California Bans Lead Bullets for Hunting

Governor Brown of California signed historic legislation last week, making it the first state to completely outlaw the use of lead bullets for hunting.  

The military is also moving toward non-lead bullets, which will protects condors, eagles and thousands of bird species from lead poisoning. It will also prevent soldiers, hunters and their families from being exposed to lead.

California Condor:

California Condor

"Nationwide, millions of non-target birds and other wildlife are poisoned each year from scavenging carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments, eating lead-poisoned prey, or ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, mistaking them for food or grit. Spent lead ammunition causes lead poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals. Nearly 500 scientific papers document the dangers to wildlife from this lead exposure," says Center for Biological Diversity. 

The state’s Fish and Game Commission must issue regulations by July 1, 2015 that phases in the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting of all kinds including game mammals, game birds, non-game birds and non-game mammals. These requirements must be fully implemented no later than July 1, 2019.

In 2008, California banned the use of lead hunting ammunition in the Condor range to protect the state’s reintroduced flocks, under The Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act. Since then, hunters have purchased the same number of game tags. There’s also an epidemic of lead poisonings and deaths of the Grand Canyon population of endangered condors, but that state refuses to move to non-lead ammunition, says Center for Biological Diversity. 

A coalition of 268 organizations from 40 states petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end the use of lead in hunting nationwide. So far, EPA has not acted. 

A national poll released earlier this year finds that 57% of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting.

Even at low levels, lead is an extremely toxic substance,  dangerous to people and wildlife. Exposure to lead causes a range of health problems from damaged neurological development to acute poisoning and death.

Studies using radiographs show that lead ammunition leaves fragments and numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles that contaminate game meat far from a bullet track, causing significant health risks to people eating wild game. Some state health agencies have recalled venison donated to feed the hungry because of this. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibited use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991 and there are more than a dozen approved non-lead shot types. More than three dozen manufacturers market non-lead bullets in 35 calibers and 51 rifle cartridge designations, with superior ballistics, accuracy and safety, says Center for Biological Diversity. 

Although hunters often cite the difference in price between lead and non-lead ammunition as the reason for not switching, these moves will increase demand and bring down the price.

At least one study finds prices and availability aren’t significantly different for the most popular calibers. Read, "Lead-Free Hunting Rifle Ammunition: Product Availability, Price, Effectiveness, and Role in Global Wildlife Conservation":

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Comments on “California Bans Lead Bullets for Hunting”

  1. Eric Mills

    It’s worth noting that only ONE Republican voted in favor of AB 711. Shouldn’t environmental protection be a bipartisan issue?

    Ideally, of course, there should be a national ban on the use of lead for all hunting. And for fishing tackle, too. Thousands of waterfowl sicken and die every year after ingesting lost lead fishing weights (“sinkers”), birds such as swans, loon, cormorants, diving ducks, et al.

    But AB 711 is certainly a big step in the right direction. Hopefully other states will soon follow suit.

    Meanwhile, thank-you notes are in order to Gov. Jerry Brown and Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, author of the bill.

    The Governor and all legislators may be written c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814.

    Eric Mills, coordinator

  2. Jon

    So Eric, do you believe that any bird will actually eat the lead pellets? How in the world do you believe that these animals will be exposed to the lead? Where do you get your figures ? “Thousands of waterfowl sicken and die every year after ingesting lost lead fishing weights”? Please try to be factual with your statements. You are doing a lot of damage to good people with your feeling based political views. Please try to do a little research before you speak next time.

  3. Rona Fried

    Jon, the FACTS are that birds do eat lead pellets, look into it before you tell us we aren’t reporting facts. In Maine, for example, the biggest cause of death for loons is eating lead from fishing tackle. Environmental groups have been trying for years to ban lead in fishing. They have better things to do with their time than make things up. Read the article and you will see they don’t even have to eat pellets to be harmed, they just have to come in contact with lead dust… which also harms humans, BTW.

  4. joe

    So do the loons die from lead poison or choking? How many die of old age? Condor’s biggest death threat is from feeding the young JUNK that chokes them.

    Oh, Mexico lost the battle when the used copper cannon balls, had lots of copper, very little lead. So the 223 round has to go 2x faster (6-8000 fps) for same killing effect. Not going to happen so our army bullets just sting now? Stupid.

  5. nralifer

    I am hunter of both birds and big game, and a NRA and SCI life member. I guess I would be considered a gun nut as well. I like to hunt pheasants with pellets made out of tungsten alloys that are denser than lead, and big game with copper bullets. In fact, went on a trip to Africa recently where I killed a Cape Buffalo with one shot using a copper bullet. The main problem with non lead projectiles is the cost, not only of the material itself but also of the projectile manufacturing. Lead and copper sheets are easy to swage into bullet shapes, but solid copper is not, and tungsten alloys for shotgun pellets are expensive and the pellets are very hard. The result is that ammo is 2-5X as expensive. The article above is simply wrong if one thinks that increasing the demand for something will bring down the price. It simply increases it. Liberals are, for the most part, irrational in their anti hunting attitudes, and like to use the lead issue as a way of hassling hunters and gun enthusiasts. The fact is that habitat degradation is the the biggest threat wildlife. Environmentalists need to embrace hunting, lead free or not, simply because good hunting needs a healthy and diverse habitat, and all serious hunters embrace habitat preservation. Hunting big game animals with lead free ammunition will have about as much impact on the quality of the habitat as a mosquito passing gas in a hurricane. The same liberal that embraces lead free ammunition laws for the good of the fauna also embraces wind power plants that degrade the environment and kill hundreds of thousands of birds of all types by smashing them with the wind blades. A modern, coal fired power plant is a lot easier on migratory birds than a wind farm. So if one wants to hunt with lead projectiles I say go ahead. That person has a greater appreciation for the environment that the liberal environmentalist who hates hunters, lead free or not, and wants to ban coal based energy generation in favor of wind farms.


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