Home Culture Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition: Is Copper the New Lead?

Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition: Is Copper the New Lead?

best-lead-free-hunting-ammunition

There are many benefits to switching to lead-free ammunition. Whether you live in California and it’s required for hunting, or you just want something cleaner with less barrel fouling, copper and monolithic bullets are the way to go.

You can find the best lead-free hunting ammo, Barnes VOR-TX, HERE. Or you can keep reading about all of my favorite options in a variety of calibers.

Recommended Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition

Best Overall: Barnes VOR-TX

Pros

Barnes Ammo

  • Affordable
  • Available and easy to find
  • Clean-burning for less barrel fouling
  • High ballistic coefficient
  • Available in multiple calibers
  • Great for reloading

Cons

  • Pricier than some other non-lead ammunition

Why We Chose It

Barnes VOR-TX ammunition is top-of-the-line, high-quality, lead-free ammunition that is available in both rifle and pistol calibers. It comes available in many calibers, and it’s actually pretty easy to find.

They also come with various designs, grain weights, and are made from a full copper alloy/non-lead construction. I personally love Barnes X-bullets because they can’t be beaten on quality, but they also have many variations to offer, so there are factory-loaded lead-free bullets to match any occasion. Let’s take a look at what you can get with the VOR-TX line.

Barnes VOR-TX LRX

Barnes VOR-TX LRX bullets are long-range non-lead ammo for hunting. These all-copper bullets are designed to maximize penetration at expansion at lower velocities while simultaneously reducing drag and flattening the trajectory. TSX bullets are revered for their accuracy, dependability, and lethality.

Barnes VOR-TX TTSX

Barnes TTSX bullets are lead-free ammunition that utilize a polymer tip to protect the hollow point during loading and initiate expansion when the bullet reaches its target. Similar to other X-bullets, these have grooved rings to expand just a bit in the barrel and increase accuracy. TTSX all-copper bullets are perfect for all game sizes.

Barnes VOR-TX TSX

Barnes VOR-TX is the flagship bullet design for the company. Sporting a completely monolithic design, these all-copper bullets penetrate 28% deeper than lead-core bullets, and are designed for maximum weight retention. These bullets stand out because they have grooves in the shank to ensure maximum penetration and expansion.

As far as copper bullets go, you can’t go wrong with Barnes bullets. They’re reliable and effective on medium and large sized game. The added bonus is that they’re much easier to find than many other copper bullets.

Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition for Deer: Winchester Deer Season Copper Impact

Winchester Deer Season Copper Impact Ammo

Pros

  • Excellent expansion and penetration
  • Affordable
  • Available
  • High-quality reloadable cases

Cons

  • Best for medium-sized game only

Why We Chose It

Winchester Deer Season XP Copper Impact bullets are the perfect solid-copper solution for hunters going after medium-sized game like whitetail and mule deer. So perfect, in fact, that the company even put it in the name.

Winchester’s Deer Season line-up is specifically designed to pierce the hide of medium-sized game animals and expand to just the right size, which limits meat waste, but also deals maximum terminal energy.

Copper Impact was built using the exact same logic, but it’s lead-free ammo. Winchester’s non-lead ammunition is high-quality and designed to stop deer. However, there’s a bit more science that goes into it. Winchester included a large-diameter polymer tip to increase the ballistic coefficient and control expansion.

This solid-copper bullet does better than many lead-core bullets because it maximizes weight retention and also deals more knock-down power. Overall, if you’re looking to try copper hunting bullets, this is a great starting option for deer hunting.

Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammo for Elk: Hornady CX

Pros

Hornady CX Ammo

  • High ballistic coefficient
  • Excellent weight retention
  • High-quality monolithic projectiles
  • Perfect for big game and long-range hunting
  • Versatile enough for medium and large game animals

Cons

  • Availability can be an issue

Why We Chose It

Hornady CX bullets replaced GMX with new upgrades and a higher ballistic coefficient. As much as we loved the Hornady GMX, CX takes things a bit further, literally. This lead-free hunting ammunition is perfect for long-range elk hunting, and you can check our stock HERE. They’re hard-hitting, high-quality bullets designed to resist wind drift while also dealing maximum damage to big game with thick hides.

As opposed to smaller game animals, we need stronger bullets to take down large animals with thicker hides because they need to go deeper to hit vital organs. These copper alloy bullets won’t break apart on impact because Hornady uses other metals to strengthen the projectile. CX bullets are sturdy enough to pierce the hide, and they also help the projectile travel from barrel to target.

Hornady CX’s polymer tip serves another vital purpose. It forces expansion after hitting the elk, creating deeper and wider wound channels ideal for dropping big game animals. Hornady engineered the monolithic projectile to reduce drag and the boat tail to increase the ballistic coefficient. If I were to use any non-lead hunting ammo for big game hunting, this is the one.

