any doubt at all, that shooting lead ammunition is, simply, bad for your health.  When you shoot, you get lead dust on yourself and bring it into the house, into your car, into your workplace, and so on.

You can take simple precautions, starting by starting by realizing that you, your clothes and your shoes are covered in fine lead dust when you leave the range.

However, it's worth understanding where the lead danger actually is in your ammo.  

First, we'll start with the bullet.  Most bullets are made of lead, and upon firing. release lead dust. You can reduce (but not eliminate) lead exposure by using any form of jacketed bullet, but most noticeably with a TMJ (Total Metal Jacket), where the lead core is totally surrounded by a copper jacket.  Jacketing reduces lead exposure, but even with TMJ, it will not be eliminated.

Another method is to move to lead-free bullets, such as the ones offered by Barnes or Nosler, or to frangible ammunition.

However, the bullet is only part of the problem.  The primer (the part that gets hit by the hammer, exploding the gunpowder) also uses lead -- in particular, a compound known as lead styphenate.  So, even if you go for a lead-free bullet, you're still going to get lead ingestion, through the primer (older, so-called "corrosive primer", used a mercury compound).

Even so-called "non-toxic" ammunition may have lead-primer.  You really have to check. For example, CCI makes a "non-toxic" 22LR rimfire cartridge, but it's actually only the bullet that's lead-free.  The primer uses lead.

Lead-free primer has controversy: There is a general belief that the shelf-life is shorter than normal lead primer, or that it's not as reliable. All we can say is that we've shot with lead-free primer extensively and it's never posed a problem.  High-end lead-free primers, such as Sintox by RWS, seems to be very much in the lead in technology. However, I suppose time will tell how well they hold up; but I very much suspect that you'll find lead-free primer, adequately stored, lasting plenty of time.

One thing you will notice going lead-free:  Man, is it easy to clean your gun.  There's no lead fouling, which is actually the most difficult thing to get out of a gun.

So, if you want to be 100% lead-free -- bullet, primer, the works, we thought we'd give you what we know of the current market for popular ammo.  We'll try and keep this updated as we get more information.

Note -- you really have to be very careful to insure your ammo doesn't have lead primer.  We've even been fooled into buying a "lead-free" round, only to find out it has lead primer.  Manufacturers use terms like "non-toxic" or "virtually eliminates lead".  For example, a range we know bought the CCI "non-toxic" load thinking it was lead-free, but it has a lead primer.  We ourselves bought some "lead-free" ICC ammo, but it needs to have the "NT" label at the end to have a lead-free primer; we made a similar mistake with the RWS, which has to have the NTF label (and Fiocchi has to have SFNT... you get the idea). You have to check and double-check.  We now do.

4.6x30 Heckler & KochFiocchi 46SFNT (should be verified) 

22 LR
No available 100% lead-free ammo (there are so-called "lead-free" or "non-toxic" rounds offered by CCI and Winchester, but these use lead primer).  You would need to figure out how to handload with lead-free rimfire primer, which is hard to get but has been manufactured.


.223ICC Green Elite NT 
Federal Ballisticlean RHT (42gr or 55gr)
RWS (or Ruag) Copper-matrix NTF
Fiocchi SFNT
Sinterfire Greenline
National Police Ammunition

ICC Green Elite NT 
Lawman RHT Clean-Fire 
National Police Ammunition

38 Special
RWS (or Ruag) Copper-matrix NTF
Remington Disintegrator CTF
Sinterfire Greenline
National Police Ammunition

9mmFederal Ballisticlean RHT
Fiocchi SFNT
ICC Green Elite NT 
RWS (or Ruag) Copper-matrix NTFFiocchi  SFNT
Remington Disintegrator CTFLawman RHT Clean-Fire
Sinterfire Greenline
National Police Ammunition

.357 SIG (not magnum)
Federal Ballisticlean RHT


45 GAP (Glock Automatic Pistol)

12 Gauge Slug

All of the ammo listed above is frangiblemeaning, it's basically bonded, or "sintered" metal dust). It's surprisingly powerful, suitable for defense and training (and can be quite nasty, as a Sinterfire video demonstrates).  It won't ricochet and has a harder time going through walls.  

The only totally lead-free round that we know of that is not frangible is the 5.7x28mm lead-free (model SS195LF, itself a surprisingly powerful little round).  If you want to have a "real" hunting or duty round that is 100% lead-free, you can always make your own by reloading. It's trivially easy to reload, even just using a cheap reloading kit (like a Lee Loader or a Lanes shotgun reloader), buying fresh brass, lead-free primers, and lead free bullets. A bit of basic googling... 

I have personally bought Fiocchi (it's cheap), the Remington shotgun loads, and a lot of RWS copper-matrix NTF (the RWS is well known, and is the standard training round for a major US federal agency). I use the ICC NT rounds for my .380.  The Remington is very expensive and I don't see much reason to buy it, except in the shotgun loads.  The Lawman RHT is just very hard to find (except at Ventura Munitions).  I suppose you could buy a few boxes of each one and see what you like.  

The following are good sources for these ammo types. A bit of patience will yield a lot:

Frangible Bullets  (
Ammunition Depot (
Ammunition To Go (
RP Tactical (
Surplus Ammo (
LE Targets (
Rare Ammo (
Ventura Munitions (
Lucky Gunner (