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Getting off lead

This is a guest report from Mike Conboy on the subject of handling lead safely. I will comment at the end of his report.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at blogger@pyramydair.com.

Take it away, Mike.

Getting off lead
By Mike Conboy

This report covers:

  • Background
  • Lead pellet standard operating procedure
  • |How does one deal with hazards?
  • Dedicated lead guns
  • Quality of unleaded ammunition
  • Direct cost of unleaded in different calibers
  • Other ammo
  • Peripheral costs and savings of unleaded
  • Barrel wear from unleaded
  • Energy, ballistics and unleaded
  • Tuning guns to shoot unleaded
  • In conclusion
  • BB’s comments


I am a scientist at a big university, and with training I get to work with dangerous things like radioactivity, lasers, biohazards, toxins and such. It is very important that I work safely, or I could die. Today I’ll share some experience and expertise on the lead hazard in general and shooting non-lead pellets in particular.

periodic table
Periodic table. See the enlarged section below.

Periodic table zoom
This is a zoom in on today’s guests, lead (Pb) and tin (Sn). Their cousins Bismuth and Antimony are also very relevant for bullets. Used by creative commons license from sciencenotes.org

Most everyone recognizes that firearms are dangerous but people still like to shoot firearms, and so we have this idea of firearm safety: a way of handling or doing something dangerous to minimize the risks. Standard safety protocols typically list something like:

1. Avoid the hazard where possible in the first place.

2. Have some idiot-proofing, some engineering to make it safer to handle.

3. Have a safety protocol, and

4. Wear some kind of protective gear.

With firearms, the biggest action to make it safer is to not handle the firearm at all. We see this as locking up the gun so it can’t be handled by kids either accidentally or on purpose, waiting periods to buy guns and gun-free zones [Ed. such as all federal buildings like Post offices]. No gun = no gun hazard is logically true, if perhaps unAmerican.

Engineered safety features run from the safety switch on the gun [Ed. if there is one.], to the lanes at a gun range to how the gun and ammo are designed in the first place — for example, cartridges with bullets versus loose black powder and a lead ball.

Safety protocols would include controlling access to the gun, keeping it pointed in a safe direction, always assuming it is loaded, not loading until shooting, finger off the trigger until taking the shot, etc.

The protective gear would be the earplugs, eye-protection and body armor. Why not?

I won’t get into it here (unless you ask), but the numbers show there is a far greater cumulative hazard for people from lead exposure than from getting shot by firearms. If you take gun safety seriously because it is hazardous, and you knew there was another, greater hazard, then you might want to take that one seriously too. I decided to do so, and so here are some suggestions.

1. While there are safer ways to handle lead ammo, arguably the safest is, where practical, to replace it with unleaded ammo, such as steel BBs, tin pellets and airsoft.

2. If lead pellets are to be used, they should be handled as hazardous material, per standard safe handling protocol or guidelines from shooting associations such as JROTC or USAS. Briefly, this includes engineered controls to contain the lead, safe handling procedures including personal and range hygiene, protective gloves and clothing, and collecting the waste for proper disposal and recycling.

This is simple, and does not require banning lead.

Lead Pellet Standard Operating Procedure

This is right out of every standard safety training I’ve had for a few decades now, and will look very similar to anyone who has done any kind of dangerous job such as electrical, automotive, carpentry, heights/scaffold, and such. Or shooting. This is the same as policy at USA Shooting or JROTC programs. [Ed. WordPress won’t allow the link, but search on Lead Safety JROTC and you will land on a page where GUIDE TO LEAD MANAGEMENT FOR AIR GUN SHOOTING is the top hit.

What are the lead pellet hazards? They are from ingestion. Lead is not absorbed through the skin, but from handling pellets and pellet fragments, cleaning leaded barrels and transferring some of that to your mouth, or eating food contaminated with lead; THAT exposes you. With airguns, shot exposure is limited to just in front of the muzzle and the target. Remember that when you clean out the pellet trap; look up the Ted Bier (a fellow scientist!) Youtube video where he wears an N95 mask, gloves and eye protection for that chore!

How does one deal with hazards?

Have a solid program that minimizes the exposure. AND COMPLY WITH YOUR PROGRAM!

a. The safest option is to not use the hazard at all. Shoot unleaded ammo when practical. More on that later.

b. Use engineering to separate you from the hazard, like a pellet pen, a pellet trap, or even the copper coated lead pellets.

c. Protocol! Have a plan and stick with it, from handling to clean up, no eating and drinking, wash hands frequently and especially after shooting!

Collect contaminated lead waste (pellets, targets, cleaning patches), so it doesn’t get strewn about the yard, tracked into the home, or eaten by kids, pets or wildlife. Dispose of fired lead pellets and fragments responsibly, like to your reloading neighbor, or recycle! You’ll look way cooler in line at the metal scrap yard than the guys carrying dead car batteries.

d. And the last line of defense is the gloves and shooting clothing that protects you from transferring lead to your mouth, your house and others. The gloves aren’t to protect you from absorbing lead through your fingers, as it isn’t absorbed that way. The gloves serve as a tactile reminder not to pick your nose while shooting. Dedicated shooting clothes protect you from when you rub your shirt and pants with lead contaminated fingers or gloves. Do you ever carry pellets loose in your pocket? Do you think any rubs off on the fabric? Pull that pocket inside out if you need proof. Later on, do you remember which pocket when you slip in a pack of gum? Probably not, right? So, either have a protocol that forbids pellets and contaminated fingers from touching clothing, or wear dedicated shooting clothes.

e. If you do a lot of shooting and/or don’t practice a lot of safety, maybe get your blood tested once in a while. It can at least tell you if more work needs to be done.

Dedicated lead guns

The idea is to you shoot unleaded when you can, and shoot lead when you need to. In .177 and .22 unleaded pellets are many. In .25 there are currently only two options, and you’re SOL (shooting only lead) in the bigger calibers. Shooting lead and unleaded from the same gun is possible, but with all the extra cleanings and confusions, maybe dedicated lead guns are worth the extra guns. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it! Keeping safe with lead could be a major additional expense, or… it could be that excuse you needed for yet another gun and accessories!

Hunting Guide

Quality of unleaded ammunition

While there are some unleaded pellets that I’ve found to be inaccurate garbage, Skencos with plastic sabots in particular, most seem to actually be very well made: consistent weights, sizes and generally lacking dents and deformations. Part of that might be because the tin metal is harder than soft lead and the skirts don’t crush when the box of pellets is dropped from on high to your doorstep. I’ve found it pretty easy to find accurate-enough unleaded pellets for all my guns in .177 through .25 caliber, as long as I accept they won’t shoot as far as lead. More on that later.

pellet assortment
These are some unleaded tin pellets that shoot well enough from my guns. Bottom row: .177 GTO wadcutters 5.3 grains, H&N Field Target Trophy 5.7 grains, Barracuda Green 6.6 grains, GTO 6.8 grains; second row up: .22 Winchester MVP 8.4 grains, .22 H&N FTT 10 grains, .22 Sig Sauer Zero 11.8 grains (note the ineffective hollow point), .22 Baracuda Green 12.4 grains; third row: .25 GTO 16.5 grains, Barracuda Green 20 grains; Top row .30 33 grain home-cast.

Direct cost of unleaded in different calibers

At pre-pandemic prices, .177 unleaded pellets ran around a penny per grain weight, .22 cost just under a penny a grain and .25 a little less per grain. That translates per pellet to around 5 cents in .177, a dime for .22 and 15 cents for .25. In comparison, typical lead pellets run around 1/3 the price. Considering commodity tin costs 10 times as much as lead, maybe the price of tin pellets is not so bad?

lead prices
Lead prices

tin prices
Tin is 10 times the cost of lead, while tin pellets are only 3 times as much.

Other ammo

Steel BBs are a lot cheaper and they are definitely unleaded. Airsoft is even cheaper than that: they run 1/100 cent per round, and 1/30 cent for biodegradable. Plastic is cheaper than metal, duh. When I’m just plinking around, I shoot BBs. It is actually cheaper in the end to buy extra dedicated BB guns and shoot BBs than to shoot unleaded from a pellet gun all the time.

Peripheral costs and savings of unleaded

There are additional costs of unleaded pellets, and some savings, beyond the cost of the actual ammo. Since the ballistics of unleaded is worse than lead and tin doesn’t expand, depending on what you are trying to shoot, apples to apples might reflect the costs above, but squirrels to squirrels might have you shoot unleaded pellets in one caliber larger than lead, which almost doubles again the direct cost! That may or may not mean a more expensive gun, which may or may not be a welcome addition! On the other hand, as the range of each caliber is reduced, one might not need as much optics. For example, since my .177 won’t shoot unleaded with any umph past 25 yards anyway, I don’t need a fancy scope, maybe just an open or a peep sight.

Other peripheral savings of unleaded depend on how you would handle lead. If you do nothing special besides washing your hands, then there are no immediate savings, and any estimates of your long term health costs would be beyond the scope of this report. If you treat lead as advised by the national shooting authorities (cleaning the target and firing line, dedicated clothing, gloves, trapping fired pellets), then that all adds some cost. A box of 100 nitrile gloves costs $20, or 40 cents a pair, and if a pair is used for 100 shots that would be 0.4 cents per shot. If we round up to a penny to include laundry and time costs… well, lead is still much cheaper. If one considers unleaded to be non-toxic enough to handle while eating, drinking, scratching an itch, petting the dog, bouncing a baby, and whatever else while shooting, not to mention being accepted by your local eco-hippy community, then we see that there is an added quality of life value to shooting unleaded. What that is worth to you, is up to you, and probably depends on how much trouble you would go though to shoot lead safely.

Barrel wear from unleaded

There have been questions about increased barrel wear with unleaded ammo, but I haven’t found any measurements of this, no hard data. I do note that while tin (Mohs <1.8) is softer than steel (Mohs >5), tin oxide is harder (Mohs >6), so if material comes off tin pellets and oxidizes, it could abrade steel. Tin starts to oxidize at temperatures over 150C (~300F) and/or high pressures, which are briefly found in the breech. A brass barrel (Mohs >3) is only a little harder than tin. I would test unleaded pellets in one of those brass barreled Benjamin rifles, but for the ethics of experimenting on such a fine gun…

I’ve shot a few thousand unleaded rounds through a soft steel barreled Seneca Dragonfly (and I have the arms to prove it), and find it is still getting smoother and more accurate. My best guess is that for the vast majority of shooters, barrel wear won’t be an issue; something else will break before the barrel wears out. Will a competitive shooter putting ten times as many down the pipe see wear? I don’t know, you tell me! [Ed. Some airgun clubs have estimated over one million shots through their shared target rifles.]

Energy, ballistics and unleaded

In general, lead is 50% heavier than tin, and doing the math the other way, tin is 2/3 the weight of lead. A .25 Baracuda Green weighing 20 grains and looks the same shape as a 30-grain lead Baracuda. Unleaded dome-type pellets often have a magnum or heavy shape. I guess it is because they want to pack as much weight into the unleaded pellet, but I find the shorter, squat pellets like Predator GTOs and wadcutters can be quite accurate, if light. Energy-wise, assuming the velocities are the same, an unleaded .22 pellet is similar in energy to a lead .177, and an unleaded .25 is similar to a lead .22. It is argued that for hunting, since unleaded pellets don’t expand like lead, to plan on hole-size damage only unless you hit bone. For small pests at closer ranges, the .177 may still be fine. For larger pests a .22 may be needed at what was your lead .177 distance. A more rapid loss of energy over distance may be good in that there is less risk to innocent objects downrange, but as it comes from the loss in velocity, it may cause accuracy issues at distance. I find my unleaded pellets tend to become inaccurate by about two-thirds the distance of lead.

Tuning guns to shoot unleaded

Unleaded will shoot at higher velocity in many guns, although the terminal energy is usually less than with lead. Unleaded is easier to overspeed to trans-sonic, so magnum type guns may do better in the bigger calibers on the same power plant platform; all this has been observed before for lead pellets. BB Pelletier mentioned this a few times that lighter pistons favor lighter pellets. I have found that springers with heavy top hat weights at the piston end of the spring, shoot unleaded better and with less piston slam when the top hat is removed or swapped for a lighter one. It also removes a little spring preload. I tried this to good effect on a Browning 800 pistol, the Hatsan Model 25 clone of the same, a Beeman/Wally-World dual caliber, and a Diana 250; these are in both .177 and .22.

In conclusion

Weigh the costs and benefits. Lead and unleaded each have their issues and merits. Weigh the ammo costs, gun costs, handling and cleanup costs, and changes to your quality of life. Consider what you use your airguns for, and what you want them to do. Finally, don’t ignore lead hazards just because you don’t like them! Some people don’t like gravity either, but ignore it and you die. If you shoot, please take all reasonable precautions.

Thank you for reading!

BB’s comments

I thought I would have something to say after reading the remark about body armor for shooters, but after reading this entire report I understand what the author is saying. I also appreciate a dry bit of humor, now and again. Thank you, Mike, for a fine report

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

74 thoughts on “Getting off lead”

  1. Mike,

    Great report! Thanks for posting it. I wash my hands after handling lead pellets.
    I was at a competition where some shooters lubed their pellets by putting them in their mouth before loading. Yiks

    I believe the ultimate solution would be some sort of wood pulp infused with a biodegradable glue. Sort of like sintered metal production. Any thoughts on this?


  2. Mike,

    Thanks for this report. Maybe instead of persisting with .177 for non lead pellets maybe the better option would be to go to the next caliber like .20 caliber. That would allow for near equivalent weight and hopefully better ballistic coefficients.


  3. Mike,
    Thanks for the science, there is no question that lead is toxic. I grew up with loaded firearms around the house and carried lead pellets in my mouth while hunting. Times have changed. I even swallowed a lead fishing split shot once. Guess I was lucky to not have been affected more from that. Each individual has different tolerances. I have also suffered from a horrible memory since my first pellet gun. I also knocked myself out for a few days around the same time so who knows.
    I definitely shoot steel bbs near the garden and nonlead when plinking near the garden. Too bad sig stopped making their non lead pellets in .22.

    Again good to listen to the science, it is the best evidence we have.

    There was a comment on yesterday’s blog about the science of wearing a cloth mask to help prevent the spread of covid. It summarized a whole article on the science in one sentence sorry to see it was deleted. I was going to comment this morning but replaced the motor mounts in my tractor before it hit 107 deg F at 6000 ft on the left coast. Mother nature cures stupidity with extinction.

    • Benji-Don, my involvement with that comment caused it to be removed, sorry.

      I am intrigued as to where you are: It says 1:48 am for your comment and you mention an imminent high temperature, high elevation and left coast?

      And, to come back to airguns, have you found any particular challenges associated with shooting in thinnish air?

