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Lead Bullet Cores

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Old 06-20-2009, 08:50 AM
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Lead Bullet Cores

I don't want to derail the coversation concerning jacketed versus banded lathe turned solids at this point but do want to ask Bryan a question related to the use of Lead as the core of jacketed bullets.

If the expected prohibition in use of lead as a bullet core takes hold, is the replacement core material going to have the same density levels as lead? If not, how does this change in core density affect the stated pros and cons of the jacketed versus solids?

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Old 06-20-2009, 10:41 AM
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Re: Lead Bullet Cores

There's no denying the momentum and impact of the anti-lead movement. I suspect each company will find alternate ways (materials) to jump the hurdle.
From a ballistic performance point of view, those materials that are more dense than lead will have a leg up, provided the material is 'workable'.
Lead really is a uniquely perfect material for bullets. Inexpensive, swage-able, dense, homogeneous. Only influences outside of physics will move core material away from such a perfect element.

You can possibly use what's happened with shot shells as a crystal ball for what might happen with rifle bullets. I may be foggy on the details, but here's how I remember it...
When lead was banned for waterfoul hunting, steel was the first commonly used replacement. It sucked because of the low density. It just didn't kill like lead. Copper shot was better, but still not as good as lead. Now, many years later, there's bismuth and heavyshot which are on par, or better than lead in performance, because it's equal to or greater in density. They do cost several times as much as lead but they get the job done.
One big difference between the challenge for shotshells vs rifle bullets is the burden of precision.

To answer your question, I think if/when lead is banned for sporting arms use, I think all the companies will pursue many different options for replacement. After a lot of time goes by, the cream will rise to the top and everyone will gravitate toward the best solution, all things considered. If the shotshell market is an indicator, cost will not keep shooters from buying a less or equally capable product when it's their only option.

Of course, the above is just my opinion of how it might happen IF lead is ever banned. I hope it never comes to that.

Bryan Litz

Author of: Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting
And: Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting

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Old 06-20-2009, 02:03 PM
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Re: Lead Bullet Cores


Thanks for the fast response. You accurately state at least what I recall was the evolution of shot, from lead to steel to the current materials.

I recall hearing something not too long ago about the US Military potentially making the switch from Lead core to something else. My memory fails me both as to what the evolutation was to and the time frame for such a transition. I suspect if the Miltary makes that transition, then lots of manufacturers will likewise at least dable with new materials, as the US Military is a huge consumer of bullets.

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Old 06-20-2009, 02:58 PM
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Re: Lead Bullet Cores


The military uses a "Torlon"/tungsten composition for it's "green" bullet. It has zero potential in ELR projectiles for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the current cost of tungsten.

A bismuth matrix suffers from similiar limitations, as it would need the addition of tungsten powder to compensate for the fact that it is 14% less dense than lead.

Both would be difficult to make homogenous, and therefore well-balanced.


Last edited by noel carlson; 06-20-2009 at 04:45 PM.
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