November 18, 2014
I spend a good bit of time (probably too much) reading various articles, columns, and blog posts about lead ammunition. I spend even more time responding to them, generally in a vain attempt to interject reason, fact, and common sense into the discussion.
It’s an unfortunate reality that, in lieu of actual knowledge or research, far too many journalists and writers have chosen to fall back on single-source information… and for the most part, at least in the mainstream media, that information is propagated either by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). As a result, the information is highly biased and driven by extremist agendas.
Of course, there’s plenty coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, such as the NRA (and its shadows) . An awful lot of that is also riddled with misleading inaccuracies, and it’s also designed to push an agenda. But for the most part, that information doesn’t get the attention of mainstream editors. It shows up instead in the hook-n-bullet media, and most of that is Internet based. It is hard not to notice that most of the major outdoors magazines and hunting television programs have steered well clear of the whole topic, except in specific cases where it makes real news (such as California’s legislation).
But I digress. Most of the lead ammo articles and columns you see in the mainstream media are heavily influenced by “press releases” and “papers” distributed by the environmental and animal rights extremes. You need only read a few articles and columns to start to recognize the striking similarities, redundant talking points, and even specific wording.
With that in mind, I also recognize that many of the voices that echo these “information sources” are pretty well-meaning. I think it reflects poorly on the state of journalism in general right now, but I can’t say that many of the reporters and columnists out there are necessarily “out to get” hunters simply by virtue of swallowing and regurgitating bad information. (Sure, some certainly are anti-hunters, but I don’t think it’s a majority.) For that matter, I think that a lot of the people who support a ban on lead ammo aren’t necessarily anti-hunters. It’s just that they value the objects of their passion (e.g. condors and raptors) more than they value the objects of ours (hunting and fishing). I also think that a general ignorance about hunting, guns, and ammo, makes these folks more susceptible to the argument that the “dangers” of lead ammo can be easily addressed by simply banning lead outright… or that such a ban really wouldn’t have much of an impact on hunters and shooters.
So when I go out there to fight for truth and justice (but never while wearing my best trousers), I try to educate as well as influence the readers. I call out the myths and misinformation from all quarters, and make an effort to set it right with objective fact. Or at least, the facts as I understand them. Information can evolve, and due to ongoing research, what I currently recognize as “fact” may, indeed, change. I’m open to that possibility.
One thing that I’ve pushed on, over and over, is that there are many ways to mitigate the potential dangers of lead ammo. Replacing lead bullets is certainly one very obvious method, but it’s hardly the only way to go. I’ve described everything from burying or removing gut piles and carcasses, to selecting less frangible bullet types. For those concerned with human health risks, studies in Minnesota have shown that proper meat care and careful preparation can reduce that risk to almost nil. Etc.
I’ve also argued that, if protection and conservation of scavenger birds and raptors is the desired outcome, organizations like Audubon, CBD, and HSUS should be working hard to disseminate all of these various solutions instead of running the conversation into a brick wall by focusing narrowly on banning lead ammo. Unfortunately, even the more scholarly papers on the subject tend to focus only on replacing the projectiles rather than finding other ways to protect wildlife. Columnists, reporters, and editors… even those with a pro-hunting bent… seldom mention these mitigation strategies.
Imagine, then, the smile on my face when I saw this paper from the Oregon State University.
The review of scientific studies, conducted by biologists from several different institutions and agencies, was published in the July edition of the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications. A companion perspective article, written by Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, examines the challenges of transitioning to non-lead ammunition.
In their papers, the researchers do not call for any policy changes, but they outline some of the challenges of reducing the use of lead and explore tactics that have been used to reduce lead exposure.
The review outlines some steps to reduce lead exposure to birds, including redistributing shot in the surface soil by cultivating sediments; raising water levels in wetlands to reduce access by feeding birds; and providing alternative uncontaminated food sources.
“Managers have found a number of ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure to birds while preserving the important role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Haig said.
One example cited involved Arizona Game and Fish working with other groups in that state on a voluntary approach to the issue.
“They formed a coalition to educate hunters about the negative effects of lead,” Haig pointed out. “The result was more than 80 percent compliance with voluntary non-lead ammunition use among hunters on the Kaibab Plateau and no birds were found with lead poisoning the following year.”
This is the kind of thing I think we should be seeing, along with factual and practical (not hypothetical) information about the impacts of lead ammo on non-target species. I would hope more media outlets pick up on this, and let’s turn this conversation into something productive.
In other, related news, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission rejected a petition to ban lead ammunition in the Centennial State. While the obvious, primary reason the petition was rejected was that there were only 53 actual signatures and four letters of support (the 10,000 signatures collected online were not eligible for consideration, as the majority of them were from outside of Colorado), I also think the political ramifications of moving forward with the proposal would have been devastating. After threatened (and to some extent, actual) boycotts by hunters in response to restrictive firearms legislation in 2012, I think Colorado officials recognize the danger of pissing them off again… especially with an ammo ban that has no valid justification.
This does look like a good opportunity for CO P&W to expand education and outreach about lead ammo. When provided with the unbiased facts, many hunters will make the personal choice to take action to mitigate potential harm. That, to me, seems like a positive outcome.