      • hihihi
        Send me that comment here. Then delete it before the time is up. I’ll get it but it won’t be seen anymore after you delete it.

        But just so you know somebody will see it again on the blog till you delete that comment. Sounds like another loop hole in the system to me to send your speech. IT to the rescue.

      • hihihi,
        Just noticed your question on airguns at high altitudes. The only significant difference I have noticed is with multi-pumps and single pumps. On a multi-pump; if you shoot with 5 pumps near sea level at 6000 feet it takes about 6 pumps to get a similar velocity. I did a graph once showing the theoretical difference of the valve pressure in a multi-pump between sea level and 6000 feet from 1 pump to maybe 15 or so. It is back in the blog reports a few years ago. If I remember when I get back to sea level and my computer I will repost it if you are interested.

        In theory there should be numerous differences but at 6000 feet, 1829 meters I don’t notice them. It would be interesting to do some tests at 12000 feet, 3658 meters or higher.

        • Benji-Don, thanks for your interesting replies. I am happy to know that thinner air does in fact affect the shooting of airguns, thanks.

          By the way, changing motor mounts on your tractor, makes me think of a vintage machine and that you’re a farmer (?).
          We have an old International Harvester McCormick Farmall here that refuses to die, despite continuous neglect. I’ll have a look if I can find a picture of ‘trusty rusty’… 🙂

  4. The problem in this case is market demand. The demand for lead is so high because of its mass versus that of tin or some other substitute for projectiles. The lighter materials slow faster and are more susceptible to any air turbulence than lead projectiles, thereby being less accurate at any range. I have experimented with non lead pellets previously and found their accuracy in .177 was horrid at only 25 yards. This was from an air rifle that was capable of shooting quite accurately with the proper lead pellet.

    Therein may lie the key to obtaining accuracy from non lead pellets. Those that are demanding we give up our lead should be working with those who manufacture pellets, etc. to create an alternative that is acceptable to us shooters. Of course, therein lies another problem. Those that wish us to give up lead projectiles most often are the same ones that wish us to give up shooting altogether.

    Setting socio-political views aside, we the market should encourage the manufacturers to perform more experimentation with non lead materials for projectiles. it may require a different shape and/or size of projectile. Just copying what they already produce does not work. Stop thinking like fishing lures. You have to get the basics working before you experiment with eye candy.

    It may require a different twist rate, type of rifling, power level, caliber, projectile shape or any combination of these.

    Unfortunately, this kind of experimentation costs money. When you live by profit margins, that can be a death knell. It is going to require more market pressure/profit to force manufacturers to look into these things. Very likely it will come out of the boutique shops first. Once the big boys are shown it will work and it is profitable…

  5. My first reaction to people putting lead pellets in their mouth was: No, really?!

    And then I remembered that the old plumbing in my Mum’s house was lead pipes (yes, including water supply).
    It’s all been changed to plastic. The latest I heard, is, that’s supposedly messing with us too, hmm… 🙂

  6. Question for Professor Conboy: My Dad found a stash of old pellets with a white powder coating them, which I understand might be lead oxide and highly toxic if inhaled and bad for barrels. Is there a way to clean them so they can be used?

    • Roamin Greco, sorry, I’m not Professor Mike Conboy, but, I wonder if an acid, like vinegar, would lift the oxide ?

      My preferred lead recycling is, to melt and recast into round balls, which I then use in my muzzleloaders.. Maybe there are bb sized molds too? 🙂

      • Thanks hihihi, I had tried a small batch of pellets just soaking them in white vinegar, but it didn’t do much overnight. I think the solution needs to be heated to work, but then how hot? I thought I had better leave the mad scientist stuff too mad people, So I put the solution in a jar, well marked and the pellets are awaiting a time when I come across someone who can use the lead.

    • As the pellets are now, the lead hazard is mostly from handling, and yes, from dust if you shoot them them inside. Lead oxide is soft, so it won’t hurt the barrel. If you dissolve the lead oxide in vinegar, now you have a lead acetate solution that is easier for the body to absorb than the original lead or lead oxide was. There have been some famous poisonings by lead acetate over the past millennia. So it’s the dust versus the solution, and where does the solution go? Down the sink? That wouldn’t fly in lab (they test our wastewater). Now, _fluxing_ the lead during casting would reduce that oxide back to elemental lead. These might be the pellets to recycle.

      • Is there a safe place to dispose of the solution? Can I let the liquid evaporate outside and then throw the solid material left behind in the garbage? Or is it hazardous waste? I’m not a chemist and I have not come across any credible advice online.

    • Roamin Greco,

      IIRC from my Chemistry classes Lead Oxide comes in four more common forms. Three of them are produced by heat+Pb+Oxygen and are red, yellow and red-yellow, the other is Lead Dioxide which isn’t a thermal process…but it is a very dark brown or black powder?
      I honestly don’t think the white powder is a Lead Oxide…i have no idea what it is so treat it like Lead. Acetic Acid (distilled white vinegar and distilled water 1:1 ) will clean almost anything; with a few things to keep it away from…like Granit countertops. The acid needs the water to make the Lead oxides soluble. Water (the universal solvent) alone would eventually clean it off and under pressure or vibration even faster.


