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Bird expert's view: Use lead-free ammo

Lake County hunters encouraged to use lead-free ammo this season.

A friend and I were driving down the road the other day and I saw a bald eagle flying overhead.  I pointed it out to my friend as it soared overhead.  This is not an uncommon sight today, but when I was younger, an eagle flying overhead would have caused drivers to pull over to get a longer look.  Bald eagles were rare and endangered!

Bald eagles are one of the reasons I use copper ammunition for deer hunting.  Bald eagles, along with other birds and mammals, often feed on deer gut piles and can become poisoned from lead fragments in those gut piles.  We all know lead is toxic.  That's why it's no longer in paint, gasoline and lots of other things.  When I started hunting roughly fifty years ago, all of the hunting ammunition for rifles was made of lead or had a lead core. We didn't even think about the lead we might eat with our deer steak and we were unaware of the impact it was having on the wildlife that hunters value so much. 

Eagles are just one of the reasons I use copper ammunition.   I'd used copper in my muzzleloader for years because I liked the accuracy and the knockdown power of the bullets. The deer usually drop on the spot or travel less than 50 yards.  I've found the same to be true for my rifles as well.  In general copper is as accurate as the other ammo I have used over the years and provides me with one shot kills.  Yes, it costs a little more than the lowest priced ammo (the same price as premium ammo), but I only shoot one or two rounds a year in the field and three or four rounds at the range sighting my rifles in.

The majority of the ammunition manufacturers have non-lead ammunition for most popular rifle calibers.  Yes, there is even non-lead ammunition available for the old 30-30 round.  It's a little hard to find in some retail stores, but if enough people ask for it, the retailers will start stocking it.  It can be ordered online in most cases.  As with all ammo in the recent months, it is in short supply, so I start shopping well before the hunting season.

As a hunter, my experiences in the outdoors during the hunting season are priceless--  gray jays perched on the deer stand waiting for a possible morsel of food, a bobcat slipping by the tree, and of course the story of the big buck that got away. I've always taken pride in the fact that hunters are conservationists.  We value the animals we hunt and we do what is right to protect and maintain wildlife and habitats.  One of the mottos of a conservationist is: leave it better than you found it. That's what I intend to do.

Using non-lead rifle ammunition is the right thing to do.  Give it a try! I think you'll find you like it.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. Wildwoods works closely with the Raptor Center of Minnesota.

Jimmy Pichner was Curator/Supervisor of Birds at the Minnesota Zoo for 34 years.  He retired in 2012, and spends as much time as he can hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.