pp 1–9 | Cite as

Fragmentation of lead-free and lead-based hunting rifle bullets under real life hunting conditions in Germany

  • Anna Lena TrinoggaEmail author
  • Alexandre Courtiol
  • Oliver Krone
Lead Use in Hunting


As lead is a heavy metal showing high toxicity for many organisms, its entry in the ecosystem should be minimised. Nevertheless, considerable quantities are deposited in the environment via hunting ammunition. Such practice is responsible for the occurrence of lead poisoning in many wildlife species and represents a health risk to humans. We assess the differences in the fragmentation patterns of lead-based and lead-free hunting rifle bullets using the radiographic characteristics of gunshot wounds. We took radiographs of 297 wild ungulates shot during regular hunting events in Germany. Compared to lead-free ammunition, both the number of bullet fragments and the maximal distance between fragments and the wound channel increased when bullets were lead-based. Under normal German hunting conditions, the use of lead-based bullets causes a broad contamination of the carcass and the viscera with bullet material. The wide-spread substitution of lead-based bullets through non-lead alternatives should therefore be further encouraged.


Bullet fragmentation Game animals Lead poisoning Radiography Rifle bullets Sustainable hunting 



This study was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) (reference no. 0330720), the Supreme Hunting Authorities of the federal states of Brandenburg (23-2130/7 + 5-54/07) and Schleswig–Holstein (V 542–7461.9) and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, and administered by the Project Management Juelich (PtJ). We thank the forest administrations of the Federal Republic of Germany and the federal states of Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig–Holstein as well as the City of Rostock and the Müritz National Park for providing us with study animals. Special thanks go to K. Blank, V. Hoffmann, Dr. N. Kenntner, F. Lackmann, Dr. M. Nadjafzadeh, Dr. F. Scholz, H. Schumann, Dr. J. Sulawa, K. Totschek and all participating hunters and foresters for their help in conducting the examinations. We are grateful to Dr. C. Gremse and Professor Dr. S. Rieger (HNEE Eberswalde) for making the shooting reports available to us. Finally, we thank the Guest Editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript.


