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 Centerfire Rifle

Elk shot with Barnes TSXExpanding hollow-point bullets

Expanding hollow-pointExpanding hollow-point bullets open with four or six petals into a mushroom nearly twice the original diameter. They can have polymer tips that initiate rapid expansion on thin skinned animals, or be un-tipped for thicker skinned animals with equal expansion, but which open slightly deeper. The hollow-point opens with hydraulic pressure and retains most of the original weight (between 98% and 99.7% in tests). These bullets penetrate deeply because they do not fragment, they cause high amounts of shock due to the rapid and wide expansion, and they have sharp petals that cut effectively deep in the wound channel. These bullets differ from fragmenting-tip hollow-points in that they have high weight retention and a single wound channel. Examples include Barnes TSX, Hornady GMX, Nosler E-Tip, Federal Trophy Copper, and Winchester Powercore 95/5.

Fragmenting tip hollow-point bullets

Fragmenting-tip hollow-points are similar in construction to the expanding hollow-point bullets, but have a distinct difference after expansion is started. Just like expanding hollow points, hydraulic pressure causes the tip to open into several razor sharp petals, but in this case, the petals separate from the bullet shank, causing diverging wound channels. The shank continues to penetrate deeper into the tissue and causes cavitation with a flat meplat that results in high amounts of damage to internal organs and produces an exit wound to increase blood loss and assist trailing. These bullets open quickly and can have very large initial wound cavities that dissipate energy into the tissue, as well as a deep wound channel and exit wound. Examples include: GS Custom bullets, Norma Kalahari, and Cutting Edge bullets.

Frangible bullets

DRT Frangible bulletCenter-fire rifle frangible bullets are designed to disintegrate into powder-like particles upon striking an object. These projectiles were initially intended for target practice involving close range shooting or indoor ranges. However, these bullets also provide an alternative to lead-based small/varmint hunting rounds. These bullets provide great accuracy from small caliber rifles and usually produce a small entry hole and no exit. This is why many varmint hunters who sell their pelts use frangible bullets when hunting. Frangible bullets mainly consist of a copper jacket with a powdered copper, zinc, tungsten or tin core. Since these bullets spread powder throughout the animal, it is not recommended to use on game that the hunter intends to consume. Manufactures include: Barnes Varmint Grenade, Hornady NTX, Nosler Ballistic Tip Lead Free, SinterFire, DRT bullets.



How to Switch
Bullet length comparison



Monolithic bullets are longer than lead core bullets of the same weight.  Longer bullets may react differently, depending on the twist rate of your barrel.   Choosing a lighter non-lead option will result in a similar length and performance to the lead bullets you are used to.


Photos: Conservation Media © 2013

Polymer tips

Many non-lead bullets have a polymer tip.  The tip covers a large hollow point, which helps initiate rapid expansion.  Tipped bullets are great options for lighter game.  Some bullets without a polymer tip are marketed for delayed expansion and increased penetration.  Delayed penetration isn’t generally needed in deer sized game.

Different brands

Diff brands

Dif brands
Every gun handles ammunition differently.  Try different brands or different bullet configurations to find out which works best in your gun and for your hunt. 
Sighting in




Sight in.  As with any ammo, take time to sight in.  Non-lead ammunition is extremely accurate but may shoot to a different point of impact in comparison to lead ammo.  Know your ammo before you head into the field. 

Deer sections Shot placement is everything.  Aim for areas that use the advantages of non-lead.  Non-lead bullets benefit from going through tough tissues and fluid filled organs.  Aim for the front end of the vitals to maximize expansion and increase the chances of breaking the shoulder.  Non-lead bullets should easily crush the bone in deer-sized game.

Non-lead online For the best prices and availability, Shop Online.  Most states and cities allow sportsmen to buy ammunition online.  Just be sure to order ahead of time.

Non-lead bullets can also be found in many local gun stores and sporting goods retailers.  If your bullet size is unavailable most retail stores will special order ammunition. 



Find Bullets

We understand that finding ammunition for a particular rifle can be difficult, especially so with hard-to-find calibers.  While HWNL does not endorse any manufacturer or retailer over another, here are a few helpful tips to find ammo:

» To find common cartridges, use a search function such as gunbot.net or ammoseek.com.

» If it isn’t found by using a search function, find a custom ammunition loader.  Custom loaders can make any known cartridge, and some will use once-fired brass from the client to reduce costs.

» Visiting your local gun store and asking for non-lead ammunition may be the most convenient way to purchase non-lead ammunition. Knowing what brands and bullet models are available in non-lead before going to your local store is always a good idea.

» Bullets are widely available and we have found 293 cartridges loaded with non-lead bullets made by custom loaders. 

» Lastly, email nonlead@iws.org and use our experience to help you find the cartridge for you.


California DFW List of Certified Non-lead Ammo


  EMAIL US nonlead@iws.org