Maryland lawmakers shouldn’t be bamboozled by phony arguments and misdirection when it comes to a hunter-food-safety and wildlife protection bill to phase out the use of lead ammunition in the state. That bill (SB 983), introduced by Sen. Karen Lewis Young, a Frederick County Democrat, deserves support from every conservation-minded hunter and any sensible animal rights advocates.

It baffles me why so many of my fellow hunters insist on poisoning wildlife, themselves, and friends and family by hunting game with lead ammunition. Swapping in copper bullets amounts to adding the expense of a latte at a Starbucks.

Some hunters pass off their lead-strewn venison to programs such as Sportsmen Against Hunger, and it can end up being fed to the needy. Acting on data collected by University of North Dakota medical professor and Safari Club International member Dr. William Cornatzer, the health departments of North Dakota and Minnesota in 2007 impounded 17,000 pounds of donated, lead-impregnated venison.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommends “the use of non-lead ammunition as the simplest and most effective solution to lead poisoning, in both humans and wildlife, arising from the consumption of deer killed with lead ammunition.”

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture certifies commercial meat lockers. But neither it nor the Food and Drug Administration regulate lead in donated venison.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports: “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.”

I polled hardcore big-game hunters I know about what they think about copper bullets. They serve with me on the Outdoor Writers of America Association’s Circle of Chiefs. A few of their comments:

Ammo companies developed copper bullets not to protect wildlife or humans, but to kill game more effectively than lead bullets. They do. Hunters have known this for years.

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The North American Non-Lead Partnership — committed to protecting wildlife from poisoning by lead bullets — includes 46 partners, such as The Peregrine Fund (founded by hunters using falcons), the Oregon Hunters Association and Arizona Wild Turkey Federation.

The partnership sponsors demonstrations in which copper and lead bullets are fired into plastic bags filled with water and housed in plastic drums. Slugs and fragments fall to the bottom of the drums. In one typical demo, hosted by Allen Zufelt of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Partnership co-founder Chris Parish, Zufelt fires a Federal Nosler AccuBond 180-grain lead bullet, then a 180-grain Federal Trophy Copper bullet. Parish retrieves and weighs the two mushroomed slugs. The copper slug weighs 179.9 grains. The lead slug weighs 137.5 grains, having shed and scattered 42.5 grains of fragments.

The toxicity of lead hunting projectiles is ancient news. George Bird Grinnell published this warning in his sporting weekly, Forest & Stream: “Until they reach the gizzard where the wildfowl grinds his food, these pellets do no harm, but, when reduced to powder … they become a violent poison.” The year was 1894.

In 2024, it’s about time we take the lead out of hunting.

Ted Williams is a lifelong hunter who writes about the outdoors.

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