YNP golden eagle

Yellowstone National Park’s first research golden eagle died from lead poisoning the park traces to hunter-killed carcasses.

With fall fast approaching, hunters are getting their gear together: clothing, binoculars, rifles, survival pack, licenses and bear spray — everything that makes for a safe, successful hunt.

Let me add another item to the list: non-lead ammunition.

Why non-lead? First, lead is a natural poison that, when ingested can have profound health implications, even death. Second, lead bullets, whether copper jacketed or not, have a nasty habit of fragmenting into hundreds of tiny pieces upon impact. The fragments often radiate 6 or more inches from the bullet’s path. Often too small to see, they are then unwittingly ingested and dissolved in the stomach’s acids, after which the lead is absorbed into the blood and distributed throughout the body, including to the brain, liver, kidney and bones, where it can be stored for years.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning and can suffer profound, adverse health impacts, particularly to the developing brain and nervous system. This can lead to lowered mental function, convulsions, coma, anemia and even death. Children who experience severe lead poisoning may be left with behavioral disorders, lowered I.Q. and mental retardation.

Elevated childhood blood lead levels have also been associated with antisocial behavior, elevated risk of adjudicated delinquency and higher rates of violent crime.

Pregnant women with high blood lead levels can experience miscarriages, premature birth and low birth weight. Infertility can occur in both men and women.

It takes about 0.000005 of an ounce of lead in an 80-pound child’s blood for the Center for Disease Control to recommend treatment. Likewise, 0.00001 of an ounce in the blood of a 180-pound adult raises the same alarms.

A 150-grain, 30.06 bullet weighs about 0.34 of an ounce. Even with minimal fragmentation, there is enough lead in one bullet to pose serious health risks for the consumer of the meat.

A Wyoming study found that samples from all 30 whitetail deer killed with lead-core, copper-jacketed bullets contained metal fragments, 97 percent of which were lead. With X-ray analysis, metal fragments were found in 324 ground meat packages from 24 of the 30 carcasses- 93 percent were lead. One package contained 168 lead fragments.

Non-lead, copper and copper alloy bullets rarely fragment upon impact, and even then the metals are not nearly as toxic.

Humans are not the only victims of lead bullet poisoning. Researchers from Craighead Beringia South and the Teton Raptor Center documented the presence of substantial numbers of lead fragments in gut piles left from the fall hunting season. This mass of food attracts scores of eagles to the region. Blood samples from 81 captured bald eagles contained significantly higher lead levels during the hunting season than before or after. At least two resident adult bald eagles are known to have died of lead poisoning.

Last winter Yellowstone Park officials found an adult golden eagle dead due to lead poisoning, likely ingested while eating lead-contaminated gut piles found just outside the park’s northern boundary.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center estimate that 90 percent of the 120 to 130 bald eagles they receive each year have elevated blood lead levels. Of these, 20-25 percent either die or have to be euthanized.

Sub-lethal doses of lead can have long-lasting neurological impacts. For example, the Minnesota researchers found that 85 percent of the injured eagles brought in had elevated lead levels. Much as low alcohol levels may not kill humans outright, sub-lethal lead poisoning can affect coordination and reaction time to the degree that it result in accidents that do kill.

With an abundance of incriminating evidence, why haven’t government authorities banned the use of lead ammunition? Because they lack the political will. The resistance is led by the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International, which view the lead ban movement as just another attempt by anti-gun, anti-hunting folks to curtail hunting and to infringe upon their gun rights. Their cover is that they don’t think the science is clear.

Hundreds of technical articles have been written describing in detail the toxic and deadly nature of lead. No reputable argument exists.

The World Health Organization and The Center For Disease Control both unequivocally state that there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe for humans.

Hunters: It’s time to go lead-free. Merchants: It’s time to stock non-lead ammunition (over 25 manufacturers produce non-lead ammunition). Agencies: It’s time to actively promote the use of non-lead ammunition. Electeds: It’s time to muster the metal to stand up to the NRA and SCI and pass non-lead legislation.

Spouses, parents, loved-ones: Buy a box of non-lead ammunition for the hunter in your life. Tell them it’s for their own health, for the health of their family, and for the health of our beloved wildlife.

“Wild” and “organic,” means nothing if the game you bring home to your family contains toxic lead. Get the lead out, now!

Franz Camenzind, PhD, is a 49-year Jackson resident, scientist and conservation advocate. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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(4) comments

William Addeo

As a professional hunter for over 40 years, I can say without any doubt, copper bullets are far better than lead. Barnes triple shock copper bullets led the way a long time ago and now all manufacturers are trying to catch up with them. Copper is far more accurate, retains more weight and keeps the barrel cleaner. I have shot every bullet made by all of them and I chose copper for the results. At 150,000 rpm’s, lead can’t compete with copper’s ability for balance and consistency. I make all my hunters zero with Barnes copper bullets. They all agree and convert immediately. I use copper from Alaska to Africa and started to use it for results not environmental reasons. I have converted hundreds of hunters to copper bullets. This is win win situation. Lead is poison and copper shoots better and has terrific knockdown capabilities.

Steve Cadwallader

This is poor science and not substantial reacher. The ban on raptors has more significance on out small game ie Sharptail Grouse then the so called Climate Change. But no uneducated liberals can understand that.

Sam Campbell

Not sure what you were trying say about the "uneducated", but it is well proven science that raptors are dying from lead poisoning that comes from gut piles. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it isn't true. There is no longer a good reason not to use non-lead. It doesn't any more than any other premium bullet, it has great performance down range, and I've yet to find a rifle that doesn't shoot copper well, including muzzle loaders. It's not "those gun grabbing liberals". It is science, not some conspiracy. If you're worried about sharptails, advocate for habitat protection.

Ed Loosli

Thank you Franz Camenzind for helping to spread the word that getting the lead out of ammunition is long overdue. There are viable alternatives to lead ammunition and the collateral damage caused by lead ammunition is so severe, that no hunter in good conscience should ever use it.

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