Lead Ban Chronicles – HSUS Reports That Lead-Free Ammo Is Readily Available

July 31, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesCalifornia 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.

Lead Ban Chronicles – HSUS Supporting Ethical Hunting?

July 22, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesMaybe 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”

So here’s the link to Don Mallicoat’s column in the Tribune Papers website.

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.


More MishMash

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

Media Contacts:
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 (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?


Lead Ban Chronicles – A View From Across The Water

June 4, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesThere’s little real news on the lead ammo ban front, at least since the last time I posted.  Rhode Island is still looking down the barrel of a lead ban.  That hasn’t cooled much since I mentioned it a few weeks ago.

But I still get lots of email, news feeds, and even Facebook contacts regarding the lead ammo ban.  Fairly recently, an English gun maker, Ian Summerell, sent me a friend request.  Now, since I’ve pretty much combined my personal Facebook with my HogBlog contacts, I’m often a little picky about adding strangers.  But after a visit to his website, I felt like I ought to at least make the contact and see what he’s got going on.

From the website, I jumped over to see some videos he’s posted on a YouTube channel.  I’ve been reading, occasionally, about the ongoing conflict over lead in the UK and Europe, but this video was… well, interesting.  If nothing else, the parallels between the arguments in the UK and the arguments in the US are pretty clearly drawn.  Take a look at one of the videos Summerell shared, and see what you think.  He has more on his channel, and some good discussion on his website as well.

Where Did The Time Go?

May 15, 2014

Well, look at me.  My very last post was about cleaning out my blog roll and removing folks who haven’t been posting regularly… and here I let the whole, bloody week slip by without so much as a peep.  Ah, well… I’ll fall back to my favorite Whitman.  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, I contradict myself.  etc.”

All that aside, I just haven’t had a lot to report of late.

There’s some occasional news coming in from my news feeds in regards to feral pigs and wild boar, but I tried the news aggregator approach here before, and I don’t think it added much value to the blog.  There’s a certain sameness to most of the news articles anyway… sort of an, “if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” atmosphere.  I’ll sum it up.

Wild pigs are in X neighborhood (or county, township, community, state).  They’re bad.  People are scared.  Officials are trying to do something about it that may include:

  • shooting them
  • trapping them
  • scaring them away

I’m also keeping an eye on news related to lead ammo, of course.  And it looks like there’s a strong movement afoot in Rhode Island to ban lead for hunting… led by none other than our friends at HSUS.   But I just couldn’t bring myself to do an entire “Lead Ban Chronicles” post on this one.  I did, however, provide counterpoint to an editorial on the topic in the Providence Journal online edition.

On the other hand (and the other side of the Atlantic), according to this piece from Ammoland news, Norway is considering a repeal of their ban on lead shot outside of wetlands and clay shooting courses.  Here’s the guts of the story from that site:

The Norwegians have concluded, following sustained lobbying from the Norway Hunters’ Association (Jegernes Interesseorganisasjon), that there is no evidence of any real harm from the use of lead in shotgun cartridges and they believe that none of the alternatives to lead ammunition are as effective.

The Norway Hunters’ Association summed up the key facts for a repeal effectively – the amount of lead discharged throughout the countryside has a negligible impact on the environment, in comparison to both the potential welfare implications of using alternatives and the unknown environmental implications of those alternatives. The arguments about alternatives to lead shot are well rehearsed (read more about alternatives in our own Case for Lead here), but the simple fact is that it is vital we meet our responsibility to kill wild game in the most humane and effective way.

An interesting side note in this article is that Norway’s neighbors in Denmark are apparently adding tungsten to their list of banned shot materials, along with lead.  As the US military found out in their own “green ammo” testing, tungsten is a carcinogen, and is actually less stable in the ground than lead.  Thus, it presents a greater risk of leeching carcinogenic material into groundwater sources.  Tungsten is commonly used as an alternative material for lead-free shot, and has also been used in the development of lead-free rifle and handgun bullets.

Personally, I think most of the risks are miniscule and overstated, but it should give folks pause in the blind, headlong rush to ban lead ammo and give some serious thought to what we’re replacing it with.

Still wearing head gear in April?Finally, on a local note, the Hillside Manor deer herd is coming along nicely.  While some of the bucks were still wearing headgear right up into the first of April, I’m also seeing the first nubs of new growth on several others.  We only killed one buck here last year, and pressure was pretty light at the camps around us, so I’m expecting to see a bunch of last year’s youngsters coming into their own this coming season.  Halfway shed

I’m heading out this weekend for a hunt with a group of guys from CA, AZ, and UT.  We’ll be looking to put some meat in the freezer.  On the list are aoudad ewes (I haven’t eaten aoudad yet) and axis does… as well as any unfortunate hogs that stumble into view.  At least one of the guys is hoping to tag a trophy-quality animal as well.  If nothing else, that should give me some pictures to put up next week.

Lead Ban Chronicles – CA DFW Requesting Hunter Input

April 16, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesJust because it’s the law, doesn’t necessarily mean everything is a done deal.  There’s still time for input, and the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is asking for your feedback now.  Still having trouble finding ammo that meets the law’s requirements?  Do you shoot something for which there is no lead alternative?

Then get your comments in, and attend the meetings when they occur.  I know it may seem hard to believe, with HSUS embedded in the Fish and Wildlife bureaucracy, but your voices are still critical in making sure this is a law you can live with.  Or, you’ll take what you get.  Your choice, CA sportsmen.

Here’s the release from CA-DFW:

Attention Hunters: Your input is needed!

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking your assistance regarding the development of the “phase-in” regulation for the use of non-lead ammunition for the take of wildlife as required under Fish and Game Code Section 3004.5(i). The law requires that this regulation be established by the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) no later than July 1, 2015, with full implementation to be effective 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.

CDFW presented a draft regulatory proposal to the Commission’s Wildlife Resources Committee (WRC) in January 2014 (a copy of this presentation is available at under the “Alerts” section entitled “Non-lead Implementation”). Uncertainty about ammunition supply and availability forms the basis for the proposal, which preliminarily proposes the following implementation schedule:

  • 2015 – Require the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting on wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Require the use of non-lead ammunition for bighorn sheep hunting;
  • 2016 – Require the use of non-lead ammunition for larger (waterfowl sized) birds, and for small mammals, non-game species, furbearers and for depredation purposes when using a shotgun;
  • 2019 – Full implementation; use of non-lead ammunition required for dove, quail and snipe; small game mammals (including rifle/handgun); non-game species, furbearers and depredation (including rifle/handgun); all big-game species including those hunted with muzzle-loading firearms.

In order to meet the statutory deadline for adoption, CDFW is seeking to propose a final draft regulation to the WRC at its September 2014 meeting. Because we are anticipating a large number of comments, CDFW is requesting that all comments be received by August 1, 2014.

Individuals and organizations may email comments to (please use “Non-lead implementation” in the subject line) or hard copy correspondence to the following address:

CDFW, Wildlife Branch

Attn: Non-lead implementation

1812 9th Street Sacramento, CA 95811


Lead Ban Chronicles – Lead Levels Down In AZ and UT Condors

March 20, 2014

Lead Ban ChroncilesBeen a little while since I did a Lead Ban Chronicles. As I’ve said before, it’s not because there’s nothing going on… only that there’s been very little new going on.

In general, the campaign to vilify hunters and demonize lead ammo is still underway as evidenced by ongoing editorials and columns (some posing as “articles”) around the country.  It’s still the same misinformation and implications (lead ammo is “wiping out” birds”), and supported by the same tired arguments (it’s easy to switch from lead to lead-free ammo).  And then there’s the unfortunate, counter-arguments that are too often weighed down by weak or misdirected rhetoric (there’s no “proof”… this is a “gun grab”).  The resulting mistrust and general signal-to-noise-ratio turns the whole thing into a net loss, particularly for folks like myself who’d like to see an honest, but positive, discussion with some realistic and balanced outcomes.

