Yes, the toxic ammunition is a threat to wildlife that consumes the remains of animals shot by hunters.
BS. You will be long dead before lead bullets are gone. There are billions in homes across the world. People will make them and shoot them for the next 50 years or more. This is the first step of the slippery slope of banning guns and cartridges. Ammunition used for hunting vs the rest of shooting is like saying Off road truck crashes need to be stopped while on road is 5000 times that. No one is going to use copper bullets that are very expensive compared to lead plinking bullets for range shooting, plinking on the farm or country or back yard shooting. From lead .177 pellets to shotgun and pistol shooting the vast majority are mostly lead.
In the bigger scheme of things, considering Monsanto Corporation’s millions of gallons of glyphosphate herbicides, massive applications of insecticide, Aspertame, Sucralose widely distributed into the food supply, along with wind mills killing millions of birds annually, massive bird kill-offs from microwaves, this discussion is barely a pin prick into the real overwhelming sources of environmental toxicity. There are places in Oregon where mercury as well as lead are naturally occurring elements in the lakes and streams.
Big tobacco’s tactics parallel lead bullet manufactures actions? The two issues are completely different and the divergence explains why hunters will never back lead bans. I am stunned that the reporter failed to realize that, despite tobacco companies claims of tobacco’s safety, no citizen could ignore tobacco’s ill effects. This is not true of lead from bullets. The science regarding Condor lead blood levels still lacks proof that the lead was from hunter’s bullets, only claims that the isotopes match are offered as proof. It’s well known that they match many other potential sources as well. In hope of finding the true effect of lead, I perhaps someone will research the following: I’ve shot ground squirrels in alfalfa fields for many years. On average, I will kill 250 in an afternoon. The local raptors and seagulls react to gunfire as a dinner bell, arriving within minutes to dine and squabble over the lead shot squirrels. When the lead ban issue began to ratchet up, shooters began to pay attention to the gulls, because of their markings make it easy to identify individual birds. I have personally seen a dominant, voracious gull return for three years. This gull had consumed hundreds of carcass and never displayed sign of lead poisoning. In fact, I have never witnessed any bird suffering from lead ingestion. How can this be? It’s nothing new. No dead, lead poisoned waterfowl were found during the research that prompted the Federal ban. In fact, high tension power lines continue to kill many times more raptors than can be attributed to lead. The science on lead is based on projections- educated guesses being made by experts with a bias against hunting. If lead toxicity was the issue behind the California ban, why is target shooting exempt?
Also noteworthy is shotgun ammunition, which has a fairly long (recent) history in restriction of use for hunting (also some states/regions that limit hunting to only shotguns, though there’s been some revision of that more recently, but it’s one of the major reasons deer slugs and shotgun hunting are popular vs the generally more efficient and appealing deer rifles). However, there haven’t been any general bans on lead ammunition, just restrictions on when and where it can be used, thus not adding to the cost of target shooting, practice, or home/personal defense (or law enforcement/security). Plus, lead shot is hard lead alloy, and retains its mass very well, though birdshot is so fine/small that it’s going to get spread around. (using birdshot on pests/varmints would have been a major source of contamination further up the food chain)
And so far, restrictions on what ammo and weapons can be used for hunting in certain regions have been more sensible, rational, reasonable, and even when not actually ecologically sound or practical (ie based on false beliefs or bad politics) they’re at least moderate enough to not be horrific. (or something they’re reasonably effective at conservation/moderation of over-hunting, but are less ideal than more nuanced approaches … things like shotgun hunting seasons or ammo restrictions based purely on bullet diameter are indeed problematic: for example, if you wanted a reasonably effective, non-fragmenting substitute to a jacketed hollow point, one option would be a small bore, very long, relatively heavy bullet that would tumble substantially on impact … the same idea applied periodically to military bullet designs to maximize wounding potential without breaking the Hague Convention … meanwhile, police forces generally use hollow point ammo for its greater efficacy and are mandated to use such in some jurisdictions … sort of like with Tear Gas: an illegal chemical weapon if used in war, but rather commonly used by police, prisons, and security forces or even for personal self defense)
There’s also potential for much cheaper, lead-free ammo than solid copper or brass, or those using even more expensive metals like bismuth or tungsten. Mild steel and zinc cores for cheap, lead-free bullets should be viable for plenty of cases where lead’s sheer density isn’t required (which covers quite a few rifle rounds, particularly those common with military cartridges: and Russian/Eastern Bloc milsurp ammo is already usually steel-jacketed, steel-cored, with a little bit of lead used for balancing and as a binder, and some, like 7.64x54R even typically employ an air gap). For a wide variety of hunting-relevant cartridges, using somewhat longer bullets of lighter core alloys would result in good ballistics and low cost of materials, and would be adapting already common manufacturing methods. Meanwhile, hybrid construction methods could be used for existing hollow point designs with the bulk of material being a steel or zinc insert and a softer metal (like tin or a tin alloy) could be used at the tip to expand fairly similarly to lead alloys. (tin is expensive and would be uneconomical to use for bulk filler material, but fine for just the tip and probably better performing … or simpler/cheaper to manufacture than some specialized expanding copper hollow points, plus could definitely be used as softpoints where copper wouldn’t work at all)
Most of the current solid copper designs are overpriced, extravagant, high-end market gimmicks and good, mass market lead-free alternatives are few and far between. (I will say the lead-free copper-powder plastic/polymer bullets in .22lr are pretty decent and not horribly expensive for the moderate ranges they’re designed for, and trading penetration or expansion/fragmentation high velocity hydrostatic shock is pretty well suited to small game hunting and varminting) I would like to see Aguila try something with a long, lead-free bullet based on the deimensions of their heavy their SSS round. (poly-coated or lubricated die-cast zinc would probably work, and solid, swaged copper probably would as well, and both would probably stabilize better than their subsonic lead counterpart) Die-cast zinc would seem an obvious cheap, .22 LR possibility for light bullets, but I haven’t seen it tried commercially. (tin alloys yes, but those are more expensive than copper by a wide margin and poorly executed so far on top of that … but die-cast zinc should be pretty damn cheap and the only real special requirement would be sufficient lubricating coating or poly-coating to avoid zinc fouling the barrel … soft lead is also a problem for that, hence .22lr being heavily coated already, but different formulations might be required for the much harder nature of zinc, and poly-coating might be a better option to avoid barrel wear … then again, I’d think zinc-on-steel would wear less than steel-on-steel, which is what most cheap, FMJ ammo is in other calibers … I’d also expect Agulia to jump on the die-cast zinc bullet train first … possibly contracting to some Mexican Toy manufactuer for initial production, given … cheap, die-cast zinc toys made in mexico are fairly common)
Use of certain types of bullets/ammunition should be more the point, that and re-examining existing restrictions that make lead pollution and contamination worse, particularly those aimed at minimizing suffering and maximizing clean kills. (hollow point bullets are far more effective at killing than FMJs, or hard cast solid lead alloy ones, but they also contaminate a lot more of the meat … be it for human consumption or varmint carcasses left uncollected) OTOH, there also quite easily could be more optimized bullets designed with more appropriate lead alloys designed not to fragment, but to properly expand (true controlled expansion types), plus the older, but less effective softpoint bullet designs (popular 100 years ago and still moderately popular today) don’t tend to explode/fragment either.
Those still interested in ‘exploding varmints’ would be left to using lead-free ammo designed to segment/fragment on impact, which already exist in copper, brass, and polymer composite bullets. (though really, solids and FMJs on small game and various rodent and rabbit varmints are more reasonable)
The remainder would just be solid, soft lead .22 LR, which can’t really change for the bulk of bullets as they’re cheap, practice/plinking ammo as well as small game ammo. It would make more sense for shooters to collect their kills and supply their own targets/backstops to collect their lead when target shooting on federal land. (setting up backstops is already required for safety reasons in CA, so that’s pretty well covered).
The use of hollow point and segmented bullets in .22lr, particularly the hypervelocity sort are the really problematic ones for conatminating things with fragments. (ie even if carcasses were left, scavengers would be much less likely to eat a solid. 40-ish grain pellet of lead than they’d be to eat tiny fragments … and likewise anyone interested in using squirrel or rabbit meat for food really wouldn’t want those fragments or the totally shredded meat such bullets leave, even with the low power of a .22) Same goes for jacketed hollow points in .17 caliber rimfire cartridges: they contaminate things and destroy meat. (in those cases, FMJs are quire good on their own, and the velocity of those small, light projectiles is enough to cause a lot of cavitation)
Additionally, cheap, generic, practice ammo and military surplus are all FMJ, and even with lead cores, they won’t be doing much contamination. They’re going to be mostly used for target shooting and not hunting, and tend to overprenetrate/pass through game as such, plus the jacket greatly slows any leaching of lead into the environment if left in the ground. (also if consumed … though much less likely for a fairly large, solid/hard copper/steel jacketed chunk of metal to be eaten)
Solid, hard-case, flat-nosed bullets common in brush hunting also won’t be doing much contamination and are well suited to reasonably efficient kill shots (flat-noses are good even without expansion) albeit not generally suited to long-range shooting … but ideal for brush as they tend to punch through branches and such without deflecting.
And as far as ground contamination, I’d actually think .22lr would be the biggest contributor (outside of civil war era minie balls in the South), and that’d be an issue of people not setting up their own backstops to collect their lead … and, of course, .22 being the cheap, common, superfluous cartridge most popular the world over for target/recreational shooting and practice. (again, this would be solved, legally speaking, by requiring backstops to collect the lead when not shooting at public or private ranges)
I also assume .223 ammo was used for the test, so a common, but particularly bad example as far as hollow point bullet designs go. (a small, high velocity bullet with soft lead providing exceptionally poor mechanical stability and strength at those dimensions … also illegal to use for deer hunting in several states, while well designed softpoints and hollow points in typical .308 or the formerly dominant soft/flat points of .30-30 used for medium game hunting in the US should not behave like that … same for .35 Remington)
Banning lead and lead alloys entirely would be a poor solution for such. (restricted use in Condor zones in CA was a pretty reasonable move, though) We need a LOT more public education on guns, responsible use of guns, responsible hunting, gun safety, etc … but I won’t hold my breath there. (between the decline/elimination of things like Driver’s ed and Shop Class in public schools, at least in California, I’m not optimistic in a government-furnished solution and am more hopeful for independent, grassroots movements on the internet to help educate coming generations)
Okay I see no scientific studies. You need control groups and endless unbiased data taking. These scientist seem to have an agenda. They are only taking data and conjecture made on assumptions. And a consensus does not make something true.And why do gut piles have so much lead in them? What type of gut piles are they. and finding lead in birds does not mean it came from bullets. MOST ANIMALS 99% that i shoot have no wounds in the guts. this all stinks.
I cry total BS. This is just an other attack on guns, hunting and firearms in general. The goal is, if you can’t ban the gun, make the ammo so expensive or unable to purchase, as they are doing here in commie-fonia, without burdensome and oppressive govt regulations. We here in the “golden state” can now no longer purchase ammo online unless it is shipped to an authorized dealer, who in the near future will have to preform a backround check and keep a photographic record of all ammo transactions. They all will charge a fee making it MORE even expensive.
All of you in the still free states of America beware!! If you are not carful and fight this type of oppression in your state, you too will be californicated!!!
Good article…but not great. It completely misses the major discussion point of the effectiveness of lead versus non-lead ammunition for hunting. I have used non-lead ammo extensively (required where I hunt) and the performance compared to lead ammo for both accuracy and lethality on animals are pathetic. My personal experience does not support the ammo manufacturer’s and gun writer’s claims (who sponsors gun writers?). I would gladly adopt non-lead ammo once the performance meets or, preferably, exceeds the performance of lead ammo. Until then, my responsibility to humanely dispatch and recover the animals I am hunting equals or exceeds the potential impact of the lead I shoot.
“Even with a price gap, advocates note that ammunition accounts for a small proportion of the overall cost of hunting, especially for big game hunters who may shoot only a couple bullets a year.”
Fair ’nuff. But many shooters don’t hunt at all. I am one of them. And the cost of ammunition is easily the most expensive component in my shooting. I typically go through thousands of rounds of ammunition a year. A 20% (or more) increase in my costs is significant indeed.
All this “science” to tell us that lead bullets kill?
We like lead bullets because they’re more accurate. They function quite reliably. And are cheap.
Plus they kill.