Honorable Mention

Sellier & Bellot eXergy is an excellent lead-free hunting bullet that’s ideal for big game hunters, and it’s similar to Hornady CX, so it’s a great alternative. Sellier & Bellot took terminal ballistics a step further with this series as well. The all-copper bullet maximizes weight retention increasing penetration, and it even has grooves engineered into the projectile to control expansion.

There are also cross grooves in the bullet to ensure it greatly expands and does more damage to vital organs. Sellier & Bellot may not be an American company, but they still produce quality ammunition at affordable prices.

Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition for Bears: Federal Premium Trophy Copper

Pros

Federal Premium Trophy Copper Ammo

  • High-quality
  • Versatile for medium-large game
  • High ballistic coefficient
  • More affordable than some other options
  • Designed for maximum penetration and expansion

Cons

  • It may be challenging to find

Why We Chose It

One of my favorite copper cartridges is Federal Premium Trophy Copper. Federal produces a lot of high-quality big game hunting cartridges that are versatile enough for smaller game animals too. Fortunately, for our readers in California and those looking to break away from traditional bullets, they make lead-free ammunition, too.

One of the more notable aspects of Federal Premium Trophy Copper is that it has massive expansion. Based on my experience, Federal makes excellent hunting ammo all around, and the company’s lead-free variation is no exception. To say this is an impressive hunting bullet is an understatement after seeing what it can do.

Similar to my other favorites, Federal Trophy Copper has a high ballistic coefficient and comes in all popular hunting calibers like 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Winchester, and 300 Win Mag.

Furthermore, it has a polymer tip and boat tail design to give us an edge on bullet drop and wind drift. As long as your shot placement is on target, you shouldn’t have any problem taking home a trophy buck this hunting season.

Trophy Copper is an excellent selection for everything from elk hunting to bear hunting. The only drawback is that it’s challenging to find. So, if you see a box, snatch it up.

Best Lead-Free Varmint Hunting Bullets: Nosler Ballistic Tip Lead-Free Varmint

Pros

Nosler Ballistic Tip Lead-Free Varmint Ammo

  • Thinner jacket and core designed for rapid expansion
  • High muzzle velocities
  • Color-coded polymer tips
  • Superb accuracy

Cons

  • Challenging to find in-stock
  • Pricey

Why We Chose It

I’ve talked a lot about lead-free bullets for medium and large game hunting, but you may need something for smaller critters, too! Fortunately, Nosler came through with Ballistic Tip Lead-Free ammunition. Similar in design to its big game hunting counsin the Nosler E-Tip Lead-Free ammunition, Nosler Ballistic Tip is made with small critter hunters in mind.

This ammo is similar to the others that I’ve mentioned, except it won’t completely obliterate small nuisance creatures. While I wouldn’t use these for anything bigger than a coyote, they’re certainly efficient and effective.

Unlike big game bullets, this one has a much thinner copper jacket and a fragmenting copper core. Whereas big game bullets must penetrate and then expand, small game bullets must deform quickly to deal terminal damage. This bullet is designed to do just that: rapidly fragment on impact.

Next, Nosler also included a polymer tip that’s actually color-coded by caliber. Overall, Nosler has never let me down, and I grab a few boxes of these any time I can find them even if they do punch some pretty big holes in my wallet.

Best for Waterfowl: Fiocchi Golden Waterfowl Bismuth Shellshot

Fiocchi Golden Waterfowl 12 Gauge Ammo

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Available
  • Perfect for waterfowl
  • Lead-free shot

Cons

  • Your shotgun may require a different shot size

Why We Chose It

I wouldn’t end my review without talking about one of my favorite lead-free hunting loads, Fiocchi Golden Waterfowl 1-⅜ oz. #2 Shellshot. Naturally, we’re always looking for good, lead-free loads for duck and geese hunting. Fortunately, Fiocchi makes a great option in the Golden Waterfowl line.

These shotgun shells contain bismuth plated steel shot that hit hard, produce excellent patterns, and fly straight. They’re affordable to boot, and they’ve been relatively easy to find in my area even during ammo shortages.

For our readers who have yet to test Fiocchi ammunition, Golden Waterfowl is made in America, and many shooters rely on it to take down game and perform on the range. If you’re looking for a reliable, affordable, lead-free option for waterfowl hunting, I highly recommend Fiocchi Golden Waterfowl.

Parting Shots

While some shooters may have concerns about non-lead bullets, copper actually has excellent terminal performance making it an awesome hunting round. Unfortunately, lead-free bullets can be hard to come by, but any of the options listed above will serve you well.

So, feel free to test a few different cartridges and order a stockpile of your favorite ones. If you want to check out our inventory of lead-free ammunition, click HERE.

Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Lead-Free Ammunition

As you can see from my list above, choosing non-lead hunting ammo takes a little more thought than simply clicking on the first available option. If you’re curious about how I made my selections or want to learn more, keep reading the following sections.

How to Choose Lead-Free Ammo for Hunting

Copper vs Lead bullets

Picking out the perfect box of hunting ammunition can be challenging under normal circumstances. Adding “lead-free” to your list of requirements can complicate the process even further. For example, Remington Core-Lokt Copper is great ammunition, but Federal Trophy Copper has better expansion.

I tend to first scope out ammunition rated for the creatures I’m after. If I’m going after varmints and smaller critters, I need something with a thinner jacket and a softer core (to expedite expansion). However, I’m much more picky about my deer and elk ammo.

Naturally, I want a monolithic round that won’t fragment on impact. I also want a polymer tip and boat tail for the higher ballistic coefficient (less drag helps with accuracy as long as my shot placement is adequate) because these are long-range shots I’m taking. Finally, I want high-quality powders and cases that are great for reloading.

Health Benefits of Lead-Free Ammunition

At this point, everyone knows that there are health risks regarding lead exposure. While it isn’t something I worry about regularly, there has been interesting research to suggest lead-free hunting ammunition is actually worth the switch.

For example, studies done in the UK suggest that there are notable levels of lead in venison killed with lead-core ammunition. However, if you aren’t getting a buck every week and serving it for supper every night, you will probably be okay.

Personally, lead exposure risk isn’t a deciding factor in my ammo-buying process. However, monolithic bullets don’t deform like lead-core bullets. So, there is an undeniable advantage with most lead-free ammunition.

Environmental Impact

Interestingly, bullets with lead actually do impact the environment, but not how you may think. Me sitting in my tree stand, popping off three or four rounds a year, isn’t going to do any long-term damage to the area or wildlife in my area.

However, there is some evidence to support that areas with high populations of hunters do have noticeable spikes in lead levels. Furthermore, wetlands and marshes are more susceptible to increased lead levels than other areas.

Lastly, not all wildlife is ingesting and inhaling lead bullet fragments. But birds are. If you miss a shot, you don’t need to worry about a trophy buck seeking out the remnants of your lead bullets. Birds, however, do seek out the small fragments and, therefore, are more susceptible to lead exposure.

FAQs

Hornady CX bullets

Just in case I didn’t answer all of your questions already, here are the answers to more questions I get a lot about lead-free ammo.

Are there lead-free rimfire cartridges?

Yes, actually. Norma Eco-Speed 22 is one example of lead-free rimfire ammunition. However, this type of ammo is challenging to find in stock and from our favorite ammunition manufacturers.

Do copper bullets have the same muzzle velocities as traditional bullets?

For the most part, yes. It’s unlikely you’ll lose any fps (feet per second) by switching to lead-free ammunition. Although, this may vary depending on caliber, bullet weight, and other factors.

Is lead-free handgun ammunition a thing?

Yes! Barnes actually makes VOR-TX handgun ammo loaded with their all-copper XPB bullets.

Back to the Top

Now that you know how to choose lead-free hunting ammo, you can click HERE to go back to our Best list and choose your next favorite cartridge!

Best Lead-Free Hunting Ammunition: Is Copper the New Lead? originally appeared in The Resistance Library at Ammo.com.

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Sam Jacobs
Sam Jacobs grew up in Southern New England, probably the part of the country with the weakest gun culture. However, from a young age he believed firmly in the right of self defense and the right to keep and bear arms. This, coupled with 12 years of education in public schools and an argumentative nature, meant that he was frequently getting into debates with his teachers about the virtue of the Second Amendment. A precocious student of history and the Constitution, Jacobs became interested in both the practice of armed self defense throughout history as well as the philosophical underpinnings of the Second Amendment. Jacobs has an affinity for the individual and the common man against centralized forms of power and elites, whether they be in the government or the private sector. In particular, he is interested in the ways in which private companies work to subvert the legislative process and to undermine American freedoms outside of normal legal channels. He considers the resolution of how corporate power can hem in Constitutional freedoms to be the most pressing political question of our age. The private sector and the public sector are increasingly indistinguishable from one another, both because of behind-the-scenes corporate chicanery that undermines the legislative process and because private companies are rapidly becoming far more powerful than the federal government. Thus, it is more important than ever to both fight the incursion of private companies into our government and to become independent and self-reliant enough to make it difficult for private companies to hem in your rights. So Sam believes. Jacobs is the lead writer and chief historian with Ammo.com, and is the driving intellectual force behind the content in the Resistance Library. He is proud to see his work name-checked in places like Bloomberg, USA Today and National Review, but he is far more proud to see his work republished on websites like ZeroHedge, Lew Rockwell and Sons of Liberty Media. You can catch him on Quora and Parler as well as on our very own Resistance Library podcast. How many firearms does Sam own and what’s his everyday carry? That’s between him and the NSA.