One of the things that I have supported all along is an effort to increase voluntary adoption of lead free ammo through education.  I honestly believe that many hunters (Most?  I dunno.), when provided with the facts about lead’s impact on scavenging birds and the truth about lead free ammo performance will make the change… if they can, A.) afford it, and B.) find it.  Aside from the myths and misinformation and the handful of guns that simply don’t like copper bullets, cost and availability continue to be the biggest sticking points to a wider acceptance of lead-free ammo.

I also believe that legislating a ban, as CA has done, only deepens the distrust and resistance from hunters.  (The credibility gap between CA sportsmen and the Fish and Wildlife Commission is already stretched pretty wide… in most cases, rightfully so.)  On the other hand, Arizona and Utah have adopted a more productive, “let’s work together” approach and encourage voluntary use of lead-free ammo… even to the point of giving it away to hunters in specific areas.  What’s more is that AZ (I don’t know about UT) also provided incentives for hunters who are using lead to bring out and properly dispose of carcasses and gut piles, which mitigated the amount of lead-laced carrion in the field.

The results?

Well, this definitely doesn’t imply a valid, cause-and-effect relationship, but over the past few weeks I’ve seen several articles about the decline in lead toxicity among condors in AZ and UT.  We’re not talking little drops either, but a significant change.  According to one article, published in the Grand Canyon News, only about 16% of trapped condors showed “extreme exposure” to lead.  That’s still not perfect, but it’s a big step from the 42% showing lead toxicity the previous year.  Of course, it will take several more years to establish any real trends, or to know if this is simply an anomalous year or if the reduced amount of hunters’ lead in the environment really is making a difference.  Considering that lead levels appeared to be higher in CA since the lead ban was instituted in the “Condor Zone”, there could certainly be other factors at work.  Time will tell.

But it’s promising, and like some of the folks from the various condor projects, I choose to be heartened by the news.  If AZ and UT can demonstrate that voluntary compliance, along with other mitigation efforts (removing carrion) are as effective as legislated ammo bans, we could be on the right road to reducing the impacts of lead ammo across the country without creating new laws and more barriers to sportsmen and gun owners.


Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy?

December 4, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesNo.

It is nothing of the sort.

I wasn’t going to bother with this one, but it’s been really bothering me.

Some of you may remember that, a few weeks back, I posted about the closure of the last US primary lead smelting facility.  Based on what I was reading at the time, it sounded like it could have an impact on lead prices, not just for ammo but for many products and my post reflected that concern.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a little more, and it became pretty clear that this closure wasn’t such a big deal… at least not as far as the ammo supply and prices are concerned.  I figured the uproar would die down quickly enough, once folks realized this really wasn’t as significant an event as it appeared.

It didn’t die down.

Let’s just pause here for a second, and be clear.  I’m never eager to make sorties into the realm of politics, or even the “gun rights” discussion.  That’s a place where truth and logic go to die a quick, violent (and generally senseless) death, and I have little patience for it.

While I certainly recognize that antipathy between Republican and Democrat has a long history, I believe the current situation in this country plumbs the very depths of that enmity… especially as pertains to the  attitude of the “Extreme Right” toward the current President.  So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that a segment of the political right-wing declared that the closure of the Doe Run smelting operation was actually a back-door ploy by the Obama administration to hamper the availability of ammunition.  And truthfully, it didn’t shock me to hear that accusation from a couple of the more extremist, “gun rights” conspiracy theorists and rabble-rousing web sites.  But then it kept spreading… the flames fanned by the NRA, whose Institute for Legislative Action group stated the following (in typically panic-inducing tones):

What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible.

So let’s follow this conspiracist train of thought for a minute.

  1. The EPA, under the direction of the President, leveraged the Clean Air Act to force Doe Run to shut down, thus; eliminating the last domestic, primary lead smelter in the United States.
  2. This action forces industries that utilize primary lead (lead smelted directly from natural ore) to find other sources, most of which are now offshore.
  3. This reduces supply and increases cost.
  4. As a result, gun owners will not be able to find or afford ammunition for their guns… effectively removing those guns from circulation.

Before I even bother to apply facts to this theory, can anyone spot some logical flaws?

How about the reality that, even with the last serious ammo “shortage” in 2012/2013, gun sales took place at the highest rate in history?  Ammo shortages don’t necessarily equate to reductions in gun ownership.

Or, if Obama was really interested in banning lead ammunition, he could direct the EPA to override the tenets of the Toxic Substances Control Act and simply ban lead bullets outright.

Or, and this is just a thought… We’re talking about an administration that can’t even manage to launch a website properly, much less keep the activities of our national spy organization out of the public domain.  This President has struggled just to push low-level appointees past the roadblocks set by his Republican opponents.  Do we really believe that this government could pull off such a Machiavellian subterfuge?

Do people never even stop to consider the implications of the bullshit they’re being fed?

Of course, once you apply the facts, as several fact-checking organizations have now done, none of this speculation is even relevant.

To begin with, Doe Run’s issues with the EPA regulators predates the Obama administration by several years (at least 2001).  The final straw was a 2008 tightening of the Clean Air Act regulation (a change enacted during the Bush administration), and the decision to halt smelting operations at the Herculaneum plant by the end of 2013 was officially made in 2010.

Even more telling, though, is the reaction from the ammunition industry itself.  The NSSF (in something of a break from its lockstep with the NRA) has stepped forward to let people know that primary lead is not critical to the manufacture of ammunition.  Most ammo is made from secondary sources, such as recycled lead and recovered scrap from other industrial manufacturing processes.  The NSSF and several ammunition manufacturers have clearly stated that the closure of the Herculaneum smelter will not impact the supply of lead for bullets.

No one is willing to say that, in the very long run, this plant closure won’t have some residual impact on the cost and availability of lead for ammunition.  That’s a fair, albeit distant concern.  But what’s more important, and should be abundantly clear, is that nothing about this shut down has anything to do with back-door machinations to stop the production and availability of ammo… whether led by the Obama administration or anyone else.


Lead Ban Chronicles – Last US Lead Smelter Closing

October 29, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesJust a note that is related and not related to the lead ammo ban discussion.  However, what it does suggest is that lead ammo prices won’t be coming down any time soon, and will probably continue to increase.  Copper may start to look pretty darned good.

What am I talking about?  The news came out last week, but it wasn’t until I read the stories that I realized the implications of the last US lead smelter shutting its doors.  Due to increased regulatory restrictions, the company in Herculaneum, MO has realized that it can’t meet the emissions rules.

There are still recycled lead smelters operating in the country, but with the loss of this major facility, lead bullion for ammunition manufacture is bound to be more difficult (and expensive) to acquire.  Seriously, it might be time to start looking at lead alternatives for a whole new reason… it may be as cheap as, or cheaper than, lead.

Funny how things happen.

Lead Ban Chronicles – And Now It Is Complete. AB711 Is Law.

October 14, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesThis is gonna be a long one… please bear with me.

It’s all over but the crying (and lord knows there’s plenty of that).  California Governor Brown signed Ab711 into law last week, and with the 2019 hunting seasons, lead ammunition will be illegal for hunting in the Golden State.

It’s not a good thing.

Let’s reiterate what I’ve been reiterating for a long time now.  AB711 will not provide any valid conservation or environmental benefit in California.  The health risk to humans is extremely minute (and debatable), and has always been limited to hunters and those who eat wild game meat killed by hunters.  AB711 provides absolutely zero protection to the general public… because there was never any risk to the general public in the first place.