  7. Mike

    Thanks to you and BB for this toxic reminder. While lead may not be ingested through skin, what about about where skin is broken by a mosquito or even an open scratch? You touched on this but is the risk low or medium or high?


    • For a scratch, I’d put the risk somewhere below “low.” Broken skin is more of an issue with infectious stuff (think the monkeypox). Lead needs a little chemistry to be absorbed, like churning in an acidic stomach.

    • Decksniper,

      “…what about about where skin is broken by a mosquito or even an open scratch?”
      Doubtful. Just the odds of the Lead and skin breech meeting up are miniscule but more importantly human blood is not acidic so no solubility.
      Don’t go rubbing Lead (Pellets) in Open Wounds…it happens enough on the Internet over and over again to make my blood boil!


  8. Thanks for this blog Mike – very informative and thought provoking!

    With your background I understand where you’re coming from… being lax with precautions or lazy with procedures can be hazardous or even fatal. I’ve worn that T-shirt.

    To be blunt, I don’t think that typical lead pellet shooters are going to follow “biohazard lab” level procedures unless there was hard proof of the level of the danger… like lots of airgunners dying from handling lead pellets.

    IMHO, reasonable safety procedures like not eating while handling lead and washing hands well afterwards are adequate for the amount of exposure the average shooter gets.

    Pro-shooters who have a much higher exposure to lead and lead dust should be more diligent but I don’t know if lab-level procedures are necessary.

    Guess what I’m saying is that the level of concern should match the level of danger. I know lead is toxic but, depending on concentrations so are most other materials in our environment. So, I’m curious how much lead is tolerable in the body, how much to cause health problems and how much to be debilitating or fatal? Just trying to get a perspective.

    Your point of not putting loose pellets in a pocket that might be used for food is an excellent one! Most people wouldn’t think of that.

    For me, considering the type of shooting I do, the high cost and low performance of non-lead pellets does not make them an acceptable substitute for lead pellets.

    Again, thanks for the blog!


    • the idea that lead is so toxic is way overblown like covid and electric cars. my uncle was a plumber for 55 years used lead every day. when I was a kid I helped him where he had a big pot of lead melted to fill the cast iron joints. he lived to 88. falling for non lead projectiles is the same as falling for electric cars. it is a form of slow suicide for shooters. . the lead scare started in the 60’s when schools were forced integrated because they said black kids will learn better. when the stats showed that was false they concocted a story where ONLY black kids were eating paint chips off window sills where the paint had lead in it. that is where it started. anybody pushing lead free projectiles is ruining the sport and jacking up cost

  9. Very good read; FM is a closet SN – Science Nurd. He invented Barf Gas with his A C Gilbert Chemistry set, conning his little sister into being the experimental subject. Chemistry set was taken away afterwards. Parents have no appreciation for mad geniuses! All kidding aside, lead has its problems but it has proven very useful since antiquity. It will not be easy to find a satisfactory substitute for the many applications in which it can be used. Meantime, the safety suggestions listed here should be kept in mind and applied as needed.

    Here is a short, interesting piece on the possible effects – or not – of Roman use of lead for water pipes. Happy Going Down Rabbit Holes for those so inclined.

  10. There is nothing in Mike’s BLOG that is incorrect, but saying that…it seems I have dealt with Pbaranoia for most of my life. I was a process engineer, with a lot of work in soldering. We had to deal with lead-free solder, as the Europeans pushed that issue. The RoHS actions meant that solder alloys added silver and were a lot more difficult to use. This required new flux formulations, time and temperature for processing, and a reduced ability to “wet” copper – as well as a much more expensive alloy. So, I have a lot of personal experience handling wire and bar solder, and have had my own and many co-workers blood tested.

    Remember, there was a time (prior to 1978) when paint was formulated with lead oxide as the pigment base. Today, it is titanium dioxide. Motor vehicle fuels had tetraethyl lead additives for anti-knock and valve lubrication properties. Both these lead exposures were FAR more widespread and massive than lead used for projectiles. And of course, the lead water pipes that were very common in homes built in the first half of the 20th century (as late as 1986 in some US areas) meant that drinking water from household taps could have some dissolved lead. That one (I lived in Flint for two years) has had so much publicity it is amazing. The limit for lead in drinking water is the same as the detection threshold for atomic absorption spectrophotometry – a very sophisticated laboratory analytical method. You could consider the limit to be zero, in effect. Of course, the fallout there was that they would prosecute the political leaders who “failed” to protect those poor little kids. I have the idea that if you own a home built >50 years ago in the rust belt, YOU should find out if you have lead pipes in your service lines – they should be replaced with safe water lines. US city water lines almost never use lead. I’d also suggest as a habit that you should run water for 30 seconds or so to reduce any metal that has dissolved from water lines and fixtures (copper and other metals can also dissolve, you may note the flavor). I do this by habit, although I have a well, and no lead in my lines), and if they did this in Flint, the results would have been different. And it is ridiculous that some Flint residents are bathing in bottled water.

