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  #1  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:09 AM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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What could be used for bullets instead of lead?

While surfing, I came across this article about wanting to ban lead in bullets. I'm not particularly interested in debating the politics of the matter, but lead is traditionally the metal used in bullets and I wonder what could be used instead? Depleted uranium?

For reference, there was a somewhat similar brouhaha here in the U.K. over lead in toy figurines. The industry made a lot of noise to no avail, and when the ban went through, came up with an alternative.
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  #2  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:29 AM
Lynn Bodoni Lynn Bodoni is offline
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The US has a ban on lead in game miniatures, too. They aren't and weren't really toys, and I don't find pewter to be a good substitute. It's more expensive and harder to alter. Most people took care that kids didn't play with those miniatures, because they were rather expensive, and usually the owners had spent a bit of time and effort to paint them.

Of course, gun owners are responsible for keeping bullets out of the hands (and mouths) of children, but in shooting, the bullets will be lost, much of the time, lead in bullets WILL get into the environment.

I don't really know what could be an acceptable substitute, though.
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  #3  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:38 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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  • Copper
  • Tungsten
  • Bismuth
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Old 08-27-2010, 02:46 AM
si_blakely si_blakely is offline
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Tungsten, Bismuth or Steel (and alloys or blended sinter thereof) are the usual contenders. Cost is a major issue - Pb is cheap.

Apart from lead shot (used by birds as crop stones) and shooting ranges, I think the risks of lead toxicity from bullets are overstated - lead metal has low bioavailability (gunpowder assisted acceleration notwithstanding, 5th cartoon down).

Si
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:17 AM
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As far as I know Bismuth is actually used as a substitute for lead in birdshot.
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  #6  
Old 08-27-2010, 03:29 AM
dtilque dtilque is offline
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From a purely physical standpoint, gold would be one of the best metals to make bullets from. It's much denser than lead and has essentially no toxicity.
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:34 AM
GiantRat GiantRat is offline
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Thanks, Si_blakely, you just led me into a bottomless pit of geek cartoons from which I'm unlikely ever to emerge...

To the OP, the primary advantage of lead is that it's got a good amount of mass (for stability and "knock-down power"), is cheap, and... well, it's just what's always been used. There are, of course, things like rubber bullets, incendiary bullets, etc..., but I'd be pissed if I had to buy a box of those every time I went to the range. As previously mentioned, the dangers of lead are a bit overstated (it's after all, a naturally existing element... like arsenic, I suppose). My advice is always just to thoroughly wash one's hands after handling ammo (loading magazines, reloading cartridges, whatever).
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Old 08-27-2010, 04:03 AM
Gukumatz Gukumatz is offline
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Lead-shot was completely and totally banned in Norway back in '05. Steel, bismuth and tungsten are the replacers.

Bismuth is closest to lead in physical properties - it's heavy and soft. With the tin alloy (94% tungsten, 6.9% tin) it deforms and doesn't crack bones. It averages at a marginal better killing power than lead. I've had great success with it for both small game hunt and fowl, although I prefer steel for fowl. They're relatively expensive, but the price is going down and the makers say they've got more material than they'll ever use.

Steel is lighter and less powerful than lead. The big disadvantages is the reduced killing power, increased ricochet risk and that they don't deform when they hit bone. Some people also say that there's a risk that it can blow the gun. This is true; steel shouldn't be used with more than 1/2 choke. As for the killing power, my rule of thumb is to go up two sizes compared to lead shot. That works fine for me.

Tungsten (wolfram powder and plastic or polymer) shot are heavier than lead and, combined with the nickeled surface, this gives shooting properties comparable to lead shot. The advantage over Bismuth shot is the slight reduction in price and that they can be used with pretty much any weapon that can shoot lead shot. (If you're uncertain, get a gunsmith to pressure-test it for you.) Soft and heavy, they don't ricochet easily and deform when they hit bone.

Last edited by Gukumatz; 08-27-2010 at 04:04 AM..
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Old 08-27-2010, 05:02 AM
si_blakely si_blakely is offline
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Originally Posted by GiantRat View Post
Thanks, Si_blakely, you just led me into a bottomless pit of geek cartoons from which I'm unlikely ever to emerge...
Yep, I searched for those cartoons knowing that I might spend far too much time looking at them if I found them.

Si
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  #10  
Old 08-27-2010, 05:33 AM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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But isn't Bismuth pretty rare? I know it's a by-product of lead production, but starting to use it in the quantities that lead is used would deplete resources very rapidly, right?
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  #11  
Old 08-27-2010, 07:10 AM
Mk VII Mk VII is offline
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Sintered iron has been used by Germany in WW2 as a desperate substitute. No one has taken it up in the postwar era, unlike their other innovations such as steel cases.
English guns [transl: shotguns] traditionally have much thinner barrel walls than US ones and the higher pressures associated with substitutes could well make them unusable.
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  #12  
Old 08-27-2010, 08:09 AM
Lightnin' Lightnin' is offline
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Originally Posted by si_blakely View Post
Apart from lead shot (used by birds as crop stones) and shooting ranges, I think the risks of lead toxicity from bullets are overstated - lead metal has low bioavailability (gunpowder assisted acceleration notwithstanding, 5th cartoon down).
Here's an aerial shot of the neighborhood I used to live in. That huge rectangular dirt pit you see is what used to be a shooting range- they're in the process of cleaning it up so they can build a new subdivision there (although the housing market crash may have derailed these plans).

Anyway, the reason it's all dug up is they're having to clean up all the lead left in the ground from all that ammo. This is not to say that this is the first time that shooting range has been cleaned, however- when the range was in operation, they had to do a similar process every three years.

Every three years they'd clean up nine tons of lead and other shooting debris. Frankly, that kinda scares the crap out of me.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:19 AM
si_blakely si_blakely is offline
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Anyway, the reason it's all dug up is they're having to clean up all the lead left in the ground from all that ammo. This is not to say that this is the first time that shooting range has been cleaned, however- when the range was in operation, they had to do a similar process every three years.

Every three years they'd clean up nine tons of lead and other shooting debris. Frankly, that kinda scares the crap out of me.
The small range I shot at a few times as a teen used jap squares (locally produced 1 ft x 1 ft pine blocks for export) as the stop - every year they replaced the blocks, burned the old ones and collected the lead for scrap. Of course, no handguns or automatic weapons - mostly .22 rimfire, .222 and .303 in those days.

Si
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:28 AM
Xema Xema is online now
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Originally Posted by GiantRat View Post
the primary advantage of lead is that it's got a good amount of mass (for stability and "knock-down power"), is cheap, and... well, it's just what's always been used.
Also, it's easily cast/formed into desired bullet shapes.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:30 AM
Xema Xema is online now
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Frankly, that kinda scares the crap out of me.
Is this because you dispute the low bioavailability claim, or for another reason?
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  #16  
Old 08-27-2010, 08:46 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Originally Posted by Gukumatz View Post
Bismuth is closest to lead in physical properties - it's heavy and soft. With the tin alloy (94% tungsten, 6.9% tin)...
So the alloy has 100.9% tungsten and tin before the bismuth is added? Methinks these figures aren't right.
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  #17  
Old 08-27-2010, 10:02 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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From a purely physical standpoint, gold would be one of the best metals to make bullets from. It's much denser than lead and has essentially no toxicity.
It would serve other purposes as well. Gold bullets would be significantly more expensive. That would provide an economic incentive for people to be more thoughtful about who they choose to shoot.
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Old 08-27-2010, 10:07 AM
jayjay jayjay is offline
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From a purely physical standpoint, gold would be one of the best metals to make bullets from. It's much denser than lead and has essentially no toxicity.
It would serve other purposes as well. Gold bullets would be significantly more expensive. That would provide an economic incentive for people to be more thoughtful about who they choose to shoot.
Make silver the standard and our national lycanthropy epidemic will end within the year!
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Old 08-27-2010, 10:08 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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That would provide an economic incentive for people to be more thoughtful about who they choose to shoot.

"You should be flattered, Mr. Bond" said Scaramanga.











(Actually, Scaramanga only used gold bullets in the movie The Man With the Golden Gun. and only in that was the gun really made of gold. In Ian Fleming's last Bond book, Francisco Scaramanga used a gold-plated revolver, and ordinary lead bullets.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-27-2010 at 10:08 AM..
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  #20  
Old 08-27-2010, 10:19 AM
SwanSword SwanSword is offline
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Bullets can be made of any metal that can withstand being fired from a firearm. The issue is cost and effectiveness. Lead is a good compromise because it offers low cost combined with high effectiveness. The plan of the EPA will have no effect on environmental pollution, but will increase the cost of ammunition, which will punish gun owners liberals hate, and reduce sales of ammunition.

One great alternative full steel-jacketed mercury or potassium.
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  #21  
Old 08-27-2010, 10:21 AM
Lightnin' Lightnin' is offline
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Frankly, that kinda scares the crap out of me.
Is this because you dispute the low bioavailability claim, or for another reason?

The sheer tonnage, actually. Too much of anything, even of something relatively inert, can't be good.
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  #22  
Old 08-27-2010, 10:27 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
From a purely physical standpoint, gold would be one of the best metals to make bullets from. It's much denser than lead and has essentially no toxicity.
There's just something so ... human inherent in considering the toxicity of bullets. I get the distinction between target and waste product, but it's bizarre nonetheless.


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Originally Posted by Lynn Bodoni View Post
The US has a ban on lead in game miniatures, too. They aren't and weren't really toys, and I don't find pewter to be a good substitute. It's more expensive and harder to alter. Most people took care that kids didn't play with those miniatures, because they were rather expensive, and usually the owners had spent a bit of time and effort to paint them
By game miniatures, do you mean those small D&D figurines? I have a slew of them from the 80s--should I be keeping them away from the Dudeling? A link or whatnot is fine, I don't want to derail the thread. A man could get shot for something like that.
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Old 08-27-2010, 10:41 AM
jayjay jayjay is offline
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The US has a ban on lead in game miniatures, too. They aren't and weren't really toys, and I don't find pewter to be a good substitute. It's more expensive and harder to alter. Most people took care that kids didn't play with those miniatures, because they were rather expensive, and usually the owners had spent a bit of time and effort to paint them
By game miniatures, do you mean those small D&D figurines? I have a slew of them from the 80s--should I be keeping them away from the Dudeling? A link or whatnot is fine, I don't want to derail the thread. A man could get shot for something like that.
Yes, those. The lead ban didn't come into effect until the 90s, I believe, so most if not all figurines from the 80s are going to be lead. I would keep them away from kids younger than about six or seven, or at least old enough to understand not to put them in their mouths.
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Old 08-27-2010, 10:57 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Wow, thanks. I'm glad I didn't eat too many of them as a kid (pointy bits didn't go down well)!
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  #25  
Old 08-27-2010, 10:59 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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But isn't Bismuth pretty rare? I know it's a by-product of lead production, but starting to use it in the quantities that lead is used would deplete resources very rapidly, right?
Somewhat rarer, but not ridiculously so, and it already has a number of industrial uses:

http://www.webelements.com/bismuth/uses.html

Metallic bismuth is in the vicinity of 10-20 times the cost of lead, which does make bismuth shot more expensive. I would guess that an increased demand for making shot could be absorbed. How many gallons of pink bismuth (eg, Pepto-Bismol)are manufactured every year? Offhand, I don't know how bismuth subsalicylate is manufactured, but that's a LOT of that particular bismuth compound.

There have been studies questioning the supposed low toxicity of bismuth, too. It's a lot less toxic than lead, though.
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  #26  
Old 08-27-2010, 11:21 AM
purplehorseshoe purplehorseshoe is offline
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Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
From a purely physical standpoint, gold would be one of the best metals to make bullets from. It's much denser than lead and has essentially no toxicity.
It would serve other purposes as well. Gold bullets would be significantly more expensive. That would provide an economic incentive for people to be more thoughtful about who they choose to shoot.
I think it was Chris Rock who had a bit about gun control not being effective about controlling inner-city violence ... but if you made bullets $1,000 each, people would think twice about drive-bys and spraying ammo every which way. I had no idea the man was an environmentalist, too!
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Old 08-27-2010, 11:34 AM
Spoke Spoke is online now
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Steel is lighter and less powerful than lead...Some people also say that there's a risk that it can blow the gun. This is true; steel shouldn't be used with more than 1/2 choke.
Yeah, I inherited an otherwise very fine shotgun with a barrel that's been deformed by use of steel shot. Or so the gunsmith tells me.
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  #28  
Old 08-27-2010, 12:03 PM
Tranquilis Tranquilis is offline
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Copper has been mentioned, but then largely dropped, in this conversation.
Solid copper projectiles are reasonably available, effective, and inexpensive. I've seen them for everything from air rifles to heavy smooth-bores. Not so cheap as lead, but then you don't need to pay so much for cleanup, and can use them on an indoor range without expensive environmental controls. They don't expand so easily as jacketed lead, but there are ways around that.
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Old 08-27-2010, 01:29 PM
Sailboat Sailboat is offline
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Originally Posted by Lynn Bodoni View Post
The US has a ban on lead in game miniatures, too. They aren't and weren't really toys, and I don't find pewter to be a good substitute. It's more expensive and harder to alter.
Doesn't pewter contain arsenic? Or is that a myth I absorbed from people complaining about the change to pewter figurines?
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Old 08-27-2010, 01:37 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Bodoni View Post
The US has a ban on lead in game miniatures, too. They aren't and weren't really toys, and I don't find pewter to be a good substitute. It's more expensive and harder to alter.
Doesn't pewter contain arsenic? Or is that a myth I absorbed from people complaining about the change to pewter figurines?
You may be confusing antimony. Various alloys have been called "pewter". They are mostly tin, with varying amounts of copper, antimony, bismuth and lead. Lead is no longer generally used in modern pewter alloys, and certainly not "food grade" pewter, but was used historically.
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  #31  
Old 08-27-2010, 01:51 PM
dzero dzero is offline
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I think they should require silver bullets with explosive, garlic juice tips. You would be ready for werewolves, vampires and even zombies. No more fumbling around trying to figure out which is the correct round for any given situation.
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  #32  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:37 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I think they should require silver bullets with explosive, garlic juice tips. You would be ready for werewolves, vampires and even zombies. No more fumbling around trying to figure out which is the correct round for any given situation.
And witches. I was surprised to learn that silver bullets were originally the prescription against witches, long before they were applied to werewolves.I don't know why ordinary bullets weren't considered good enough for witches.
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  #33  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:43 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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  • The Lone Ranger used silver bullets too.
  • Didn't know there were that many witches and werewolves in the old west.
  • <--- Get it? Bullets. No groans only encourages me
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  #34  
Old 08-27-2010, 02:53 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Didn't know there were that many witches and werewolves in the old west.
Forrey Ackerman used this in a one-page story in his old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine back in the 1960s.

Quote:
<--- Get it? Bullets. No groans only encourages me
If you really wanted this to work, you should've gone into the HTML codes and changed the bullet's color code to slate gray, or something to approximate silver. Or used #C0C0C0.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-27-2010 at 02:54 PM..
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  #35  
Old 08-27-2010, 03:13 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Excellent advice. I'm not that visually oriented. Noticed some artifacts in the results. Will try to incorporate more color in other bad puns.

Last edited by TriPolar; 08-27-2010 at 03:15 PM..
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  #36  
Old 08-27-2010, 04:14 PM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
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The problem is density: lead is just denser than most other materials, and the alloys/elements that are denser are usually rather expensive. No idea on how other countries handle the issue, but in the U.S., alternate materials for shot or bullets range from merely expensive (Barnes all-copper TSX bullet ~2x a comparable lead bullet) to hideous. When I last looked at prices for Heavi-shot (a bismuth heavy allow, IIRC) and tungsten matrix shot, they were roughly 15-25 times as expensive as lead. Steel is about the same price as lead, but is much less desirable ballistically. I won't even get into the increase in cost the proposed ban will mean for handgun bullets, where many shooters cast their own lead bullets vs now being forced to buy pre-made bullets.

With copper, sure the Barnes bullets (solid copper, for the most part; all are lead free) are supposed to expand wonderfully and retain weight; the problem is copper's lack of density. With lighter density, you need a longer bullet to get to a given bullet weight. Eventually, the bullets get too long to fit within the maximum cartridge overall length. Barnes gets around this by making their version of a Nosler Partition, the MRX. Its aft core is made of Silvex, which is a tungsten-heavy alloy. Playing around at Cabela's website, they charge the same price for 20 Barnes MRX bullets as for 50 Nosler Partitions or 100 Sierra boattails. 2.5-5 times as expensive, ouch.

For shot, true, you can jump up three or so shot sizes to get the "same" downrange KE, (e.g. 2 or 3 lead shot to BBB steel shot for geese), but now you have larger holes in your pattern. I understand the metallurgy of modern shotgun barrels, coupled with better shotshell wad designs, have largely eliminated the problem of scoring/galling the inside of barrels. I'm still not using them in my granddad's vintage side-by-side.

IMHO, the lead issue for all ammunition is a backdoor way to institute gun control and/or ban/heavily restrict the shooting sports. I've no idea what effect it'll have on my air rifles, all of which shoot lead pellets. Time to see if RWS makes a lead-free wadcutter... I'm not even sure whether the lead shot ban has had the desired effects on waterfowl populations, beyond a "we feel good about it" effect.

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 08-27-2010 at 04:15 PM..
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  #37  
Old 08-27-2010, 04:14 PM
GiantRat GiantRat is offline
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
  • The Lone Ranger used silver bullets too.
  • Didn't know there were that many witches and werewolves in the old west.
  • <--- Get it? Bullets. No groans only encourages me
You just made me scratch my head for a minute... and then laugh my ass off. Better than shooting my ass of with lead, I suppose.
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  #38  
Old 08-27-2010, 04:25 PM
Mk VII Mk VII is offline
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The melting point of silver is 1763F so Tonto never cast those in the camp fire.
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  #39  
Old 08-27-2010, 04:55 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is offline
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Lead is also very soft so that it wears very little on the barrel.
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Old 08-27-2010, 05:14 PM
Moonshiner Moonshiner is offline
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...lead in bullets WILL get into the environment...
Gee, I wonder where that lead came from originally?
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  #41  
Old 08-27-2010, 07:21 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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Lead is also very soft so that it wears very little on the barrel.
Actually, most bullets are at least partially jacketed to minimize the amount of lead abraded into the gun barrel.

Quote:
Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe
I think it was Chris Rock who had a bit about gun control not being effective about controlling inner-city violence ... but if you made bullets $1,000 each, people would think twice about drive-bys and spraying ammo every which way. I had no idea the man was an environmentalist, too!
Spraying ammo is expensive enough even at current prices. Twice a year my local gun range hosts a manufacturer's show where you can rent full-auto guns to fire on the range. 100 rounds of ammo, or four magazine's worth for a Uzi, goes in a minute or two even if you stick with short bursts.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:20 PM
figure9 figure9 is offline
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Gee, I wonder where that lead came from originally?
There is very little free lead found in nature. If there were, our bodies would likely be able to cope with it. The only reason there are significant quantities of pure lead is that we extract and refine it. But we are getting way off the subject. So somebody (me) is going to start a "How bad is lead anyway?" thread.
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Old 08-28-2010, 02:23 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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I wonder how iridium alloy bullets would work, if cost were no option. Like say, for armor piercing or ultra-long range sniping.
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Old 08-28-2010, 05:30 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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The EPA has rejected the petition by environmental groups to ban lead ammunition.
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Old 08-28-2010, 07:04 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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The EPA has rejected the petition by environmental groups to ban lead ammunition.
Gotta love how the subject was phrased: "EPA Surrenders to NRA on Gun Control Issue". As in OUR lobby group is good and THEIRS is evil. I was pleasantly surprised that for once a US federal agency decided that it did NOT have carte blanche power to extend it's jurisdiction anywhere it wants.

Still, I remember a few years ago here in Minnesota there was a to-do about how venison donated to food shelves was discovered to contain surprisingly high amounts of lead fragments, to the point that they were considering rejecting all such donations.
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Old 08-28-2010, 07:19 PM
matt matt is offline
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The OP has been answered but I thought I'd mention a couple of technical points.

You can make bullets out of practically anything. The Soviet Union allegedly used "bullets" made from wadded paper from the pages of Pravda for point blank, back-of-the-head executions. The original KTW high penetration pistol bullet (the infamous "cop killer") was made from tungsten alloy for density and hardness, but was later switched to steel with no drop in performance. The French THV hollow bullet had an overall low density and a very high muzzle velocity. The restricted-penetration glaser bullet is similarly low density.

For handguns, density isn't that much of an issue as the lighter weight, lower density bullets (copper or steel) simply emerge from the muzzle faster. They don't retain velocity so well over distance, but this is no problem over the sorts of ranges you can expect to hit anything with a handgun. Penetration on impact may be reduced which could be a problem with the smaller calibres. Another matter is polygonal rifling. A conventionally rifled pistol barrel is a cylindrical tube with spiral grooves for gripping the bullet jacket and spinning the bullet. With polygonal rifling, the barrel has a polygonal cross-section with a twist, and re-shapes the whole bullet somewhat as it passes down it. Pistols with polygonal rifling can't fire non-deformable bullets such as the KTW and I don't know how well they'd cope with copper or steel.

If there ever were a ban on lead bullets, I'd expect to see annealed steel bullets as the main replacement for pistol ammo, simply on grounds of cheapness. Some kind of coating might be needed to stop them going rusty though.

Rifle bullets are a whole different matter. The lower density alternatives will lose velocity with distance faster than lead, which will restrict range, reduce long-distance accuracy and reduce the terminal effect of the projectiles. Tungsten OTOH would allow a greater bullet density than lead. Hunting rounds are often softpoint to allow expansion on impact, which may be a difficult characteristic to design into tungsten bullets. Tungsten has a very high melting point which means it is not normally melted to shape it (or even to smelt it from ore). Instead it is extracted and processed as a powder and sintered into monolithic lumps. Not easy or cheap to make anything remotely complex from it!

Military rifle bullets famously have to be fully jacketed or otherwise "non expanding" so military rifle and ammo combinations tend to aim at producing marginal bullet stability. The bullet spin is only just enough to stop the projectile flipping end-over-end in the air. (In the old Lee Enfield .303 rifles this was achieved by using an aluminium tip to the bullets, to push the centre of gravity of the bullet rearwards.) This means that the bullets tend to somersault in the target when they hit, and a bullet travelling sideways does more to a person than a bullet travelling point first. Some bullets such as the 5.56 NATO reliably fragment after turning sideways at high velocity. A tungsten alternative might lose this tendency to fragment, and with the same rifling might even punch clean through the target without somersaulting, reducing the chances of killing or seriously injuring the target considerably. A way around this might be to use tungsten powder distributed in matrix of lower-density metal to end up with the same overall weight as a lead bullet.

Eventually of course, the next generation of rifles and ammo would be designed to take advantage of the different bullet materials and you'd end up with long copper bullets, tungsten-cored steel or other alternatives, with rifling to suit.
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Old 08-28-2010, 07:56 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
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For handguns, density isn't that much of an issue as the lighter weight, lower density bullets (copper or steel) simply emerge from the muzzle faster.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's also the issue of stopping and/or killing power -- which is, let's face it, a pretty relevant factor for a bullet. As I understand it, a lead bullet will expand once it hits anything like water or big masses of protein like animal life. Besides creating a bigger wound, that also helps to rapidly decelerate the bullet within the target, sending a bigger jolt through the internal organs. A steel bullet, on the other hand, will just zip on through without changing shape and without stopping. It certainly can kill you, but not with as high a probability as a lead bullet.
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Old 08-28-2010, 10:27 PM
matt matt is offline
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Originally Posted by matt View Post
For handguns, density isn't that much of an issue as the lighter weight, lower density bullets (copper or steel) simply emerge from the muzzle faster.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's also the issue of stopping and/or killing power -- which is, let's face it, a pretty relevant factor for a bullet. As I understand it, a lead bullet will expand once it hits anything like water or big masses of protein like animal life. Besides creating a bigger wound, that also helps to rapidly decelerate the bullet within the target, sending a bigger jolt through the internal organs. A steel bullet, on the other hand, will just zip on through without changing shape and without stopping. It certainly can kill you, but not with as high a probability as a lead bullet.
Handgun bullets may or may not expand, depending on the bullet design. hollowpoint bullets are designed to expand but aren't guaranteed to do so - it depends how fast they're going when they hit, what clothing they pass through etc. You're absolutely correct that a monolithic steel bullet isn't going to expand and it's probably going to take some clever designs to get expansion out of non-lead bullets. That said, the "black talon" design, where the jacket was pre-weakened along axial lines and opened up like a flower on impact, could be revived for non-lead bullets.

The other factor you mention, the "jolt" sent through the internal organs, doesn't really apply to handgun rounds. Handgun bullets do their destructive work by punching a relatively big deep hole through something important. The term "hydrostatic shock" used to get bandied around a lot in reference to the terminal effect of bullets, but the truth is that simple compression shockwaves from bullets passing through tissue aren't high enough amplitude to do any damage. A second effect, the "temporary shock cavity" refers to the fact that the wound channel from a bullet is momentarily several times the bullet diameter due to material being flung aside by the bullet's passage. Most tissues are elastic and snap back into position once the bullet has passed (brain and liver being exceptions) but a large temporary shock cavity e.g. from a big fast rifle bullet can exceed the elastic limits of tissue and inflict additional damage. Handgun bullets don't travel fast enough for their temporary shock cavities to be significant though.

A really low density handgun bullet such as the French THV can have a screaming muzzle velocity and the hard sub-calibre point meant it could punch through steel plate, but when it got into tissue it wouldn't penetrate very far. This could be an issue with handgun stopping power, in that when shooting a big fat person or with the bullet passing through an arm before reaching the body, the bullet could run out of steam before going deep enough to hit anything important.

http://www.quarry.nildram.co.uk/THV.htm

Last edited by matt; 08-28-2010 at 10:30 PM..
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