Get the Lead Out!

Why is lead a problem?
Lead can be toxic to animals at very low levels of exposure. For instance, lead at toxic levels damages the nervous system, causing paralysis and eventually death; at lower levels it is known to cause a variety of sub-lethal effects, such as organ damage and reproductive impairment. Lead can have similar effects on birds and mammals.

Lead has been used in ammunition and fishing tackle for thousands of years because it is readily available, dense, malleable, and inexpensive. Lead from ammunition and fishing tackle provides a small fraction of total environmental releases, but it exists in a form that can be readily ingested by some species of wildlife. Studies have shown that waterbirds, game birds and eagles can ingest lead left behind, especially in areas with heavy fishing or hunting pressure. Shooting ranges can have high concentrations of lead as well.

Options to lead tackle and ammunition
There are a variety of substitutes for lead fishing sinkers and jigheads including ceramics, bismuth, steel, tin, and tungsten have been deemed safe or less toxic if ingested by waterfowl and other birds and mammals.

There has been an extensive effort in the development, efficacy testing, and regulation of alternatives to lead-based ammunition for hunting waterfowl and waterbirds. Several effective nontoxic alternatives have been approved and are available in sporting goods stores. Several manufacturers have developed nontoxic ammunition that can be used safely in all gauges of modern shotguns, as well as nontoxic rifle bullets for hunting large game. Nontoxic shot may be used in all clay target sports and currently is required by some shooting facilities.

Concerns about alternatives:


  • Sinkers and jigheads made from alternative materials may be larger to obtain a similar weight as with lead. This may be less desirable for some anglers.

  • Split shot made of alternative metals is less malleable, but this should not be a problem unless an angler is attaching and removing it several times.

  • Lead free sinkers and jig heads often are more expensive, but costs have gotten cheaper as more come on the market and they are more widely used.


  • Early steel shot damaged some gun barrels. Technological advances now allow ammunition manufacturers to produce steel shot loads that have, for all practical purposes, eliminated bore erosion.

  • Steel shot usually retains a much tighter, more compact pattern and a shorter shot string than does lead shot. The shot string for steel is 2/3 the diameter and ½ of the length of lead. What does this mean for the shooter? It means the shooter has to practice and improve their shooting skills due to the shooter having a smaller margin of error when shooting steel shot. NOTE: It is important for shooters to practice using steel shot if that is what they are going to shoot in the field.

  • Steel shot ammunition generally costs more than most lead shot ammunition because of the higher manufacturing costs. As steel ammunition becomes more widely used and the steel shot market stabilizes, costs will decrease

What's the DNR doing?

Education Programs:

  • We provide general information in hunter education classes as well as instructor training for shooting sports and angler education.

  • The Fish Iowa! materials incorporate information about lead hazards and alternatives and the revised hunter education instructor guide/curriculum will include a section on alternatives to lead ammunition

  • We offer advanced hunter education workshops to instructors on the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Program (CONSEP) and lead-free alternatives to make them more familiar with what is out there so they can pass on their knowledge to students. We will start offering CONSEP workshops to the public in 2011 and incorporate a short section on other alternatives to lead besides steel shot (copper slugs/tin bullets, etc.).

  • We send updates about lead issues and alternatives to our trainers and partners when new information becomes available. Beginning in 2011, we will provide the Get the Lead Out brochure to program participants.

  • The Shooting Sports program encourages ranges to use good management practices to reduce or eliminate any environmental impact and discourage wildlife from using the range area and distributes Environmental Management at Operating Outdoor Small Arms Firing Ranges. This publication discusses non-lead options.

Information in Regulations:
The fishing and hunting regulations each include information about lead hazards and recommendations for alternatives.

Information for our hunting, shooting and fishing partners:

  • The Get the Lead Out brochure will be available for educators and conservation partners in January 2011.
  • Lead in hunting and fishing will be the topic of a special symposium at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife meeting in November 2011.
  • Alternatives to Lead Ammunition for Hunting & Shooting Sports brochure will be made available to students and participants in Hunter Education and Shooting Sports Programs in Spring 2011.

Information at ranges, wildlife areas, and fishing areas:
We are developing displays and posting signs at shooting ranges that inform recreationists of the hazards of lead and what they can do to protect themselves and fish and wildlife.

Showcasing alternatives:

  • The Fish Iowa! program uses lead-free sinkers for all our training programs and recommends that educators do the same. In 2011, groups who use our free-loan rods and reels will be provided lead-free split shot to try as well.

  • Shooting sports offers lead-free ammunition at state shooting ranges and for CONSEP trainings.

  • We provide non-toxic alternative as an option for the state-wide High School/SCTP ammunition purchase.

  • The Hunter Education Program provides steel shot for Department sponsored waterfowl and pheasant mentored hunts.


What Can You Do?
Learn more about the hazards of lead in the environment and lead-free options. The following are links to additional background information and other web sites:

Ask for lead-free option when you buy ammunition or fishing tackle:
Several manufacturers and vendors are responding to requests for environmentally friendly alternatives.

If you use lead, follow guidelines to reduce lead in the environment: