Lead Ban Chronicles – Educating Hunters About Lead Ammo
September 11, 2014
In 2013, he US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a couple of other groups, sent out a survey of dove hunters to get some information on both demographics and attitudes related to dove hunting. Part of the survey included questions related to the use of lead-free shot.
According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s online news, the results made it pretty clear that most dove hunters (85% of those surveyed) are using lead shot, and about two-thirds of them don’t see any reason to change that. From the article:
“Overall, given what they know right now, two-thirds of dove hunters oppose a requirement for use of non-lead shot, with about half of them believing efforts to restrict lead ammunition is a tactic by animal rights groups to eliminate hunting and/or a tactic by gun control advocates to encroach on gun ownership rights,” the report reads.
“As usual,” the report added, “most hunters are willing to take significant actions for conservation if they are convinced of the need.”
Fifty-four percent said they would be willing to use non-lead alternatives if there was scientific evidence that lead shot was harming dove populations.
But that, evidently, isn’t available.
In a Houston Chronicle column about the same survey, writer Shannon Tompkins points out that the results show that over half of the hunters surveyed (55%) believe that education about lead ammo’s effects and alternatives has been insufficient.
While I do agree with the sentiment that lead ammo restrictions generally aren’t called for, I think it’s a shame that so many hunters are still uneducated about the topic.
There are a lot of reasons for this lack of knowledge, although I won’t agree that all of these reasons are good ones. One of the biggest detriments to factual knowledge about lead-free ammo is the sheer amount of unmitigated propaganda… on both sides of the argument… has so muddied the waters that many hunters don’t really know what to believe. However, since they are hunters, the tendency is to side with the “pro-gun/pro-hunting” arguments coming from organizations like the NRA and the NSSF instead of information from environmental organizations (“tree-huggers”). And, sadly, a lot of the information from the gun rights organizations is completely off-base. Worse, these organizations ascribe an agenda to the lead-ban proponents and then cash in on the fear and mistrust they’ve engendered. This also shuts the door on any productive conversation.
The truth is, though, that even the objective research can be difficult for the layman to digest. I used to believe that the average person could review the research and make some general, accurate, common-sense interpretations. But that kind of research takes initiative, and a large part of the hunting community simply doesn’t have it. It also turns out that, apparently, too many hunters who do bother to find the research only read the first couple of paragraphs of the abstract and consider themselves “educated”. When it comes to reviewing scientific research, the devil really is in the details. You have to read it all to understand the conclusions. I never saw myself as a Pollyanna, but I must confess that I think I overestimated the average hunter.
I also thought that, as this lead-ban issue gained momentum across the country, more of this research would be reported and made available to mass media consumers. Instead, the national media coverage of the lead issue has, primarily, consisted of reprints of propaganda columns from the likes of Wayne Pacelle, and various representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, there are a fair number of “articles” about various raptors… particularly bald eagles… that have been poisoned by lead, and almost always implicating hunters and lead ammunition as the culprits (with little factual support for the argument).
Of course, expecting the media to present a thorough, factual and balanced look at such a complex topic is asking a lot. I recognize that. Most complicated, scientific issues tend to get short-shrift in the newspapers. It’s hardly specific to topics related to hunting or firearms. But these articles and columns should raise questions in the minds of hunters, and they should spark self-directed efforts to learn more.
One thing that would go far toward alleviating some of the ignorance and misinformation would be for the outdoors media, the hook-n-bullet magazines and TV productions, to take some time to address the issue in a factual and practical manner. It’s not the first time I’ve called this out, but seriously, there’s just not much factual information available from the traditional hunting resources about this topic. With the exception of a few columns from the NRA and NSSF that serve no real educational purpose (they deny almost every negative claim about lead ammo, often with misinformation or implications of an anti-gun/anti-hunting agenda), there’s almost no mention of the topic at all.
I recognize that the issue is politically loaded, and I expect many publishers or producers don’t want to open a can of worms (nobody wants to get “Zumboed”). And it’s true, a lot of people reject the truth when it conflicts with the party line. I’ve certainly been accused of being a secret anti-hunter when I offer fact-based arguments about lead ammo, or when I challenge some of the ridiculous claims from the gun groups. But I also recognize that, as a small-time blogger, I’ve got very little to lose, in regards to advertisers and sponsors. Repercussions are a valid concern for the “big guys” in the industry… which is a shame because this really doesn’t have to be a controversial discussion.
But here’s something that really kind of surprised me.
I recently reviewed the Hunter Education resources from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) website and found one, single, mention of lead-free ammunition… and that was an old shot-size chart for waterfowlers switching to lead-free ammo. While I was there, I ran through the online Hunter Education training, and never saw so much as a comment about the lead ammo question… even in the chapter on Hunter Ethics and Responsibility. I’m sure, of course, that some individual Hunter Ed instructors address lead ammo in their classes. I expect that in places like CA, it would be almost negligent not to talk about lead ammo and the use of alternatives. But you would think the Association would at least provide basic resources or links to relevant websites to inform those conversations. Even better, of course, would be to provide educational information, specific to the topics of lead ammo safety, risks, and ways to mitigate those risks (lead-free ammo, burying carcasses, removing offal, etc.). There is a section of the site that is restricted, so maybe there’s something there that I didn’t see… and I really don’t intend to throw mud on the IHEA, because they do a good and necessary thing… but I’m a little nonplused that the topic of lead ammunition isn’t openly and clearly addressed in their site.
Things aren’t always as simple as I think they should be, but it seems to me that the industry has a responsibility to openly and honestly discuss this topic. Just put it on the table, provide the facts, and let it flow. The results of this USFWS survey make pretty clear that education is needed, and lord knows there’s a ready-made platform for disseminating the information. With at least three television networks dedicated to hunting and fishing programming, and too many periodicals for me to count (both online and traditional), there’s no excuse for a hunter, anywhere in this country, not to know if the use of lead ammo has a potentially negative effect on wildlife, or to not understand the extent of those effects… except that these outlets are too timid to open that conversation.