Lead bullet fragments in gut piles deadly to wildlife

spectr17

Administrator
Admin
Joined
Mar 11, 2001
Messages
69,528
Reaction score
410
Hog Hunter Special Report. Lead bullet fragments in gut piles deadly to wildlife by Jim Matthews.

Expensive non-toxic ammo and other restrictions may be enacted if hunters do not work to implement the simple solutions to the problem.

By JIM MATTHEWS California Hog Hunter Editor

Successful big game hunters may be killing far more than their intended game. Lead hunting bullets and small fragments of those bullets left behind in gut piles or parts of game discarded in the field are poisoning a variety of species that scavenge on these remains. Behind the scenes, biologists are calling this “Project Gut Pile.” It is an effort to educate hunters about the dangers fired lead bullets and bullet fragments pose to wildlife. Most hunters are familiar with the requirement to use non-toxic ammunition when hunting waterfowl because ducks pick up the spent shot when feeding in shallow waters and die from lead poisoning.

But a huge body of scientific data shows the problem goes well beyond waterfowl. Very similar wildlife poisonings occur when carrion-feeding animals eat gut piles that contain bullet fragments left behind by big game hunters who have had successful hunts. The animals most affected by picking up bullet fragments in gut piles are some of our most majestic and — in some cases — endangered wildlife species: California condors, golden and bald eagles, ravens, vultures and hawks are most at risk. Other species that eat carrion may also be affected, including some of our most popular varmint and game species in California — ranging from squirrels to coyotes to black bears.

“It just blows me away how many times we have to keep proving lead is bad,” said Greg Austin, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor program in Ventura. Austin and his staff have been mounting an education campaign to explain the problem and its relatively simple solutions to hunters. “A lot of these guys want to do the right thing, which is really nice for us to know, but the word is still not getting out,” said Austin. The Death Toll: A number of condor deaths over the past 17 years have been directly attributable to lead poisoning caused by bullets or bullet fragments. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Recovery Plan for the California Condor,” three birds have died from lead poisoning since 1983. One of the birds had a fully mushroomed slug in its digestive tract, and the others were presumed to have picked up bullet fragments when feeding, probably on gut piles.

In June this year, three more condors in Arizona were found dead, and a fourth from the group presumed dead, all from lead poisoning. The recovered dead birds had lead shotgun pellets of two sizes (No. 4s and 7 1/2s) in their digestive tracts. Ten of the remaining 16 condors in Arizona have been trapped and tested for lead exposure. Eight have moderate to extreme lead toxicity levels. Six lead pellets were surgically removed from one bird. Currently, four condors are being chelated (treated with calcium, which bonds with lead) to lower their blood lead levels. These poisonings illustrate how susceptible the huge birds are to lead poisoning and that small amounts of lead can be lethal. While condors, because of their critically endangered status, are getting the most attention regarding lead fragments in gut piles, the overall amount of wildlife poisoned could be extensive.

“Condors, bald eagles, golden eagles, turkey vultures and other raptors to varying degrees are very susceptible to lead under these conditions. I really can’t tell you the affects on coyotes or badgers or other scavengers, but all living organisms — including humans — react to lead the same. The data is just overwhelming,” said Pete Bloom, a research biologist with the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology and former member of the Condor Recovery Team. In a study conducted by Bloom, he found elevated lead levels in 36 percent of 162 golden eagles’ blood samples he took from live-captured wild birds in condor range in California. Four had levels that probably indicated they were terminally ill, and many more of the other birds could have perished after being released.

Condors have taken up to six weeks to succumb to lead poisoning, which paralyzes the digestive tract making it impossible for the birds to eat or drink. Bloom said a single lead pellet, or perhaps even a smaller shard from a rifle slug because of its greater surface area, would be enough to kill a California condor. “Almost certainly” all of the lead in the tested birds, both condors and eagles, has come from shot or lead bullet fragments, said Bloom. There simply were no other sources identified for the lead in all of the studies conducted. Banning Lead Ammo: Because of its impacts on wildlife, lead has become a four-letter word in national politics and within the environmental community. Part of the reason for this is because the substance is so highly toxic to humans in even small amounts. Lead-based products used by humans are almost a thing of the past due to regulation.

The same may soon be true for wildlife. Even if the poisoning from big game bullet fragments is very limited in scope, the way is already paved to usher in vast restrictions on lead ammunition. “Lead is such a recognized toxin, I imagine one day it could be litigated [out of existence for ammunition] and non-toxics mandated,” said Bill Toone, a biologist with the San Diego Zoo who works on the condor program. “My fear is that it will come down to that, but none of us want to see that happen. Our tool is education.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in particular, doesn’t want to see lead big game ammunition banned. “The service doesn’t want to go through the same public relations and legal nightmare they endured after lead shot was banned for waterfowl. That could be completely avoided in this case,” said one current USFWS employee, who asked not to be named.

Lloyd Kiff, who formerly headed up the condor recovery program and is now the science director for the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho (which raises endangered condors and Aplomado falcons for release back into the wild) is blunt in his assessment of what banning lead hunting ammunition would do. “It would just make matters worse,” said Kiff. “I know what the [hunter’s] reaction is going to be: a small number of these blue-collar guys will shoot the birds. We don’t want this to be characterized as a condor problem or an eagle problem. We don’t want these birds to be blamed if there is a ban on lead ammunition.” Kiff has worked diligently to keep the lead poisoning of condors and raptors as a background issue. “We’re not denying lead’s a problem, but banning lead ammunition would just create a bigger problem.”

Lawsuit Possible: In spite of the condor scientists’ hopes, they all recognize “there’s a loaded gun lying around out there. It may just be a matter of who’s going to pick it up and pull the trigger,” as Toone said about the mounting scientific evidence on the dangers of lead in animal gut piles. A lawsuit could force the issue, and a court order could ban lead ammunition in certain areas or even nationally. The Southwest Center for Biodiversity, through a lawsuit earlier this year, forced the U.S. Forest Service to initiate a number of measures to protect endangered species on its four forests in Southern California, including educate the public on the dangers of lead ammunition for condors. Toone said that if the agencies and sporting groups worked together to initiate a good education campaign, it could alleviate the problem and provide precedence for a judge to dismiss or mollify a lawsuit.

“People start out gently [on pressing for environmental change], but when there’s no movement, they come in with the axe,” said Toone. “It would really nice to be able to avoid the howling crowd.” The problem is that the lead-gut pile issue has been known for over a decade. Bloom said scientific papers written in 1990 recommended that some means of reducing the impacts of lead ammunition be implemented before condors were reintroduced back into the wild. That did not happen, and it is only now that hunters are learning the extent of the problem. “The sportsman has the opportunity to take the lead in the conservation effort in benefiting wildlife,” said Jim Davis with the Ventana Wilderness Society. “What we need is a sensible approach to protection, and I believe that hunters can provide that leadership. They only need to know what they can do to benefit wildlife for the future.”

Simple Solutions: The reality is that hunters could effectively eliminate virtually all lead poisoning in condors, vultures, raptors, and most other wildlife that feed on carcasses or gut piles. Alan Corzine, the director of research and development for Winchester ammunition in East Alton, Ill., cited a recent instance where the Japanese government was concerned about the loss of sea eagles to lead poisoning on one of their remote islands. It was determined the poisoning was coming from the gut piles left behind by subsistence hunting of sika deer on the island. Wanting to address the problem as quickly as possible while having a minimal affect on the residents there, the government looked at the source of the lead and recommended (and even provided) ammunition that expanded without leaving behind pieces of lead or those that were made of material that was non-lead. “There’s no reason that same tactic would not work here,” said Corzine at a recent meeting at the U.S. Forest Service office in Arcadia.

If hunters would exercise one of two options right now, sportsmen may be able to avert regulations that force sportsmen to use expensive, non-toxic hunting bullets. The first and most economical option is to continue to use traditional lead hunting ammunition for wild pigs and deer, but simply bury all gut piles so foraging birds and mammals do not get to the lead fragments left behind by this ammunition. Hunters should also make an effort to bury the guts out of the open so even the buried remains are more difficult for scavengers to find. The second option is to use one of the two bullets currently on the market that do not leave lead fragments behind when big game animals are shot. Those two slugs are Barnes X-Bullets, available for handloaders or in factory-loaded PMC-El Dorado ammunition, or Winchester Fail Safe bullets available in Winchester’s Supreme line of big game ammunition or as a component for handloaders.

While the Fail Safe bullet contains lead in it’s rear core, this is the part of the bullet that is completely encapsulated with copper jacket and almost always penetrates completely through the animal. The forward expanding portion of the bullet is made of copper (as with the X-Bullet), and pieces are not left behind in the game as with standard lead-core or lead-tipped bullets. With both of these bullets, hunters need to make sure there is both an entrance and exit wound. If the bullet has not exited the carcass of the animal, the hunter should attempt to find the slug and remove it. Both lead and copper are highly toxic to animals, and large birds like condors and eagles will often ingest the entire mushroomed slug and are likely to die from subsequent poisoning.

All other traditional jacketed lead hunting bullets on the marketplace leave lead residue or fragments behind in the carcass and gut piles of animals — even when they penetrate completely through the game animal. Hunters are familiar with how big game bullets mushroom and expand upon entering the body of the game. As the lead mushrooms, small pieces and fragments are left behind in the game or spun off to create wound channels of their own. When bones are hit, even more fragments are left behind. It is these tiny pieces, when left in gut piles or unwanted portions of game, that are eaten by predators and scavengers. As with humans, even small amounts of lead can have devastating effects.

Condor and eagle biologists would actually prefer that hog and deer hunters continue to leave gut piles out there. “It’s a shame we have to suggest that we cart it off or bury it,” said Bloom. “Hunters are actually providing a good food source for these birds.” As a result of the lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, deer, wild hog, and other hunters will increasingly hear about the dangers of lead left in game carcasses and gut piles. Flyers will be left on hunter’s windshields and personal contacts will be initiated both in the field and at sportsmen’s gatherings. The Ventana Wilderness Society will be visiting dozens of sportsmen’s clubs, hosting seminars in sporting goods stores, and making hunter contacts throughout the condor country over the coming year to educate hunters on the dangers to wildlife of lead bullet fragments in gut piles.

The question is simply will it be too little too late? Non-Toxic Ammunition: In a worst-case scenario, a lawsuit could force the federal government to mandate the use of non-lead or completely non-toxic ammunition throughout the range of the California condor — perhaps nationwide because of widespread poisoning of other species. Unlike with when steel shot was mandated, there are a number of alternative materials that could be introduced to the market quickly. If the requirement is for non-lead bullets, the Barnes X-Bullet already fits this requirement. If it is for completely non-toxic alternatives (copper is also toxic), the picture gets more difficult. Several makers have been experimenting with slugs made from tungsten or bismuth alloys. However, testing has shown they are simply not as effective as lead-based slugs. The materials are not malleable enough, even in a variety of allows, to perform like lead. The slugs either fragment into a powder on impact or they do not expand at all, similar to steel jacketed bullets. Both alternatives are poor for big game.

Even if the tungsten or bismuth slugs could be made to function, these alternatives are expensive, perhaps as much as doubling the cost of a box of premium big game hunting ammunition. “We don’t need to get to this point,” said Kiff, about the prospect of banning lead ammunition. “Certainly the people in the Fish and Wildlife Service don’t want to ram anything down the hunters’ throat, but that may be where we’re headed.”

HOG HUNTER EDITORIAL:

Getting the lead out of gut piles, and no more.

The biologists and scientists I spoke with for the main story in this issue on poisoning of wildlife from lead fragments in gut piles were not what I expected. First off, most were hunters. Second, the scientific evidence against lead is so compelling that I believe we need to work on three fronts to help educate hunters. If we do this, we can delay or stop the day when lead hunting ammunition is needlessly banned. Here are the steps I am advocating and have initiated through this newsletter to help end this problem.

1) Ammunition Rebate: I am approaching management at Winchester and PMC-El Dorado to encourage them to offer small rebates for deer and hog hunters in California on the Fail Safe and X-Bullet ammunition they load to help make it more affordable to hunters. Perhaps we can coordinate a federal grant or donation from the conservation/environmental community to make this an affordable option for these two companies. It could also be a great promotion to help advertise and sell these premium products because they are performers and environmentally safe.

2) Ammunition Flyers: I am encouraging all ammunition companies to include an information sheet in all ammunition shipped to California about the toxicity of lead in gut piles. All stores that supply ammunition to hunters should also give out these flyers with each sale, and they should be distributed at all hunter safety classes. I believe funding for this information sheet should and could be provided by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Game. Perhaps they could also pay to have the flyer inserted into hunting magazines and newspapers distributed in California.

3) Varmint Lead Residue Study: I would like to see a study initiated that will document the amount of lead fragments or residue left behind in varmints shot by hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condor recovery team has volunteered its portable X-Ray unit to use on carcasses to determine the amount of lead residue. This study should be designed, financed and conducted by the shooting industry and hunter-environmental community so a variety of standard varmint ammunition and loads are tested. It should be done in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I see this as a way of heading off attempts to ban small game and varmint hunting based on assumptions of lead poisoning.
 



Speckmisser

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
12,900
Reaction score
26
You know, I've got a kind of stupid question.  

Why, if the simple residue of lead bullets is so deadly to the condors, isn't that same residue deadly to humans  who are so "susceptible to its deadly effects"?  

I understand that we're not ingesting whole bullets or even large fragments, but I eat a pretty darned good amount of game, including shoulder roasts and ribs that almost always have "shell shock" and lead residue.  

Maybe there's a scientist somewhere to explain this to me.  But I have to wonder.  

I dunno.  It's not as much a challenge to the report as it is a curiosity thing.  
 

BlackWater

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
77
Reaction score
0
Very interesting article, never thought about it before.   Can see where this may have an effect on the Condors, basically big vultures, eating on any gut pile or unclaimed/unfound animal.  

Not a scientist, but can understand that when a bird eats lead fragments, some may lodge in crop and stay there for a longer time than if a human eat some, therefor exposing the bird to a longer dose.  Also per grams or weight, would expect same level of lead to be much more detrimental to birds than humans.

My questions is that this must also effect all scavengers such as coons, possums, rodents, crows,  seem to me that they would eat more lead.
 

Jay

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
693
Reaction score
0
The reason this affects birds so much is that they grind the lead in their crop and then it is absorbed directly into the blood stream. If a mammal eats pieces of lead it only results in a weightier turd.

I say ban the lead.


(Edited by Jay at 10:52 am on May 4, 2001)
 

hunthog

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 7, 2002
Messages
424
Reaction score
3
Hmmmmm........Interesting article, but.   Sure, lead poisoning kills.   It seems kind of ironic that lead has been used in bullets since, it seems, the beginning of time.  So why now the big push for non-lead bullets.  There seems to be a huge push for protection of species that may well have gone extinct by natural selection decades ago.  Example:  The Condor.  The simple intrusion of man in the Condor's habitat would probably have been enough to cause it's extinction but man jumped in and saved the species or rather delayed the extinction due to progress.  Millions of species have suffered the same fate since man expanded into all areas of the environment.  Multimillion dollar studies pointed toward one seemingly obvious goal, the ellimination of hunting, doesn't hold much water.  Animals have been dying of lead poisoning since lead was introduced into the environment as ammunition.  I don't believe any more or any less are dying now that any time in the past.  I have probably ingested a large amount of lead from the birds I have shot and consumed in my life but I'm still kicking.

Sure, we should try to preserve what's left in the world and I am a conservationist as well as a hunter.  The problem I have with this is the amount of money that is spent on useless studies to determine what we already know.  Some animals that feed on the dead animals or animal parts we leave behind will die of lead poisoning.  I doesn't take a multi-million dollar study to tell me that.

That money would be much better spent on conservation projects, habitat improvement, forest re-planting, better pay for Game Wardens, more hunting programs, more wildlife biologists.  Useless studies stick in my craw more than poachers because of their costs and what they truely represent......anti-hunting interests, pure and simple.  Start convincing farmers that their livestock is going to die from lead poisoning due to a couple of bullets shot into a streambed and see whether anyone will get permission to hunt again.  