    On my Pelletgage instructions, the last lines are:

    “One final note. You will likely be handling lead pellets, and lead can be toxic. The predominant risk is ingesting lead. Wash hands after using your Pelletgage, and you may be generating tiny slivers of lead. Don’t use the Pelletgage in an area where food is prepared or served, smokers may transfer from fingers to lips via a cigarette.” Of course, smoking can get you, too.

    I have seen field target shooters who finish a match and head over to get food being served without hand washing (probably done that myself). Bad idea.

    In all my research (my minor in college was safety, and I was often involved with workplace hazard evaluation – discussions with my brother and girlfriend, MD and PharmD), the principal ill effect is neural development, so it can have greater impact on children whose brains are still in growth mode. What me, worry?

    Myself, I have a pretty large supply of lead projectiles. Maybe all I will ever need. So far, there seems to be a huge drop-off in range and accuracy of the no-lead pellets, and I see no solution at hand.

    • Jerry,

      I worked in high-tech my whole career (PCB assembly, layout, manufacturing and testing) and agree that RoHS is the biggest blunder ever foisted on the electronics industry by bureaucrats. A total knee-jerk reaction to an uninformed intention to “do good”.

      For the people who are not familiar with the RoHS fiasco it started with some European environmentalists decided that the lead in all those old cell phones in the land fills was BAD, pulled political strings, whipped the uninformed into a panic and succeeded in getting all products with lead solder banned from the European market.

      Tin/lead solder (literally) held the electronics together. The entire industry developed its manufacturing and assembly processes around it and being ideal, everything went well until RoHS stepped in.

      I read a report from an industry expert that detailed the increased costs (energy, materials, productivity plus reduced reliability) that he presented to the head of RoHS and it was not even read. He told me that in the meeting with the RoHS rep she told him that “lead solder had to be banned for the good of the children”.

      To me it doesn’t make sense to try to eliminate a miniscule amount lead from an assembly when products containing pounds of lead are exempt from RoHS restrictions. Go figure.

      On top of that my visit/inspection of our overseas supplier showed that they were perfectly willing to stamp any assembly as “RoHS compliant” whether it was or not. It’s all BS, these people make most of the world’s electronics.

      Emotion trumps facts even if the “cure” does more damage than the “problem”. …if your electronics fail prematurely be happy that RoHS helped.

      I’ll get off my soap box now, feel free to ignore me.


      • Hank, the Dodd-Frank “Conflict Materials” restrictions that requires an audit of any components with tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold to assure that none of it came from the Congo was the most bizarre (but I believe widely ignored) regulatory nightmares I ever knew about. An intersection of woke ideas and stupidity if there ever was one. Of course, tin is one of the bad choices to replace lead for pellets, and tungsten (10X price) would also be subject.

      • Hank, I always wondered why the 18 pounds of lead and a pound of sulfuric acid in the battery of every car and truck was something we could live with – imagine how many junk cars and dead batteries are disposed in some ugly fashion. It would take a lot of pellets to equate to one. I suppose that’s just another motivator to go to lithium batteries. But maybe we need to get the wokers to worry about something different.

        • Jerry,

          Had similar thoughts about the regulations and also about how they were applied and to whom.

          I think we are making a basic mistake that logic and common sense apply.


    • Gunfun1,
      Typically there are NO SYMPTOMS!
      IF you do have any they are irritability (mood alterations), constipation (gastroenterological issues), nervous ticks (neurological) so the only real way to know is to get a blood test for Lead (Pb) levels. As I said before if you don’t have a baseline test you will have little or no chance to figure out what is causing the elevated Lead (Pb) levels. Once you get Lead in your system it goes to your soft tissue (1-2 year half-life) and to the bones for long term storage (25-30 years half-life) and slowly gets added to or leeched out into your bloodstream when you have NO Lead exposure.


  11. JerryC,

    You just saved me a bunch of cut and paste along with a bunch of typing (OKAY! Hunt & Peck) to put together what you have done so well in your reply above.
    RISK Management is a Life Skill that should be taught in our schools as opposed to “Indoctrination Studies” of various subjects. It helps a great deal to reduce the danger of falling for the hype of rabid Zealots.
    Once more, Thank You to you and Mike for balanced and HONEST fact based reports.


    PS: The Lubricity of Lead (Pb) is FAR superior to the substitute metals that are offered or considered. Perhaps one is on par that has not been mentioned; Depleted Uranium is very close in Mass as well as Lubricity index. I think folks would automatically offer it the safe handling RESPECT that they should be giving Pb/Lead.

  12. Along with drinking out of the hose, no helmet biking, and riding in the back of a pickup truck, I had been known to ingest leadvon occasion. Split-shot fishing weights were routinely clamped on by chomping, and pellets were stored loose in the pocket and held ready in the mouth to arm the mighty Crosman Pumpmaster. We were dumb enough to chew a soft pellet once in a while, but smart enough to know that pellets in a tin scared all the critters we were looking to maim. Knocked my Stanford-Binet IQ score all the way down to 158! Teasing aside, the dain bramage wasn’t much, but I do wonder about other long term health effects.

