Junk Science Aside, Lead is Still the Best Alternative for Ammunition

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The following was written in response to an opinion piece published in the East Oregonian by Jim Ward to rebut his claims regarding lead ammunition.

Jim Ward’s recent article (November 2, 2011) entitled Hunters: Be aware of hazards of lead is short on facts but long on misinformation.

Although Mr. Ward claims to be a hunter, he repeats the slogans and misinformation of the lead ban proponents, accusing hunters of “spraying lead” into the environment and exaggerating the role of lead poisoning in history.

In an effort to portray lead ammunition as hazardous, Mr. Ward presents the highly controversial theory that lead poisoning was responsible for the downfall of the Roman Empire. However, this theory has been discounted as being “so full of false evidence, mis-citations, typographical errors, and a blatant flippancy regarding primary sources that the reader cannot trust the basic arguments.”

Without offering any evidence, Mr. Ward blames lead poisoning in eagles and other raptors on the ingestion of small pieces of lead contained in the carcasses of small game animals and birds left in the field by hunters. However, there is no scientific evidence that such poisoning is taking place.

In fact, lead ammunition is an unlikely source of such poisoning, because metallic lead that is used to make bullets and shot, is quite insoluble in the digestive tract of raptors. Scientific studies have shown that it is very difficult to poison eagles and other raptors by force feeding them lead shot over extended periods of time.

On the other hand, lead compounds found in old paint, insecticides, leaded gasoline or mine tailings are quite soluble in the digestive tract and are responsible for the many highly publicized lead poisonings. Such lead compounds are common in the environment and should first be investigated in cases of lead poisoning of wildlife.

Hunters should not be misled into giving up lead for alternate ammunition, which may have serious environmental consequences. Alternative ammunition contain bismuth, tungsten or copper coated steel which have all raised concerns. Bismuth has been shown to leach into the soil and interfere with soil bacteria. Tungsten, which is transformed to a soluble form by oxygen, can accumulate in the spleen of wildlife and possibly cause immune system disorders. Even copper has been shown to be toxic under certain circumstances, and steel shot does not perform as well as lead on game, leading to higher numbers of crippled game animals.

All things considered and junk science aside, lead is still the best alternative for ammunition.

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