November 16, 2014
I’ve been pretty excited to try out these bismuth muzzleloader balls since they got here a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in a previous post, that wasn’t as simple as it should have been. First of all, I had to find a new nipple for the Hawken, since I’d removed the old one years ago, and as tiny-but-vital objects do, it disappeared. After a series of missteps on my part, ordering the wrong size, not once but twice, I finally found a new one and got the rifle put back together and ready to shoot.
Then, a couple of weekends ago, when I went to sight in, I realized I had no powder. By choice, I do not live in a place where I can run down to the corner sporting goods store and pick up odds and ends for my shooting and hunting habit. The Get-and-Go (our local C-store) and the hardware store carry a couple of boxes of standard ammunition, but you can forget finding anything for less common guns. As it turns out, traditional muzzleloading is anything but common around here. After an hour drive to town, and poking around the Oasis Outback (which is a pretty big store), I still couldn’t find it. The old guy at the counter didn’t even know what I was asking for, and the younger fella, on top of his game, couldn’t find anything but 777 pellets, which I can’t use in my Hawken. He told me that they don’t get any demand for muzzleloading gear. Texas only has muzzleloader seasons in 58 of its 254 counties… and Edwards, Real, and Uvalde are not on that list.
At any rate, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I finally bit the bullet and ordered some Pyrodex RS online, complete with the hazardous materials shipping fee.
So I got out there to shoot yesterday. I opened my box of percussion caps, and realized I was running a little low. But when I got done, I still had about 10 caps left. I stuck these in my capper (sort of a speed loader for percussion caps), and put it in my pocket with my other possibles. I went out and sat in my blind last night, but the deer came in from a different trail, so I didn’t get a shot. I pulled the cap off of the nipple, and on the dark walk back to the house, I tried to put it back into the capper with the others.
That was a mistake.
Somewhere between my house and the blind, in my effort to replace the unused cap, I managed to knock all but one of the remaining caps out of the capper. These things are tiny. Even in the daylight, the odds of finding them on the rocky ground are extremely slim. There’s no way on earth I’d have found them in the dark. I cursed the bad luck, but figured I really only need one shot. Two caps would be OK.
Are you shaking your head yet?
So I slipped out this morning, easing my way around to a different blind. I got set up, capped the rifle, and waited. It was a perfect morning, chilly and a light fog. It was the kind of day that just screams, “deer!”
Up the canyon a mile or so, I heard a rifle shot. A little later, I heard another shot from the other direction. At one point, way up on the ridgetops, I heard hogs fighting. An owl was perched on a broken oak branch… another patient hunter. It was just that perfect. On top of everything else, I had no doubt the deer would be moving and I would soon have my shot opportunity.
I was sort of daydreaming, maybe even nodding off a little, when I caught movement at the edge of the trees. A grey shape ghosted along the trail. I have to admit that I was hoping for an opportunity at that big eight point I’ve been watching, or maybe at the new, tall-racked eight point that recently showed up on my cameras, but this was a doe. Since I don’t eat antlers, and I enjoy watching those bucks as much as I would enjoy shooting them, the doe looked good to me. She was a healthy, mature animal, and she was by herself. I could shoot her and have her dragged down to the barn without really disrupting the patterns of the other animals.
I eased the rifle up, and thumbed the hammer back. Something didn’t look right, and I realized with dismay that the damned cap had fallen off. Moving in millimeters, I eased my hand into my pocket and withdrew the capper, and then slipped the final cap on the empty nipple. The doe had moved to within 40 yards, and seemed oblivious to my actions. I waited for her to turn broadside, slightly quartering away, and leveled the sights at the top of her shoulder. With a breath, I squeezed the trigger, forcing myself not to jerk it and to hold steady on my mark.
The hammer fell, and where I expected a Pop-Bang, all I got was a Pop (if you’ve never heard it, a #11 percussion cap sounds a bit like a .22 short going off)! The cap failed to ignite the powder charge… the cap and ball equivalent of a flash in the pan.
The doe’s head jerked up at the sound, but she didn’t seem too alarmed. After a moment, she put her head down and returned to whatever she was browsing. I picked up the empty capper, as if it might magically create just one more number 11 percussion cap. I looked around my feet in vain, hoping to catch the brassy glint of the lost cap. I dug through the pockets of my coat, hoping beyond hope that a cap had fallen out in there. It wasn’t to be.
I wanted to cry.
I cussed instead.
I’d left Iggy back in the yard, and at the sound of the cap going off, he started to whine (he thinks every shot means time to track or retrieve). The doe came to full alert and turned toward the house. Iggy’s whine became a mournful howl, and the doe had had enough. She high-stepped back up the trail and disappeared into the cedars.
I expect that I was a pretty dejected sight, walking back to the house with the unfired Hawken dangling useless from my hand.
So, About These Balls
At this point, it’s looking unlikely that I’ll actually get to shoot a deer with one of these bismuth balls, so I’ll share a little information that I do have.
First of all, they’re cast, round balls with a .485 diameter and a weight of 141 grains. They’re composed of 93% bismuth and 7% lead.
I forgot to ask where they got the materials to cast these things, but according to Ben (the guy who sent them to me), they come out to about 30 cents apiece to make. I know you can buy bismuth shot for reloading, and I expect this can be melted down and cast in a mold for your specific caliber. Here’s an update from Ben. The raw material for casting these balls can be found at a website called Rotometals. A one pound ingot sells (as of this post) for $19.99. Figure 7000 grains to a pound, and the balls are 141 grains apiece, so you’re looking at almost 50 balls to a pound, and a cost per ball of about $0.40. That’s a little more than twice what you pay for pre-cast, swaged, lead balls via a sporting goods outlet (appx. $17-$18 per 100). In my opinion, if you’re casting your own balls anyway, that’s really not an unbearable cost… especially since I found that the lead and bismuth shoot pretty close, which means I could practice with lead and sight-in and hunt with the bismuth.
As I think I mentioned yesterday, I’m able to get these things to group about 2″ at 50 yards out of my Cabela’s Hawken, using an 80 grain charge of Pyrodex RS. That’s as good as I’ve ever been able to get this rifle to shoot, and personally, I think that’s plenty adequate for hunting. It certainly gave me plenty of confidence.
While I was sitting in my blind last night, I found one of the spent balls from my sight-in session. I’m not sure its exact route to the floor of my blind (the blind is about 100 yards uphill from my shooting bench), but it had at least passed through a sheet of 1/2″ plywood and some cedar brush. Aside from some scuffs and one minor gouge, the ball was pretty much intact enough to be reused. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, as I would expect a little more deformation. However, I’ve recovered lead balls in the past that didn’t show a lot of damage either, so this is probably consistent, regardless of the composition.
November 15, 2014
I slept in a little this morning, so it was full daylight when I got up and started my day. As usual, I went to take a look out the back door. Sure enough, three or four deer were milling around up at the feeder. I couldn’t put horns on any of them, but that’s OK. It got the heart pumping better than my morning cup of coffee.
I killed a doe last weekend with the bow, but I’ve got a new challenge. A friend of mine sent me some .50 caliber round balls, cast from bismuth, and I’ve been itching to load up the Hawken and see what they’d do. Getting the Hawken up and running again after all these years has been a bit of a challenge, since apparently nobody in this part of the Hill Country still hunts with traditional muzzleloaders. Among other things, I couldn’t find powder anywhere. I finally sucked up the “hazardous material” charge to have a pound of Pyrodex RS shipped from Cabelas. The shipping cost more than the powder… but that’s how eager I was to shoot the smokepole again.
I got out on the bench, and charged up the rifle with 80 grains of Pyrodex. I had to double patch the ball to get the fit I wanted, and rammed it home. I set up my targets at 50 yards, which is a reasonable shot with this rifle. It’s definitely not one of the modern tack drivers (and I don’t feel like I need to shoot 200 yards with a muzzleloader anyway… I’ve got modern rifles that do that more effectively). The spot I’ll be hunting is set up for archery anyway, so 50 yards will be the longest poke I’ll have.
The first shot was way off to the right. I vaguely remember that problem from the last time I used the rifle, so I tapped the front sight over a bit. The next shot was right where I wanted it. I pulled the one after that, but then settled down and managed to eke out a 2″ group. That’s not bad for a cheap Hawken. I decided to compare the results to what I’d get with a regular, lead round ball. The point of impact was almost identical. Not too shabby!
I only had 10 of the bismuth balls, so I saved the last three for hunting. I felt like I should run through a few more of the lead projectiles, though. Shooting a cap and ball rifle is a bit different from a centerfire due to the slight delay between the cap and powder ignition. You really have to be conscious of your form and follow through, or you’ll pull the shots… not to mention that the trigger on my rifle is not the finest example of precision machining. I needed to build up a little bit of muscle memory before I was comfortable hunting with this rifle.
I wrapped up the shooting, satisfied that I could probably hit what I wanted to hit… at least at 50 yards or so. I ran a brush down the bore to clear the worst of the fouling, but decided that a thorough cleaning could wait. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me, but the Pyrodex shoots pretty clean. I stowed the rifle, and then took Iggy and the tablet up the hill to check the cameras. When I pulled in last night, a mid-sized eight pointer was in my front yard with a group of does. They appeared to be eating acorns, not chasing, but it’s a hopeful sign that maybe some pre-rut activity might be cranking up. This was the first time since mid-summer that I’d seen one of the bigger bucks hanging out with the does.
I keep one camera running at the feeder, and that’s the easiest one to access. I knew, of course, that I’d been getting pretty good activity at the feeder recently. Tracks and scat were all over the place, coming and going. Maybe they’ve just about finished off the acorns already. Or maybe they’re just eating corn for dessert. I don’t know. They’re wild deer. They do wild deer stuff. The minute you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll change the whole game. But whatever the reason, they’ve started coming to the feeder again… in droves.
At any rate, the card was loaded with pictures. The bulk of them were the same deer I’ve been watching all along. I was happy to see that Funkhorn and the big eight point are still around, as is that young six pointer that’s looking so good. Whatever my neighbors were shooting the other morning, they didn’t kill any of “my” bucks. There were also several newcomers, like this really tall, spindly eight pointer. I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but he’s been showing up every night for the last week or so. He’s not particularly old, but I’d probably shoot him, given the opportunity.
I had set my other camera up the hill a ways, in a spot where I’m thinking of setting up a stand. There are some trails there that are really torn up. When I first saw the amount of traffic, I was certain that there were hogs up there, but I couldn’t find any solid evidence (scat, good tracks, rubs, etc.). I decided it must just be a really busy highway for the deer.
