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California's lead ammo ban in effect July 1

California bans lead bullets

Photo credit: Brady J. Miller

As of July 1, 2019, lead ammunition will no longer be legal in California. This ban applies to all hunting (including public and private land), all wildlife (game birds, nongame birds and mammals) and all firearms (rifles, shotguns, pistols and muzzleloader) “in any gauge or caliber for the take of any legal species,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). This ban, which was signed into law in October 2013, makes California the first state to require nonlead ammunition for all firearms-related hunting.

However, a report conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that the implementation of the ban could impact the price of nonlead ammunition and could possibly result in fewer hunters or, at least, less frequent hunting, which could hurt the California economy. In fact, as goHUNT previously reported, NSSF found that higher ammunition prices will drive 36% of California hunters to stop hunting or reduce their overall participation and that nonlead centerfire rounds would jump 284%, rimfire rounds by 294% and shotshells by 387%. U.S. manufacturers of nonlead ammunition would have to increase production by 432% just to meet current demands.

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Regardless, the ban is in place and hunters are strongly recommended to “acquire and practice with nonlead ammunition” prior to heading afield. The ban also applies to any nongame birds or mammals and anyone using firearms for property management (aka depredation to take species causing property damage). CDFW holds the right to inspect all ammunition and warns hunters to be careful when buying out-of-state nonlead hunting ammunition.

The ban does not apply to pellet rifles since they “are not classified as firearms,” according to CDFW. Lead ammunition is permitted for target shooting where it is legal to do so.

For more information on the ban, click here.


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Matt A. - posted 1 year ago on 06-05-2019 02:00:32 am

We all know lead is harmful, that isn't the point. I am yet to find any data that states condors have died ingesting lead bullet fragments which is what the lead ban is based on. Everyone reading this needs to do a Google search on "micro trash in condors". These birds are destined for Extinction based on the crap they eat (paint chips, broken glass, wire, bottle caps, lead tire weights, etc).

Every Condior in the wild needs captured and operated on to remove the contents in their stomachs. Not to mention the State pays millions bringing dead animals to feeding stations so these birds can survive. Without both of these measures the condition would have been gone long ago and it wouldn't be from consuming bullet fragments in the remains of Hunter harvested big game.

Again, research " Micro trash in condors" and look at the x-rays and read the article.

Gary B. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 08:34:56 pm

There was a study done which said that lead found in condors had the same molecular breakdown as lead found in ammunition. Ammunition, according to the FBI Forensic Lab, has the same molecular breakdown as lead found in car batteries and other lead products because ammunition uses recycled lead to make bullets. I truly believe the condor is still struggling even though we have not been able to use lead based ammunition in condor country since what, 2007?

If you, as a scientist, are provided millions of dollars in grant money by a special interest group to find a problem, are you going to come back with information which busts the hypothesis you are trying to prove? I have been around too long to believe everything I read. Trust but verify. Everyone posting has relevant information and we should read as much into this topic to be informed sportsmen and women. Bottom line is we ALL need to be active in the preservation of our heritage and question results of all things which impact our community.

Keep the faith and shoot straight!

Stephen L. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 03:19:36 pm

Easy Clark, I never claimed to be an expert, only pointing out that several people with the same agenda agree on certain information does not make it a fact. Scientists used to agree unequivocally that the earth was flat. That does not make it a fact. I’m not worried about the cost of copper ammo because my shoots are made with stainless steel broad heads. Believing something because someone tells you too is much different than doing your own research and coming to your own conclusions, but good luck being led around by your anti hunting scientists.

Clint M. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 11:39:41 am
North Dakota

Nothing but a big scam and a lot of gullible idiots fall for it.

Erik S. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 10:42:29 am

Lead poisoning is a real thing, especially for raptors and carrion birds. Ive seen first hand x rays of birds and more importantly deer/elk carcasses after being shot by lead. Lead fragments like no other, one shot in the chest and a raptor can ingest lead from any part of the carcass. Now with that said, populations aren't necessarily suffering directly due to lead poisoning...Cars, telephone wires, wind turbines, etc kill a lot too (probably more). But saying lead poisoning isnt a fact is just foolish. Not a way to win your argument against using copper ammo. Ive killed many game with copper and never an issue out to 500 yards. Stop complaining about the price when you will only use a handful amount of rounds a year for your one or two deer tags in CA. Last season I used 3 rounds on 3 kills, two deer and an elk. But by all means complain about $20 more a box of ammo while you drive your 60K truck. Use lead all you want at the range.

