California Bans Lead Bullets For Hunting

Hunting is endangered in California. At least that is what pro-hunt groups are citing after recent legislation bans the most common kind of bullet used to shoot game.

Intended to protect golden eagles and condors from accidentally ingesting lead from animals killed but lost by hunters, the state will begin enforcing a ban on all lead bullets this summer.lead bullets (1)

The ban, announced in the state’s 2015 hunting regulations, begins on select public lands and phases into a statewide ban by 2019.

In 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 711, which added several sections to Fish and Game Code. One of which (3004.5(b)) requires a ban on lead ammunition.

The move has been praised by some environmental groups. Hunters, on the other hand, have called the law a de facto ban on their activity.

While non-lead ammunition is available, and supported by some hunting organizations, bullets made from other metals tend to be much more expensive. They can be difficult to find in stores and buy.

According to a National Shooting Sports Federation survey, non-lead ammunition costs 300 to 400 percent more than traditional ammo. “Higher ammunition prices will drive 36 percent of California hunters to stop hunting or reduce their participation,” reports the organization.

Thirteen percent of California hunters report they would stop hunting entirely as a result of the higher prices, the National Shooting Sports Federation claims.

The survey notes only 5.3 percent of centerfire, and .05 percent of rimfire (.22 calibre), ammunition is manufactured from alternative metals.

Lead-free initiative made law to help protect golden eagles (left) and condors
Lead-free initiative made law to help protect golden eagles (left) and condors

The National Shooting Sports Federation claims that California’s demand for alternative .22 calibre bullets will outstrip demand by 472% and that major manufacturers say they will not be able to increase production.

While the ban has upset hunters, it is a win for environmentalists in the state. “Numerous scientific studies have reached a consensus: Lead poisoning is the biggest threat facing the successful recovery of the California condor,” reports the National Park Service.

“Test results show the majority of free-flying condors at Pinnacles National Park have blood lead levels that exceed 10 ug/dL, which is the same threshold used by the Center for Disease Control as an initial warning sign that a human child is at risk.”

While the new law marks a major shift for big-game hunters, waterfowl hunters in the United States have been required to use non-lead shot since 1991. Ammo makers adjusted, offering shot loads in less-toxic substances such as steel, bismuth, and tungsten.

These materials are not as effective at bringing down birds, but hunters have adapted with more powerful shells and limiting range.

Regardless of opinion, it appears California’s new law is here to stay. Does it signal the beginning of the end of lead bullets for hunting in the entire United States? That political conundrum is a ways off. But the law will certainly bring about change to the way hunters put meat on their tables in the Golden State.

See page 2 for the lead-free update from the California Fish and Game Commission.

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Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie’s Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.

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