  1. Brogdon, B.G., and J.M. Messmer. 2011. Forensic radiology of gunshot wounds. In Brogdon’s forensic radiology, 2nd ed, ed. M.J. Thali, M.D. Viner, and B.G. Brogdon, 211–240. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR). 2010. Bleibelastung von Wildbret durch Verwendung von Bleimunition bei der Jagd. Stellungnahme des BfR Nr. 040/2011 vom 03. Dezember 2010. Berlin, Germany. (in German). Accessed 05 February 2019.
  3. Caudell, J.N., S.R. Stopak, and P.C. Wolf. 2012. Lead-free, high-powered rifle bullets and their applicability in wildlife management. Human-Wildlife Interactions 6: 105–111.Google Scholar
  4. Cruz-Martinez, L., M.D. Grund, and P.T. Redig. 2015. Quantitative assessment of bullet fragments in viscera of sheep carcasses as surrogates for white-tailed deer. Human-Wildlife Interactions 9: 211–218.Google Scholar
  5. Dinno A. 2017. dunn.test: Dunn’s Test of Multiple Comparisons Using Rank Sums. R package version 1.3.5.
  6. European Food Safety Authority. Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food. Parma, Italy 2013. Accessed 24 October 2018.
  7. Fachehoun, R.C., B. Lévesque, P. Dumas, A. St-Louis, M. Dubé, and P. Ayotte. 2015. Lead exposure through consumption of big game meat in Quebec, Canada: Risk assessment and perception. Food Additives and Contaminants Part A Chemistry Analysis Control Exposure & Risk Assessment 32 (9): 1501–1511.Google Scholar
  8. Fackler, M.L., J.S. Surinchak, J.A. Malinowski, and R.E. Bowen. 1984. Bullet fragmentation: A major cause of tissue disruption. Journal of Trauma 24: 35–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gerofke, A., E. Ulbig, A. Martin, C. Müller-Graf, T. Selhorst, C. Gremse, M. Spolders, H. Schafft, et al. 2018. Lead content in wild game shot with lead or non-lead ammunition—Does “state of the art consumer health protection” require non-lead ammunition? PLoS ONE 13: e0200792. Scholar
  10. Gremse, F., O. Krone, M. Thamm, F. Kiessling, R.H. Tolba, S. Rieger, and C. Gremse. 2014. Performance of lead-free versus lead-based ammunition in ballistic soap. PLoS ONE 9: e102015. Scholar
  11. Grund, M.D., L. Cornicelli, L.T. Carlson, and E.A. Butler. 2010. Bullet fragmentation and lead deposition in white-tailed deer and domestic sheep. Human-Wildlife Interactions 4: 257–265.Google Scholar
  12. Hartig F. 2019. DHARMa: Residual Diagnostics for Hierarchical (Multi-Level/Mixed) Regression Models. R package version 0.2.2.
  13. Hollerman, J.J., M.L. Fackler, D.M. Coldwell, and Y. Ben-Menachem. 1990. Gunshot wounds: 2. Radiology. American Journal of Roentgenology 155: 691–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hunt, W.G., W. Burnham, C.N. Parish, K.K. Burnham, B. Mutch, and J.L. Oaks. 2006. Bullet fragments in deer remains: Implications for lead exposure in avian scavengers. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34: 167–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hunt, W.G., R.T. Watson, J.L. Oaks, C.N. Parish, K.K. Burnham, R.L. Tucker, J.R. Belthoff, and G. Hart. 2009. Lead bullet fragments in venison from rifle-killed deer: Potential for human dietary exposure. PLoS ONE 4: e5330. Scholar
  16. Irschik, I., F. Bauer, M. Sager, and P. Paulsen. 2013. Copper residues in meat from wild artiodactyls hunted with two types of rifle bullets manufactured from copper. European Journal of Wildlife Research 59: 129–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kanstrup, N., T.J.S. Balsby, and V.G. Thomas. 2016. Efficacy of non-lead rifle ammunition for hunting in Denmark. European Journal of Wildlife Research 62: 333–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kneubuehl B.P. 2011. Vergleich der Gefährdung durch abgeprallte bleihaltige und bleifreie Jagdgeschosse. Bericht zum Forschungsvorhaben „Abprallverhalten von Jagdmunition“der Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung (BLE) (Förderkennzeichen 2809HS001). Bern, Switzerland. document “09HS001_Gutachten_Abpraller_Buechsengeschosse.pdf“available on (in German). Accessed 28 October 2018.
  19. Knott, J., J. Gilbert, R.E. Green, and D.G. Hoccom. 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. Conservation Evidence 6: 71–78.Google Scholar
  20. Knott, J., J. Gilbert, D.G. Hoccom, and R.E. Green. 2010. Implications for wildlife and humans of dietary exposure to lead from fragments of lead rifle bullets in deer shot in the UK. Science of the Total Environment 409: 95–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Knutsen H.K., A.L. Brantsæter, J. Alexander, and H.M. Meltzer. 2015. Associations between consumption of large game animals and blood lead levels in humans in Europe: the Norwegian experience. In Proceedings of the Oxford Lead Symposium: Lead Ammunition: Understanding and Minimizing the Risks to Human and Environmental Health, ed. R.J. Delahay, and C.J. Spray, 44-50, Oxford University: Edward Grey Institute.Google Scholar
  22. Kollander, B., F. Widemo, E. Ågren, E.H. Larsen, and K. Loeschner. 2017. Detection of lead nanoparticles in game meat by single particle ICP-MS following use of lead-containing bullets. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 409: 1877–1885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Krone, O. 2018. Lead poisoning in birds of prey. In Birds of prey: Biology and conservation in the XXI century, ed. J.H. Sarasola, J.M. Grande, and J.J. Negro, 215–272. Basel: Springer.Google Scholar
  24. Lindboe, M., E.N. Henrichsen, H.R. Høgåsen, and A. Bernhoft. 2012. Lead concentration in meat from lead-killed moose and predicted human exposure using Monte Carlo simulation. Food Additives and Contaminants Part A Chemistry Analysis Control Exposure & Risk Assessment 29: 1052–1057.Google Scholar
  25. Martin, A., C. Gremse, T. Selhorst, N. Bandick, C. Müller-Graf, M. Greiner, and M. Lahrssen-Wiederholt. 2017. Hunting of roe deer and wild boar in Germany: Is non-lead ammunition suitable for hunting? PLoS ONE 12: e0185029. Scholar
  26. R Core Team. 2019. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  27. Rousset, F., and J.-B. Ferdy. 2014. Testing environmental and genetic effects in the presence of spatial autocorrelation. Ecography 37: 781–790. Scholar
  28. Schneider G., E. Chicken, and R. Becvarik. 2018. NSM3: Functions and Datasets to Accompany Hollander, Wolfe, and Chicken – Nonparametric Statistical Methods, Third Edition. R package version 1.12.
  29. Schlichting, D., C. Sommerfeld, C. Müller-Graf, T. Selhorst, M. Greiner, A. Gerofke, E. Ulbig, C. Gremse, et al. 2017. Copper and zinc content in wild game shot with lead or non-lead ammunition—implications for consumer health protection. PLoS ONE 12: e0184946. Scholar
  30. Stokke, S., S. Brainerd, and J. Arnemo. 2017. Metal deposition of copper and lead bullets in moose harvested in Fennoscandia. Wildlife Society Bulletin 41: 98–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Trinogga, A., G. Fritsch, H. Hofer, and O. Krone. 2013. Are lead-free hunting rifle bullets as effective at killing wildlife as conventional lead bullets? A comparison based on wound size and morphology. Science of the Total Environment 443: 226–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Lena Trinogga
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexandre Courtiol
    • 2
  • Oliver Krone
    • 3
  1. 1.Food and Veterinary Office of the Administrative District of Havelland (Landkreis Havelland, Amt für Landwirtschaft, Veterinär- und Lebensmittelüberwachung)NauenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary GeneticsLeibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife ResearchBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Department of Wildlife DiseasesLeibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife ResearchBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations