MISSOULA — 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 group, wants to prove the value of switching ammo and tackle to local sportsmen 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.”
According to studies and demonstrations by the Sporting Lead-Free, lead ammo can fragment into hundreds of pieces when it hits a target, which could lead to lead in meat.
It also causes scavenging birds to consume gut piles, leading to lead poisoning.
According to the American Bird Conservancy, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals die each year 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. The fragments might be the size of a tip of a pen. 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 travels to different states to demonstrate the difference between the use of lead and copper ammo.
Some of their programs include X-raying packaged meat to help get the lead out of wild game meals and demonstrating the advantages of new, non-lead ammunition.
According to Brian Bedrosian, the director and co-founder of the group, the group has X-rayed about 1,200 packages of wild game meat and found lead fragments in about 15% of the 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. As for humans, if exposure is low the metal rarely causes severe issues. 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.”