Anyway, it’s kind of a hump to get up there due to the steepness of the hill and the fact that the ground is all loose limestone. I decided this would be a good day to break a sweat and check the pictures. The camera didn’t show much, but on closer inspection, I realized it was aimed sort of high. Still, as we see here, it wasn’t entirely fruitless.
Now I just have to figure out how to hunt those suckers in the daylight.
November 11, 2014
I’ve mentioned, a time or two, that the challenges to the use of lead ammunition aren’t limited to the United States. The United Kingdom and many European countries have also enacted various bans or restrictions on the use of lead ammo. In the UK, lead is banned for use on migratory fowl, and also banned over certain wetlands and waterways. There is also an ongoing push by some environmental/animal rights groups to ban all lead ammo. In Europe, a convention had initially resolved to phase-out of all lead ammunition, but that plan stalled as the realities of replacing lead projectiles ran up against opposition from hunters and shooting organizations who challenged the science behind banning lead (especially without thoroughly researching the potential dangers of alternative metals, such as tungsten).
The discussion has also been taking place on an international level, and at last week’s Convention on Migratory Species sessions in Quito, Ecuador, a resolution was passed to phase out lead ammunition globally. Of course, the resolution is non-binding, and it includes language to allow individual countries to set their own regulations. So, the resolution is essentially lip service, but it’s lip service on a pretty big scale. And no, North America is not represented at this convention, according to the CMS website.
There’s a pretty solid write-up about the resolution and the way it’s being received in Great Britain in the Western Morning News. What I found particularly interesting was the different takes from two of Britain’s largest hunting and shooting organizations, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance. Whereas BASC is directly challenging the resolution (and the science behind it), the Countryside Alliance is happy that the resolution allows member countries to select their own path, and that it does not call for a blanket ban on all lead ammo… it’s all very glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty.
Where it’s all going to end is still anyone’s guess. I think it’s important for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts to continue to push back on any sort of lead ammo ban, and to insist that any efforts to restrict or ban lead ammunition are solidly based in science. At the same time, I also think we should all continue to educate ourselves and to study the impacts… not only of lead ammo, but the lead alternatives. There is a very real risk here that, in the rush to ban lead, we replace it with something equally dangerous (or worse).
September 17, 2014
For those who haven’t been keeping up, it’s worth note that the lead ammunition issue isn’t limited to those of us in the U.S. Bans and restrictions on the use of lead ammo can be found all over Europe and the UK, and, at least in some cases, the issue has become just as contentious.
In the UK, for example, where lead is generally banned for waterfowl or for shooting over wetlands, there’s been an ongoing push (similar to the US) to ban lead ammo across the board. The predominant argument in favor of a ban is that the only way to ensure that lead stops showing up in the environment and in human food sources (market hunting is still a thing over there) is to ban it outright. If it is removed from the marketplace, it will no longer be used in the field. The primary counter-argument is that there’s no evidence that lead shot is harmful to the environment or to human health, and that a ban would not serve any real purpose.
Sound familiar? It should. Most of the articles, columns, and blogs I’ve read from Britain echo the discussion that’s happening here.
However, it is interesting to note that some of the leading British hunting/shooting organizations are not taking the same approach as many of the US organizations. Instead of simple denial and refusal to admit any possibility that lead ammo use is an issue (a la the NRA, NSSF, and some others), the British folks are urging sportsmen to strictly obey the current laws. To be clear, this approach isn’t so much about mitigating the potential impacts of lead ammo as it is to manage public image. It appears that some UK hunters are still “sneaking” the occasional lead shot, and as a result, that lead is showing up in waterfowl sold at market. This provides a talking point for the anti-lead contingent who argue that the only way to stop illegal use of lead ammo is to make it completely unavailable. To their minds, the current law is obviously not sufficient.
In short, some UK hunters are shooting the whole hunting and shooting community in the foot. A few bad apples…
The whole thing is summed up pretty nicely in this piece from The Western Morning News. It’s really worth a read, if only to see how this discussion is happening across the Atlantic.
There was the interesting juxtaposition in my newsfeed of the article from the Western Morning News, and a piece from Arizona’s KJZZ public radio.
The KJZZ report describes the results of recent testing that show a significant reduction in the number of condors requiring treatment for lead poisoning. While science requires more than a short-term change to infer causality, there’s a good likelihood that the decline in lead poisoning cases is a result of voluntary, lead ammo reductions among hunters in the sensitive areas of both Arizona and Utah. These findings are consistent with other reports, showing that the incidence of lead poisoning appears to be down in that area.
Of course, a little is never enough for some folks, as you can see in this snip from the article:
Arizona Game and Fish officials estimate that about 90 percent of hunters participate in the state’s voluntary program and the rate is growing in Utah. However, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller said measuring success from hunter participation is misleading, adding that an outright ban like the one in California is the only way to make a difference.
It is worth note that, despite the “outright ban” in California, and a reported compliance rate of almost 100% (based on field checks), the number of lead poisoning cases among condors does not appear to be declining.
So, infer what you will. All I’ll add to this is that maybe those folks in Great Britain have the right idea. As with so many issues, hunters can be our own best friends, or our worst enemies. Whether or not you agree with the laws or the science around lead ammunition, it behooves us all to follow the rules. In CA, the lead ban is largely unenforceable simply by virtue of the size of the ban area. It’s not hard to skirt the law. But that’s not a good reason to ignore it. And in AZ and UT, it’s not the law… you don’t have to use lead-free ammo… but you still have the opportunity to mitigate your potential impact by either voluntarily switching, or by removing any lead-killed carrion from the field.
If the apparent success of the voluntary programs in AZ and Utah continues, then it gives some leverage to folks in other states like Oregon and Washington to advocate similar approaches instead of legislated bans. That can only be a good thing.
And in California, if the lead ammo ban for hunting does not produce positive results, you can bet the calls for an outright ban of all lead ammo will only get louder. Incontrovertible evidence may yet turn up that the condors are getting the lead from other sources, but right now almost every finger is pointing at hunters.
September 11, 2014
In 2013, he US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a couple of other groups, sent out a survey of dove hunters to get some information on both demographics and attitudes related to dove hunting. Part of the survey included questions related to the use of lead-free shot.
According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s online news, the results made it pretty clear that most dove hunters (85% of those surveyed) are using lead shot, and about two-thirds of them don’t see any reason to change that. From the article:
“Overall, given what they know right now, two-thirds of dove hunters oppose a requirement for use of non-lead shot, with about half of them believing efforts to restrict lead ammunition is a tactic by animal rights groups to eliminate hunting and/or a tactic by gun control advocates to encroach on gun ownership rights,” the report reads.
“As usual,” the report added, “most hunters are willing to take significant actions for conservation if they are convinced of the need.”
Fifty-four percent said they would be willing to use non-lead alternatives if there was scientific evidence that lead shot was harming dove populations.
But that, evidently, isn’t available.
In a Houston Chronicle column about the same survey, writer Shannon Tompkins points out that the results show that over half of the hunters surveyed (55%) believe that education about lead ammo’s effects and alternatives has been insufficient.
While I do agree with the sentiment that lead ammo restrictions generally aren’t called for, I think it’s a shame that so many hunters are still uneducated about the topic.
There are a lot of reasons for this lack of knowledge, although I won’t agree that all of these reasons are good ones. One of the biggest detriments to factual knowledge about lead-free ammo is the sheer amount of unmitigated propaganda… on both sides of the argument… has so muddied the waters that many hunters don’t really know what to believe. However, since they are hunters, the tendency is to side with the “pro-gun/pro-hunting” arguments coming from organizations like the NRA and the NSSF instead of information from environmental organizations (“tree-huggers”). And, sadly, a lot of the information from the gun rights organizations is completely off-base. Worse, these organizations ascribe an agenda to the lead-ban proponents and then cash in on the fear and mistrust they’ve engendered. This also shuts the door on any productive conversation.
The truth is, though, that even the objective research can be difficult for the layman to digest. I used to believe that the average person could review the research and make some general, accurate, common-sense interpretations. But that kind of research takes initiative, and a large part of the hunting community simply doesn’t have it. It also turns out that, apparently, too many hunters who do bother to find the research only read the first couple of paragraphs of the abstract and consider themselves “educated”. When it comes to reviewing scientific research, the devil really is in the details. You have to read it all to understand the conclusions. I never saw myself as a Pollyanna, but I must confess that I think I overestimated the average hunter.
I also thought that, as this lead-ban issue gained momentum across the country, more of this research would be reported and made available to mass media consumers. Instead, the national media coverage of the lead issue has, primarily, consisted of reprints of propaganda columns from the likes of Wayne Pacelle, and various representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, there are a fair number of “articles” about various raptors… particularly bald eagles… that have been poisoned by lead, and almost always implicating hunters and lead ammunition as the culprits (with little factual support for the argument).
Of course, expecting the media to present a thorough, factual and balanced look at such a complex topic is asking a lot. I recognize that. Most complicated, scientific issues tend to get short-shrift in the newspapers. It’s hardly specific to topics related to hunting or firearms. But these articles and columns should raise questions in the minds of hunters, and they should spark self-directed efforts to learn more.
One thing that would go far toward alleviating some of the ignorance and misinformation would be for the outdoors media, the hook-n-bullet magazines and TV productions, to take some time to address the issue in a factual and practical manner. It’s not the first time I’ve called this out, but seriously, there’s just not much factual information available from the traditional hunting resources about this topic. With the exception of a few columns from the NRA and NSSF that serve no real educational purpose (they deny almost every negative claim about lead ammo, often with misinformation or implications of an anti-gun/anti-hunting agenda), there’s almost no mention of the topic at all.
I recognize that the issue is politically loaded, and I expect many publishers or producers don’t want to open a can of worms (nobody wants to get “Zumboed”). And it’s true, a lot of people reject the truth when it conflicts with the party line. I’ve certainly been accused of being a secret anti-hunter when I offer fact-based arguments about lead ammo, or when I challenge some of the ridiculous claims from the gun groups. But I also recognize that, as a small-time blogger, I’ve got very little to lose, in regards to advertisers and sponsors. Repercussions are a valid concern for the “big guys” in the industry… which is a shame because this really doesn’t have to be a controversial discussion.