Clark S. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 09:04:53 am
Albuquerque, NM

Scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals are written by people who study their topics for years, then reviewed by people who study those topics for years, to make sure that the information and conclusions presented are justified and well supported. They're experts, compiling years of study from wildlife biologists, toxicologists, and social scientists to produce a document detailing what we know about the causes of lead poisoning in hunters and wildlife.

But you have a keyboard, so I guess you know better.

Stephen L. - posted 1 year ago on 05-24-2019 06:00:18 am

I always like when terms like “peer reviewed “ get thrown out. A consensus of several like minded individuals agreeing on an idea, does not make something fact.

Clark S. - posted 1 year ago on 05-23-2019 12:12:05 pm
Albuquerque, NM

There are quite a few comments here asking for data used to determine that lead-based ammunition is harmful. A good start might be this peer-reviewed review paper summarizing the issue. It includes references to the research it summarizes, mostly from peer-reviewed literature.

The authors state that lead is especially harmful to developing fetuses and children, as well as harmful to adults who are chronically exposed. Studies have identified increased lead exposure in hunters relative to the general population. They also note the success of phasing out lead shot for waterfowl hunting.

I get the frustration, but stating that lead based ammo is being phased out as an attack on hunters is disingenuous. Some point out that we've used lead for hundreds of years, and it would be wise to point out that lead exposure and poisoning have been issues for hundreds of years. Some have pointed out lead is naturally part of the planet, but it's worth noting that just being "natural", whatever that means, doesn't mean it's not toxic. Just like large corporations can't dump heavy metals into our environment, hunters should be mindful that we're putting a lot of lead into the environment as a group. The few bullets you or I shoot hunting each year, times the number of hunters, amounts to a lot of lead each year.

As hunters, I think we should take the time to understand these issues for the health of the game we hunt, species that aren't game, ourselves, and our children.

John R. - posted 1 year ago on 05-20-2019 04:42:58 pm

Goodbye CA DF&W. I'll do ALL my hunting in another state. I've already tried, and been welcomed in, WY, UT, and MT.
THEY (state beaurocrats and politicians) aren't run by idiots like CA. I'll spend my hunting and traveling $$$ where I'm welcome.

Paul-Alexander F. - posted 1 year ago on 05-20-2019 10:31:12 am

Gary, Exactly! It's not about conservation or pollution. It's about government control and making it difficult to be a hunter. If lead was the really the issue all ammunition would have to be lead free. This should be a warning to all other western states.

Gary B. - posted 1 year ago on 05-20-2019 09:40:54 am

Paul, The non-lead rule only applies to hunting with a firearm. Pellet guns may still use lead. Target shooting may use either but lead is cheaper. Sighting in for a hunt should be done with the ammunition you will be using during the hunt (non-lead).

Paul-Alexander F. - posted 1 year ago on 05-20-2019 09:24:56 am

The non lead only applies to hunting? So you can spray as much lead as you want as long as you're not hunting game?
It doesn't make sense. Trying to convince the wife to move to AK! Wish me luck...

Gary B. - posted 1 year ago on 05-18-2019 08:55:29 am

There seems to be a lot of misinformed people making comments on this column. Non-lead bullets used in hunting was the topic but folks are talking about bullets penetrating ballistic vests, fish getting high lead from just swimming through the water and a bunch of other nonsense. Here are some fact. ALL rifle bullets will penetrate the average police ballistic vest. They are designed to stop pistol ammunition which is traveling much slower. Most vests are designed to stop bullets up to a .38 special/.357 Mag. Additional plates can be added to stop larger rounds but most police do not have these plates.

While lead may leach out in water, the current disburses the concentrated area rapidly and is of no consequence to marine life. There have been numerous studies on the effects of lead in marine life and all attempt to stop the use of lead in fishing weights have been ended with the use of scientific based information.

Here is a good question. Did anyone of the folks posting call their elected representative or Fish and Game Commission to voice their opposition when all of this was being discussed? If not, are you part of the problem or part of the solution to keep hunting in California? No need to reply either way. Most hunters and shooters just want to be left alone to do their thing. Unfortunately, we as a community can no longer be the silent minority. We have to be smart because the anti-hunting groups are already three steps ahead of us and they have money and people to fight against our hunting heritage.

Copper and other non-lead bullets work just fine but they cost an average of $20 more per box of 20 than lead-based ammo. Part of the law was to establish a fund to provide rebates of the difference between the two box prices but was never established. Is this a way to stop the law from taking effect? Maybe. Non-lead flies differently than lead based bullets because they are often longer. Smaller calibers, less than 30 caliber, need a higher rate of twist (1 in 9 or faster) on the rifle in order to stabilize in flight. More companies are making strides to put out non-lead bullets but most manufacturers do not believe it is worth it to cater to California so we may be limited.

Get your ammo before July 1, 2019 so you do not have to get your background check in order to purchase. ammunition.

Michael G. - posted 1 year ago on 05-17-2019 04:36:57 pm

I don't really have an argument against any of these posts although I think we may be over reacting (I hope anyway). My main request however, please never refer to any ammo as "cop killer"!
This is a term that was made up to scare the general public and I would caution all of us against adopting anti-gun language. Call it what it is, 5.56 steel ball or whatever. Thanks.

Bruce F. - posted 1 year ago on 05-17-2019 12:45:13 am

When did the law change about pellet guns. Pellet guns are legal for hunting in CA. or does the new law declassify then hunting use?

Additionally, is there anyone mounting a court challenge against the requirement of lead free ammo state wide? What proof was presented that showed that lead bullets used in hunting are responsible for the high lead levels in Condors? The original premise of the 5 year ban was that both varmints and game animals shot with lead containing projectiles were being lost in the field. Condors are carrion eaters and were getting poisoned from ingesting lead from the carcasses on which they fed,

Well, there were certainly no edible lead containing carcasses after a year. But that original ban continued for 4 more years. The anti-hunting condor studying scientists claimed that the lead blood levels had not dropped and pushed for a state wide ban. Even though the Condors have a very limited territory, the hunters had to be responsible.

If lead levels actually had not changed in 5 years of the led ban, it is much less than likely that hunters lead bullets are related in any way to the claimed led levels.

Let me point out that there have been several incidents in CA where endangered species researchers have falsified findings by moving endangered flora and fauna into areas where none of the endangered species existed. Then claiming a find that indicates that this additional area must also be classified as as off limits to human intrusion for any use!

Has there been ANY independent research to verify the claims of the vested "environmentalists" are valid? The facts of the lack of results from the previous 5 year lead ban flies in the face of a state wide expansion of the banning of lead containing shooting projectiles.

Another point that appears to not being properly included is that California is a highly mineralized state. Not only are minerals like gold and copper found widely but lead is a significant part of the environment. The lead is naturally occurring and so heavily concentrated in many areas that it is recommended that fish from many streams and reservoirs there not be eaten. In those lakes, streams, and reservoirs the naturally occurring lead forms organic compounds in the sediments which can be ingested by all kinds of aquatic life, including fish, snakes, frogs, and insects.

This leads me to the logical thought that Condors may be eating contaminated fish and other aquatic animals that die naturally. Carrion eaters clean up everything and considering the relatively short hunting season with small likelihood of a significant number lead bullet shot game or varmint animals being left in the wild to feed a large numbers of Condors.

One last point, elemental lead, meaning the chunks of lead metal, like a bullet or a fishing sinker are not very reactive in the bodies of humans or animals. Pieces of lead are not very reactive in stomach acids and virtually no compounds are created that then enter the circulatory system or "lodge" in organs. This is because of the short period of time, a mater of hours to a day or two before the chunk of lead passes out of the body.

This points again to the more reasonable expectation that the forming of organic compounds and dissolving that would take place with natural lead and its ores constantly present in these water sources, providing a continuous year round, year after year contaminate food source for the carrion eaters. Not an occasional hunter shot animal carcass.

Monte W. - posted 1 year ago on 05-16-2019 03:31:54 pm

Alex N- Dont stress it. Yes lead is undeniably toxic. But its the form that is the thing. Remember when lead was in gasoline? Deteriorating soft lead solder on water pipes? Paint?That was bad. Caused a lot of exposure. Very fine particles. Bullets are huge in comparison. Even when broken. It it self limiting. Thats why studies show no rise in lead levels in long time hunters. Nothing, nada, It doesn't absorb. Safe then safe now. Shoot copper if it makes you feel better. Besides its the law. And its all about stopping hunting. Then say goodby to the big game etc.

Aaron M. - posted 1 year ago on 05-16-2019 12:41:33 pm
Plumas Lake, California

Really important to remember if you carry a sidearm, that your pistol ammo will need to be lead free as well. This is how I understand it. I've also heard that if you don't have proof IE: box your ammo came in, wardens will be confiscating bullets to test them.

Don K. - posted 1 year ago on 05-16-2019 09:54:52 am

Lead is a noble metal, that means it exists in nature. This plane has about the same amount of lead as when the planet was formed. Lead has been used by man for thousands of years and we are still here and multiplying. Could this ban on lead ammo have another reason than protecting the environment. If you want to pass dumb law, don’t lie about it and expect me to believe the politicians.

Adam S. - posted 1 year ago on 05-16-2019 09:15:06 am

CA is such a beautiful state it's a shame their culture is so anti hunting it's even infected FWP.

Jody G. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 09:41:23 pm
chico, ca

CDFW does not care if hunting declines. In fact, many at CDFW openly voice their intentions to stop hunting. They have already increases fees in their other programs to offset the loss of income from a reduction in license sales. Many of the fees, for example a stream and lake alteration agreement have increased 100% in the last 4 years to account for funding shortfalls. CDFW recently imposed a fee for issuance of incidental take permits. The issuance of an incidental take permit used to cost nothing two years ago and now it costs $35,000. The days of hunting in California are coming to an end.

Vance H. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 07:21:05 pm

Has law enforcement said anything about this, seems like a steel 7.62 x 51 would go right thru body armour. Not to mention existing Kevlar cloth vests. Just sayin.

Alex N. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 06:48:48 pm

I love shooting, but i hate the little voice in my head that always naggs me about pollution. I feel a tad guilty of leaving lead in the environment. Yes people will say Im an idiot for feeling guilty, but if you take the data on how many tons of lead the ammo manufacturing sector buys every year, then imagine that lead distributed throughout the environment, its bad. Bad because lead is toxic to all living creatures, especially people.

Will E. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 06:46:41 pm

That’s really unfortunate that California is going to ban lead ammunition. In addition, more shooters and hunters will continue to cross state lines to buy ammo if there is a significant price increase. Moreover, I’m more surprised that the fish and game has not put an end to the lead used by commercial fisherman for fishing. There’s currently millions of pounds of lead sitting at the bottom of our ocean, slowly absorbing into the meat of all the fish that we consume. Go figure!

John W. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 06:14:15 pm

It seems to me that banning soft ammo such as lead will constitute harder metal rounds to be used so I guess California doesn't have an issue with armor piercing ammo so cop killer ammo should be on sale at every store sounds like a bad trade to me I would think peace officers would be against banning lead ammo I have seen what a copper hollow point can do to plate steel yikes.

Clint M. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 05:18:00 pm
North Dakota


matthew a. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 05:09:51 pm
Sheridan, WY

BLUE States frustrate me.

Erik S. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 11:27:08 am

Aaron, you are spot on with the DFW Wardens we have. There may be a few good ones left, but the majority Ive dealt with are over zealous to say the least. Ive had guns drawn on me for just hiking out of public land at night with a headlamp for absolutely no legitimate reason. They put these young inexperienced kids out there that have a chip on their shoulder from being bullied in high school, or so it seems. Other western states Ive had all good encounters. Don't get me started on Monterey County... I have been using Copper for 10 years in Azone (required by law) and never once been inspected on my ammo but many other things. Most guys I know still shoot lead in the Condor zones and have never had a problem but I like Copper so I dont stress over it. I do think, however, it shouldnt be law but a voluntary process.

Gary H. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 11:24:32 am

Nothing surprises me with California.

I would love to see the scientific data has had "lead" to this.

Pun intended.

Aaron M. - posted 1 year ago on 05-15-2019 10:54:31 am
Plumas Lake, California

The ban, coupled with over zealous DFW Wardens... I fear for the future of California hunters. We're already a dying breed and our Fish and Wildlife agency has time and time again made it clear, that they are not for the hunters or the fishermen in this State. Sadly, I am sure over the next couple years we will see more regulations passed and it will become harder and harder to hunt here. It's not just higher ammo prices that will hurt us either, our current political climate outside of hunting and fishing regulations are driving hard working Californian's (which encompasses a lot of outdoorsmen/women) out of this State. I'll get what I can, while I still can here... but spending time hunting in surrounding Western states, is definitely taking a higher priority now than ever.