Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lead ammunition, politics and rhetoric

This is the post I've been waiting a month to write. It hasn't taken this long because I don't know what to say; it's taken this long because because I've been trying to figure out how to say it without my fellow hunters thinking I've drunk the Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately, I still haven't figured that out, so I'm just going to man up (so to speak) and get it over with:

1. I'm done hunting with lead ammunition.

2. I believe the key people pushing hunters to move away from lead ammunition are just folks who work with birds that get sick and die from lead poisoning, and they see the problem as preventable. I don't believe most of them are anti-hunting; in fact, I know some of them are hunters.

3. The California lead ammunition ban has been a complete disaster that has created unnecessary antagonism between two groups of people with a common goal: healthy populations of wildlife. My state embarrasses me. Arizona handled this much better than we did.

So what brought this on? It started on a pig hunt last month. Or maybe it started earlier than that.

Last year when I wrote a story about California's lead ammo ban for the National Wild Turkey Federation's Turkey Country magazine, two of the people I interviewed were Jake Theyerl of the Institute for Wildlife Studies and Jim Petterson of the National Park Service, both of whom were involved in research and outreach efforts on non-lead ammunition, both of whom are hunters.

They were interesting folks. Most people in the hunting community were pretty pissed off about the lead ammo ban in the California condor zone. Gun and hunting groups were vigorously challenging the science that suggested condors were getting sick and dying when they ingested lead bullet fragments left in gut piles or unrecovered game. Some were characterizing folks behind the ban as anti-hunting.

But here were two hunters who believed that the science was right. They didn't take a position on the ban, mind you; they just believed that yes, birds get sick and die when they eat lead, and that some of the lead that was doing this was indeed from ammunition.

A pivotal moment for Jim came when he was tracking condors in Arizona and came across a deer that had been shot but not recovered. Three condors, a golden eagle, a bald eagle, ten turkey vultures and ten ravens were all either feeding on the deer or waiting to feed on it when he and his colleagues arrived.

They turned the animal over and found a bullet wound in the neck. They decided to have the deer X-rayed and were was stunned at what they saw. As a hunter, Jim had always believed that cutting around bloodshot portions of meat would eliminate all the lead fragments. But the X-ray showed that lead had exploded far beyond the immediate vicinity of the wound channel:

They stopped counting fragments after they hit 400.

"Looking at the X-ray and looking at the bloodshot portion made me think,'How much lead have I been trimming off and putting into burger piles?'"

But it also made him think about the birds. The deer had landed wound side down so the scavengers had not yet begun to pick at the lead-infested wound site. "Had it landed on the other side, they could’ve fed on it. It just pointed out to me how one carcass could have a disproportionally large impact."

Months after that interview, I got an email from Jake saying funding had run out for his job and he was leaving the state, but he wanted to arrange for an opportunity for me and Phillip from the Hog Blog to check out the condor program at Pinnacles National Monument and go hunting for wild hogs near the national park with Jim.

An opportunity to hunt pigs, meet Jim, and possibly lay eyes on a condor for the first time was too much to pass up. We made plans and before long, Phillip and I were meeting Jim in pre-dawn blackness at the Pinnacles visitor center and following him out to the ranch where he occasionally hunts.

It was a beautiful day - the wildflowers were in full bloom.

But we did not see a single pig.

After giving up on the hunt, we went back to Pinnacles with Jim so he could show us around. First stop: The storeroom that functions as an office where employees could watch a webcam that was trained on a condor feeding station:

And of course, we started talking about lead ammo, the ban, the science and the politics.

Now, up until this point, here's where I stood on lead ammo: Because I often hunt in the condor zone, where lead bullets are banned, I've opted to shoot only non-lead in my rifle. It's expensive at $40+ per box, but when it comes to killing, the goal is to use one bullet and if I pay $2 to kill a pig or deer instead of 50 cents, that's just no big deal. If I wanted to switch back and forth, I'd have to go to the range to re-sight my rifle each time, because lead and non-lead can shoot very differently. It's just easier to stick with one bullet.

For small game and upland birds, I often hunt with steel shot. My first love is waterfowl hunting, which means I have lots of steel shot around the house, so it's just convenient to use it for other hunts.

However, I'd use lead, too. In fact, the weekend before this pig hunt, I'd popped a turkey with lead shot. And I had been known to say unkind things about the lead ban.

Back to the storeroom: When Phillip and I were sitting there watching condor videos, Jim mentioned that he had a video of lead-poisoned bald eagles from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center.

"Show me?" I said, knowing full well it would make me sick.

It did. It showed one eagle, unable to lift its head, breathing hard. Another with its eyes twitching spasmodically. And the coup de grace, one lying on its back, head shaking and writhing like a drunk with the DTs.

Lead poisoning wrecks the sheath around nerves and essentially causes them to short-circuit, Jim told us. That's what we were seeing. And it was painful to watch.

But is it a serious problem? In the greater scheme of things, probably not. Bald eagles are in pretty good shape. They were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. Even if every single one of those eagles had been sickened by lead shot or lead bullet fragments, it wasn't damaging their population as a whole.

But damn.

I spent much of my last duck season agonizing over the knowledge that there are ducks I shoot at that fly away wounded, and while some may recover with nothing more troubling than a pellet under the skin, others may well live in a terrible state before succumbing to infection or predation, and I'm not OK with that. I shoot to kill, and I kill to eat, but I have no desire at all to hurt an animal I'm not going to eat. In fact, I upgraded from a 20 gauge to a 12 gauge this spring in hopes that my shooting will be more lethal with the bigger gun.

If it's important to me to avoid crippling ducks that I don't kill and eat, it stands to reason that I would also want to avoid potential collateral damage from using lead ammunition, sickening or killing birds that were never in my sights at all. Perhaps no critter has ever gotten sick from lead that came out of any of my guns. But if there's a chance one might, and I have non-lead alternatives that I can afford, I feel like it's the right thing for me to do to use them.

So that was it for me, right then and there. I'll shoot lead where I have to - it's generally required where I shoot skeet and trap - but when I'm hunting, I'll use something else.

Does this mean I'm saying you should do the same, or supporting efforts in California to expand our lead ban (like this bill)?

No and no.

Let me address the legislation first: California screwed the pooch on this issue big time. Early efforts to get hunters in the condor zone to help voluntarily (by switching to non-lead or carrying out potentially lead-tainted gut piles) were not well-publicized. Condor advocates asked the state to ban lead ammo. When the Fish & Game Commission refused, advocates sued. Then the Legislature jumped in and forced a lead ban on the commission. Hunting groups said this was an attack on guns and hunters, saying that the ban would increase the costs of shooting (it did) and thereby diminish the number of hunters (jury's still out on that). Some of the parties on the anti-lead bandwagon are known enemies to hunting, which adds to hunters' feeling of persecution.

