BISMARCK, N.D. — State and federal health officials have finished collecting blood samples from more than 700 North Dakotans who ate wild game shot with lead bullets.

North Dakota health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying whether there are health risks for people who eat the meat, said Dr. Stephen Pickard, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department.

Blood samples were collected May 16 to May 30, from 738 people in North Dakota's six largest cities, Pickard said. The samples were taken from children as young as 2 to adults, Pickard said. Most were collected from adults who had eaten venison killed with high-velocity ammo, though some samples were taken from people who had eaten pheasants and waterfowl shot with either lead or nonlead pellets, he said.

The samples have been sent to CDC's laboratory in Atlanta, Pickard said. The study includes only North Dakota residents, he said.

"We hope to find nothing, of course," Pickard said. "It will tell us if there is a substantial blood-lead level increase."

Results are expected before this year's fall hunting season, Pickard said.

"No study is definitive," he said. "We hope to have a set of guidelines and recommendations that we can give to the hunting community of what the risk is, and what the hunting community can do to minimize that risk."

Dr. William Cornatzer, a Bismarck physician and hunter, alerted health officials after he conducted his own tests on venison using a CT scanner and found lead in 60 percent of 100 samples.

North Dakota and Minnesota officials, worried about lead bullet fragments, told food bank operators in March to discard deer meat donated by hunters. Some groups that donate venison to the needy called the actions premature and unsupported by science.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is holding a meeting Wednesday to discuss lead fragments in venison. Health officials, wildlife experts and hunting representatives from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin have been invited.