Lead and Non-lead Hunting Ammunition: Interagency Working Group Convenes to Address a Complex Problem
In New York, as in many other states, there has been a growing awareness and understanding of the potential negative impacts of lead hunting ammunition. Lead fragments left behind after a big game animal is harvested can remain in the meat, carcass, and within the gut pile exposing scavenging wildlife and people to lead via consumption.
DEC has been encouraging deer hunters to try non-lead ammunition for several years, but as most hunters know, ammunition of any kind is hard to come by right now. While the current ammunition shortage won’t last forever, it does illustrate the complexity of this issue and the challenge we face in trying to minimize the risks to wildlife and people from lead bullet fragments. Wildlife and human health risks, cost, availability and demand for non-lead alternatives, and the needs, interests, and concerns of hunters, conservationists, and people who eat game all need to be taken into consideration.
This issue has been gaining a lot of attention nationally and internationally, with some jurisdictions restricting use of lead ammunition for big game and others setting up educational campaigns or incentive programs to increase understanding of the issue and promote a transition from lead to non-lead ammunition. To tackle this issue, DEC recently initiated a working group that brings together a variety of interest groups to conduct a comprehensive examination of the risks posed by lead hunting ammunition to wildlife and people in New York. The working group includes representatives from DEC, the New York State Department of Health, Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Program, and organized hunting and conservation groups. The group seeks first to thoroughly understand the issue and identify and engage key interest groups to understand their concerns. Then, after the comprehensive review and by December 31, 2021, DEC and the working group will develop recommendations to minimize the risks posed by lead in the environment from hunting ammunition and communicate this information to key interest groups and the public.
Hmm — I have what is apparently a novel idea. How about making lead ammo illegal–like yesterday? (and I used to hunt)
There was a law proposed to ban lead-ammo in NY on state/public lands by 2023. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, at least if you’re a hunter.
For the past 18 months, hunters/shooters can’t find ammo, period, much less non-lead ammo. What is out there in non-lead is for the more popular calibers and it is really expensive. We’ll eventually get there, as many hunters are making the switch – and many more would if it were available for their firearms, and affordable – but the industry is not quite there yet.
They can say what they want, but a lot of people in the hunting and shooting industry feel the ammo shortage isn’t going away anytime soon. As DEC says, it’s a complex issue.
It is the politics that is complex, not the manufacturing.
Institute a complete FEDERAL ban on lead for hunting – say by 2026 or 2030. But start with the most popular calibers, and every few years, add more calibers to the ban based on popularity. If ammunition suppliers don’t want to produce loaded cartridges for every conceivable caliber, at least bullet manufacturers could start on the oddball calibers and let smaller boutique companies or reloaders fill that niche.
Of course, this could make some old firearms obsolete for hunting until alternatives are produced. I am not sure what the plan would be for shotgun slugs and black powder bullets, but they would need to be included as well. We really need to get lead out of hunting AND fishing at the federal level.
The USFWS has made some “recommendations” in the past, but no laws that I’m aware of. I’ve been following the issue for 30 years and have watched developments come, albeit slowly. And I believe we (the hunting industry) will get there on our own.
I’ll use myself as an example of the typical hunter dealing with this. I’m all in on copper for my newer muzzleloaders, just found 80 rounds a few weeks ago (lucky). But my old percussion model, which has a slower rifle-barrel twist rate, only has lead available for it. My experience has been that these don’t fragment as much as centerfire cartridges, if at all. I often find the entire hunk of lead. Also, some states have special seasons where only primitive muzzleloaders are allowed, in some cases only flintlocks. A ban would simply turn them away.
As for my deer rifles, copper is available for one caliber I shoot and I use it and it performs well. It’s available for the other two, but not in the load weights and designs I’m comfortable with and confident in. But, when I find the right load, I’ll test it and likely use it. There are some copper alternatives for most shotguns, I believe. Unfortunately, ammo is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.
Any approach to banning lead needs to be incremental and gradual, like the approach to gasoline in vehicles. We can’t just ban it tomorrow (or yesterday).
A good place to start would be the ubiquitous .22.
How is banning .22 lead ammo going to fix the point of this article?
Lead fragments left behind after a big game animal is harvested can remain in the meat, carcass, and within the gut pile exposing scavenging wildlife and people to lead via consumption.
Do you not field dress your small game? I do. The size of the gut pile or the size of the bullet is pretty-much inconsequential – something is going to eat it whether it is fragmented or not.
I, and everybody I know, don’t generally ‘field dress’ small game. We put it in our game pouch, continue hunting, take it all home, and clean it there. Then, anything left over gets thrown out. By thrown out, I mean in the local garbage, not left on the curb for scavenging city animals to ravage. So, little to no lead is ‘left in the woods’.
Too, not that many people I know actually hunt with ‘the ubiquitous 22′ (long rifle). A few squirrels and rabbits maybe, but most small game is shot with shotguns. Just sayin’.
So if no one uses .22s any more, switching to lead-free for hunting shouldn’t be an undue hardship. Wouldn’t that be a good place to start?
Cmon Boreas. Stop spinning. You’re better than that (I think). You know perfectly well I didn’t say nobody uses 22’s any more. I said in my experience, they don’t do a lot of HUNTING with them. The 22 long rifle cartridge is the most prolific cartridge in the world and awesome for plinking, target shooting, competition, and just plain shooting for fun. So to ban it, or make the ammo much more expensive, for no good reason, would hurt a lot of peoples’ enjoyment of the shooting sports. People like Habitatman say to ‘just make lead bullets illegal, like yesterday’ probably because they don’t happen to enjoy the shooting sports. To that I say, make something he likes to do illegal just because I don’t happen to do it. An eye for an eye, if you will.
And I didn’t say anything about banning it from non-hunting uses. Spinning?? Lead is lead – use it at your own risk.
Life itself is a risk Boreas. We can’t be afraid of everything. This comment could apply to COVID too.
Guess the “Used to hunt part” makes it real easy to make your ridiculous statement ….seriously!
I hunt with some lead ammo and some all copper ammo. The all copper Bullets are not made for most calibers and for some older guns they might generate excessive pressure which can cause injury to the shooter.. The state has lost enough hunters from excessive gun laws that haven’t done anything about crime. Let’s pass some ammo laws now to chase the rest of them from the state. All of these so called conservationists should then take up positions with bull horns in farmers fields to chase away the deer that cause crop damage.
I am a hunter! I have been trying to switch over to non-lead for awhile now. I don’t mind paying the increased price for non-lead ammo for the hunt, I mean how many bullets do you use harvesting game? But to practice and zero my scope in takes a lot of rounds. Can you zero a rifle in and then expect the same accuracy switching ammo?
How about target shooters (non-hunters, marksmen, skeet, trap)? What would compel them to change?
I am all for non-lead ammo as I feed my family on game.
Simply another attempt to disarm an unconvincing population. Where is the datum that proves lead contamination? Are you aware there is trace amounts of lead EVERYWHERE in our environment. Decades of lead additives in gasoline have contributed to the situation. Once burnt through combustion and released in the atmosphere, the lead settled everywhere. No longer a problem and only trace amounts. Ammunition is indeed difficult to purchase. Contrary to this article, it will take a few years before we can even possibly get ammo supplies to precovid levels. It may never happen. Copper is far more expensive and production is scant. At this point, we all know the dec encon officers are few and far between. I will continue to use lead, as most will. I ll take the ticket if confronted someday. Banning lead will never be accepted and its only a topic to discourage gun ownership through extremely expensive ammuntion.
Alternate ammunitions will inevitably be expensive and hard to find until production sufficiently scales up. Hopefully that will happen as more states adopt lead ammunition bans, as hunter adoption increases, and as the engineering and ballistics for non-lead projectiles are refined. As far as the higher price of raw copper, I believe that there were at one point a few companies making bismuth shotgun shells and some other niche alloy cartridges (I can’t remember).
I will add that hunting with any modern firearm will result in not insignificant lead exposure, as very fine lead particles have been shown to occur in subsequently harvested game, but also on clothes, hands and the surrounding environment (study below cites that “half-life of lead in surface soil has been estimated as approximately 700 years”). I’m sure that most of you experienced hunters are aware that a plume of lead particulate is generated each time a modern firearm is fired, not only from the projectile, but also from the combustion of the primer (typically based on some mixture of lead azide or lead styphnate with additional heavy metal containing additives)–unless you go back to black powder flintlocks or hand-loaded black powder cartridges (for the sake of argument, let’s say that somehow you manage to source the highly regulated ingredients to create a pre-WWI lead-free, mercury-free, potassium-based priming compound and you manage to cast non-lead bullets that will not degrade the soft steel barrels, which will need to be prodigiously flushed with water after each use to avoid the corrosion that potassium salts exacerbate), or you manage to source modern commercial smokeless non-lead-primer rounds in your chosen cartridge and are willing to accept, at least for now, decreased shelf-life and reliability (currently only a few manufacturers produce this type of thing in a small range of package options; typically composed of DDNP or some proprietary mixture, maybe still with other heavy metals containing additives).