But here’s something that really kind of surprised me.
I recently reviewed the Hunter Education resources from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) website and found one, single, mention of lead-free ammunition… and that was an old shot-size chart for waterfowlers switching to lead-free ammo. While I was there, I ran through the online Hunter Education training, and never saw so much as a comment about the lead ammo question… even in the chapter on Hunter Ethics and Responsibility. I’m sure, of course, that some individual Hunter Ed instructors address lead ammo in their classes. I expect that in places like CA, it would be almost negligent not to talk about lead ammo and the use of alternatives. But you would think the Association would at least provide basic resources or links to relevant websites to inform those conversations. Even better, of course, would be to provide educational information, specific to the topics of lead ammo safety, risks, and ways to mitigate those risks (lead-free ammo, burying carcasses, removing offal, etc.). There is a section of the site that is restricted, so maybe there’s something there that I didn’t see… and I really don’t intend to throw mud on the IHEA, because they do a good and necessary thing… but I’m a little nonplused that the topic of lead ammunition isn’t openly and clearly addressed in their site.
Things aren’t always as simple as I think they should be, but it seems to me that the industry has a responsibility to openly and honestly discuss this topic. Just put it on the table, provide the facts, and let it flow. The results of this USFWS survey make pretty clear that education is needed, and lord knows there’s a ready-made platform for disseminating the information. With at least three television networks dedicated to hunting and fishing programming, and too many periodicals for me to count (both online and traditional), there’s no excuse for a hunter, anywhere in this country, not to know if the use of lead ammo has a potentially negative effect on wildlife, or to not understand the extent of those effects… except that these outlets are too timid to open that conversation.
August 25, 2014
“In past years, the coupon for free non-lead ammunition was mailed with the hunt tag. However, this year, the department has been working to expand its network of retailers that will accept the coupon to better accommodate hunters. In addition, now a limited supply of the most common ammo will be available for coupon redemption at the Phoenix and Flagstaff department offices (note: it will not be offered for regular sale).
Coupons will be mailed to affected hunters soon, and hunters are encouraged to buy their non-lead ammo to avoid a possible supply shortage. Hunters can choose either one box of loaded ammunition or one box of bullets for reloading their own ammunition with the coupon. There are multiple non-lead ammunition manufacturers to choose from as well as several available calibers and grain weights. Hunters in Arizona have proven their commitment to wildlife conservation in the past six years with 85 to 90 percent of hunters in Arizona’s condor range voluntarily using non-lead ammo during their hunts, or if they used lead ammunition, removing the gut piles from the field.
This year, Game and Fish is reminding hunters that if they have trouble finding non-lead ammunition, they can still support condor recovery by removing gut piles from the field that were shot with lead ammunition. Hunters that remove their gut piles (lead ammunition only) will be eligible to be entered into a prize raffle.
Note that, in addition to using lead free ammo, there are other measures you can take to reduce the potential impact of lead ammunition. If it’s not possible to remove the gut pile, consider burying it. Where the ground is too hard to dig, build a rock cairn. It’s not that difficult, and if your efforts result in one less, lead-poisoned condor… well, most of us think it’s worth it.
Up in Washington, the discussion about lead ammo has been going on for several years. However, so far, little action has been taken. From now through September 20, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking comments in regards to proposed changes to the regulations. These changes include:
- Develop voluntary programs to encourage hunters to utilize lead alternatives.
- Work with hunters to develop local restrictions that reduce lead poisoning of wild birds.
- Develop an outreach plan that helps hunters understand the lead- ammunition issues and encourages reduced use of lead for hunting.
- Promote use of nontoxic ammunition for department activities where applicable.
- Conduct a survey to ensure hunters’ opinions are considered in future discussions about lead ammunition.
Learn more about the proposals at the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website.
In Utah, the Division of Wildlife Resources has modeled their lead ammo abatement effort on Arizona’s successful program. Hunters drawn to hunt specific zones (I believe it’s just the Zion unit right now) received a coupon for a box of lead-free ammo. As with Arizona, Utah hunters are encouraged to act early in order to redeem their coupons. Lead free ammo supplies are limited, and hunters who wait until the last minute may not be able to get their ammo. Nevertheless, those who hunt with lead ammo in these areas can pack out the entrails and carcass, and then turn it in for entry into a prize drawing.
Now for a little editorial content…
If you’re not hunting in an area with condors, the truth is that using lead ammo probably isn’t doing any appreciable harm in the big picture. It’s certainly possible that your choice could result in the lead poisoning of a scavenger bird, but the threat is pretty slight. You’re doing more damage to the health of the animals and the environment just driving to and from your hunting area than you ever will by hunting with lead ammo. That said, it really is your choice. You can opt to use lead-free bullets, shot, or slugs and mitigate your footprint. You could make the choice to bury or remove carcasses and gut piles in order to keep the lead fragments away from scavengers. Or you can choose to keep doing what you’ve been doing and not worry about it. At the very least, though, you should educate yourself enough to understand your options.
