California is the first state to require lead free projectiles for hunting. This requirement will phase in over the next few years, with full implementation taking place by 2019. Unfortunately, that leaves many hunters who use calibers that are unique, or not so mainstream, in a bad spot. They will have lots of lead ammunition they will no longer be able to use, all the while trying to find a viable replacement, non-toxic bullet, to shoot when the ban is fully in place. One popular caliber that falls into the unique, and not so mainstream, is the .172 caliber. Many people in California, myself included, hunt with a centerfire .17 caliber cartridge. I happen to own a rifle chambered in .17 Remington, as well as another chambered in the “newer” .17 Hornady Hornet. Since I hunt in many areas of the “Condor Zone” here in California, I have already been forced to shelve my rifles while waiting for an alternative way to load and shoot rounds with lead free bullets, in the .172 caliber. Other than a factory load that was just released from Hornady, there were no other options, until now.
Watch the Review with Hunt Report Video Below:
While at the 2015 SHOT Show, I came across the Lehigh Defense .172 caliber Controlled Chaos lead free bullet. It is an 18 grain CNC machined brass bullet, that has already been approved for use in California’s lead free area, and soon, statewide. After I opened the box, I went through and randomly measured and weighed 30 bullets. I found 100% of them to be exactly 18 grains and exactly the same measurement (0.510″). This is where CNC machining really shines. Having those elements removed from the equation allowed me to concentrate on my loads.
The Lehigh Defense bullets have a listed ballistics coefficient of 0.137. You will find that their 18 grain Controlled Chaos bullet sheds much less energy when compared to the Hornady 15.5 grain NTX* bullet that has a listed 0.115 bc. (*These bullets are not available from Hornady as a reloading component. It is only available in their loaded .17 Hornet, .17 HMR and .17 HM2 ammunition). With that in mind, I wanted to go with something in the same fps range as the lead free NTX factory loads. My averages with the Hornady NTX load are right at 3855 fps. My thoughts were, using the same fps, it should keep the Lehigh bullets at about 5.6″ low at 250 yards, while still holding on to 260 fpe MORE THAN the 15.5 grain NTX bullet (at 250 yards). I started my loads a bit less than the recommended starting load and worked up four different loads, moving up a third of a grain with each group of loaded ammo. This brought me close to the max, but not over it. I kept the length the same as the factory loads, not wanting to affect loading in the magazine.
When I arrived at one of the farms that I shoot, the wind started to pick-up, so I quickly readied my targets and shooting bags, then started shooting for groups. I began with the starting loads and worked my way up to the one that was close to the max load. As with any small caliber, I wanted to make sure there were no signs of pressure. The max load ended up being the most accurate of all the groups, while giving me an average velocity of 3894 fps, with zero signs of pressure. With the wind swirling, I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I was extremely happy with the <0.5″ groups I ended up with. Since these were only for initial testing, I shot a few more groups and then went back to dial in my best load. With a handful of rounds left, and wanting to see the bullet performance, I punched the data in my phone’s ballistic program to figure out my bullet drop, then went looking for varmints.
The Hunt and Bullet Performance:
Although the wind had really picked-up, there were ground squirrels out and about. Our unusually warm winter here in SoCal, meant that there were ground squirrels already causing damage to the winter crops the farmer grows to make ends meet during the slow winter months. The farmer also asked if I could shoot some of the squirrels that were in the area where he parked his equipment. His concern was that rattlesnakes would be attracted to the areas that held squirrels, and with ranch hands getting on and off equipment all day in that area, this was a legitimate worry. I felt confident enough with the accuracy of these loads and bullets, to let him know that I would concentrate on those areas, to clean out the any squirrels that moved in.
As I pulled into the area I would be shooting, I noticed movement up on the hill behind the equipment. Sure enough, a fat ground squirrel was up there about 170 yards away munching away on the grass and catching some of the sun that was peeking out between the clouds. I set-up for the shot and found the squirrel in my scope. It was up a steep hill, broadside, so I adjusted and put my crosshairs on the squirrel’s lower chest area and squeezed. The bullet hit with an audible “pop”, as I watched a red mist blow out the opposite side and a bit of dirt kick-up behind it. It rolled over, dead. I hoofed it up the hill to collect the evidence. The bullet had hit him where I aimed and blew a 2 inch round hole out the other side. As you can see in the picture below, the bullet performed well.
After that, I had 4 rounds left, so I set-up my shooting bench and focused on the areas next to the equipment. It consisted of an area where there was a series of holes out in the open, a few holes in some trees just beyond and some wood piles right next to the equipment. After getting my video camera set, I noticed a lump in the ground near the trees that I hadn’t seen earlier. I glassed it with my binoculars and confirmed my suspicions that the “lump” was a ground squirrel sitting at the entrance of his hole catching some sun, while getting blasted by wind. I focused the video camera on the squirrel and hit record. Although the camera angle shows part of its body, where I was shooting from, I could only see its head. I got behind the rifle and found the top half of its head poking up just above the grass. I put the crosshair between his ear and eye, then squeezed. The shot knocked him out of the hole, showing that the bullet took off the top of the squirrel’s head. Again, the bullet hit where I aimed, bucked the wind and blew up nicely on impact.
The next two squirrels happened quickly and in succession. I was watching the wood piles next to the equipment, when a ground squirrel popped out of the bottom and started to feed. I set up the camera and started recording. I took a picture of him through my scope with my phone, then waited for him to pop out a bit more for the shot. I wanted to hit him just behind the head, on the shoulder, so I could see the bullet performance as it passed through most of the body of the squirrel. A few moments later, it was dead. The bullet entered, then tore open the opposite side. It was an odd wound, but based on what I had read about the Lehigh Controlled Chaos bullets and how they react when hitting “wet” targets, it wasn’t a surprise.
Immediately after shooting the previous squirrel, I glassed over to the area with a series of holes and saw the back of a ground squirrel that was feeding on some mulch that was spread in the area. I adjusted the video camera, found the squirrel in my scope and popped it. It gained a little air, coming to rest on its back. Again, the bullet did a lot of damage, killing the squirrel almost instantly. I had only had one round left of my best batch, so I collected the squirrels and took some pictures on the wood pile where squirrel #3 was shot.
My only experience with lead free bullets in a .17 caliber centerfire rifle is the Hornady 15.5 grain NTX bullets, which are factory loaded in their .17 Hornet ammunition. The Lehigh Defense .172 caliber, 18 grain Controlled Chaos, lead free bullets, have opened up a new world for those of us who shoot the .17 caliber centerfires and reload. I plan on getting more field results with these bullets, including larger varmints, such as rock chuck and predators; but, based on the performance I experienced with these bullets on the ground squirrels I shot, I think they will perform well. Because these bullets are rated to perform in the 2000 fps to 4200 fps range, even people who shoot slower wildcats, such as the .17VHA, will have an alternative, in order to stay legal in California. Lastly, although I have limited experience with these bullets, I have sent some out to other .17 caliber centerfire shooters to see what results they find. I have asked them to post on our Varminter Forums when they have completed their findings.
Lehigh Defense – http://www.lehighdefense.com
CZ Model 527 Varmint – .17 Hornet
Hawke Panorama EV 4-12x40mm
Topic: Lehigh Defense 17 Caliber Controlled Chaos Lead Free Bullet Review with Hunt Report