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More Information on the Unintentional Impacts of Lead Ammo

December 2, 2008.

At the risk of over-covering the issue, I wanted to share two timely articles that discuss the potential impacts of lead rifle ammunition for big game hunting.

As we know, lead bullets do not retain 100% of their mass as they pass through an animal. The percentage that is not retained ends up in the meat (where we eat it) or in the gut pile. Previous studies have shown elevated lead blood levels in scavengers of those gut piles. More evidence of this unintentional impact to wildlife continues to be brought forward.

From Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a piece discussing the increase of lead poisoning in bald eagles brought to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center following the onset of deer season.

Bald eagles are ingesting lead when feeding on deer gut piles, carcasses, or wounded animals that later die, doctors believe. Of the 100 to 125 eagles brought to the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center each year, 80 percent have elevated lead levels. And each year, at least 20 bald eagles die from lead poisoning.

The Star-Trib's article does not cite formal scientific data, but the circumstantial evidence is compelling — including X-rays showing bullet fragments that have been ingested by eagles suffering from lead poisoning.

I recall the last time I shot a deer in Minnesota, about 5 years ago — I was out in the field the next day and saw 3 bald eagles on the gut pile. Fortunately, I had switched to non-toxic ammunition in my 12 gauge slug gun (Remington Copper Solids) several years earlier.

From Wyoming, the Jackson Hole News ran a piece discussing the preliminary results of a study of lead blood levels of grizzly bears.

Although the findings are still preliminary, they suggest that lead bullet fragments in gut piles could be poisoning Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears as they scavenge the remains of big game during hunting season.

The preliminary data from University of Montana graduate student Tom Rogers echoes earlier studies on ravens and eagles from researchers at Craighead Beringia South, a research institution based in Kelly.

Rogers checked blood samples of 24 grizzly bears for lead contamination. Of 13 bears sampled during hunting season, 46 percent showed elevated blood lead levels, which he defined as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter.

The 11 bears sampled outside of hunting season didn’t show any signs of lead in their blood.

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