Saturday, June 1, 2013

”Are you going to eat that?”

Since I began volunteering for WBS in 2004, then joining the staff in 2009, my interest in many aspects of conservation have grown.  In the last few years, one particular area of concern that has really piqued my interest has come about because of a newfound passion for deer hunting.

 I became interested in the sport due solely to several of my coworkers, as I was raised with virtually no exposure to hunting in my family. 

Over the past two years I broadened my horizons and participated in the Apprenticeship Program offered through the Missouri Department of Conservation.  This is a great program, which allows for new or inexperienced hunters to hunt under the supervision and guidance of a licensed hunter for up to two years before they must complete the MDC Hunters Education Course.  It was a great opportunity for me, as I wanted to see if I could “pull the trigger” before committing the time to the 15 hour course.  And who better than to take me under their wing than my fellow co-worker, fishing buddy, mentor and friend, Naturalist Trina Whitener. 

After a successful hunt this past November, I decided that this is a hobby I want to pursue, and successfully completed the Missouri Hunter’s Education Course through MDC this past weekend.  Through learning about the many aspects of hunting, I came across some quite disturbing information that I want to pass along to all fellow hunters and fishermen as well.

I titled this blog “Are you going to eat that,” to address a subject of which many in the hunting and fishing community don’t seem to be aware.  The topic is lead poisoning, both in humans and in wildlife.  If you hunt or fish or know someone who does, I beg you to read on and take this information to heart.  This blog will deal solely with the topic of lead ammunition and fishing sinkers.  Because it is such a broad topic, time and space will only allow me to cover the highlights.

“Humans have been mining and using this heavy metal for thousands of years, poisoning themselves in the process. Although lead poisoning is one of the oldest known work and environmental hazards, the modern understanding of the small amount of lead necessary to cause harm did not come about until the latter half of the 20th century.  No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known amount of lead that is too small to cause the body harm.”  (This is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article.)

The bold type in the above paragraph is my notation, since those of us who love to hunt and fish handle lead ammunition and sinkers in the pursuit of our hobby—not to mention the fish and meat that we ingest that has been contaminated by these “tools of the trade”. 

Published here by permission of the Institute for Wildlife Studies - This diagram shows the difference in fragmentation between lead and non-lead ammunition upon firing

Much of the available ammunition and sinker weights, as well as reloaded ammunition and home made sinkers, contain lead.  Lead poses a serious danger to people and to wildlife.  What many hunters may not be aware of is that a lead bullet will typically shed 15 – 30% of it’s weight upon impact around the bullet’s path, leaving small shards of lead fragments in the meat.  Ultimately this lead ends up on your dinner plate.  Even if the bullet exits the animal, it leaves a trail of toxic lead fragments that may not be visible with the naked eye.

Published here by permission of the Institute for Wildlife Studies - photo shows the mushroomed lead bullet (in center of photo) surrounded by the lead fragments sheared off and imbedded in the target.  Brown objects are the pieces of the copper jacket material.  Hence, our title, "Are You Going To Eat That?"

And what about the entrails that are typically left in the woods after field dressing game?  This will contain lead fragments as well and is the number one culprit of lead poisoning in birds of prey – bald eagles, golden eagles, condors, vultures, hawks, and mammals, too.

Published here by permission of the Institute for Wildlife Studies - This x-ray shows the lead fragments imbedded in a deer's gut.

The good news is that simply choosing non-lead bullets and sinkers, which are becoming more and more readily available, can prevent this type of suffering.  I know that for many folks, changing something that one has always done and what they are used to isn’t easy.  If you have used lead ammunition and sinkers for as long as you can remember, I encourage you to really consider your future purchases, and what you already have in your tackle box and ammunition cans.  This is a choice that must be made in one’s own conscience, a choice that truly comes down to the greater good, for you and wildlife. 

I have read several arguments about why many sportsmen are reluctant to switch from lead ammunition.  Many fear that non-lead ammo will perform inferiorly.  Surveys of hunters in the field have shown that non-lead ammo performs as well as or better than lead.  I will vouch for that myself, as I harvested my first deer last year with a .30-.30 rifle at 100 yards taken with a Barnes VX round.  I had no worries about lead fragments in the meat that’s in my freezer that I will share with friends and family.

Published here by permission of Saving Our Avian Resources
This magnificent Bald Eagle has not been shot.  It is dying from lead poisoning due to ingesting lead tainted prey or carrion.

In my opinion, I have yet to see an argument that outweighs preventing the senseless deaths of wildlife, particularly birds of prey.  Lead poisoning is a horrific way for such majestic creatures to perish, and wildlife rehabilitators all over the country are seeing more and more of it every day. 

For more information on this subject Click Here.

The other argument that I have heard most often is that non-lead bullets cost too much.  I would have to disagree.  I have seen for myself some non-lead ammo that was actually cheaper than lead.  When I have found non-lead ammo that does cost more than lead, it is usually only a few dollars more per box.  If you are going shooting at a target range, whether or not you use lead isn’t going to affect our wildlife.  When going on a hunt, please think about what you will be putting on your plate, and about what you will be leaving behind in the field.

World Bird Sanctuary is getting behind several other organizations that are getting the word out to get the lead out of hunting.  We have just added an informative banner in our Environmental Educational Center regarding the effects of lead ammunition on wildlife, and the dangers posed to humans.

For more information about what you can do to help, visit and spread the word to your fellow sportsman.  It is our responsibility to continue to help preserve our natural resources, including wildlife.

Submitted by Billie Baumann, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

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