Get the Lead Out

Lead Poisoning, Birds of Prey, Montana Raptor Conservation Center

Get the Lead Out

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Mike England

Make Butte proud and buy copper. 

Old habits die hard—and old ideas, even harder. Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of lead ammunition among hunters. In January 2017, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service imposed a ban on lead ammo in the country’s wildlife refuges, hunters cried foul. The NRA lambasted President Obama, accusing him of infringing on hunting and the Second Amendment. The Trump administration promptly repealed the ban, again citing sportsman’s rights. 

Which proves my point, as the ban was never about gun control, or governmental overreach, or left-wing politics. It was about protecting wildlife from lead poisoning. Period. But all those lead-toting hunters didn’t want to hear it. They’re set in their ways.

Make no mistake: I’m no leftie. I love guns and own many of them—too many, I’ve been told. And hunting is probably the most important avocation in my life. But I also love wildlife, and I trust the science on lead poisoning. In a nutshell: it ain’t good, and we should do everything we can to avoid it.

In 1991, during the presidency of George Bush (Herbie, not Dopey), the Fish & Wildlife Service banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting. Not just on wildlife refuges, but everywhere. A preponderance of evidence had revealed the damage being done: millions of waterfowl dying each year from lead poisoning. Since then, numerous states have imposed additional restrictions on lead use. And nobody’s complaining about it. Lead is bad for birds: this fact is understood and accepted.

That’s why it’s time to consider a similar ban with other kinds of hunting. Namely, gopher hunting. Why gophers? Because eagles eat dead gophers, and dead gophers are full of lead fragments. Who wants to kill eagles? Nobody, that’s who.

If you don’t think there’s a problem, do a little homework online. Or talk to the folks at the Montana Raptor Center, who treat lead-poisoned birds every month of the year. Eagles are dying, and lead ammo is killing them.

Do copper bullets cost more? Yep. But who’s not willing to pony up a few pennies to keep eagles safe? Besides, copper offers similar performance to lead, with a significantly reduced health risk—to animals, to ecosystems, and to ourselves.

At some point, we can start talking about an across-the-board phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting, to get this toxic heavy metal out of our guns, out of the field, and out of our lives. Until then, let’s just keep it away from the eagles. I’m willing to pay a little more for copper bullets… are you?


Editor's note: In April of 2019, a collared golden eagle died of lead poisoning in Yellowstone Park. An entire website has been devoted to lead-free hunting. Further reading and informative links from an elk-hunting, eagle-loving veterinarian here

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