The point is that lead-based primers are absolutely foundational to modern firearm technology, and by extension modern shooters must live, for now, with this reality, practicing good hygiene and limiting exposure whenever possible. Using lead-free primer ammunition (stamped “NT’) at indoor ranges is advisable; one study concluded: “Shooting at firing ranges results in the discharge of Pb dust, elevated BLLs, and exposures that are associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes..Nearly all BLL measurements compiled in the reviewed studies exceed the current reference level of 5 μg/dL recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH). Thus firing ranges, regardless of type and user classification, currently constitute a significant and unmanaged public health problem.” (Laidlaw, M.A.S., Filippelli, G., Mielke, H. et al. Lead exposure at firing ranges—a review. Environ Health 16, 34 ). Additionally, with the aid of modern analytical instruments, it is being found that hands, arms and clothing will be significantly contaminated with lead particles after a firearm is discharged (this is why you may be asked to immediately report to police for testing without washing, or even to wear plastic bags over your hands, if you are ever involved in a shooting). And, if one really wanted to be paranoid, smokeless powder (and even, to a lesser extent, commercial black powder) contains all sorts of non-lead additives that are often quite toxic and environmentally persistent (dinitrotoluene, diphenylamine, phthalates), many of which cannot be omitted, as they provide essential stabilization against uncontrolled ignition. So, for now you will only find me traipsing around with a $10,000 Winchester Model 1895 Black Powder Cartridge Rifle at hand (joking).
I don’t believe the intent is to ban ALL lead ammunition. The intent is to ban it from hunting and from the environment. Same with lead in fishing gear.
where is the research to back up the anti-lead ammo and lead in gut piles creating a health issue? almost every deer ive shot the bullet passed clean through the animal and thats with 30-30, occassinally i find whole bullet and i toss in scrape metal bucket.
Secondly Just pass a law banning the production of lead ammo and it will
l eventually take over as lead ammo runs out. though in NY it’s almost impossible to get ammo anyway and I goto Pennsylvania where shelves are full of ammo. thinking they are blocking ammo from getting to NYS or nys is blocking ammo in.
“where is the research to back up the anti-lead ammo and lead in gut piles creating a health issue?”
Try Google. They aren’t just making it up.
Check out lead paint, lead in gasoline, lead everywhere and anywhere. IT’S POISON.
And after removing lead from those products, somehow America still survives.
Here’s some info…
DEC lead ammo page:
This year’s state Assembly bill:
NSSF on lead ammo/eagles (very interesting, especially regarding the P-R funding that we in the sporting community have contributed to eagle restoration):
I won’t deny that lead ammo fragments. I once shot a buck in the chest, broadside, and found a hunk of lead in the lower back leg. However, as previously stated, I’m using non-lead where possible and only if I feel it performs well in my deer rifles. I don’t want to be forced to change, just let it happen gradually.
Good discussion, folks!
Some more research papers and articles.
Tons of research on the subject in Us and Europe. Check out the staff involved in leading charge on this.., Cornell
wildlife health center, clearly agenda driven and biased. One not even a biologist, but a statistician. DEC has been cooking this one for years! Looks like stop and frisk for a lead bullet is in the sportsmen and women’s future.
How many deer were shot / killed by rifle or shotgun slug in the Adirondacks last year.
Lead is not a problem in the Adirondacks
Let’s put this into context:
Lead is a Naturally occurring element found in Nature.
Acreage of Land runs into the hundreds of thousands of Acres.
A typical .30 Caliber (.308 diameter) Bullet weighs less than 200 grains (just under 1/2 ounce) and a considerable portion of that weight is Copper used as a jacketing for the Bullet, so in the case of a bullet fragmenting you might have a quarter ounce of lead broken into fragments the size of Pepper Seeds all dispersed into enough ground that you couldn’t find them with a metal detector or screen-box.
Under the guise of “Lead Pollution” Bureaucrats are trying to eliminate Hunting, by making Ammunition difficult if not impossible to procure. The simple .22 Long Rifle that’s been in use 150 years will no longer be usable because no one makes Lead Free bullets in that caliber.
Lead-free Ammunition is wonderful stuff and I use it myself to Hunt Big Game, but denying Hunters opportunity with a mandate of Lead-free is prejudicial, unnecessary, expensive, and asinine. I stand 100% OPPOSED to such demands.
I’m with you Glenn. All this ‘lead being ingested by scavengers’ is cover for trying to eliminte hunting, and by extension, guns. With ammunition being difficult, if not impossible, to get now, this is absolutely not the time to be bringing this all up, unless of course, you are trying to eliminate guns and hunting .
Traditional muzzleloaders cannot use anything but soft lead projectiles.
Lead shot or “fragments” have been a part of harvested Game Animals since the inception of Lead bullets some 750 years ago! The person preparing the meat generally picks those pieces out, and as for lead contamination; Do you know where Lead comes from? And the amount is so minuscule compared to the vastness of the Land is literally a spit in the ocean. What this REALLY amounts to is a prohibition on Hunting or Target Shooting by eliminating the major component in Bullets (lead) while making ammunition (already obscenely high in price) simply too expensive if available at all!
As for the Water Contamination Issue: Yes lead is a concern and should be eliminated, however given the ppm (parts per million) where it is found is again insignificant and often naturally occurring.
We diametrically OPPOSE the proposed Legislation.