Information on Lead in the Meat of Wild Game

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Recent studies have provided important, new information about lead fragments in venison and other game harvested with lead ammunition. Following are some facts from those studies. To make informed decisions about consuming game, hunters are advised to learn more about the studies by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/lead/index.html) and the North Dakota Department of Health (www.ndhealth.gov/lead/Venison/).

Following are key points from the these and other studies:

  • A number of studies have shown elevated lead levels in deer and game birds harvested with lead ammunition.
  • A study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources(DNR) showed that shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets, the predominant ammunition used to hunt deer in New Jersey, produced fewer fragments than high velocity rifle bullets. Therefore, the use of muzzleloaders and shotgun slugs will reduce, but not eliminate, the amount of lead left in venison. Buckshot was not tested, but it is reasonable to assume that it too leaves fewer fragments than high velocity rifle bullets.
  • Most lead fragments are too small to see or feel.
  • Approximately 50% of the fragments from muzzleloader bullets and slugs were found within 2" of the wound channel, although some were found up to 18" away. Therefore, generous trimming around the wound channel can substantially reduce, but not entirely eliminate lead fragments.
  • Shot placement can minimize your exposure to lead. A shot into any part of the deer where heavy bones are located will result in high and widespread lead fragmentation. Hunters, as always, must choose their shots wisely and maintain their marksmanship skills.
  • Ground venison contains more lead fragments than whole cuts. The Minnesota DNR found that only 2% of the whole cuts of meat they tested contained detectable lead fragments, compared to 27% of ground venison. A study in North Dakota detected lead fragments in more than 50% of ground venison packages. The only way to completely eliminate lead fragments is to use non-lead ammunition, such as solid copper. Lead in venison has not been linked to any illnesses. However, a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) conducted in North Dakota found that people who consumed game harvested with lead bullets had higher blood lead levels than those who ate little or none. None of the 738 study participants had a blood level in excess of 10 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which CDC recommends case management to reduce blood lead levels in children (25 micrograms per deciliter is the corresponding level in adults).
  • According to the CDC there is evidence that suggests that harmful effects on the mental and physical development of young children can occur at blood lead levels below 10 micrograms per deciliter. Therefore, the North Dakota Department of Health advised pregnant women and children under 6 years old not to consume venison harvested with lead ammunition. They also advised older children and adults to take steps to minimize their potential exposure to lead, and use their judgment about consuming game taken with lead-based ammunition.
  • Guidelines for reducing lead during venison processing have been published by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (www.agdepartment.com/Programs/Livestock/LeadVenisonGuidelines.pdf).
  • The use of non-toxic ammunition is the surest way of eliminating lead fragments in the meat of game animals.