European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 333–340 | Cite as

Efficacy of non-lead rifle ammunition for hunting in Denmark

  • Niels KanstrupEmail author
  • Thorsten J. S. Balsby
  • Vernon G. Thomas
Original Article


Lead has traditionally been used for making hunting ammunition. However, lead from spent hunting bullets has proven to be a health hazard for wildlife, ecosystems, and humans. The transition to use non-lead ammunition for hunting raises several concerns, especially inter alia the question of efficacy. This study examined whether non-lead rifle ammunition fulfills the demands of ethical and humane hunting by causing a rapid kill of hunted animals equivalent to lead rifle ammunition. A field sample of 657 hoofed animals, most red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), were hunted under normal Danish conditions by sport hunters using commonly used rifle calibers. The efficiency of copper versus lead bullets was tested using flight distance after being hit as the primary response parameter. For red deer, we were not able to show any statistical significant difference between performance of non-lead and lead bullet. For roe deer, we found a small, statistically significant, relation between flight distances and shooting distance for roe deer struck with non-lead bullets but not with lead bullets. However, this difference was not of such magnitude as to have any practical significance under hunting conditions. We conclude that in terms of lethality and animal welfare, non-lead ammunition within the tested range of bullet calibers can be recommended as an effective alternative to lead-core bullets.


Hunting Lead-free Copper Bullets Efficacy Roe deer Red deer 



We thank the many hunters who took the time to provide all the data we requested. We also thank 15. Juni Fonden, Arboretet, Kirkegårdsvej 3A, DK-2970 Hørsholm for funding all stages of this project. The grant was given for the 3-year study period 2013–2015 (grant number 2013-A-88).

Compliance with ethical standards

All of the hunters who participated in the study were fully licensed under Danish law, were experienced hunters, who killed deer according to prevailing ethical hunting standards.

Supplementary material

10344_2016_1006_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Table S1 Brand name and caliber of bullets, and total number of red deer, and roe deer shot with each. (DOCX 28 kb)