What this law will do is increase the burden on California hunters by generally increasing the cost of the hunt, as well as creating a real challenge for many hunters to find useable ammunition.

Nevertheless, it’s law now.

So it’s not a good thing, but it’s not the end of the world.  There are, rightfully, a lot of angry hunters right now.  The rhetoric is pretty negative, and I think that’s to be expected.  I’m hearing a constant litany of “oh, this is the end of hunting in California!”

But once the dust settles a bit, I’m fairly certain that we’re not going to see a massive rate of attrition among CA hunters.  Hunters love hunting, and the majority of us will do what it takes to keep pursuing the sport… even if that means adjusting the ammo budget or even retiring Grandpa’s old carbine.

I remember the uproar in the 80s when lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting.  I remember using some of that early ammunition, and how lousy it could be.  But we learned to adapt.  The industry improved their offerings.  We upped our shot size, adjusted for the faster loads, cut back on the long shots, and waterfowl hunting continued… especially as the populations rebounded.  Yes, it still costs more than lead.  Yes, older guns can’t handle steel and must shoot Bismuth or Hevi-shot Classic (which are both extremely expensive).  But the droves of hunters never left the sport, and waterfowling is alive and quite well.

Now we’re going to have to make similar adjustments for the rest of our hunting.  We’ll need to budget more for ammunition, re-zero our rifles (lead free generally does not shoot to the same point of aim as your lead bullets), change our preferred bullet weight (Barnes recommends a 15 grain drop from your lead…e.g. go from 180gr to 165), and possibly learn to handload.  We’ll probably alter our range protocol, shooting lead ammo for trigger control and muscle memory, and shooting our hunting ammo to zero and maintain accuracy… because, face it, who can afford to shoot 20 or 50 rounds at the price of copper ammo?

We’re also going to have to get past the anti-copper mythology.

Copper doesn’t fragment like some lead bullets, and it generally passes clean through…even when it hits heavy bones.  That’s a given.  But the argument that it passes through without adequate terminal effect is largely unfounded.  The horror stories of pinhole exits and no blood trail are mostly based on the old, monolithic Barnes X (which has evolved nicely), or they’re re-tellings of someone’s adulterated, second-hand experience that can usually be traced back to a poorly placed bullet.  These stories most commonly revolve around wild hogs, which are notorious for poor blood trails no matter what bullet is used.

In my experience, which is modestly extensive, the terminal performance of copper bullets has been completely and consistently proven on both large and small game.  I have personally hunted with lead free ammo in .17hmr (excellent), .22lr (poor), .22wmr (excellent), .223 (good), .243 (excellent), .270 (excellent), .308 (very good), 30-06 (excellent), and .325wsm (awesome)… as well as the .44 mag revolver (very good).  With that range of ammo and caliber, I’ve taken pretty much every thing from squirrels and rabbits to hogs and exotics.  I’ve also guided or accompanied dozens of other hunters who have used lead-free bullets in many other calibers.  What I saw was pretty convincing… that almost any game shot well, at reasonable range for the caliber, went down quickly and cleanly.  I disassembled a majority of these animals, and while I’m not a doctor or wildlife biologist, there wasn’t much doubt about terminal performance when I looked inside those body cavities.  In the relatively few cases where I’ve had to pursue blood trails, they have been sufficient to find the animal.

Are there exceptions?  There are always exceptions.  The same is true for any bullet material from any manufacturer.  I’ve seen a .30 caliber, 180gr Speer boat tail deflect off an elk rib and trace the rib cage under the skin all the way around to the shoulder.  I saw a 140gr Nosler Partition in 7mm Remington Magnum deflect off of a 150lb boar’s skull at less than 100 yards.  My brother shot a whitetail doe with a 180gr Sierra Game King and had the bullet enter and exit on the same side.  Ejecting a relatively tiny piece of metal at nearly Mach3 is bound to result in occasional anomalies.