So what started as a bunch of people trying to help condors and other scavengers has escalated into what hunters see as a war on guns and hunting. I don't think that's what was ever intended.

In contrast, Arizona - which also has condors - handled the situation really well. Officials met with hunting groups to discuss the lead-poisoning problem and ask for their support. The state funded a program that would provide a box or two of free non-lead ammunition for people hunting deer in Arizona's condor zone. Those who didn’t switch ammo were encouraged to pack out gut piles that might contain lead fragments, and hunters who turned in gut piles were entered in raffles for Cabela’s gift certificates. Last I checked, they were getting 90 percent compliance - and last I heard, hunters in Arizona don't feel persecuted.

Condor advocates praised Arizona's approach as an effective one. And they noted how important hunters are to the survival of condors: Condors are scavengers, and they need the gut piles we leave behind for food.

Despite the praise for Arizona's approach, the California lawmaker who wrote the bill banning lead in the condor zone wants to extend the ban to lead shot on all state wildlife areas, even though no one's presented any evidence that lead poisoning from ammunition used in any of our wildlife areas is causing a problem. At least with condors, there was some science involved, even though it was disputed. There's not a single study on this one, aside from the general studies about lead poisoning in birds.

What's the right thing to do if people with good intentions want hunters to make the switch?

The Arizona model is a start, but let's look at something more familiar: Decades ago, Americans realized that we were extremely wasteful, and that we needed to recycle more of our resources, rather than using them once and tossing them in landfills that were already bursting at the seams.

Did we make it illegal to throw away cans and bottles? No. We created incentives for recycling. Many states required people to people to pay a deposit on cans and bottles, as an incentive for people to recoup that by recycling. We also have widespread curbside recycling, which makes doing the right thing as easy as taking out the trash. There is still plenty of waste, but this approach has made a difference: Recycling is common, and it is seen as a virtuous act.

(Fun side note: California recently made it illegal to throw away batteries, but it did nothing to make it easier for people to dispose of them "properly." I'm guessing that almost no one here follows this law, even though we know batteries ooze all sorts of harmful nasty chemicals that can pollute groundwater.)

Some may argue that we need laws banning lead ammo because animals' lives are at risk. To that I say good Lord, we unintentionally kill animals every day in this country. One of my readers (Hutch!) tells me that automobiles kill twice as many animals as hunters do. I'd be willing to bet that more raptors in California are hit by cars than poisoned by lead - I constantly see dead hawks along the freeways in rural areas. Yet, strangely, no one has proposed banning cars to save the birds, or even reducing the speed limit to 35 mph to make it easier to avoid collisions with birds.

To get back to the other question: I've stopped hunting with lead ammo; should you do the same? I'd say that's entirely up to you. I think the only thing I'd recommend is to research it yourself. Don't let the NRA tell you what to think. Don't let HSUS tell you what to think.

If you're reading this blog, you know how to use the Internet - do some searches. Read the studies. Decide whether the problem is serious or threatening enough to warrant a change in your lifestyle.

I'm certainly not a saint in this respect.

For example, I could take public transportation to work, but I don't. I could diminish the amount of pollution my car puts in the air - pollution that ultimately helps cause lung disease, death and maybe even climate change. But I don't, because public transportation triples my commute time, and I don't have that much time to spare.

Lead ammo is an easier one for me to address, though. While I'm not rich, I have a decent income and I don't mind spending a little more - or in some cases, a lot more - for non-lead. And I have non-lead that works really well in my guns - steel shot is very advanced these days, and the Nosler E-tip performs beautifully in my .270. So I shoot non-lead.

We all have a menu of options we can choose from to lessen the unintentional harm we cause. This is simply one of the options I have selected. I believe fellow hunters should decide for themselves.

So that's it. I've said what I had to say. Now I can't wait to hear what y'all have to say.

Let the comments begin!

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


David J Blackburn said...

Lots of thoughts. None related.

Ammo is an area where the government, Fed and State, has constitutional jurisdiction.

Hunters will continue to pay more and poachers will still use lead ammo. Who will leave more carcasses?

Hunting is a hobby, and an expensive one, my wife reminds me. It will only become more expensive. So be it!

And condors will soon be extinct cause poachers really _don't_ care about the law as much as we _do_.

So it goes.

Phillip said...

Let the comments begin indeed!

Well, actually, the first thing that springs to mind is that you captured the spirit of our conversation with Jim a lot better than I did. I really dug what he was saying (and what Jake had said before), and I couldn't help but wish more hunters could have the same conversation we did that day. But I don't think I did him justice when I wrote about it.

The second thing is that you are doing exactly the right thing... not so much through your decision to get the lead out, but by making an informed choice based on what you know and how it makes you, personally, feel. You accept responsibility for your own, personal impact, and are doing the only truly effective thing by changing your own, personal behavior. That's how this is supposed to work.

The continued polarization of this society makes me tired. I look around me every day and see or hear the wasted energy of people so wrapped up in ignorant and destructive rhetoric and it crushes my hopes for the future of this society... and by extension, the future of this country. I'm glad to see someone, at least, thinking for themselves. It's heartening... even if it's a droplet in the ocean.

Holly Heyser said...

Phillip: Thanks! Obviously, I've been stewing on this one for a long time. I hope people will take it in the spirit it's intended, but with the debate as polarized as it is, I am bracing for the worst. I just hope people read to the end. (And I know that's asking a lot, given how freakin' verbose I am.)

David: Unfortunately, I suspect you're right about the poachers. And you may be right about the condors too. Like Jim said: One deer with lead in its neck could have poisoned every single bird that ate from it. And even the most strident condor advocates would not suggest that ammunition is the only source of problems for the condors. Their species is tiny and fragile.

David J Blackburn said...

Phillip: What if our society isn't polarized?

I like your comment mostly because one might think you believe feelings were an adequate filler for where the facts were incomplete.

I believe that feelings and facts are the tools we use to make law.

The thing is, laws have to be based on common facts or feelings for them to hold a society together.

What if we are now a nation of societies?

Holly Heyser said...

OK, I know this isn't addressing what David said, but for what it's worth, my problem with the polarization we see is the sheer volume that is created by organizations with a vested interest (fund-raising) in arousing passions by distorting facts. I think the emotions that are stirred by stereotypes, oversimplification and outright distortion are quite harmful to society.

Josh said...

A great post, Holly, and good comments, too. I'll steer clear of the socio-political commentary for now and stick to the lead.

As a person who was closely involved in the lead ban in condor range, I'd like to add a little inside baseball: Some advocates were opposed to the legislative ban, because they were working hard to get the Fish & Game Commission to outlaw all lead, statewide.

That's right.

A few organizations determined that it would be in the interest of the particular case to use science to get a lead ban where lead was known to impact a particularly vulnerable species.
Now, for my opinion:

I supported the condor range ban, and still do. First, there is solid science showing that hunting lead harms some birds, condors are particularly susceptible to extinction, and I try to live by Aldo Leopold's first rule of conservation: keep all the pieces. Second, the volunteer lead-free option was improperly applied, and never, ever would have received either sufficient funding. Nor did hunters take up the cause, themselves, and mostly for economic reasons. My own mental conversation when I first saw non-lead rifle options explains this last point ("wow, that's pretty accurate, and powerful... what's the price on it... WTF??!!!").

Because of these factors, I saw a great opportunity for A) the NRA to use this for political gain; and B) companies use this to drag their feet and continue gouging customers. In the meantime, hunters like me who wanted to switch get gouged, and animals die.

I felt that a ban would help spur the industry to provide greater competition and more options, and this is playing out. A ban would also force hunters to use better ammunition, and this is playing out, too.

I oppose the current bill, and blogged about it, too. It is not based on local science, and therefore gives the appearance of impropriety and pandering. If the same legislator would, instead, author a bill to research particular places to find out the types and results of all pollution, and these studies determined that lead shot was a major vector for sickening animals, then I'd be all for banning it. Unfortunately, the legislator chooses to take the easy route that also shows no appreciation for our wild places.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Josh. I tell you, one thing the non-hunting lead-ban advocates need to understand is that shoving this down hunters' throats will not work. What happened is exactly what I would've expected to happen, and it didn't have to be that way.

With all the money we as a society have spent to 1) rescue condors from the brink of extinction and 2) rehab sick birds, you'd think someone would've thought it wise to invest in a series of incentives to achieve desired results in the hunting community. Not that that didn't happen at all. Obviously, Arizona did it. And that was Jake Thereyl's job - he ran events where hunters could bring their guns and try non-lead ammo for free to see how it works. But funding for that ran out, and now we're left with another Pedro Nava bill. Isn't that swell?

Sadly, the rhetorical war has not been good for us hunters at all. Most non-hunters don't get our resistance - they just think lead is bad and we're stupid if we don't want to get rid of it. It's been a real lose-lose situation.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Great post and comments.

We've seen some of this same dynamic here in Vermont, primarily around proposed legislation aimed at generalized bans on lead in all kinds of products (not ammo, specifically). Predictably, some hunters go ballistic when such proposals are made, screaming "You can't hunt without lead!" and perceiving it as an assault on hunting.

And, yes, non-hunters hear the fiery rhetoric and figure these people are nuts. As you said, Holly, they "don't get" the resistance. After that, productive conversation tends to break down.

I've found lead in places where I didn't expect it in a deer and, personally, would be happy to hunt non-lead. I need to do some research and see if I can find factory ammo in 6.5x55.

Holly Heyser said...

I think what the non-hunters need to understand is that when ammo doesn't work or doesn't behave as we expect it too, it's not just an inconvenience - it can mean merely wounding an animal that is then never recovered.

Talk to Phillip about your ammo needs - he's pretty familiar with the factory options.

@shotgunner said...

Thanks for this thoughtful article. Nice work Holly. It is my firm conviction that all copper bullets perform better than all but the most expensive lead bullets. By this I mean both precision and knock down.

A) Reports from friends that have killed pigs, deer and elk all report excellent performance with one shot kills. The expansion is predictable and the bullet holds together. Thus the wound channel is devestating, thus killing the animal instantly or with very short tracking after the shot.

B) The copper bullets seem to be more consistent and uniform. It took me just three trips to the range to identify a handload for my '06 using Triple Shocks. Yet took many more to find a similar load with a lead bullet/powder combination.

I may have gotten lucky, but it does not feel like it. It feels like copper is better than lead for high powered rifles.

I use Hevi-Shot for waterfowl. Yeah it costs a bit more than steel but using your analogy for cost I say to myself, why cut a corner when I have a $1400 gun and many thousands of dollars tied up in my yearly hunting budget. From club fees to lodging to decoys and other gear. Why try to save $100-150 a year in ammo to shoot steel with lessor performance. If nothing else, I have more confidence in my shooting with Hevi so I use it. Confidence means more kills.

I do use lead for sporting clays, doves and rabbits. Doves and rabbits get taken out of the environment entirely.

We duck hunters are gear heads aren't we?

hodgeman said...

Nice piece of writing Holly and some great comments too.

I quit using lead ammunition after I saw some x-ray photos of lead fragments in meat in some surprising places in a carcass. Lead ammunitiion isn't regulated in the slightest here and we're thousands of miles from a condor but I eat this meat. If I didn't care about pollutants in my food I sure wouldn't go through the trouble of shooting it myself. Copper bullets also work so incredibly well on game I reserve lead for the range only now.

Cost of hunting ammunition is pretty much the single smallest cost I incur on a hunt and I shoot the spendy stuff.

jryoung said...

Great write up. I came to the same conclusion about lead last year prior to my first hunt in CA. Lead is not a good substance. It may "perform" well in terms of bullets, but it's toxic nasty stuff. Not something I want as part of my food or something I want to ingest. My wife has seen lead poisining in her medical practice, like your bald eagle example it is aweful to witness. Condor or no condor, science or junk science I made my decision based on my personal feelings and the fact that there is a viable alternative. In fact for me, it's (copper) more accurate and delivers better than lead performance.

Then comes the politics, I get so frustrated with groups that typically have more in common than they don't who are so opposed to eachother. Rhetoric as toxic as the lead itself which only leads to sensationalization of the issues and distortion of the facts. Sometimes I just want to put my head down and continue on my way, it'd be simpler sometimes.

But, I won't let that stop me from enjoying the outdoors, hunting and gathering. It's morel season, and if I have plenty of pig in the freezer I might as well find some fungus to go with it and enjoy being outside.

Jim said...

Wonderful job Holly summarizing the issues in a balanced and insightful manner. As the Jim in the story, I can say that after spending the better part of an entire wonderful day hunting and talking with you and Phillip it was obvious to me that you both, like the vast majority of fellow hunters, had a strong and visceral connection with the outdoors and the various critters found there. In addition, like most hunters I know of, you both also had no intention of inadvertently harming non-target wildlife through hunting activities. As you so rightly point out, hunters and biologists have a common conservation ethic and share a common goal of maintaining healthy populations of wildlife. It has therefore, really saddened me to see the gulf between some in the shooting sport community and the rest of those interested in wildlife. It didn’t have to happen, and I agree in large part with you that it did happen because of the way in which the whole lead ammo ban was justified and implemented.

I can assure you that since both Jake and I are avid hunters, neither of us would be working on efforts to promote non-lead ammo alternatives if we felt that there was an anti-hunting agenda driving it. I have personally gone hunting with members of the Peregrine Fund, and can vouch that MOST of their organization either hunts or are falconers (arguably one of the oldest forms of hunting).

Having seen firsthand dying bald eagles and condors exhibiting the debilitating effects of lead poisoning, I agree with you Holly that the only motivation of the professional wildlife biology community on promoting non-lead alternatives has been to reduce impacts to non-target wildlife. And I think that this same motivation is what most hunters would buy into, once they are aware of the issues. There will always be some groups who take valid scientific data and shape it to fit there agendas, such as the Humane Society, but we can’t control that.

An additional benefit on using non-lead ammo for me personally is that it performs as good or better on game than lead ammo I’ve used, plus it’s easier processing the animal if I don’t have to worry if I’m accidentally putting chunks of lead into the meat I’m gonna be giving my family and friends. Will lead bullet fragments kill you? I doubt it, but there are always the undesirable sub-lethal effects of any toxin and I think we know enough about lead that it just makes good sense to reduce our exposure to it whenever we can.

I feel that what Phillip wrote about in his blog entry about our visit is right on the money. If both parties on each side of the issue spent some time in genuine dialog with each other, we would foster a sense of mutual respect, and discover that we can both learn form each other. And also that we have a lot more in common that we can agree on than not.

sister said...

hey holly! I enjoyed this one very much and will pass it on to a humter friend of mine.
Love ya!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

P.S. I checked out my non-lead options online, double-checked with Phillip to see if I'd missed anything, and ordered some new ammo to try. Thanks for the nudge, Holly. And for the assistance, Phillip.

Josh said...

Tovar, if it's anything like my experiences with it, you will be astonished at how great the ammo. is, and you won't look back.

I shoot .270 and 30-30.

Dan said...

I’ve followed your blog almost from beginning and enjoyed watching the birth of a hunter. Mostly, I lurk and remember when I first started and compare your experiences with my own.

There lots of thoughts swirling around my head right now, but mostly there’s a sense of overarching disappointment. Not because you choose to go lead free as a personal choice, but I felt maybe you, as an academic, didn’t do your homework.

I’ve read the reports from Dr. Cornatzer (Peregrine Falcon Fund) as it relates to the lead-ban here in CA, the North Dakota food bank scare and the subsequent report from the Wisconsin Public Health Dept/CDC. I’ve seen the X-rays. The guy gets around. I’m not sure if he’s still associated with the PFF.

I’ve read Dr. Randich’s lead isotope rebuttal to the Church report and feel there’s some merit there.

I’m waiting to see a meaningful report to the CA Game Commission telling me the lead ban is effective. Dr Loft’s presentation last year clearly indicated that the folks responsible for providing the info (NWS, etc) required by the Condor-Ridley act were dragging their collective feet and results to date were inconclusive. I would have thought a 99% compliance rate by hunters should have indicated a remarkable decrease in condor lead levels. Not the case, apparently, the birds are still being poisoned...

Two thing come to mind in regards to use of lead while hunting.

1) Condor lead poisioning and human lead poisoning concerns are two SEPARATE issues and shouldn’t be mixed up. There are two different digestive systems and metabolisms at play. Don’t mix apples and oranges. In my view, schools still out on the cause of condor poisoning. CDC has studied human concerns in regards to lead in venison and the food banks are back in operation. Go figure.

2) Emotions and politics have no place in wildlife management. We pay DFG biologists to make these decisions for the people of CA. Let them do their job.

Dan said...


I honestly don't believe hunters use of lead is the sole source of lead poisioning in Condor zone. X-rays indicate tons of microtrash.

What I do believe is the hunters were low hanging fruit and our very independent natures and inability to coalesce on the issue was our downfall.

The lead free ammo is expensive, it often doesn't shoot well in older firearms and I've found its terminal peformance disappionting.

Just last month, I finally found a round that I ethically find comfortable to use on big game.

Anyway, I await Dr. Loft's report to the Commission this June. Maybe, it'll convince that the lead-ban is good. So far, I'm not impressed.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh, Dan, I've read those studies. I read a lot of studies when I worked on that article for Turkey Country last summer. And I attended the Fish & Game Commission meeting where they rejected expansion of the lead ban to cover upland game in the condor zone.

I agree that the rebuttal to the isotope study was damning, and so did the F&G Commission. Mouths were dropping when that one went up on the screen.

I'm also not terribly concerned about my own lead consumption. My brain is fully formed, and there is no chance I'm going to get pregnant. My initial choice to go lead-free on big game truly was a matter of convenience. And I know the CDC study of blood lead levels in NoDak showed that hunters had slightly higher blood lead levels than the population around them - but nothing that would cause concern. That's why I didn't even factor that into my blog post, with the exception of mentioning Jim's first thought when he saw the X-ray of the bullet fragmentation.

Finally, I agree that emotions and poltics have no place in wildlife management. That's why I get furious every time the HSUS plays the charismatic megafauna card on issues like bear hunting - oh, poor bears, big bad mean hunters just killing you for heads and hides (such bullshit). Note that part of my criticism of the new Nava bill is that there is not one single study suggesting lead ammunition is causing any problems on our wildlife areas.

As for emotion: It obviously plays a huge role in the decisions I make, and that is my choice.

When I watched the video of the sick bald eagles, I had two flashbacks: One was to the horrifying and painful death of our 15-year-old cat Paka in March. Her heart was failing and the vet was trying to save her but couldn't, and she was going down fast. We watched her convulsing on a table as she drowned in the fluid that filled her lungs. Our dear friend of so many years.

The other was to a scene a year and a half ago, when one of my students and I went to visit a former student - just 25 - who was losing her battle with rectal cancer. We knew her time was short, but when we arrived at the house and walked through the door, I immediately knew she was slipping away right then and there. Emaciated, drugged on morphine, struggling for air, slipping away. We said our good-byes and left the house sobbing, and she was gone two hours later.

I also left knowing that my mother and sister had experienced something much worse when they were with my dad for his death.

I can't stand seeing sick people or animals near death. It breaks my heart in a way that shooting an animal never will. I have a visceral reaction to it. And it is my personal choice that if there's a chance something I'm doing could cause that kind of death, and it's easy for me to make a change, I'm going to do that.

Please note that I did NOT recommend that anyone make any laws based on my emotions. What I did was encourage people to seek information and make their own choice. It's very clear to me that you have done that, and that's fine - I have no problem with that.

As for waiting to see reports on the efficacy of the condor zone lead ban, I think it's predictable that the results will be very erratic. Why? If lead is causing a problem, all it takes is one poached and unrecovered animal (lead-shot) with ten condors feeding on it to show a huge spike in lead poisoning (and since condors feed in groups, it is entirely predictable that this will happen). Even the lead shot ban for waterfowl has not entirely eliminated lead poisoning for wetland birds, though it did effect a major decrease. Regardless of what the condor zone studies will show, I've made my choice, and it's not likely to change. With three textbook kills with copper bullets under my belt, I don't feel any need to switch back to lead.

Holly Heyser said...

And having just seen Part 2 of your comment, I will say that I agree hunters are low-hanging fruit, particularly in California. There's no need for our urban-dominated legislature to give a crap about us, since we're such a tiny minority. If a study came out that Priuses on freeways were killing more birds than lead ammo, I'm entirely confident the Legislature would ignore it.

Josh said...

Dan, you make interesting points. I will say that emotion and politics are necessary to good land management. Science does not determine goals - emotion and politics do. Science is a tool for achieving goals.

It's important to find a good balance, sure. But, if the majority of people don't approve of or like hunting and hunters, then in a democracy, the goals including hunting get dropped. It is that simple.

Edward J. Palumbo said...

I appreciate an informative, thought-provoking article, and I choose not to risk the collateral damage of raptors and scavengers that may ingest my shot or bullet fragments. I'll research other options. Thanks for the information. Well done!

Dan said...

It’s clear that you've done your homework and made an informed decision. Strangely, that makes me somehow more comfortable.

I’ve never been in doubt of your compassion for the sick and hurt, human or otherwise. We both share that, and I believe compassion is part of being an ethical hunter. I still dream and second guess a botched shot and lost deer, 15 years after the fact. If I ever loose my compassion and respect for the animals I hunt, its time for me take up…something less meaningful.

You bring up a valid point on the poached deer and the group feeding habits. The lead ban will never have an effect on that, because the poaching itself is illegal and outside the scope of the Condor Act. Yet, the legal hunters carry the burden, the stigma and the expense, even when we’re in compliance. Nothing I’ve read, no study I’ve seen clearly says we’re to blame.

I read somewhere (wish I could remember) that for every $10 of the taxpayers money spent on wildlife management/conservation, hunters and fisherman contribute $9 thru fees and taxes in various forms. I’m ok with that. What I’m not ok with is that we contribute some much and have so little say.

What really fries my butt is somehow the California condor has become the banner which eco-warriors from all over country have decided to rally around. When you read CA Audubon’s 2008 report you get statements like “survive only through constant human assistance and intervention. The intensive management required to maintain the birds in
nature, as well as the ongoing monitoring and captive breeding programs, are tremendously expensive and become more so as the population grows”. In effect the condor has become little more than an outdoor petting zoo, at $74,000 a bird. California hunters get the blame (unjustly in my mind) and we are burdened with a law that should have never been enacted, whose “efficacy” is questionable and is pretty damned expensive for the average Joe.

This is where politics and emotion come into play. At what point does someone raise the BS flag and say, these bird’s are no longer wild, they are incapable of surviving on their own and how long do we artificially support an species that was nearing extinction at the turn of the last century?

Unfortunately, the momentum for the lead ban was well established before I came aware of it and nothing I could say or do would have made a difference. Even if every last condor suddenly dropped dead, I don’t think we’d ever get lead back. There are just too many special interest groups out there that believe Bambi was a real animal.

I'll continue to spend $40+ per box,vice $18, until the law changes or something cheaper comes along.

Anonymous said...

I hunt in the condor zone with the tsx bullets. As a reloader, it was not difficult to work up a load that would shoot well in my rifle. I have loads for the 30'06, 45-70, and I buy commercial ammo for the .22mag, 45acp, 460rowland. I figure even the camp gun should have copper only. Just in case I run into the wrong game warden after I've shot a two legged varmint. That is something of a joke but the copper is for real. I shoot steel shot for bunnies and quail. Copper solid slugs in the slug gun.

I have not decided if I will work up loads for the 22PPC, 270weatherby, 30'06 for the Garand, .308, 7-08, .458win, etc. You get the idea.

After I earned my ADULT CARD, I find it more difficult to accept laws "for my own good".

I do not like the mindset of legislators that think they got one over on us savages (hunters and shooters).

The gelatin demonstration and copper ammo test fire in San Benito county that was done by Jake Theyerl's group was an outstanding piece of work that was VERY badly publicized. Thanks be to Phillip and his Hog Blog for posting the information at the time. I was glad I got the opportunity to attend.

I tried to get Jake's group to do a demonstration/shoot at our range but we never got further than an email or two. Now I know why.

Someday I still may take some of those cast lead bullets we made and load them in the 45-70 for more than just plinking at the range. If the carbon tetrachloride or the lead paint on the walls or any one of a thousand things I was around as a kid didn't kill me, then injesting some (more?) lead probably won't do much to speed up the process of ending my life.

Nobody, except a few sick bullies, ever wants to see other critters suffer.

My random thoughts,


Josh said...

"If I ever loose my compassion and respect for the animals I hunt, its time for me take up…something less meaningful."

Dan, I just wanted to say that I was really impressed with that.

hutchinson said...

Thank you for having a change of heart on this issue, Holly. You've heard my various rants before so I'll make this one shorter for a change. I just wanted to add: this is why I've always said, it's so important for people, hunters and non-hunters both, to physically see the repercussions of human action on nature and wild animals. Those of us who work with wildlife have the unique privilege and sadness to observe weekly, if not daily, the harm we humans inflict, both deliberate and accidental. The type of injury you describe in this post is heartbreaking. And yet, those scenes are repeated over and over when you're in rescue.

Raptors and higher mammals suffer similarly from wanton use of pesticides and rat poisons. Sea birds ingest lead sinkers and hooks. Albatross, as I'm sure most people have seen by now, have bellies full of plastic bottle caps. Animals of all kinds are deliberately injured and escape with festering wounds, or they're hit by automobiles, or tortured deliberately, struck by windmill blades, mutilated in glue traps or bird netting. I have no delusions that all these assaults will disappear in this crazy world. But it would be dramatic change if at least those things that could be prevented, were, in fact, prevented.

I'm always dismayed when an issue like a lead ban is manipulated beyond the pragmatic effort to reduce environmental harm. I admit I've had little understanding for the opposing POV.