With regards to lead in the environment. On the entirety of Earth lead is a naturally occurring element. Our use of it is of little consequence. Whether or not man has ever existed lead will still have been here. Everywhere. Stop pretending that man is having a bigger effect on earth than what we really are.
We dig lead concentrations from deep in the earth, make it into products that get dispersed quickly around the world to degrade as pollution that is very toxic. When the earth does this naturally, the timespan is very slow compared to the rate at which we humans dig it up. Over eons, organisms evolve defensive biology to cope with ambient levels, but greatly increased levels of lead overwhelm biologic defenses like a tidal wave of toxic effects. We have increased the exposures greatly, and the biology has not had time to adjust. Lead is devastating to current life quality.
Outstanding reporting! As a strong and longtime gun rights enthusiast, it’s refreshing to see a journalist write so articulately and evenhandedly on a firearms issue. This is exactly the kind of reporting that needs to diffuse into the general press, which routinely screws up–or worse, slants–any story having to do with guns. As for the content, I don’t hunt and so have no danger of eating lead particles. But I shoot at ranges, using lead bullets. This article convinces me it’s time to wear a mask or respirator while shooting, to not breathe in the vaporized lead. Thanks to publisher Deborah Blum for starting a science magazine that appeals to readers without advanced degrees in science and math. UNDARK rocks!
KEEP DRINKING THAT KOOLAID
Health and Environmental Risks from Lead-based Ammunition: Science Versus Socio-Politics
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and increasing policy imperatives, nationally regulated bans on the use of lead shotgun and rifle ammunition are few. North American and European arms industries have developed non-toxic shot and bullets that are as effective and comparably priced as their lead counterparts (Thomas 2015). Our understanding of the deleterious impacts of this form of lead exposure on wildlife and humans will change little with further scientific research, no more evidence is required. The same rationales that were used to remove lead from gasoline, paints, and household items should be applied to lead-based hunting ammunition, nationally and internationally. This is now a socio-political issue.
Metal Deposition of Copper and Lead Bullets in Moose Harvested in Fennoscandia
ABSTRACT Fragments from bullets used for moose (Alces alces) hunting contaminate meat, gut piles, and
offal and expose humans and scavengers to lead and copper. We sampled bullets (n¼1,655) retrieved from
harvested moose in Fennoscandia (Finland, Sweden, and Norway) to measure loss of lead and copper.
Concordant questionnaires (n¼5,255) supplied ballistic information to complete this task. Hunters
preferred lead-based bullets (90%) to copper bullets (10%). Three caliber classes were preferred: 7.62mm
(69%), 9.3mm (12%), and 6.5mm (12%). Bullets passed completely through calves (76%) more frequently
compared to yearlings (63%) or adults (47%). Metal deposition per bullet type (bonded lead core, lead core,
and copper) did not vary among moose age classes (calves, yearlings, and adults). Average metal loss per bullet
type was 3.0 g, 2.6 g, and 0.5 g for lead-core, bonded lead-core, and copper bullets, respectively. This
corresponded to 18–26, 10–25, and 0–15% metal loss for lead-core, bonded lead-core, and copper bullets,
respectively. Based on the harvest of 166,000 moose in Fennoscandia during the 2013/2014 hunting season,
we estimated that lead-based bullets deposited 690 kg of lead in moose carcasses, compared with 21 kg of
copper from copper bullets. Bone impact increased, whereas longer shooting distances decreased, lead loss
from lead-based bullets. These factors did not influence loss of copper from copper bullets. In conclusion, a
significant amount of toxic lead from lead-based bullets is deposited in the tissue of harvested moose, which
may affect the health of humans and scavengers that ingest it. By switching to copper bullets, Fennoscandian
hunters can eliminate a significant source of lead exposure in humans and scavengers.
Very nice article. I’ve seen many other sources of similar info but this one has caused me to give some serious thought to the issue. I will do some personal research on my own & I DO have lead-free bullets in my inventory of reloading components & will certainly use them for hunting.
In my experience most rifle bullets pass through the targeted game so one could get the impression that there are no remnants left behind; apparently not the case. Good work!
Yes, lead is a very soft toxic metal… it rubs off as it passes through, and fragments easily.
