Deer Meat Safety Precautions
Warnings on the Potential Hazards of Consuming Venison
Why should I care about lead fragments in venison?
Studies have shown that lead fragments can be deposited in venison harvested with lead ammunition. The lead fragments may be too small for you to detect by sight, touch, or while chewing. Studies have also found that people who eat wild game have higher blood lead levels on average than those that do not. Since lead is a recognized human toxin, we should all be attentive to possible exposure. The amount of lead needed to cause health problems depends on a number of factors, including a person's age and other lead exposures. Symptoms of lead poisoning vary and lead can have effects before noticeable signs of sickness. Pregnant women and children less than six years old are especially sensitive to lead exposure. Children less than six years old are vulnerable to long-term health effects from lead, such as learning and behavioral problems.
What are the possible health risks associated with lead in venison?
The possible risks associated with exposure to lead from venison have not been determined. Although sources such as lead-based paints are more important sources of lead exposure for people, lead particles in game meat are a concern. Due to the potential health risks, people should avoid the ingestion of lead from venison by taking the following steps when hunting:
- Proper shot placement can minimize bullet fragments. Shots that impact heavy bones can enhance bullet fragmentation. Avoid venison cuts from those portions of a deer where heavy bone impacts have occurred.
- Trim tissue liberally around venison wound channels to minimize possible lead exposure. Lead fragments were found as far as 18 inches away from the wound channel in a Minnesota study.
- Note that due to lower velocities, shotgun slugs, and muzzleloader bullets left less lead than commonly used high-powered soft-point or rapid-expansion rifle bullets. Also, deer harvested with copper bullets or archery equipment are free of lead fragments.
- If a commercial processor butchers your deer, verify that your venison will not be mixed with venison from an unknown source to ensure quality.
Where do we go from here?
Hunters should relax and enjoy deer hunting. There is nothing in the studies that suggest that people shouldn't go deer hunting. Until further data are available, pregnant women and children under 6 should minimize or avoid consumption of venison harvested with lead ammunition. Everyone should exercise good judgment to minimize potential lead exposure. If you would like to learn more, you can read the studies conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the North Dakota Department of Health. Information on lead prevention in New Hampshire can be found at www.dhhs.nh.gov or call 1-800-897-LEAD. The NH Fish and Game Department and the NH Department of Health and Human Services will post additional information on this subject on their web sites as it becomes available.
The NH Fish and Game Department recommends that hunters do not consume deer liver. Studies conducted by NH Fish and Game have revealed elevated levels of cadmium and Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in deer liver samples. The liver is a filtering organ and therefore has the potential to have high levels of a number of contaminants. As a result, the NH Fish and Game Department recommends that no deer liver be eaten.
2019 Great Bay Deer Hunt PFAS Testing
What did we find?
During the 2019 Great Bay Deer Hunt, successful hunters were asked to provide muscle and liver tissue samples from their harvested deer for PFAS testing. US Fish and Wildlife Service staff assisted in collecting tissue samples for the Department during the registration process. These samples were then sent to a lab at the University of Connecticut to screen for PFAS chemicals. Sixteen (16) deer were sampled, yielding 16 muscle samples and 15 liver samples for a total of 31 tissue samples collected and tested. Each sample was tested for 14 PFAS compounds with the following results:
- PFOS was the only PFAS chemical detected in any of the 31 tissue samples.
- 3 of 15 liver samples (20%) were positive for PFOS, 80% of liver samples were negative for PFOS.
- 15 liver samples (100%) were negative for any of the other 13 PFAS compounds tested.
- 16 muscle samples (100%) were negative for any of 14 PFAS compounds tested.
No PFAS chemicals were detected in any of the muscle tissue samples tested, suggesting venison consumption likely represents a low risk for PFAS exposure. While PFAS levels detected in deer livers were considered moderately low, the Department still recommends hunters do not consume deer liver. The liver is a filtering organ and therefore has potential to have high levels of a number of contaminants.
Why did we test deer for PFAS Chemicals?
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (PFAS) contamination is a regional health concern. Pease Development Authority, a known PFAS contaminated site, is in close proximity to the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where an annual 2 day deer hunt has historically taken place. Therefore, deer taken during the annual Great Bay hunt constitute an informative sample source for the assessment of PFAS in the local deer population.
For more information on PFAS and cadmium visit: