Lead Shot Kills Long After The Bullet Stops

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Here’s another reason cameras are better in the wilderness than rifles or rods.

Millions of pounds of lead used in hunting, fishing, and shooting sports wind up lost in the great outdoors every year, reports the USGS. Except they’re not really lost. Only lost to the human hunters and fishers.

They are certainly not lost to the countless individuals of numerous species who eat the spent lead shot, the wayward bullets, the lost fishing sinkers, and the snagged the tackle. They are decidedly not lost to the wildlife that eats the dead and wounded animals who were shot, or who ate the lead.

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Radiograph of immature bald eagle containing numerous lead shot in its digestive tract (Jacobson et al. 1977). (courtesy of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)

According to a new technical review by The Wildlife Society, upland hunting fields could receive as much as 400,000 shots per acre. Individual shooting ranges might receive 23 tons of lead shot and bullets yearly. All outdoor shooting ranges in the US combined could receive more than 80,000 tons of lead annually.

Meanwhile, roughly 4,382 tons of lead fishing sinkers are sold in the US every year. No one knows how much of that is lost.

The report notes: Lead is a metal with no known beneficial role in biological systems.

“Science is replete with evidence that ingestion of spent ammunition and fishing tackle can kill birds,” said Barnett Rattner, one of the report’s authors. “The magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons, is daunting. For this reason, on July 1, 2008, the state of California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California condor because the element poses such a threat to this endangered species.”

Lead poisoning causes behavioral, physiological, and biochemical effects, and often death. The rate of mortality is high enough to affect the populations of some wildlife species. Not to mention the hunters who eat them. Is this why hunting is on the decline?

Environmentally safe alternatives to lead shot and sinkers exist and are available in North America and elsewhere. But use of these alternatives is not widespread, according to the report.

You know, this is where laws come in handy.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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