On the other hand, if you’re hunting in an area where condors scavenge, the stakes are higher. The evidence linking lead ammo and condor mortality is pretty compelling (even if there is no “smoking gun”). Evidence or not, every time a condor shows up sickened by lead, hunters will get the blame. You can argue the “facts” and the “science” with the non-hunters and environmentalists until you’re blue in the face, but they are not buying it. So even if the potential death of another condor isn’t high on your list of personal concerns, your choice has a much more significant impact… not only to the condor population, but to all hunters. It behooves us all to take the extra measures, whether it’s switching to lead-free ammo or removing/burying carcasses and offal so that the birds can’t get to it. It’s not just about YOU.
A lot of people are still resistant to lead-free ammo because they’ve heard a lot of negatives and myth. The fact is, most of the lead-free ammunition on the market today is very good stuff. I have used it extensively on everything from hogs, deer, and exotics to rabbits and squirrels. I have hunted with or guided scores of other hunters who used it, and I’ve seen the results first hand… time and time again. It works, and it works well.
There are some caveats, just as you’ll find with most lead bullets. Some guns don’t handle certain bullet types or weights very well. Some bullets, like the older style Barnes, don’t seem to do well at velocities over 3000 fps. Copper shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets don’t seem to expand so well at extreme (150 yards or more) range. And just as with lead ammo, as a skilled, ethical hunter, it’s up to you to do your homework to understand these caveats and overcome them… such as choosing a different bullet manufacturer, changing up the bullet style or weight, and taking shots at more appropriate distances (shotguns and muzzleloaders are not intended to be 200 yard guns… no matter what you’re feeding them).
Be safe. Be smart. Have fun. The hunting seasons are upon us!
July 31, 2014
California hunters (and hunters from other states take note), according to the Humane Society’s “world’s leading expert in the use of nontoxic ammunition”, lead-free ammunition is readily available in California.
I’m not sure how one gets the title of “world’s leading expert in the use of nontoxic ammunition”, but this fellow has apparently done extensive research and determined that any hunter in CA who needs lead-free ammo can get it in plenty of time for hunting season. I guess any of you who were planning to attend the CDFW lead ammo workshops in hopes of expressing your concerns about the lack of ammo availability can just stay home. The problem is solved. I mean, we can take a press release from the Humane Society at its word, right?
Here’s what the press release says. There’s a link to the actual study in the release. The PDF is really, REALLY worth a read.
A new study from one of the world’s leading experts in use of nontoxic ammunition shows that nonlead ammunition is widely available throughout California. The study (see PDF) surveyed retail stores in California and online sources, concluding there is widespread market and retail availability of all popular shotgun and rifle ammunition types for the take of wildlife in California.
Last year, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 711, requiring the state’s Fish and Game Commission to implement regulations requiring the use of nontoxic, nonlead ammunition for all hunting in California by 2019. In his signing message approving the bill, Gov. Jerry Brown urged the Commission to phase in this implementation in the “least disruptive” manner possible. The study addresses Gov. Brown’s request and addresses any concerns regarding the uncertainty about the market and retail availability of nonlead ammunition in California.
“With nonlead ammunition already this widely available before the law is even implemented, we can only expect this availability to increase even more once the law is active,” said Dr. Vernon Thomas, who presented his study to the Commission’s Wildlife Resources Committee on Monday. “The findings should give the Department and Commission confidence that they can implement AB 711 as soon as possible without disrupting hunting activity in California.”
Thomas’ report was commissioned by the sponsors of AB 711 (Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States).
According to Thomas, five major U.S. companies already produce nonlead rifle ammunition in more than 48 different calibers that are readily available online and in major sporting/hunting goods stores in California. These calibers include those suitable for hunting all designated species in California.
Of the 111 retail stores in California surveyed for this study, 76 percent carried at least some nonlead ammunition for the purposes of hunting. Availability of nonlead calibers in these stores ranged across the most common hunting ammunition types. In cases where nonlead ammunition cannot be found in a retail store, online retailers are often able to provide the desired ammunition.
Thomas noted that many retailers are actually waiting for the state to implement AB 711 before they begin stocking nonlead ammunition, or expand their current offerings.
“For the minority of stores that had low or no inventory of nonlead ammunition, they reported that lack of customer demand was the primary reason, suggesting that the sooner customers must comply with AB711, the sooner availability on store shelves will increase,” said Thomas.
The California state legislature approved AB 711 in response to mounting research showing that lead from ammunition poses a danger to wildlife and human health. More than 130 wildlife species have been found to be at risk of poisoning by spent lead ammunition left behind by hunters in the field, and people consuming meat hunted with lead ammunition have been shown to have higher levels of lead in their bloodstream.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibited the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991, and California passed a law requiring the use of nonlead ammunition within the range of the California condor in 2007.
July 28, 2014
Compelling stuff, huh? Did you read the report yet?
So all snark and facetiousness aside, this is what CA hunters are up against. The language of AB711 says that full implementation is dependent on the availability of lead-free options. This report suggests that the availability question has been resolved, and that there should be no further barriers to full implementation of AB711.
Of course, the report is bullshit. Seriously, read it.
The timing of the report was well choreographed, since today (08/01) marks the end of the CDFW’s input period for public feedback regarding lead-free ammo. The obvious hope is that hunters failed to participate in the process, leaving little competition for this half-assed report. It’s a slick move, but that’s what HSUS does best.
