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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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