  13. Mike,
    I have to laugh (what else can I do now) when I was younger (in the 1970s) We too also put pellets in our mouth (Crosman square back container). We even chewed them sometimes Yikes!. Didn’t Beeman have some lead pellets that had a black or some kind of coating to keep lead off your hands? You would think if they finally figured it out for firearms, they could for pellet guns too. I know cost would be a big factor too though. Thanks for the great blog

  14. I just went to PA’s site to look at all lead free pellets. I was shocked to find a Winchester .177 pellet that weighted on 4.32 grain!!! WOW. That would boost manufactures FPS ratings. Never would have thought I’d see pellets weigh less than bb’s.

  15. B.B., and READERSHIP,

    Gunfun1 asked a great question about SYMPTOMS. I answered his question above but think it important enough for a REPLY ALL.
    For adults: Typically there are NO SYMPTOMS!
    IF you do have any they are irritability (mood alterations), constipation (gastroenterological issues), nervous ticks (neurological) so the only real way to know is to get a blood test for Lead (Pb) levels. As I said before if you don’t have a baseline test you will have little or no chance to figure out what is causing the elevated Lead (Pb) levels. Once you get Lead in your system it goes to your soft tissue (1-2 year half-life) and to the bones for long term storage (25-30 years half-life) and slowly gets added to or leeched out into your bloodstream when you have NO Lead exposure.
    That half-life means only half of the Pb (Lead) is removed in that much time. If you got a certain amount of Lead (Pb) in your soft tissue at 18 it will probably be with you to your grave as a small, but still, measurable amount. If it gets in your bones, well now, a lot of it will be there until the worms come and get it or it goes up in the smoke of your funeral Pyre.
    But only if you never are exposed to Lead(pb) ever again.
    We are not talking about acute Lead poisoning that occurs in industrial settings or folks that cast a great deal of Lead in unventilated spaces and without proper respirators.


    • Shootski

      I am neither a scientist nor a doctor and so my comments can be ignored by any who so choose. That said, I do have quite a bit of experience concerning the injection of lead. Like most of us who are over 50, I, too, used my mouth as a container for both pellets and split shot,, and I still bite my split shot when putting it on or removing it from my line.
      But apart from that, I was, until my fall, a member of the Ironworkers Union, Local #, in Pittsburgh, Pa. As you may have heard, we are a city of bridges,, and all of them are old and in need of repair. Guess who got to do a lot of that repair? What many may not be aware of is the quantity of lead that was used in the paint for those bridges right up and through the 70s.
      We, particularly when removing rivets( I told you these bridges were old), used acetylene torches to remove and replace the rusted parts. That, along with the grinding and welding done on these same members put a lot of lead oxides in the air. I guess I don’t need to tell anyone that we didn’t use any masks.
      So, breathing these fumes and having it all over our clothes, gloves, shoes, etc, made it quite possible for us to reach a point, defined by those who WERE doctors and scientists, that we shouldn’t work there anymore. Blood tests were actually mandated,, and done on site in some cases, and if one were over the limit,, they were laid off (similar to firing but not). Because it was an overtime job, most of us tried to avoid the tests, if we could.
      There were symptoms we watched out for, tho. The mood changes or irritability were hard to gauge in ironworkers, tho. But the darkening of the skin under the fingernails was a little too obvious to ignore. That was the one we all watched out for because you knew you had gone quite far over the line when you saw it.
      I also worked in a glass plant and they use even more lead in making glass than they did making paint. It was white lead and looked like a very fine talcum powder. I learned that white lead was used quite a lot in makeup or AS makeup in the 19th century and earlier. Anyway,, on this job , at least, we were issued not only respirators, but also plastic coveralls. Still, we had two different people test out during that three month period.
      I have likely as not had a great deal more lead pass through my body than most, and have lost a step or two,, but I can still figure tips in my head, so I figure I’m not doing all that bad. If you are above 40 or so,, with the lead pipes, paint, and in gasoline, you have about more lead in you now, from those, than you will every get from the pellets you use.
      There are things in life that require caution in their use,, but as in all else,, moderation is required. Moderation in the way we handle and use pellets,, but also moderation in how far we take our caution. You could say that I am more Nicomachean in my philosophy.


  16. WWSMD….What Would Super Man Do? Oh Wait, never mind, he is biased. Lead caution has it’s place but unless you are shooting a couple thousand pellets a week and licking your fingers after every shot and holding them in your mouth, I seriously doubt it’s a big deal at all for airgun shooters.

  17. Mike,
    This is a great report; thank you!
    As mentioned before, I like to shoot while grilling, but I am very concerned about lead contamination.
    Hence, I either shoot a BB gun, or a small air rifle loaded by a pellet pen (with the pen loaded previously, and my hands being washed afterwards). Most of the time, it’s the BB gun; I do not want to handle lead while I am doing any cooking, and handling hotdog rolls and such! Thanks again for a timely [it’s grillin’ time!] report. 🙂
    Take care,

  18. Thanks BB for wading back into this possibly volatile topic. It certainly is food for thought, and I picked up some interesting perspectives from the guest blog (nice job Prof. Conboy) and from the readership.