When it comes to positive results with lead-free ammo, the only real exception is the .22lr.  Unfortunately, it is apparently a steep challenge to develop an affordable, lead-free bullet that provides consistent accuracy and terminal performance for this cartridge.  I’ve shot hundreds of rounds of both CCI and Winchester .22lr, lead free at small game as well as targets, and the experience has been pretty disappointing.  I’m also finding that the lead-free ammo doesn’t cycle in either of my semi-automatics (Marlin 60 and Walther P-22).  I’m hoping that Winchester and CCI are on top of these issues, and will soon have a new .22lr round available.

The only area in which I don’t have experience, and where I think there are justifiable concerns, is with lead-free shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets.  The ballistics available for both shotguns and modern muzzleloaders have enabled these traditionally short-range firearms to reach way out past the old limitations.  In general, I find this troubling for a few reasons.  It just stands to reason that a large, hard projectile moving at relatively low velocity isn’t going to expand particularly well.  Again, though, I believe this applies as much to lead as to copper.  On top of this, the further away the animal when you shoot it, the more difficult it will be to pick up a trail.  I have shot deer inside of 50 yards with a .50 caliber muzzleloader bullet (lead), and watched them run off as if unharmed without leaving a drop of blood to trail them by.  It just makes sense that the odds of this increase with distance.  It also makes sense that copper, since it is harder than lead, will also increase the odds of seeing this type of performance.

I don’t have the perfect solution, except to suggest that you ignore the marketing hype and keep your shotgun or muzzleloader shots to more traditional distances… usually inside 100 yards.  Make sure your gun is accurate with the loads you’ll use (don’t just stick some slugs in your bird gun and expect MOA accuracy), and then practice enough to maintain mastery, so that when you do get that shot, you make it good.

Regardless of these challenges, the lead ban is the law.  Or, more accurately, it will be the law.  The CA Fish and Wildlife Commission have until July 1, 2015 to develop an implementation plan, and until July 1, 2019 to fully roll out the regulations.  What this means, or should mean, to CA hunters is that you have time to lobby for a plan that will address real concerns and challenges.  And you should definitely be doing that… inundating the Fish and Game Commission with emails and calls to make sure that the plan they implement is workable.

One of the first areas of concern that would be in my mind, if I were still a CA resident, is the strong likelihood that certain ammunition will not be available by the 2019 deadline.  This would include obscure or archaic calibers, as well as things like smoothbore slugs.  It should also include viable offerings for the .22lr.  Five years is a good bit of time for the industry to adjust, and there are some pretty smart folks who visit this blog and feel that the industry, once forced, will adjust in time.  And I’m sure that there’s truth to their arguments.  But I still have strong doubts that all the gaps will be filled.  In fact, I’m reasonably certain that some ammo won’t be available at all… at least not from the major manufacturers.   It just doesn’t make sense that they’re going to go through the process of loading certain cartridges for calibers that account for a tiny fraction of overall sales.

There was an exception drafted into the law that allowed for firearms that had no commercially available, lead-free ammo.  Unfortunately, by the time the final bill was passed, this exception had been narrowed down to account only for the possibility (ridiculously unlikely) that the BATF would find lead-free bullets “armor piercing”, and thus ban them from the marketplace.  Here’s the language from the bill that Governor Brown signed:

(j) (1) The prohibition in subdivision (b) shall be temporarily suspended for a specific hunting season and caliber upon a finding by the director that nonlead ammunition of a specific caliber is not commercially available from any manufacturer because of federal prohibitions relating to armor-piercing ammunition pursuant to Chapter 44 (commencing with Section 921) of Title 18 of the United States Code.

CA hunters should be pushing hard to get this revised, or at least clarified, so that it addresses any case where factory loaded, non-lead ammunition is unavailable.  Barnes may manufacture any number of odd-sized bullets, but it shouldn’t be enough to simply have the components.  It’s one thing to force someone to switch ammunition.  It’s another thing altogether to require them to take up handloading.

