The two biggest reasons why bullets are made of lead are because lead is both cheap and dense. These two things make lead a very suitable option for bullets. Couple this with a few other favorable factors, and it’s easy to see why lead is still a popular choice for bullets today.
Lead is Dense
The fact that lead is dense means that it has higher kinetic energy. Denser slugs will also travel more accurately, and it is less likely to be affected by a strong crosswind.
Higher density bullets fly more accurately and with more kinetic energy, but they also have an increased penetration depth.
Lead is Cheap
Other materials are more dense than lead, but none are as abundant or as widely available.
Gold, for example, is denser than lead, but it would not be affordable to make bullets from gold.
Depleted uranium also has a high density, much higher than lead, but there is not enough of it available to warrant making bullets from it
Lead is Shaped Easily
Lead is malleable and can be melted at low temperatures; this makes it easier to create slugs.
This is one of the reasons bullets were first made out of lead, yet it still stands today.
Many bullets today are cast inside another material; this is known as a jacket bullet.
To make a jacket bullet, you need to use a hydraulic dye to push the lead into the jacket, usually made from copper.
The benefit of lead here is that the lead does not rebound when you let off the force and it holds its shape.
The fact that lead expands makes it ideal for a bullet. When the lead hits its target, it penetrates and disperses its energy inside that target.
So when you hit that deer right in the sweet spot, the lead slug will expand inside it, damaging more of the vital organs.
Even if the shot was a straight-through shot, the lead would cause a larger exit hole.
Lead is Abundant
Many places have easy access to lead; this makes it more affordable as mentioned above, it also makes it more convenient for companies to use.
If manufacturers were to use other materials like depleted uranium or gold it would be a lot more difficult to source and could cause delays in manufacturing.
Drawbacks of Lead Use in Bullets
While there are many great benefits in using lead to make bullets, there are some drawbacks worth noting.
The most obvious and biggest drawback of lead bullets is contamination. Lead is a potent neurotoxin and can cause issues with both humans and wildlife.
It is illegal to use lead shot cartridges over waterways in many places, which means most hunters are turning to steel or tungsten for duck hunting.
However, as we’ve seen from the information above, this is not practical with bullets.
Lead Bullet Alternatives
More and more lead alternative options are becoming available to hunters as regulations become stricter and hunters become more aware of the effects of using lead bullets.
In the state of California, it is illegal to take wildlife with lead ammunition.
This prompted bullet manufacturers to create other options. Companies like Hornaday have created non-toxic copper and copper alloy rounds that are just as affordable and effective as lead.
Lead makes an excellent material for bullets due to its value and its moldability. Few other materials come close to lead or surpass it in one area but no other material ticks every box like lead does.
Lead is cheap, dense, and shaped easily, this is why bullets are still made of lead.
With growing concern surrounding lead ammunition and stricter requirements, more people are moving away from lead and towards lead alternatives.