Hunters’ use of lead ammunition and, on occasion, its toxic effect on scavenger species such as vultures that gobble up shrapnel at killing sites, continues to produce headlines and breaking bulletins from conservation groups.
However, there is no evidence of any nationwide collective action toward a complete ban of lead ammunition (and hunting gear) in favor of safer materials such as copper.
California is an example of widespread action after it banned lead ammunition in the California condor home in 2008. Researchers and conservationists have built a case against bullets due to the demise of the carcass-eating group of condors and the guts they leave behind, mostly by hunters using guns; Less than one gram of lead can be fatal to birds of prey. The state went even further in 2019, introducing a complete ban on all fishing.
In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 2021 Her most important move Yet it is bulletproof, when it has banned its use in hunting in some Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) and some state parks that allow private hunting. This began this fall and was in response to a petition from the Minnesota Friends of the Science and Natural Areas and other conservation groups. The petitioners wanted DNR to require non-toxic shots, mollusks, and hunting tackle within any SNA system and state park that provides hunting and hunting. DNR dismissed the petition, claiming that its administrative powers are limited, but that it nonetheless worked to reduce lead spray in the wild. She added that the management of lead ammunition was a matter for the legislature.
Mike McCute’s job is to understand lead ballistics and how their fragmentation is a source of lead contamination across wildlife species, especially golden vultures. McTee is an educated researcher in environmental chemistry at MPG Ranch, a conservation organization in Missoula, Mont. McTee is also a hunter for life. He grew up as a traditional archer before he picked up a rifle when he moved from western Washington state to Montana to enter college. He turned his attention to following big sheep these days.
He said, “I love being outside, and when I’m hunting I have a goal. If I have to sit on a mountain for six hours just to survey the hillsides, I’ll happily do it.”
MPG’s commitment to avian ecology across species has included partnerships with raptor rehabilitation groups, whose patients have included shot-sick golden eagles. McTee has authored a new book, Wilted Wings: A Hunter’s Fight for Eagles, released September 6, which reflects on his enlightenment about the scourge of lead in wildlife food sources and what more hunters may require of non-toxic alternatives.
In the interview below, McTee dispelled the advantage of the federal ban, even as the US Fish and Wildlife Service banned lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl. The best approach might be more pragmatic, Makti said, in order to keep wildlife stories local and measurable. Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity:
What do you think of the position of Minnesota DNR?
If we magically flip the switch, and say there’s a federal ban on lead ammunition for hunting, I don’t feel like there’s enough brass ammo in stock to meet the demand. I don’t think this would work, so many hunters would not comply, as they would rather not hunt than comply. But it also means that if more people are not fishing, is there less money to be generated through the Pitman – Robertson [Act]? Then for the game guard, if you have a copper bullet and a lead bullet, and they both have a polymer tip, you can’t easily tell which one is which. The Berger VLD, a lead bullet, has a gilded-copper-metal on the outside that hits a hollow point, and you don’t see any lead on it. How do you do that?
So, in general, there should be support from the fishing community, but this is happening at a pace that not many people are satisfied with.
DNR in its own study performed ballistics analysis using euthanized sheep. Apparently the agency came from a humanitarian point of view – a pioneer in venison – and not. Its effect on wildlife.
I would say that the evidence for lead poisoning in wildlife is overwhelming. If you look at exposures in bushmeat in humans, you will find that it is much less convincing. There are studies that it may be higher, but you are also exposed [to lead] By shooting with firearms, especially indoors. There could be lead in the primer. When people focus on lead in bushmeat, it will probably be easier to sell to hunters, but it is less scientifically persuasive.
MPG’s Bitterroot Valley Winter Eagle project had landowners watching game cameras focused on corpses and their use by scavengers. This gave way for you to engage the hunters. They spied on 19 species of scavengers from mountain lions to wolves to eagles. Is the approach a potential model for educating fishermen?
Absolutely. We thought, let’s hold back on lead poisoning, and get the hunters in western Montana excited about the scavengers. Every Hunter I spoke to was completely amazed by what they saw. It added another layer to the hunters’ connection to the landscape. You may never see an eagle if you’re clearing the forest floor from your tree stand. But when you leave a food source there, you can see what’s in the woods that you love so much. The idea was to get people excited about the scavengers, and if they appreciate the scavengers, they understand why unleaded is so important.
I guess you’re suggesting that some who oppose discussions about non-lead ammunition believe there is an anti-hunting movement behind it? Is this continuing?
I think this is very variable and dependent on geography. On the West Coast, there may be more of that: “This comes from anti-poaching sentiment.” What you saw in Montana is none of that. I’ve spoken to thousands of Hunters and less than 10 of them have been shot.
How do you get manufacturers on board to make more copper ammo? Can this be done given the ammunition supply challenges and the perception that copper is less effective?
The point of impact can change when you change ammo, whether you lead to copper, or whether you lead to bullets. You have to know if that bullet will expand over a certain distance. But all of these considerations hunters have to make when shooting copper I feel are relevant when they are shooting any bullet, even bullets. It’s good to know how your bullet will perform.
You write that one way to reach people might be by focusing on demographic impact at the local level. However, some in the ammunition industry and the National Rifle Association say there is no evidence that lead ammunition has a “population level” effect on wildlife? Plus, The eagle population is healthy.
It just shows how complex the problem is and how you can handle it to support either side, if you think there are aspects here. Since I wrote the book, there have been two studies that have shown that bald eagle numbers would be greater without lead poisoning. The population is slowed down by exposure to lead.
When I talk about 29 golden eagles that have been hunted [and tagged] At MPG Ranch some of them fly to the Arctic Circle or the Yukon or hang out in Montana and then come back in the winter, and that blows their minds—seeing that our actions, wherever we live, can be continental—implications of scale. Are we killing birds that can nest in the Arctic? This captures my imagination and that of other fishermen. It’s compelling, and I feel it builds some empathy for wildlife.