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Feature Article: Non-Lead Ammunition

Non-lead rimfire ammunition still tough to find for hunters

BY JIM MATTHEWS/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Jun 21, 2019

The first of California’s 2019-20 hunting seasons open July 1 when cottontail rabbit season kicks off. Hunters who pursue rabbits with .22 rimfires (or other rimfire rounds) might find it difficult to find ammunition that complies with the statewide non-lead ammunition requirement.

Mike Etienne, Turner’s Outdoorsman vice-president of purchasing and marketing, said that non-lead rimfire ammunition “is probably the only non-lead ammunition that is hard for us to get right now.” He said they also have a little in the system, but many of the products listed in manufacturer catalogs are simply not available. “It’s just hard to get,” he said.


rimfienonleadRIMFIRE NON-LEAD AMMUNITION, while listed as available by most major manufacturers, is still difficult to find. The statewide lead ammunition ban for all hunting begins July 1 this year, which also happens to be the opening day of the cottontail rabbit season statewide.

Other ammunition retail outlets throughout the region report similar issues, but some had a few boxes on hand. Bass Pro Shops in Rancho Cucamonga had a few boxes of .22 rimfire late last week. Hunters planning ahead mail-ordered non-lead rimfire, where it was generally available from a couple of the major catalog shooting and hunting supply companies, but since California banned mail-order ammunition sales, that is not an option. All local outlets can order the non-lead ammunition for customers.


Non-lead rimfire ammunition is currently manufactured in all rimfire calibers on the market today, including the .22 Long Rifle, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR), 17 Hornady Mach II (17 HM2), 17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR), and 17 Winchester Super Magnum (WSM). The 17 HM2 and 17 WSM are the most difficult to find.


Etienne said Turner’s stores currently all have some non-lead rimfire in stock, but only CCI and only in .22 rimfire, .22 WMR and .17 HMR.


Seeing this truck coming down the road, I have been shooting a lot of non-lead in .22 rimfire, .22 WMR, and 17 HRM over the last couple of seasons, and for a decade or more inside the condor zone, and I have generally been more than pleased with its performance and accuracy.


I recently shot 10 five-shot groups with the CCI-Copper non-lead at 50 yards through a heavy-barrel Ruger 10-22 semiautomatic, and the average group size was right at 1½ nches, with the smallest group at 7⁄8-inch and the biggest 2-1⁄8 (one flyer, otherwise a 1¼-inch group).


In two .17 HMRs (a Savage A17 semiautomatic and a classic Anschutz bolt action rifle), my average groups with CCI TNT Green ranged from ½-inch to just over an inch at 50 yards in both guns. I also have a very accurate .22 mag Anschutz that has produced five-shot groups as small as 3⁄8-inch with Winchester non-lead and the CCI TNT green averaged about ¾-inch.


How does that compare to lead ammunition out of those same guns? It is about the same and certainly not any worse. Some of my non-lead groups were the best I’d ever shot in those rifles.


The non-lead ammunition I’ve used in the field does not expand as violently as similar lead ammunition, even though most of the non-lead loads are sending a bullet out the end of the barrel faster. This is not a bad thing for small game hunters because it will damage less edible meat while still killing the small animals cleanly with shots in the chest cavity.


The number of hunters who hunt cottontails with rifles is small, with most hunters preferring to use shotguns — and shotgun hunters have been required to use non-lead shotgun ammunition since the 2017 season for cottontails. However, those who do need to try to find non-lead rimfire ammunition should start looking now rather than wait until the last minute.


Hunters will also need to check their sights with the non-lead ammunition versus what they have shot in the past. In my testing, the guns were usually within two or three inches of the same impact point as lead, but fine-tuning will be necessary.


The wet winter and spring has produced a bumper crop of rabbits in many areas across Southern California, and this year’s opener should be one of the best in some time thanks to good production.


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