Anonymous said...

Hello Hutchinson, What so many of us gun people see in the lead ban is a step toward the end of the story "With Folded Hands" by Jack Williamson.

There are 20,000 gun laws on the books, I am told. If you want to see why we feel assaulted by another law, peruse the book "How to Own a Gun and Stay Out of Jail". They publish a new edition each year and it gets thicker and thicker.

I am a hunter but first I was (and still am) a gun person. So this is where my point of view is coming from. I do not write eloquently like you, so if I sound abrupt, please try to overlook it. I flunked many english classes to get where I am.

I obey this law because that's what people like me do. I think hunters were treated awful with this legislation. I don't get why you don't understand but that's probsbly because I'm standing in a different place to start. Let me know if that makes sense.


Dan said...

With respect, Hutchinson, I have to agree with Jean here. Hunters were treated horribly by this lead ban, probably because we were easy prey.

When condors were dying from ingesting anti-freeze, there wasn't a ban on anti-freeze. When condors were killed by powerlines, there wasn't a ban on electricity.
However, when condors were dying from lead poisoning-"it must be hunters-ban lead!" In all the studies I've read, no-where did I see an attempt to identify any other source of the poisoning. No wheel weight studies, no studies from residual tetra-ethyl lead days, no studies done on mine tailings.
I never saw a single, well thought out study, where the conclusions matched the science and said, "we found lead bullet framents in the craw of condors that died from lead poisioning."

I hated senseless death as much as I despise habitat loss, but I feel hunters were singled out, punished without a fair trial and as far as I can tell, to no postive effect on the condor lead poisioning.

The last lead-ban efficacy report to the DFG was a joke. To say it was inconclusive is an understatement. Put GOOD science on the table that proves that condors are benefitting from the ammo lead ban and I'll change my tune.

I think hunters got shafted and I think there's another lead source out there that hasn't been addressed.

Anonymous said...

The problem with what Ms. Heyser proposes is that it does not note a certain amount of history, and thus requires clarification.

Mr. Petterson's and Mr. Theyerl's condor and anti-lead work are well established in the Condor Recovery Program. Their involvement, and interest, within the program for these past years should have been made more clear in her article, despite their pronouncements as hunters.

What is more, The Condor Recovery Team has been working for a complete lead ammunition ban in California since well before 2002, and before any of the current "batch" of "studies" that were presented to argue against metallic lead while ignoring environmental (soluble) lead evidence in other credible studies.

On the other hand, Mr. Petterson, for one, is well aware of copper toxicity issues related to "non-toxic" ammunition. This is since an email sent by him in March 2007, and submitted to the California Fish & Game Commission subsequently as part of the public record by the NRA, notes that copper is toxic to the point that dosing studies were needed at that point in time (Though not to be discussed outside of the Condor Team, apparently due to the issue of the CRT's campaign against lead ammunition.).

Since copper was also noted as toxic by both Dr. Don Smith of UC Santa Cruz, and Commission Mike Sutton of the California Fish & Game Commission in July of 2007, it is not a secret to those who have been following the condor issue as much as it appears to be to the shooting and hunting public at large.

Even so, testimony from a Barnes Engineer in August 2007 shows that their product contains as much as 550 ppm lead as well, so lead is not off the table from any of the non-toxic sources when viewed in the light of the recommendations from the Condor Team as to what is considered "safe".

To this last, Dr. Robert Risebrough submitted documentation to the CA Fish & Game Commission, and spoke to this as well, that the Condor Recovery Team's RECOMMENDATION in December of 2007 was that projectiles contain no more than 10 ppm lead in each projectile.

In other words, so-called "non-toxic" ammunition containing up to 550 ppm lead is, in reality, toxic by Condor Recovery Team standards.

Those of us who have been working on fighting lead ammunition bans have been fully aware of the way in which 'anti-lead" forces have selectively omitted data, ignored contradictory data, or even have mis-stated Condor recovery hopes given such immense negative impacts as DDE exposure and the whole dilemma of "genetic bottlenecks".

If the case against lead ammunition was as "slam dunk" as they purport it to be, why all the obfuscation, misrepresentation, and hiding of critical data? Necropsies with technician identities redacted, and admissions by key Condor Recovery Personnel that the science "...could not be sworn to..." in court are hardly a conclusive case to present to a public demanding scientific proof.

I have full faith that the entire story will come out for public review. When that day happens, folks who have had plenty of good to say about the claims of the Condor Recovery Team will be most unpleasantly surprised.


Anthony Canales

Holly Heyser said...

Ah, Mr. Canales, I knew you'd show up sooner or later. Just so you know, it's OK to refer to me as "you" in this space - this is my blog, my house, not someone else's publication. No need for the third person. We're all friends here. Even though you unhelpfully refused to speak to me in person when I last saw you at a Fish & Game Commission meeting when I was doing research for my Turkey Country article.

As I've said to you before, if you keep up your attack on copper, I'm pretty sure you can help ensure that we're all reduced to using slingshots and smooth pebbles for our hunting. Yay.

But I hope not. Before I wrote this post, I did a little searching to see if I could find any instances of animals being poisoned by fragments of copper bullets or copper-jacketed shot, and I didn't find anything. Let's hope it stays that way.

On the other hand, it was really easy to find material about all sorts of birds being poisoned by lead (from a variety of sources), which is something that factored into my personal decision.

I stand by everything I wrote. My point in noting that Jake and Jim are hunters is that I don't believe hunters would attack lead ammunition as part of a conspiracy to diminish the numbers of gun owners and hunters, which is the simplistic scenario some organizations have reduced this to, which I find to be very unhelpful.

And I do hope you noticed that I said I oppose the Nava legislation, and that I believe his should be a personal choice for hunters. Something tells me, though, that you didn't.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Heyser,
I was sorry for not being at liberty to speak with you in an "official" media interview at the August 6, 2009, Hearing. I am sure you will remember that I had told you that NRA Volunteers and other's rules precluded me from granting you an interview.

As for attacks on copper, it is not I who am attacking copper so much as reporting that Condor Recovery Team folks a) have noted copper toxicity "behind the scenes"; b) recorded 3 possible condor deaths related to copper toxicity through 2007 in California alone, as noted in necropsies; and c) have links with sufficient anti-hunting activists as to make the whole issue suspect in the least.

As to your prerogative in believing Mr. Theyerl's and Mr. Petterson's representations to you, it is truly your prerogative.

That it was material to your article that they are hunters, AND members of, (or were contractors to), the Condor Team and it's components, should have been not so much a prerogative.