Another section/subsection in the law has been there since the original in 2007, and calls on the State to provide support in the way of vouchers or coupons for lead-free ammunition “if funding is available.”

(d) (1) To the extent that funding is available, the commission shall establish a process that will provide hunters with nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge. The process shall provide that the offer for nonlead ammunition at no or reduced charge may be redeemed through a coupon sent to a permitholder with the appropriate permit tag. If available funding is not sufficient to provide nonlead ammunition at no charge, the commission shall set the value of the reduced charge coupon at the maximum value possible through available funding, up to the average cost within this state for nonlead ammunition, as determined by the commission.

(2) The nonlead ammunition coupon program described in paragraph (1) shall be implemented only to the extent that sufficient funding, as determined by the Department of Finance, is obtained from local, federal, public, or other nonstate sources in order to implement the program.

Of course, we all know that funding was never available and this was never implemented under the original Ridley-Tree Condor Act, but it is part of the law.  Since the law is now statewide and impacts all CA hunters, I believe there’s justification to push for some version of this program, at least in need-based cases where the cost of lead-free ammo is prohibitive.  The State should be on the hook to encourage adoption of the new law through non-punitive methods.  Otherwise, I know for a fact that there are hunters out there who won’t drop $50 for a box of bullets when they can take the chance (a good chance) of getting away with just using that $12 box of lead.

Which brings up a third critical concern… enforcement.

Do you know how the wardens check your ammunition right now?  They look at the box, if you have it, and if not, and if it’s not obviously lead (e.g. exposed soft point), they ask you if it’s lead-free.  They might have a photo guide to go by if they’re diligent.  Some manufacturers of tipped bullets use color-coded tips to designate the bullet type.  But there’s no metal test, either in the field or the lab.  And unlike the wardens who check your shotshells at the refuge, they can’t check it with a magnet.  In other words, it isn’t that hard to get away with using the wrong ammo.  I’m not saying this to encourage disobedience, but to point out just how toothless this legislation is.

To make it even less effective, the odds of getting field checked in most parts of California are practically nil.  With around 200 law enforcement officers to cover about 164,000 square miles (not including coastal waters), CA is woefully understaffed to police the state’s hunters down to the individual bullet.

So how does CA plan to fairly enforce the lead ban?

There are a lot of questions and challenges here, and hunters should be pushing for answers sooner, rather than later.  Not only should you be pushing the agencies, you should also be beating down the doors of your hunting and gun rights advocacy organizations to support your positions.  The only way to be heard is to have an organized and coordinated front with logical, fact-based arguments.  And it may take legal action, which is where you’ll need the strength and funding of the organizations that claim to support your interests.

Or you can sit on your asses, bicker amongst yourselves, and take what you get.  That appears to have worked so well for CA hunters in the past.

(And I recognize as I write this strongly worded admonition, that I’m probably fortunate to have five CA hunters actually reading this blog.  Ah, well…)

So moving on… I expect that there are some folks out there who find themselves wondering what to do about selecting lead-free ammo.  For whatever reason, you never thought this law would pass and find yourself hopelessly hooked on your PowerPoints, Core-Lokt, or Partitions.  I can offer some thoughts, based on my experience with a few of the main options out there.  But after you read this, I strongly suggest you get out and try these for yourself.  Every gun is different, and nowhere have I found more truth in this than with copper ammo.

Oh, and these reviews are of bullets and ammo with which I am directly familiar.  There’s a bunch of stuff out there I haven’t used, particularly varmint and predator bullets.  I also haven’t reviewed any lead-free shotgun slugs (yet).  As far as lead-free shot, that’s a big topic and one that I’m not ready to approach since I don’t do enough bird hunting to have formed much of an opinion.

Keep reading if you want to see some bullet recommendations and personal experiences. Read more

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