Thursday, October 29, 2020
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Considering lead ammunition

by Warren Illi
| September 24, 2020 12:00 AM

Many of you probably get and read FWP’s Montana Outdoors magazine. It is a great little magazine that is dirt cheap. The recent September issue had an article of interest that merits comments as we approach deer and elk hunting season.

That article discussed the hazards of lead bullets and the benefits of copper or other types of bullet material. As the article pointed out, there are toxic hazards to both humans and wildlife because of lead bullets. Throughout history, lead bullets have been the bedrock of rifle ammunition. Lead has the physical characteristics of being malleable enough to form into a variety of bullet shapes, seals well in gun barrels to allow the gases behind the bullet to build pressure, pushing the bullet out the barrel at thousands of feet per second, and lastly, lead mushrooms nicely upon contact with the animal target, causing immense damage and killing power. Lead is also a very abundant and inexpensive.

But one of the hazards of lead bullets is they will partially fragment upon impact with the animal target. Tiny fragments of lead can contaminate the meat we eat. Those lead fragments can occur several inches from the wound channel. Everyone knows of the hazards of lead in the human body. So why do we still use lead bullets that may have some health risks to humans? Perhaps it’s just custom. We have always used lead bullets, so why change? As far as I know, there have been no studies that concluded that human health problems have been caused by lead bullet fragments in meat. I’ve been eating wild game for over 80 years and my wife and family have been eating wild meat killed with lead bullets with no apparent ill effects. So, what’s the problem?

Many studies have also shown that many species of wildlife, especially raptors that eat carrion, and the gut piles of deer and elk shot by hunters, ingest some of those lead fragments, causing sickness and death of wildlife. Even gophers and prairie dogs shot by varmint shooters, have lead fragments. Those studies have led some states and some government land management agencies to ban lead bullets and shotgun pellets because of the lead hazard to wildlife.

Over the past 30 years, waterfowl hunters have switched to almost all non-lead alternative pellets. There is no question that there are many lethal ammunition alternatives to lead bullets. For big game ammunition, the usual substitute for lead is copper. Copper is also not good for the human body. But copper ammunition does not fragment like lead, when striking a game animal. So, virtually no copper residues get into the human body or wildlife because of hunting.

The 2011 Montana legislature passed a law prohibiting the FW&P Game Commission from banning lead bullets. I support that legislative concept. Montana citizens, especially hunters, are independent folks that are tradition bound. Rather than having a liberal Commission suddenly making millions of rounds of existing lead bullets obsolete, Montana has gone the route of informing the public of the hazards of lead bullets. Over time, use of lead bullets will gradually diminish, without a big ground swell of public opposition. Hunters do not like big brother in Helena, telling them what to do. I’ve already switched some of my lead ammunition to copper. Over time, I suspect most hunters will do likewise. I salute those 2011 legislators and the concept of more freedom and less government. But yesterday I was reading sales catalogs from local sporting goods stores. I saw no advertisements from those stores advertising non-lead ammunition. So, change may come slow.

Last week I spent several days trying to help my wife fill her moose tag, without any success. No moose were spotted. But it was a great time to being in the outdoors. We did see dozens of deer, 18 elk and a large flock of wild turkeys. One group of whitetail bucks were all nice 4 and 5 point bucks. Very nice! Don’t forget to try some fall fishing. Boat ramps are nearly empty this time of year.