Instead of supporting these studies we should be fighting to get the money used for productive pro-hunting activities.


HuntHog
 

Jay

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
693
Reaction score
0
Like I said before, it ain't the mammals that are hurt by lead pellets and lead bullet fragments, it's the birds. The birds pick it up and use it for grit.

It took years of studies to convince duck hunters to switch to steel and some guys still aren't convinced. Leads ability to mushroom on impact makes it an ideal metal for bullets but the down side it that ingested fragments kill birds such as condors and vultures that feed on carrion.

My advice is to find altenative metals for bullets cause I can practically guarantee that laws to protect endangered species will be leveraged to ban lead bullets in areas where endangered species are at risk.

This is not an anti-hunting attack. Banning lead from gasoline was done to protect people living near freeways. It's about lead not hunting.

Condors, vultures and their supporters appreciate the gut piles and carrion provided by hunters as long as it doesnt come with a hidden death sentence for the birds.
 

Speckmisser

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
12,900
Reaction score
26
One might say it was productive AND pro-hunting to support efforts to identify the risks hunting presents to both game and non-game wildlife.  Just because you don't hunt it doesn't mean it's worthless.  

The philosophical debate about restoring and protecting endangered species belongs in an entirely different forum, but I feel very comfortable saying that it generally has nothing to do with hunting vs. anti-hunting.  

Where the anti-hunters WILL come in, is if it can be proven that hunters are having an adverse effect on endangered/protected species.  If proof of that hits the big news, you better buckle up and get ready for a battle.  Seems best to me to head that off by understanding the problem and seeking a solution that addresses everyone's needs.  That means spending money on research, and welcoming the input of non-hunting organizations.  
 

BigDog

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 7, 2001
Messages
2,425
Reaction score
6
I just read a very pertinent article, in a Mexican newspaper of all places, regarding this very subject. Turns out that the military has been working on this topic for several years. The reason was a little different. All of the firing and testing ranges are basically lead dumps from all of the shooting. So, they have been looking for a similar solution.
Turns out that they have come up with a Tungsten composite that is not toxic like lead. They are staying with the copper jackets. The article stated that this non-toxic slug has better ballistics than lead.
Their main goal was to find a replacement for the 5.56 mm which the M 16 uses. There are several bases strictly using this new round now and it is hoped that they will be lead free by 2005.
So, I can see us Californians having to change to this type of slugs in the not too distant future. But, if it is true that these are non-toxic and better ballistics, I will probably change before being told to.
 

Speckmisser

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 12, 2001
Messages
12,900
Reaction score
26
I wouldn't jump too fast, Big Dog.  

That tungsten sounds like it'd be great for military specs (fast and hard), but I wonder what its hunting performance will be like.  That's a whole different set of requirements.

I believe our military has been experimenting with non-toxics for a while too.  What we need, though, is folks like Jim Carmichael (OL Shooting Editor) and the like to start calling for it.  Sure would be good to get something that's tested and really works before we're required to switch (we know it's coming).  I still remember shooting steel back when half the load would roll out of the barrel on every third shot.  
 

Caninelaw

Banned
Joined
Oct 22, 2002
Messages
3,601
Reaction score
66
Well, I still haven't got a good explanation of why this is allegedly so deadly to condors, which are basically super sized buzzards, and has no apparent effect on turkey vultures, which are smaller sized buzzards. They occupy the same habitat, they eat the same things yet there are something like 6 million turkey vultures in the world.
 

BADBuckfever

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 18, 2002
Messages
1,317
Reaction score
47
The California condor was going extinct, so now you HAVE TO use lead free ammo in THE CONDOR RANGE in-order to protect the condor. The other birds are not threatened so thats why they arent mandating using lead free ammo YET. Sure its coming soon, one step at a time. *see thread "obama signs small arms ban treaty with UN." :not-worthy:

* While we’re all watching the gulf: Hillary signs UN Small Arms Treaty
 

Latest Posts



Top Bottom