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Lead Ban Chronicles – Texas Parks And Wildlife Lead Shot Vs Steel Shot For Doves

December 17, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesA couple of weeks back, I posted up the results of the TPW research into the effectiveness of lead shot vs. steel shot for dove hunting.  Some of you have probably heard the arguments that steel doesn’t kill birds as cleanly as lead, and this has been an ongoing rationale for the argument against steel shot requirements.  Unfortunately, the empirical evidence to support or refute this argument has never been available.

Until now…

TPW has completed a study to provide that evidence, and the results were published.  Along with publication, the TPW offered a webinar for interested parties to understand the study and the results (I couldn’t attend due to commitments to my day job).  I’d love to see more of this kind of communication from other organizations involved in the lead ammo discussion… particularly from organizations that are not specifically aligned, based on special interests (in other words, I’m not really interested in presentations from the Center for Biological Diversity, HSUS, or the NRA).

It’s a very long, and not very exciting video, but there’s a lot of really good info here.  If you plan to go out and talk about lead free ammo, either pro or con, I feel like it’s pretty critical that you follow stuff like this to inform your comments.  If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at the very least, give the TPW study summary document a thorough read.

Here’s the video.

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Was There Dirty Dealing In CA Lead Ban Legislation?

December 4, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesI’ll be honest.

When I received  this notice (video autoplay warning) in my news feeds, I hesitated to share it here.  In fact, I held off, initially, because I really wanted to see this reported in another, more reputable outlet.  I don’t think anyone would argue that the Washington Times doesn’t employ a strong, conservative bias.  Hell, they even manage to tie Obama to the issue in the headline.  But two days after the “story” broke, I still haven’t seen it show up anywhere else.  I’m not necessarily surprised that the piece didn’t make the Evening News, or the NY Times, but even the NSSF, mentioned prominently in the article, hasn’t written anything in the news releases, or even on their blog (as of this morning, there is a link to the Washington Times article.).

So, I don’t blame anyone for reserving a bit of skepticism in regards to the accuracy or the importance of this story.  But after reading it through a couple of times, I can’t help thinking it’s worth putting out here, if for no other reason than discussion.

So here’s the lede:

A pro-hunting group is up in arms after obtaining emails that it says indicate that a federal official withheld critical data on lead blood levels in the California condor until after gun control advocates in the California state legislature used the iconic bird’s plight to help push through a law last year to ban lead ammunition.

The gist of the story is that the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists had compiled research showing that, despite five years of the lead ammo ban in the CA condor “zone” (2007-2012), the cases of lead toxicity had not declined.  The article goes on to suggest that, while this research was available as early as April of 2013, it was not released until after the legislature passed the bill to the Governor’s desk in September.  It also references an email thread which suggests that the paper was intentionally held back, so as not to influence the decision of the legislature.

Now, on the surface, that actually seems pretty damning.  If the study clearly demonstrated that a lead ammo ban was not helping the condors, then it would certainly have been helpful to some of the legislators in their decisions to pass the bill (AB711) into law.  A decision to withhold it from the legislature until after the debate definitely gives the appearance of an effort to subvert the process (despite the protestations of the USFWS spokesman quoted in the article).  If this is true, it is a bad, bad thing.

But how big of a deal is this, really?  What will be the outcome of this “scathing” expose?  It’s hardly likely to overturn AB711.

Personally, I see a couple of things here.

First, a major part of the rationale for expanding the lead ammo ban statewide was to make the localized (“condor zone”) ban more effective.  This suggests that, at least on some level, legislators and ban proponents recognized that the localized ban wasn’t working, because condors aren’t constrained by arbitrary lines on a map.  By that line of reasoning, the study by the USFWS would likely have only strengthened the resolve to expand the ban.

And the fact that condors were still showing up, regularly, with lead toxicity would not have been news in Sacramento.  While the USFWS report may have been the official, sanctioned document; preliminary studies, independent research, and anecdotal evidence have shown the same results consistently since the original lead ban was implemented.  In CA, condors were not getting any better despite the lead ammo ban.  We already knew that.

The question that arose, or should have arisen, is why wasn’t the ban working in CA, when voluntary lead mitigation measures appeared to be having significant success in Arizona?  What’s different in the implementation of lead mitigation tactics?  What’s different in the environment/habitat?  What’s different in feeding habits and sources?  Those are big questions.  My guess is that the real condor researchers are looking into these very issues, but that has not really been part of the public debate.

I have my own ideas, of course.  I don’t know a lot about the areas of AZ where the condors are living, but what I’ve seen of it suggests that big swaths are comprised of largely uninhabited, often pristine country.  Outside of the short, big game seasons, most hunting in the condor areas is limited to upland birds, and maybe a bit of small game.  Many (but not all, of course) of these hunting areas include controlled access and fairly significant law enforcement activity by both State and Federal agencies.  And, of course, a big swath of condor territory is not accessible to (legal) hunters at all, as it is part of the National Park System.

Overall, this suggests (to me, at least) that lead ammo is probably a significant source of lead in the condor’s environment.  Thus, by reducing the lead used by hunters, it makes complete sense that the exposure for condors (and other raptors/scavengers) would be reduced as well.  The program works… and it didn’t even require a law to do so.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of time hunting and exploring the areas that make up the CA Condor Zone.  To begin with, the area abuts some of the largest, densest population centers in the country… Los Angeles on one end, and the SF Bay Area on the other.  The land in between is distinguished by a mix of old ranches and homesteads, mines, and gas and oil extraction, and agriculture… along with a few areas that are veritable wastelands of ruined land, salted to death by over fertilization and bad agricultural practices.  Hunting is a year-round activity in this area, including approximately three months of deer hunting, upland bird and waterfowl, extensive varmint shooting (ground squirrels, coyotes, etc.), and feral hogs.  Most of the land that is not privately owned, consists of lightly patrolled State and National Forests with multiple, uncontrolled access points.   Besides lead ammo (which I know is still commonly used in the area, let’s be honest), the potential sources of environmental toxins, including lead, are myriad.

In other words, reducing the lead ammo used by hunters in the California environment appears to have nominal impact on the survival of the condors because there are so many other potential sources.  Passing a law won’t change that, and extending that law doesn’t accomplish much either.  But that’s moot.  With some minor adjustments, it’s a done deal in CA anyway.  At this point, the only thing left to do is become actively involved in the implementation discussions.  There are still many open issues, particularly in regards to availability (For example, what are they doing about rimfire ammo?).   CA hunters need to stay active and vocal.  It may seem like beating a dead horse won’t make it get up and run, but you might be able to slide it across the ground a little further away, before it starts to stink.

So, if anything, this story is a cautionary tale.  If the article and its implications are accurate, it means that the challenge ahead in other states will be to hold government sources closely accountable (which we should be doing anyway).  Even if the decision to withhold the report was well-intentioned, it was wrong.  And if it were intentional… well, that needs to be proven and the USFWS personnel responsible need to be held to a whole different level of accountability.

But, then again, I have questions about the article itself that probably aren’t going to get answered.  Where is the full email exchange?  What else did it say about why the paper wasn’t released?  There’s a whole story here that isn’t being told, and without it, I can only put limited stock in what I read in this article.

Anyone out there in the Interwebz know more about this (factually and empirically)?

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Texas Researchers Find No Difference In Effectiveness of Lead Shot vs. Steel On Doves

December 3, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesBack in 2008, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) started collecting data on the use of lead ammunition and its impacts on doves (mourning dove, whitewing, and Eurasian collared doves).  I wrote about it in 2009, back on my old blog site.  Initially, the research was intended to discover the toxic effects of lead ammunition on the dove populations, but it quickly turned to focus on the effectiveness of lead alternatives (e.g. steel shot) on doves.  Many hunters have complained that steel isn’t as effective, and that it increases the number of wounded birds.

This study took aim at those claims, for obvious reasons.  If steel is proven to be ineffective and to increase wounding risk, then promoting steel would conflict with conservation goals.  On the other hand, if steel were to be proven just as effective as lead, it would disarm a fairly loud argument against the switch.

It took five years, but the results appear to be rolling in.