  1. Aebischer NJ, Wheatley CJ, Rose HR (2014) Factors associated with shooting accuracy and wounding rate of four managed wild deer species in the UK, based on anonymous field records from deer stalkers. PLoS ONE 9(10), e109698. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109698 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Bellinger DC, Burger J, Cade TJ, Cory-Slechta DA, Finkelstein M, Hu H, Kosnett M (2013) Health risks from lead-based ammunition in the environment. Environ Health Perspect 121:A178–A179. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1306945 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Caudell JN, Stopak SR, Wolf PC (2012) Lead-free, high-powered rifle bullets and their applicability in wildlife management. Human Wildlife Interact 6(1):105–111Google Scholar
  4. Caudell JN (2013) Review of wound ballistic research and its application to wildlife management. Wildl Soc Bull 37(4):824–831. doi: 10.1002/wsb.311 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cromie RL, Loram A, Hurst L, O’Brien M, Newth J, Brown MJ, Harradine JP (2010) Compliance with the environmental protection (restrictions on use of lead shot) (England) Regulations 1999. Report to Defra, Bristol, p 99Google Scholar
  6. Cruz-Martinez L, Grund MD, Redig PT (2015) Quantitative assessment of bullet fragments in viscera of sheep carcasses as surrogates for white-tailed deer. Human Wildlife Interact 9(2):211–218Google Scholar
  7. Fackler ML, Surinchak JS, Malinowski JA, Brown RE (1984) Bullet fragmentation: a major cause of tissue disruption. J Trauma-Injury Infection Critical Care 24(1):35–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Golden NH, Warner SE, Coffey MJ (2016) A review and assessment of spent lead ammunition and its exposure and effects to scavenging birds in the United States. Revs Environment Contam Toxicol 237:123–191. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-23573-8_6 Google Scholar
  9. Gremse C, Rieger S (2012) Ergänzende Untersuchungen zur Tötungswirkung bleifreier Geschosse. Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE) BMELV – Förderkennzeichen 09HS023.
  10. Gremse F, Krone O, Thamm M, Kiessling F, Tolba RH, Rieger S, Gremse C (2014) Performance of lead-free versus lead-based hunting ammunition in ballistic soap. PLoS ONE 9(7), e102015. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102015 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Grund MD, Cornicelli L, Carlson LT, Butler EA (2010) Bullet fragmentation and lead deposition in white-tailed deer and domestic sheep. Human Wildlife Interact 4:257–265Google Scholar
  12. Haig SM, D’Elia J, Smith-Eagles C, Fair JM, Gervais J, Herring G, Rivers JW, Schultz JH (2014) The persistent problem of lead poisoning in birds from ammunition and fishing tackle. Condor 116:408–428. doi: 10.1650/CONDOR.14-36.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kanstrup N (2015) Non-lead rifle ammunition—availability in Danish gun stores. Report 1508–2. Danish Academy of Hunting. 8 p.
  14. Knott J, Gilbert J, Green RE, Hoccom DG (2009) Comparison of the lethality of lead and copper bullets in deer control operations to reduce incidental lead poisoning: field trials in England and Scotland. Conserv Evidence 6:71–78Google Scholar
  15. Knott J, Gilbert J, Hoccom DG, Green RE (2010) Implications for wildlife and humans of dietary exposure to lead from fragments of lead rifle bullets in deer shot in the UK. Sci Total Environ 409:95–99. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.08.053 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Knutsen HK, Brantsæter A-L, Alexander J, Meltzer HM (2015) Associations between consumption of large game animals and blood levels in humans in Europe: the Norwegian experience. In: Delahay RJ, Spray CJ (eds) The Oxford Lead Symposium. Lead ammunition: understanding and minimizing the risks to human and environmental health. Edward Grey Institute, Oxford, pp 44–50Google Scholar
  17. Littell RC, Milliken GA, Stroup WA, Wolfinger RD, Schabenberger O (2006) SAS for mixed models, secondth edn. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
  18. Nadjafzadeh M, Hofer H, Krone O (2013) The link between feeding ecology and lead poisoning in white-tailed sea eagles. J Wildl Manage 77(1):48–57. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.440 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pain DJ, Cromie RL, Newth J, Brown MJ, Crutcher E, Hardman P, Hurst L, Mateo R, Meharg AA, Moran AC, Raab A, Taggart MA, Green RE (2010) Potential hazard to human health from exposure to fragments of lead bullets and shot in the tissues of game animals. PLoS ONE 5(4), e10315. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.001031 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Sellier K, Kneubuehl BP (1994) Wound ballistics and the scientific background. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p 479Google Scholar
  21. Spicher V (2008) Experiences with lead-free rifle ammunition under field hunting conditions. In: Krone O (ed) Lead poisoning of sea eagles: causes and approaches to solutions—the transition to lead-free rifle ammunition. Leibniz Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung, Berlin, pp 81–90 (In German)Google Scholar
  22. Thomas VG (2013) Lead-free hunting rifle ammunition: product availability, price, effectiveness, and role in global wildlife conservation. AMBIO 42:737–745. doi: 10.1007/s13280-012-0361-7 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Thomas VG (2015a) Availability and use of lead-free shotgun and rifle cartridges in the UK, with reference to regulations in other jurisdictions. In: Delahay RJ, Spray CJ (eds) The Oxford Lead Symposium. Lead ammunition: understanding and minimizing the risks to human and environmental health. Edward Grey Institute, Oxford, pp 85–97Google Scholar
  24. Thomas VG (2015b) Lead-free rifle bullets: product availability, and issues concerning use in USA. In: Kanstrup N (ed) Efficiency and other aspects of transition from lead to non-lead rifle ammunition. Dansk Jagtakademi, Danish Hunters’ Association and 15, Juni Fonden, AarhusGoogle Scholar
  25. Trinogga A, Fritsch G, Hofer H, Krone O (2013) Are lead-free hunting rifle bullets as effective at killing wildlife as conventional bullets? A comparison based on would size and morphology. Sci Total Environ 443:226–232. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.10.084 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Watson RT, Fuller M, Pokras M, Hunt WG (eds) (2009) Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: implications for wildlife and humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, 383Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niels Kanstrup
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thorsten J. S. Balsby
    • 2
  • Vernon G. Thomas
    • 3
  1. 1.Danish Academy of HuntingRøndeDenmark
  2. 2.Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityRøndeDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations