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Sportsmen's groups defend lead ammo use

| Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Traditional lead ammunition is in the crosshairs of some groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States. It claims lead ammunition left in the environment harms wildlife. Those associated with the shooting sports industry say such claims are untrue.
Traditional lead ammunition is in the crosshairs of some groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States. It claims lead ammunition left in the environment harms wildlife. Those associated with the shooting sports industry say such claims are untrue.

The ammunition shortage that's plagued America's shooters for more than a year isn't over just yet.

Just try finding some .22 long rifle shells, for example.

But, according to a survey of some local gun shops, things are better than they were even six months ago, especially when it comes to certain calibers. Most of what's out there is the typical, traditional lead ammunition.

“That's what most people always want,” said John Anderson of Delmont Sport Shop.

The appeal of that ammo is threefold, said Jeff Egley of Gone For A Day Sports in Elderton. It is most often readily available. It's effective on wild game, and it's significantly less expensive than lead-free ammunition made using metals like copper, copper-zinc alloys and even tin.

“In this area, because it's legal to use lead ammunition, we don't even carry that other stuff because it's way too expensive,” Egler said. “If you have a choice between a $40 box of ammo and a $20 box of ammo that does the exact same thing, you're going to buy the less expensive one.”

The Humane Society of the United States would like to take away that option. The group has launched what it's calling its “lead free campaign, a strategic offensive to end suffering and destruction caused by lead ammunition.”

“Lead poisoning translates into a painful, prolonged death for an animal, and we intend to elevate the cruelty associated with its continued dispersal in the environment,” reads the group's description of its campaign.

The group already has petitioned the Department of the Interior to ban lead ammunition for hunting purposes on all of its federal lands. That would cover about one-fifth of the land mass of the United States, it said.

The reality, though, is that the Humane Society's proposal, like others attacking lead, is based on bad science, said Nick Pinizotto, the Indiana County native who is president and CEO of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

For example, he said charges that lead ammunition — such as that found in carcasses or gut piles fed upon by raptors — is harming wildlife are bogus.

Pinizzotto referenced a website called

It says that the lead used in ammunition is metallic lead, “which is not sufficiently soluble in the digestive tract of scavengers to result in poisoning under natural feeding conditions in the wild. For example, several scientific studies have shown that it is extremely difficult to poison raptors with lead, even with constant feeding of large amounts of lead shot with food over extended periods of time.”

Groups seeking to ban lead ammunition know that but are using this debate as a back-door attempt to ban hunting on the basis of emotion rather than reason, Pinizzotto claimed.

“They don't have to be right. They just have to keep saying it enough until people start believing,” Pinizzotto said. “That's the goal.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, likewise said there's “no conclusive evidence” that lead ammunition hurts wildlife, including raptors.

“Rather, raptor populations, including the population of bald eagles, continue to steadily rise — a welcome and positive trend that coincides with the longstanding, widespread use of traditional ammunition by sportsmen across America,” it said in a report.

Others aren't as sure.

A study done by Oregon State University researchers — which involved reviewing existing literature — said ingesting lead harms as many as 120 North American bird species. The study could not determine, however, whether the damage is great enough to impact them on a population level.

Another Oregon State researcher warned that a move to non-lead ammunition would cause at least short-term pain for shooters. Non-lead ammunition hasn't been developed for all firearms, and what does exist is typically in short supply, said associate professor Clinton Epps.

Indeed, nontraditional ammunition accounts for less than 1 percent of the market sales, according to the Shooting Sports Foundation.

Shooters are learning that firsthand in some places.

California already has banned lead ammunition within its borders. That goes into effect starting next year with full compliance due by July 1, 2019.

That, combined with Arizona's voluntary ban on lead in parts of the state where condors are known to appear, has caused shortages. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has gone so far as to suggest hunters buy their ammunition early, prior to hunting seasons, before it runs out, as happened in places last year.

Oregon has no condors now but has had them in the past and potentially could have them again via expansion or reintroduction. So the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife is surveying hunters about what they know about lead and what they think about alternative ammunition.

That's not an issue here yet. Egley hopes it never gets to that point. He said he hopes people see the debate over lead as an attempt to make it so difficult or expensive for people to hunt that they'll just quit.

“There's still a certain amount of common sense out there, I hope,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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