To me, it's also not about conspiracy theories. It’s about scientific validity and objectivity, not agendas.

Personally, I have direct familiarity with metallic lead alloys being stable and reactive in acidic environments, temperatures or acid combinations like that found in condors. That's why I don't accept the Condor Team model on lead ammunition. Copper, on the other hand, is not so stable as lead in as wide a range of acidic conditions.

To be honest, I believe the difference in our positions is that between folks who would appease, versus the folks who would "push back" when it comes to an unfounded ammunition ban.

We would not have gotten the Commission to vote last year the way they did without presenting valid scientific data, and by changing minds.

As each of these attempts to present bad science, or agenda science, or whatever science you want to call it (I am kind of tired of the "junk" science phrase, no matter how apropos) to adversely affect hunting AND the Second Amendment, I hope to be there with sufficient information to dispute it successfully.

It beats watching "American Idol", in any case.


Anthony Canales

Holly Heyser said...

You must forgive me if I find it ironic that you leave lengthy public comments on my and my friend's blogs, and you send me lengthy emails, yet refuse to speak to me in person. Your comments and emails can be quoted just as easily as any words that pass between your lips in a face-to-face environment. I'm surprised that the NRA is concerned about you speaking to journalists, but not concerned about you commenting on our blogs. Very odd.

I understand that your position in this debate is about the science, and that science is a valid concern. If you took the time to read the comments that preceded yours, you'd note that I paid respect to the refutation of the isotope study that turned so many heads at the commission meeting last summer.

What you fail to understand is that my concern about conspiracy theories is also valid. While you concern yourself with science, I concern myself with public perceptions, and if you haven't grasped this already, let me inform you that public perceptions matter enormously in politics - particularly when we're talking about public perceptions of such an extreme minority group as hunters. When hunters run around saying, "Lead isn't a problem" - which is how the public hears us, no matter what words come out of our mouths - we have a serious image problem. The public doesn't read the condor studies. The public simply remembers that we banned lead in paint and gasoline a long time ago because we knew it was causing harm.

Finally, if you're calling me an appeaser, 1) you have not done sufficient research on me or my blog, and 2) you have insulted me deeply. I spend an enormous amount of my personal time, unpaid, monitoring and countering the propaganda against hunters by groups such as HSUS. I spend an enormous amount of time responding to newspaper stories and even to individual newspaper commenters to challenge their thinking about hunting, and I change minds. If you don't respect that, and if you think that's appeasement, then you have erred. Furthermore, you have substantially eroded my desire to remain civil with you.

shotgunner said...

I do have one question for all of the smart people out there.

There are FAR MORE turkey vultures eating "lead contaminated" carrion than CA Condors. Why are they not getting sick too? Seems sick turkey vultures would be easily found considering how common they are.


I have about 1/3 oz of lead in my carcus. It's been there six months and will remain until I die. I hope to report back in 30 or so years on the toxic properties of lead in a warm blooded vertebrates body.

Holly Heyser said...

I don't know the answer to that one, but it makes sense that they would. The bird you hear about most (outside of this debate) is the bald eagle.

As for the lead in your body: My understanding is that it's the acidity of the environment where the lead is that causes the problem. Lead stuck in muscle tissue is not a problem; lead in acidic stomachs is a problem, particularly if it can't be passed.

If anyone else here can answer Shotgunner's question, feel free to chime in.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Heyser,
I am truly sorry you feel the way you do. I do try to be civil in these writings, regardless. If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my sincerest apologies.

In any case, I do not make the rules on those media contacts that can be construed to represent NRA, or other groups, positions without direct authorization. I just follow them. Perhaps you can take that up again with authorities in Fairfax, Virginia or elsewhere. The rest of my comments are my own position, and no one else's.

I personally have a different position, based on over 16 years of volunteer work which 8 1/2 years spent on the condor/lead issue alone.

It is that we activists involved in trying to help the NRA, and a Second Amendment worth defending, ignore what we are told about being a "minority". To borrow a famous motto, with groups like the NRA you have no "firmer a friend", and no "fiercer a foe". I would propose that the NRA record of success, in the realm of politics alone, is based upon this ethos.

Hunters thus stand to prosper across the nation when they join groups like the NRA in concerted action, rather than in uncoordinated single efforts. One could even comport this to Franklin's admonition as to either "hanging together", or risk being hung separately.

And, of course, we as citizens take action when we must. In this case, I too have burned the midnight oil trying to understand the Condor Recovery Program from the "outside".

In the course of learning about that program, evidentiary presentations have been made to public officials. There too, minds were changed to the point of effecting public policy for the better. Incorrect science was exposed, and what was considered the definitive link "proving" causation between lead ammunition and lead toxicosis in condors now stands rebutted, as you have noted.

If there is now no proof of a direct causative link between lead ammunition and the lead in condors, and given the large number of alternative sources of environmental lead available to condors, raptors, and other scavengers, I would propose that continued claims that lead ammunition is THE culprit are unsupportable.

The above methods and outlook may appear to be a more contentious way than what you prefer. It may even be considered to be "impolitic" in certain circles, and from certain viewpoints.

But it works for me.


Anthony Canales

Holly Heyser said...

If you fail to see the insult in the word "appeasement," I can only assume that you have not studied history. Then again, I can think of no other reason to use the word than having studied history, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to believe here.

But let's get to the point: What are you telling me?

I look at your comments, and my post, and wonder.

Is it that I don't have the personal freedom to make a choice on this issue based on my own research and moral compass?

That deference to the NRA is more important than my individual liberties as an American?

I said in my post that people should read the research for themselves. Was I supposed to say that they should read only your research?

Sorry, but my credibility hinges on my willingness to face all facts and positions, not just the ones that march in lockstep with my ultimate goals.

What do you want, Mr. Canales? What did I do, short of not saying exactly what you want me to say?

For the record, I'm a member of the NRA.

And for the record, I'm a big fan of both of the first two amendments to the U.S. Constitution. And I will never cede the protections of the first in deference to those who care only about the second.

Josh said...

Shotgunner, I too, hope you can attest to the relative safety of lead in a vertebrate's body after 30 years. Without asking too personal a question, though, was any of it ingested? Because it's the incorporation into the body of lead as if it were a nutrient that is problematic.

The difference between buzzards and bald eagles (and condors) is of numbers and different physiologies. A quick googling of "turkey vulture lead ingestion" found this paper:

Here, they poisoned turkey vultures to death with lead to test (don't tell PETA, and I'm a bit freaked, too). They found that the birds could survive much longer with much higher doses of lead than other birds.

Josh said...

Mr. Canales, you misdirect and obfuscate just a tad here, in trying to create the impression that you have the high ground.

