Green firing ranges: a new bullet catcher prototype deployed in Valcartier

For several years, the Canadian Armed Forces have been working to counter lead contamination on garrison firing ranges. To develop a sustainable solution, the team of scientists from Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the Department of National Defence (DND) and Defence Construction Canada (DCC) recently made improvements to the latest versions of bullet catchers.

The new bullet catchers installed in Valcartier were built around a large metal box containing sand and covered with a self-healing membrane that limits water seepage. This allows the ammunition to pierce the membrane and lodge in the sand. Then, the drainage system, connected to a treatment unit, separates the lead from the water, which will be filtered. Contaminated sand is replaced after five to 10 years, depending on the use of the firing range.

"The bullet catchers are meant to contain the contaminant so that it does not end up in surface and groundwater, reducing the environmental footprint to an acceptable level," said Mathieu Sassi, DCC Coordinator, Construction Services.

Sassi explains that it was extreme cold that caused the most problems with the last version of the bullet catchers. The membrane hardened to such an extent that the bullets were unable to pierce it. They would fall directly to the ground during winter conditions.

The new catchers have been adjusted and are now installed at Valcartier's conventional firing ranges. Representatives of DCC's Environmental Services team and DND's Valcartier Resource Conservation Branch are collaborating on monitoring the performance of these devices by collecting data and observations.

If the trials are successful, the most recent solution implemented at Valcartier could be extended to all firing ranges in Canada and even NATO countries, since they all use the same lead-tipped ammunition.


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