MISSOULA, Mont. — For generations, hunters have used lead ammo, but a new group is trying to spread the word about lead-free ammo to help protect the environment and wildlife from lead poisoning.
Sporting Lead Free, a Wyoming hunting club, wants to demonstrate the advantages of switching to different ammo or tackle to local sportmen and women. The group hopes to reduce lead consumed inadvertently by people and wildlife and show the positives of choosing tackle and ammo that doesn’t poison the environment.
“The more I’m out interacting with the animals in their habitat and appreciating that I have the opportunity, the more I care about the animals,” said Kai Whitehill, a hunter who uses lead-free ammo. “The more I understand the animals, the more I want to protect the habitat, and the more I‘m willing to give of my time and energy and resources to make sure that habitat is always there. There’s an after effect where any lead still at the kill site is basically going to be consumed from other animals that come by.”
Sporting Lead-Free demonstrated that lead ammo can be broken down into hundreds of pieces if it hits a target. This could potentially lead to lead in meat.
It can also cause scavenging birds gut piles to be consumed, which can lead to lead poisoning.
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that between 10 and 20 million birds die annually from lead poisoning.
“People don’t realize when that lead bullet hits that animal, it fragments into several hundred pieces,” said Hannah Leonard with Sporting Lead-Free. “Depending on the bullet some fragment less some fragment a lot more. These fragments could be as small as a pen tip. There’s about 160 fragments in a gut pile and for an eagle, it only takes that tiny amount to kill it so it’s mind boggling.”
Leanard visits different states in an effort to show the differences between copper and lead ammo.
They offer X-raying packages of meat to remove lead from wild game meals, and also demonstrate the benefits of non-lethal ammunition.
Brian Bedrosian is the cofounder and director of the group. He said that the group has X-rayed approximately 1,200 wild game meat packages and found lead fragments within about 15% of ground meat packages.
“It’s pretty much impossible to keep lead fragments out of meat of harvested animals,” Bedrosian said. “But it’s very deadly to scavenging birds that consume gut piles. Humans are not usually affected by the metal if they are exposed to it at low levels. However, it’s better to have fragment free meat in general for your family.”
The group feels it’s a better approach to educate outdoor enthusiasts than seeking legislation outlawing the use of lead ammo.
“We are 100% behind a voluntary educational approach,” Bedrosian said. “We have no interest in going down any kind of regulatory or legislative route.”