I'm going out on a limb here, I know, but I'm going to say that you were a proponent of the 2nd Amendment before you came to the lead conversation. If this is true, then, you have to admit that you came with a goal, with a bias, not for condors, not for an objective understanding of lead shot in habitats, but in protecting the 2nd Amendment.

For some reason, you believed that the lead ban was an encroachment on the 2nd Amendment, although it says nothing about shot or shot type, much less anything about hunting. This is what brought you here.

So please do not pretend that you are looking for some scientific, ex-human objective regarding the impacts of various metals on habitats, and you just happened to stumble into the condor fight, and thought your good science should be put to use. Doing so makes you look like you are trying to hide something.

I also find it incredible (by the true definition of that word) that you accuse the Condor Team of wanting to poison condors with something worse than lead. That's just silly. Ooh! UNLESS, they are just a vanguard of socialists pretending to be a team of ornithologists... I see where you come from, now. They are trying to disarm a vital cadre of people in Central California by first encouraging them to use far, far superior ammunition.

Holly Heyser said...

Josh, that's interesting re the vultures. One of the things Jim told me the day I hunted with him was that the condors had an extremely high tolerance for lead - that they could fly around with astonishingly high lead levels that would've killed a bald eagle outright. He sad is was a common misperception that condors are more vulnerable to lead poisoning.

Perhaps their perceived vulnerability comes from the fact that there are so few flying wild that even one death has a disproportionate impact on their population.

Now I'm off to read that study (and preparing to be disturbed).

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Heyser,
You ask “ What are you telling me?”, and “What do you want?”.

What I am telling you is that the science dealing with lead ammunition and condors is not sound nor rigorous. And what I want is to amicably engage in debate to introduce the evidence for that lack of foundation.

This is so that the public can have all the information available towards the desired goal of precluding further ammunition bans, and even hopefully reversing a few.

Here the issue is clear- Does one accept studies like Church et al (2006), Hunt et al (2006) or (2009), Sorenson et al (2007) at face value, or does one go through their references and their raw data to see if their “logic” holds up to scrutiny. Personally, I favor a thorough analysis
of their methods, data, and conclusions, as I am sure you do.

And what I am also telling you is that there is significant evidence, both in commonly available forensic literature AND in the records of the Condor
Recovery Program itself, which disproves their contentions regarding the primacy of lead ammunition as a threat to condors and condor recovery.

What I want is acknowledgment that, given the way that regulations are promulgated regarding “toxic” materials, it’s unrealistic to pretend that copper and tungsten are not under regulatory threat as unacceptable
projectile materials.

Due to this regulatory framework, the National Park Service has already banned tungsten projectiles for use by personnel since 2006, and DOD has likewise done the same for small arms training use. And as I noted
before, copper as a material is being considered as a toxic for not just ammunition, but for a wide range of industrial and commercial uses.

Without reasoned and unified opposition, advocacy, and not an insignificant lobbying effort, the errors in the science regarding these toxicity claims will continue and all ammunition will be banned under the current conditions sometime in the foreseeable future.

It’s a stark choice, but then such is the current situation.


Anthony Canales

Holly Heyser said...

OK, now here's what I'm telling you (and it should all look pretty familiar):

1. There is a law in California that requires me to use non-lead ammunition in the condor zone. I have followed that law from Day 1, and I intend to continue doing so, regardless of what the science says.

2. The personal decision I have made about using non-lead outside the condor zone is based on my understanding that there's a chance lead from my guns might hurt animals that I have no intention to kill. Because it is easy for me to use non-lead, I am doing so, just to be safe. It's much easier than any number of choices I could make in life to minimize harm caused by my actions.

3. I do not believe California's lead ban should be extended without proof that lead is causing a serious problem in areas affected by an expanded ban. In the absence of that proof, what ammunition to use should be a personal choice made by hunters - I have no wish to impose my personal choices on others. And as noted, the proponent of the current bill expanding the lead ban has not provided any information suggesting that lead shot in state wildlife areas is causing any problem.

4. I don't believe anyone has been successful in un-doing a lead ban - history shows things moving quite the opposite direction - but if your dogged analysis of all these studies effects a miraculous turnaround, 1) congratulations, and 2) guess what: I'm still going to follow the choice I outlined in this post, because I believe it is the right thing for me to do, because it is my choice. If you think that's appeasement, you're not doing the NRA any favors, and I would counsel you to watch your mouth next time you're inclined to say it is.

We should have perfect clarity here now.

Cat Urbigkit said...

That was a great essay, and timely for me as I continue to struggle with the issue of lead shot, though from a different perspective. I’m not a hunter, and my husband and I ranch in western Wyoming. Every year we allow a few hunters in to sport shoot on our whitetailed prairie dog colony. Once the hunters leave, the golden eagles come in to clean up. We would not intentionally harm these raptors, but I’m afraid allowing the prairie dog shooters may be doing just that.

We hadn’t even considered this issue until recently learning about rising lead levels in eagles in the Jackson Hole country (with lead levels rising during the elk hunting season). My guess is much more lead remains in the environment with our prairie dog shooters than from an elk gut pile, since there is no carcass recovery in prairie dog shooting.

I know that $2 a shot is too much for prairie dog shooters, and we would like to continue to allow this use, but I’m not sure we can, considering the potential impact to eagles. Is there in inexpensive alternative to lead for varmit hunters that we could insist be used on the ranch? I’d be happy to hear any of your thoughts on our dilemma.

Holly Heyser said...

Cat, I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to this, but I think there's a simple solution if you're worried about the potential for poisoning: Have the shooters pick up after themselves.

You're right that no one will spend $2 a shot to shoot prairie dogs. But I'd hate to think that it would be a stopper if they were asked to pick up carcasses and dispose of them.

The only downside is that you deny the eagles a meal that they enjoy.

It might also be worth checking with raptor rehab centers in your area to see if there's a big problem with lead poisoning. Frankly, I think raptor advocates need to be able to draw a clear line between shooting activities and lead poisoning if they want to convince people to switch, so I hope they're collecting that data anyway.

dave said...

I have to wonder if picking up the prairie dog carcasses would make a difference. Are the bullets really stopping inside the bodies? I suspect they're passing clean through.

On the plus side, a pass-through would seem to make it much less likely that the bullet would be eaten by scavengers.

Holly Heyser said...

Good question! I know nothing about prairie dog shooting. I use a shotgun for all my small game hunting, so I've never had a chance to see what an actual bullet will do when hitting a small target like that.

I think picking them up would be a good start. But it just seems like a shame to waste meat that other animals would be happy to eat.