Any people that fish by using lead fishing sinkers are poisoning themselves, the fish, and supportive species by the pollution they cause. If legislators take their grandkids out to teach them how to fish, and handle their contaminated tackle boxes with bare hands are poisoning the people they love the most by contaminating their sandwiches, apples, cooler ice, boat bottoms, and the fish that are taken home and fed to the whole family. We poison what we love, out of ignorance, arrogance, and political refusal to read and understand the vast body scientific research that already is available about lead poisoning…. all because we just cannot bother to figure out how else to weight our fishing lines. The legislators prevent departments of environmental quality and health authorities from doing due dilligence because of ignorance, and fear of upsetting the industry lobbies that pay for their elections. A more sane future in our pacific northwest demands better accountability from us, to allow the children of our children, and their children to to be provided the beauty of the land and waters we have borrowed the from them. We must do a lot more to educate ourselves, drop our irresponsible fishing practices that cause lead pollution and harm across the land and waters. Go to a hardware store, buy a cheap lead check swab kit, test you tackle boxes, and learn how to fish without using lead to weight your lines. Be more responsible. Hunters and fishers, both, pollute the lands and waters they say they love. Ignorance is correctable, stupidity caused by chronic accumulative lead poisoning is not.
I read articles about lead often and not one has ever mentioned lead as a by-product of mining. In silver mining there is often a lot of lead for every little bit of silver. It has to go somewhere, and they chose to profit from it rather than go to the expense of properly disposing of it. So, the push to keep lead ammo comes from further back than ammo manufacturers and lead recyclers. Good work and keep digging!
The efficient functioning of our brain is our most essential and valuable characteristic, if you don’t have that, what have you really got? Chronic low dose repeated exposures are very harmful to exposed organisms. Vast quantities of research have been done, with plenty of overlapping and validating checks and balances to cover less than perfectly done areas of any individual papers. The validity of the totality of this body of scientific knowledge is overwhelmingly apparent to the research community. Lead is a toxicant that is accumulative in the bones after circulating in the blood as blood level. Blood lead is not a very good indicator of body burden accumulation, it is only an indication of recent exposures. You can have very high body burden but only low blood lead levels at any point in time. The bone lead is much more significant in the long run, because as organisms become stressed, from illness, old age, or pregnancy the body seeks to mobilize calcium out of the bone stores, but the lead comes out with it to recirculate and do damage at just the most vulnerable stressed times for the organisms. Exposed organisms often need two to four times the learning experiences to realize the consequences of their actions, a devastating effect of lead. Lead has very many adverse physiologic effects on many pathways in the body. Our brains are precious, it is crazy to argue for maintaining continued accumulation via preventable exposure scenarios. Lead makes us less able to think…. think about that!
As a student of public health, it is so nice to find articles that are well researched and include observations from all sides. This article was well written, well thought out, and the use of outside resources accentuated the validity of this topic. I will be using this article for a class assignment. Props to the author! I look forward to reading more about this topic in the weeks and months to come.
Wow. This packs a real punch — powerful and well-researched!!
Excellent article. Lead robs children of there potential – there is no good reason to use lead based ammunition.
Great in depth review of both sides. As a wildlife rehabber of 30 years … I wish we had access to lead blood level machines in those early days. Lead pellets would show up in x-rays of obviously gunshot animals… but it was much more difficult to isolate lead in animals that ingested pellets or fragments and we often assumed the animal got into rat poison or some agricultural agent.
My simple read on lead is that the paint companies and the gasoline companies did not go quietly into unleaded products …. BUT they eventually did because the science – and the potential lawsuits- were clear to them. They were spreading a dangerous toxin! How is it that the ammunition companies are exempt from liability for promoting the deposit of this toxin in public prairies, woodlots and riparian areas? Shouldn’t the “traditional ammunition” supporters be responsible for supplying lead testing machines to every wildlife rehab center? or at minimum admit that traditional ammo ( arrowheads) were lead free!
I am so moved to see a national discussion of the lead deposits on public lands before my Montana Representative Ryan Zinke becomes the next Secretary of the Interior that I started a change.org petition to show Representative Zinke see there is strong Montanan and nation wide support for common sense effort to replace lead with better alternatives! Keeping toxins out of our wildlife and wild places – and off our dinner plates, is not a second amendment issue! Please continue to fan the discussion and consider signing and sharing the petition.
Very thorough and excellent reporting. I miss the days of long pieces and solid research.
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