If nothing else, I hope this makes clear what I’ve been saying. CA hunters, you have to take an active role in the process, or your opportunity is going to be taken away from you. Whether it’s the lead ban, bans on bear hunting, or any other attack on hunting, you are your only reliable allies. There are organizations that can help, but they depend on you for their strength… especially in California. This report is a pretty clear indication of what will happen if you do nothing.
And hunters across the country should be taking note. This is how the game is being played, and organizations like HSUS are masters. They are a well-funded and motivated opponent. Don’t underestimate them.
July 22, 2014
Maybe this is lazy, but I’m going to share a link to someone else’s post about a topic I have never directly addressed. HSUS and their alleged campaign to “curb the most inhumane and unsporting abuses”
In the column, Mallicoat responds to a challenge to his criticism of the HSUS and their anti-hunting agenda. The commenter raised the argument that HSUS is not anti-hunting, but only seeks to promote ethical and humane hunting practices. As Mallicoat points out, HSUS’s record speaks for itself… efforts to ban mourning dove hunts, bear hunts, and other popular hunting practices.
But it was something else that I saw in the HSUS response to Mallicoat’s original column that I think deserves attention… and that’s the statement that “rank and file hunters” are in agreement with the HSUS efforts.
Where do they get that sort of idea? It doesn’t take a research expert to find examples of hunters attacking hunters over issues from high fence hunting to predator hunting. The HSUS can take its pick of hunters’ arguments that support their platform… or at least as much of that platform as they’re willing to disclose. And the hunters just keep feeding them.
I’m not using this as an opportunity to argue that hunters need to stand together regardless of our opinions, or that we have to support methods and practices with which we disagree. I think an open and ongoing discussion about ethics, safety, and conservation is valuable and good.
At the same time, I really wish more hunters would take a little more care in their criticisms of other hunters. Are you perpetuating a stereotype with your comments? How much do you really know about the practice with which you disagree? Consider your motivation for taking a stance against a practice, and ask yourself who is doing more harm to the future of our sport… the participants, or those who vilify them?
Just something to chew on. You can spit it out if you don’t like it.
July 8, 2014
Because a single, coherent thought is too much to ask right now…
First of all, California hunters should really be paying attention… and attending.
CDFW To Hold Public Workshop on Lead Bullet Ban Implementation
July 7, 2014
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Gail Turner, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 358-1075
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will hold a public workshop Tuesday, July 29 to discuss the implementation of the lead bullet ban. The workshop will be held at the Rancho Cordova Library at 9845 Folsom Blvd. in Sacramento from 7-8:30 p.m.
A CDFW representative will detail a proposed implementation plan, the PowerPoint is available on the CDFW website. Following the short presentation, interested parties can make comments and provide input that will help shape CDFW’s final recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission, which CDFW anticipates presenting at the Commission’s meeting in Sacramento in September.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 711 requiring that the Commission adopt a regulation to ban lead ammunition in the state no later than July 1, 2015, with full implementation of the ban to occur no later than July 1, 2019. Governor Brown has directed CDFW and the Commission to work with all interested parties in order to produce a regulation that is least disruptive to the hunting community.
In order to determine what is least disruptive to hunters, CDFW has been reaching out to interested parties this year in a number of ways, including question and answer sessions at sportsmen’s shows, meetings with hunting organizations and now a series of public workshops throughout the state. A public workshop was held in Ventura in April and Eureka in June. Another is planned in Redding on July 19. After Sacramento, planning is underway for workshops in August in San Diego, Fresno and Riverside/San Bernardino. In addition, individuals and organizations may email comments to email@example.com (please use “Nonlead implementation” in the subject line) or mail hard copy correspondence to:
CDFW, Wildlife Branch
Attn: Nonlead implementation
1812 9th Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Louisiana hog hunters and farmers might be interested to learn that the Pelican State may soon legalize the use of helicopters to shoot feral hogs. Taking a cue from Texas, LA wildlife managers and agriculture agents are looking at expanding the use of helicopters on private lands. According to this article from the Times-Picayune, all Louisiana hog hunters aren’t happy about the possibility because they are afraid the sharpshooters will kill off all of the hogs and leave none for sportsmen.
(State wildlife veterinarian Jim) LaCour said he wishes it were that easy, but he told commissioners the state would have to kill 75 percent of its hogs every year just maintain a static population. The creatures are remarkably fecund, producing two litters a year with an average of six piglets per litter.
By the way, wildlife officials in Arizona are warning hunters to shop early if they hope to find lead-free ammunition for use this season. As many hunters learned last year, the “ready availability” so often touted by lead-ban proponents is not really the case at all. Finding lead-free ammo, even for standard calibers, was a challenge… especially for those shopping at smaller, local stores. But even the major outlets, including Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops ran short on the shelves, and even the online inventory went dry for periods of time.
On the national picture, the Senate is moving ahead with S2363, the Sportsmen’s Act. According to a release from the NSSF, the vote to move ahead was substantial, with an 82-12 majority in favor. Of course, next comes the crush of irrelevant amendments and such as the political wrangling gets serious, but hopefully we’ll see the bulk of this thing come through without too much damage.
At any rate, I’m not planning to become an outdoor news aggregator site anytime soon, but I did find all of these topics worth sharing… partly in the interest of keeping you folks informed, and partly just because it’s all I’ve got for content right now. But stay tuned… who knows what secrets lie in the hearts of hogs?