Considering the switch: Challenges of transitioning to non-lead hunting ammunition

Published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, July 2014.

Abstract: In this issue of The Condor: Ornithological Applications, Haig et al. (2014) summarize negative impacts of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on birds and discuss strategies for mitigating risks to wildlife and human health. Their Review raises an important set of questions for hunters, wildlife managers, and conservation scientists. Effective mitigation will require careful understanding of technical, economic, and social dimensions of the problem. Here, I focus on challenges specific to adopting non-lead ammunition for hunting, particularly for large game animals. I discuss limitations of using the ban on lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting as an analog for reducing lead use for other types of hunting, explain important technical considerations in design and use of non-lead ammunition, and point out areas where effective non-lead alternatives are still lacking. I suggest that currently available economic analyses of the cost of non-lead alternatives are inadequate and do not recognize wide variation in hunter behavior. These considerations have strong implications for designing effective outreach and predicting responses of hunters asked to consider non-lead alternatives. Enforcing outright bans on using lead ammunition for all types of hunting, as recently enacted in California, may prove even more challenging than similar restrictions for waterfowl hunting. Despite this, I propose that major reductions in exposure of wildlife and people to lead bullet fragments are achievable, particularly through outreach and incentive programs that focus on the most commonly used types of firearms for big game hunting—high velocity modern rifles. Bullets from these widely used rifles typically produce the most lead fragments and have the best selection of effective non-lead options available at this time. Efforts to change hunter behavior must recognize the true costs and challenges of changing to non-lead ammunition. Likewise, hunters should recognize and accept their important role in wildlife conservation and work to embrace effective alternatives to lead as they become available.

Read the whole paper here. (122 KB PDF)