With a new year underway, it can be fun trying new things with your firearms.
For example, over the past year, there has been a shortage of rifle and shotgun ammunition across the state. If your supply is getting low or you just want to try something different, consider copper bullets for your hunting rifle.
Over the past decade, it’s been well documented that raptors like eagles are developing lead poison from fragments of lead that are found in dead animals. Deer hunters leave the organs of their deer in the woods and varmint hunters are known to leave rodents like groundhogs in the woods and along fields.
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If an eagle or hawk eats even a small piece of a lead bullet it can be fatal. Unlike animals such as coyotes, birds have gizzards that retain gritty pieces of lead like gravel and it can make them sick.
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But back to the topic at hand — shooting sports.
In California, hunters are prohibited from using lead bullets because of an effort to save condors. In Pennsylvania, water fowl hunters use steel pellets in their shotguns, but big game hunters mostly opt for lead as its been the staple bullet material for as long as the rifles have been made.
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Because states are looking at ways to protect the raptors, ammunition manufacturers have been working on new designs that are becoming more affordable as well as being efficient for ethical deer hunting.
Since lead projectiles are legal in Pennsylvania for hunting in most cases, it is the hunter's choice whether to use lead or non-lead.
Copper ammunition versus lead ammunition
Larry Babal, salesman at Sporting Goods Discounters in Johnstown in Cambria County, said copper bullet designs are improving. The bullet remains more intact when opening than lead, which can fragment on impact.
Another improvement he is seeing with copper bullets are designs that have grooves.
The grooves in the bullet reduce fouling in the barrel. Older designs could leave the inside of a barrel a bit gummy. Shooters use copper solvents to clean their barrels to remove the residue.
One of the reasons hunters might not want to consider copper is the price. Depending on the caliber, “They are about $5 to $10 a box more” over traditional lead, he said.
Some hunters shoot lead bullets at the range and use their copper bullets on game. The key is making sure how the two styles of bullets fly out of your gun. If the two styles of bullets hit your target in generally the same place, it can make sense to have both types of bullets in your gun safe. With copper being lighter than lead, the bullet can be a little longer to have the same weight.
“I’ve had mixed experiences,” Babal said about hunters liking non-lead bullets. “I know guys who really like them,” but others don’t.
Copper is available for all types of single-projectile firearms. The store had copper shotgun slugs, muzzleloader sabots and pistol ammunition, too.
As far as the future for the market, Babal said, “The more states mandate them, the more you will see them.”
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Travis Lau, communications director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, responding to an inquiry about the topic, offered a safety warning to those trying new types of bullets.
“Some lawful firearms can't be used with certain types of ammunition, so all shooters should follow the manufacturer's instructions for their particular firearm, or consult a gunsmith, if uncertain about compatibility," he said. "Certainly there are hunters out there who are choosing non-lead, and maybe for the reason they consider it more environmentally friendly.”
Lau also pointed out, “Shooters should always consider safety, and when switching hunting rounds, it's always important to practice and understand how a round performs so that shots taken while afield result in clean harvests.”
That point needs to be the final goal of all hunters. What’s the most ethical hunting option that respects both the target animal as well as the scavengers that roam the woodlots, too.
With ammunition supplies starting to stay on store shelves longer, spring is a good time to do some target shooting.
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If you hunt in an area where there are a lot of eagles and hawks, copper may be a good option to consider. The fewer eagles that are found with lead poisoning, the less chance there will be new law proposals to regulate hunting projectiles.
Good luck shooting.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Copper bullets better than lead for hunters in some ways