Dec. 2, 2014

TPWD Releases Dove Lethality Study Findings

AUSTIN – Texas leads the nation in dove hunting with roughly a quarter million hunters bagging 5 million mourning doves each fall. Their success afield should not change with the type of shot used, according to the results of a just-released study examining the lethality of lead versus non-toxic shot for mourning dove.

The field collection phase of the study was conducted in Brown, Coleman and McCulloch counties during the 2008 and 2009 Texas dove hunting seasons. After recording more than 5,000 shots fired by Texas hunters during the two-year project, and then necropsying 1,100 mourning dove, researchers determined no statistical significant difference in harvest efficiencies between the three loads tested, regardless of distance.

Non-toxic shot has been required for hunting waterfowl for more than two decades. Despite studies that have demonstrated the effectiveness of non-toxic shot for waterfowl and other game birds, the results of this study were not a foregone conclusion, at least not in the perceptions of dove hunters. Recent dove hunter surveys indicate that some hunters still believe non-toxic shot to be inferior to lead.

“Our findings address the efficiency of lead and non-toxic shot on mourning dove,” said Corey Mason, a TPWD wildlife biologist and one of the authors of the report. “There continues to be a spirited national discussion on the use of lead and other types of shot and these results help inform one aspect of the conversation.”

This study is the first on the lethality of lead versus non-toxic shot under typical hunting conditions for mourning dove to be published in a scientific journal. The Institute of Renewable Natural Resources at Texas A&M University, Thomas Roster, and Texas Parks and Wildlife authored report will be published in the March 2015 issue of The Wildlife Society Bulletin, a peer-reviewed, scientific publication containing papers related to wildlife management, conservation law enforcement, conservation education, economics, administration, philosophy, ethics, and contemporary resource problems. An advance release of the report is available online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/game_management/dove_summary/.

TPWD officials believe the research findings may be useful to Texas hunters as they make decisions on the type of loads they choose for dove hunting.

“We absolutely believe in hunter choice and we also want hunters to be as informed as possible on matters affecting their outdoor pursuits,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “Dove are a shared international resource, and the question about whether or not lead shot should be banned for dove hunting is not something Texas is prepared to make independent of other jurisdictions and based solely on the findings of this study. This research offers an important data point in the larger discussion, but there are many other factors to consider.”

An internationally recognized shotgun ballistics expert, who has authored more than a dozen similar studies involving waterfowl and upland game birds, designed the study. The study examined three, 12-gauge, 2 ¾-inch loads designed and manufactured to mirror loads that are used most often by dove hunters. The different load types included: 1 ? ounce of No. 7 ½ lead shot, 1 ounce of No. 6 steel shot, and 1 ounce of No. 7 steel shot.

The cost of the study was approximately $500,000 and was funded with dedicated Migratory Game Bird and Texas White-winged Dove stamp revenue.

Any thoughts here?

Lead Ban Chronicles – Paper Discusses Alternatives To Banning Lead Ammo

November 18, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesI 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.

And…

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.

Woe Is Me, Or, The Muzzleloading Curse

November 16, 2014

My HawkenI can’t decide which title is better, but considering that I’m sitting here posting on a Sunday is a pretty good indicator that something’s up besides the sun… and that’s just barely up right now.

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.

 

Belated Friday Post – Lead Free Muzzleloading And Newcomers On The Game Cam

November 15, 2014

The Breakfast ClubWell, I didn’t get home from Plano until late last night, so I didn’t get a post done for yesterday.  I was on a roll, too, dammit.  So here’s the Friday post a day late.

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.

The NewcomerI 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.

Damn hogI 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.

 

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – International Convention On Migratory Species Calls For Lead Ammo Ban

November 11, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesI’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).

 

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – News And Education From The Lead Ammo Front

September 17, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesFor 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.

Lead Ban Chronicles – Educating Hunters About Lead Ammo

September 11, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesIn 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.

 

Lead Ban Chronicles – Gearing Up In Arizona, Hunter Input Requested In Washington

August 25, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesAs the time rolls around for more and more seasons opening in the western states, the discussion around lead ammo is also cranking up a notch or two.

In Arizona, the Yuma Sun shared this information from the AZ Game and Fish Department:

“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!

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