Standard deer meat processing scheme
X-ray showing presence of lead bullet fragments in deer backstrap.
One of the most compelling reasons to consider using non-lead ammunition is the recent documentation that lead bullet fragments frequently end up being found in processed game meat, particularly ground venison. This makes complete sense once it's realized how much lead bullets can fragment when they strike an animal. The small particle size of the bullet fragments makes it extremely unlikely that you will see or feel them when the animal is being butchered. Trim scraps tossed into the "burger pile" can contain lead and even whole steaks have been found to have lead fragments.
We don't want to be seen as alarmist on this issue because no evidence currently exists that shows that any person has gotten actual lead poisoning from eating game meat. Medical researchers generally agree that children under age 6 and pregnant women are extra sensitive to effects from lead exposure and should take special care to avoid ingestion of lead. And while lead paint remains the primary pathway for lead exposure for children in the USA, the precautionary principle of avoiding known risk factors has prompted many hunters to use non-lead ammo.
One study that investigated the prevalence of this health risk brought 30 different eviscerated white-tailed deer carcasses to 30 separate meat processors and asked for steaks and burger packages. The packages were sub-sampled and the researchers found that 32% of 234 ground venison packages contained at least one metal fragment and 93% of all fragments were positively identified as lead.
Location of lead bullet fragments (red circles around bright spots) in venison burger.
20 separate, one-pound packages of ground venison
viewed with a C-T scanner. Bright objects are lead fragments.