2014-04-16 / Columns

Driftwood Outdoors

Lead-Free Shot, Sinkers A Good Choice For Wildlife
by Brandon Butler

You don’t need a rule or regulation to do the right thing. If you are a sportsman conservationist, meaning you care about the health of wildlife and not just sporting pursuit, then you must make choices based on what is best for wildlife. Choosing to shoot non-toxic lead free ammunition and fishing with non-toxic sinkers will save the lives of countless birds.

A few months back, I wrote a column about casting lead crappie jigs. I even included a picture of my young daughter helping me. I honestly did not see the error of my ways. My grandfather and I built thousands of lead jigs in my youth. I thought it was a harmless pastime well suited for building a bond with my kids. I was wrong.

Having a public platform, such as this column, is about more than telling stories. It affords one an opportunity to share learned information. After that story ran with the picture of my child working with lead, a few people wanted to make sure I was educated as to the risks of lead to both humans and wildlife. One of those people was retired resource scientist, John Schulz.

It is easy to see the location of lead pellets in the gizzards of dead doves from experimental feeding trials. (Courtesy Photo) It is easy to see the location of lead pellets in the gizzards of dead doves from experimental feeding trials. (Courtesy Photo) Schulz is passionate about saving birds from dying as a result of lead poisoning. This happens more often than you think. When mourning doves pick lead pellets from a field, ducks eat sinkers off the bottom of a lake or eagles eat contaminated big game carcasses, they die. A dove dies if it eats one pellet of lead shot.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, “Lead is a toxic metal that, in sufficient quantities, has adverse effects on the nervous and reproductive systems of mammals and birds. Found in most fishing jigs and sinkers, this metal is poisoning wildlife such as loons and eagles.”

The controversy of using lead in sporting pursuits is nothing new. Waterfowl hunters have been using non-toxic shot since 1991. That was the year the regulation banning lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting was put in place. This act has saved an untold number of ducks and geese. Even though a similar regulation for shot spent over land would save countless birds, a rule enacted now could cause a major industry backlash.

Schulz believes the answer is simply making the right choice personally. He believes that if enough people would choose to shoot nonlead ammunition, then over time the idea of doing so would become commonplace and accepted. Once enough people are already onboard with the idea of only using nontoxic shot and doing so voluntarily, then passing legislation might make sense.

“A growing body of scientific information shows traditional leadbased ammunition and fishing tackle continues to represent a significant source of mortality for more than 130 species of birds. Similarly, hunting and the money generated by hunters is critical to support and maintain wildlife management, and it is crucial that any efforts to reduce spent ammunition (and fishing tackle) do nothing to reduce hunting participation or paint hunters/ anglers in a negative light,” Schulz said.

The idea isn’t to create a controversy and immediately ban lead ammunition. The idea is to create awareness of the issue and implement change through a voluntary process. I’ve learned a lot about lead since publishing my column on making crappie jigs. One misconception I had was that non-toxic shot is much more expensive that lead shot. That’s not true. A quick look at Midway USA’s website revealed that steel shot loads are only slightly more expensive.

“Areas of misunderstanding, once recognized and articulated, can provide clues to defining ultimate problems and potential solutions toward implementation of voluntary programs. Initially, stakeholders need to agree sufficient information exists demonstrating the broad-scale environmental effects of lead-based ammunition. Next, stakeholders must acknowledge differences of opinion about solutions and implementation,” Schulz said.

A great start to the solution of removing lead from our forests, fields and waters, thus saving the lives of millions of birds would be voluntarily choosing to shoot steel shot and fishing with non-lead sinkers.

See you down the trail…

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