  19. Well, thanks for “scaring” me about the dangers of handling plumbum. I guess I have to now start shopping for depleted uranium pellets. I had a buddy in my Bullseye competition league that had elevated levels of lead in his bloodstream and would wear a N95 mask during competitions. Poor Ralph died but from a heart attack brought on by obesity and it’s complications (high blood pressure that he never controlled).

    Happy weekend to all and 73 (some of you will know what that number means).

    Fred formerly of the Demokratik Peeples Republik of NJ now happily in GA where we still have several hoary, old nuke facilities

    • Fred,

      So your shooting buddy stayed in NJ and you moved to Georgia and a fine low blood pressure area. Now that was a smart move.
      HAM ;^)

      Best Regards,

    • Shootski,

      Do not think I need any more Toxic stuff, but thanks for your link to the WHISKEY3 ASP Airguns 4-12x44MM mine arrived and it is as you described. Have not had a chance to mount and use it but just looking thru it I find it very bright and nice, looks like a good scope of course the true test will be shooting with it. A 300 buck scope for 128 is just crazy, still in stock at this time. https://www.sigsauer.com/whiskey3-asp-4-12x44mm.html grab them while they are there.

      Thanks I would not have seen this deal had you not posted it.


      • Mike in Atl,

        My pleasure.
        I hope it works for you as well as it does for me.
        I honestly haven’t seen a deal this good since Ralph Nader killed the Chevy Corvair with his “dangerous at any speed” untruths! I bought a used garaged very low milage (1,450 miles on the odometer) Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder Convertible from a woman in 1966 for $500.00; I almost gave her more since I had budgeted for at least $1,300 for whatever was out there to rebuild! She was to terrified to even get in the car for my test drive.
        I have since that Nader book NEVER BELIEVED a single word out of the mouth or written word from ANY political activist of any persuasion! Currently there are 1 million extra square kilometer of sea ice for this day at the North Pole compared to the 10 year average! It is the end of July and the ice will be building again in a month and a half…but folks are blocking congressional baseball games saying climate change gives them the right! Then they are upset when the get carted off to jail for a hand slap.

        SORRY Need to get off the soapbox…

        I think the SIG Scope will shoot way better for you than what it cost.


        • Shootski,

          Had hoped today to mount and shoot with it but had to pick up some food and home supplies, by the time I had time to set it up the thunder and rain came, drat the luck. So while the rain fell I mounted the scope and with loose rings rotated the scope and found it was optically centered cool. Hopefully tomorrow I can sight it in.

          No worries or need to be sorry about the rant, I too do not think that the powers that be have our best interests in mind, in fact it appears they wish to destroy America and all it stands for. We the people need to turn this around, but so far we are not doing a good job.


        • One reason why FM bought his VW 181 “Thing” is Nader railed against it so figured it had to be a fun thing and it still is, 49 years and many miles/kilometers traveled.

          • FawltyManual,
            Always wanted a Kubblewagen! The production Corvair did have problems in the first year that GM fixed using the ideas and fixes that the garage mechanics devised to improve the handling for performance driving. One of the worst things was the tire inflation being so high compared to most other cars in the USA. The typical tire back then didn’t have the Bead Strength to stay on the rim at the required Corvair pressure. Also sway bars especially on the rear-end were a BIG upgrade. I went so far as to swap the rims out for a set of split rims that keep any tire on with hard manuvering. You are so lucky to have your Thing! The Corvair was a fun car; wish I still had it. Kind of like the airguns we all wish we never traded or sold!


          • Replying to meself in order to reply to shootski, per orders from WordPress… 😉

            In ’77 got hold of a ’43 First Gen Kübelwagen – that’s the VW Type 82. It has “owned” FM ever since and has undergone a rollercoaster history, going thru 4 restorers, including FM, to bring it back to its factory look and function. It’s not ready yet but finally there is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the capable hands working on it now. Too bad VW did not bring it back in almost original configuration because it would have been a smaller, more fuel efficient and maneuverable car than the 181. The one thing that needed improvement was relocating the gas tank from its location right in the face of the front passenger. That would be a big safety “nein-nein” today.

            The Umarex MP40 will make a nice prop to go with it. 🙂 By the way, Nader would not have approved of the Type 82 but to each his own. FM likes Corvairs too.

        • Shootski,

          At last got to sight in the Sig Scope, many things got in the way but at last I set it up and it is indeed a very nice scope. Looking around on the Sig site I was unable to find a lens cover, do you have a suggestion for a lens cover for the Whiskey scope?


          • Mike in Atl,

            Why just the Lenses?
            I have a few caps left and some flip-flops but seldom use them…and don’t get me started about scope Bikini slingshots!
            Bikinis are only appropriate on shapely Wahine and some Haole women!


            PS:. You can size them to cover a SunShade, ARD, or an Eye shield/cup.

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