Have You Bought Into The Lead Shot Myth?

By Skip Hutchison

It has been quite a few years since any of us hunted waterfowl in the U.S. legally with lead shot. Since then the mandatory use of non-toxic shot has expanded far beyond what those initial tests were supposed to have concluded was necessary. Let's roll back the clock and look at the evolution of the attitude toward the use of lead shot.

Being old enough to have hunted ducks prior to the federal lead ban I remember both the transition from lead shot and the purported reasoning behind it. In my state the phase out started around 1980, give or take a year. We were first told that it was only necessary to switch to non-toxic shot in non riparian areas without current. The reasoning behind this was that the action from the current would allow the lead pellets to settle deeper in the soil with time, putting them further beyond the reach of feeding waterfowl. In my home county we were allowed to use lead shot on some water yet we were required to use steel shot (the only non-toxic shot available at the time) on other water. Not surprisingly, it was only a few years before the lead shot restriction was expanded and we were required to use steel statewide for all waterfowl. Within a decade (by 1991) the use of steel shot was mandated for ducks, geese, and coots everywhere in the United States.

One of the obvious inconsistencies from the stated goal has always been that non-toxic shot requirements have not been necessarily directed toward the introduction or distribution of lead shot into water. That poses a serious problem since that was the original stated threat used to justify the ban. As an example, anyone can go out to any body of water in my state that doesn't have special regulations and shoot moorhens, rails, snipe, dove, and even skeet over water with lead shot. They could even stand on shore or sit in a boat and shoot case after case of shells containing lead shot over the water, and it would all be perfectly legal. They just can't shoot ducks, coots, or geese with lead from the exact same spot. Conversely, if they wanted to intercept ducks flying low over a high hill between a roosting area and a feeding area, and ten miles from the nearest body of water, they would be required to use non-toxic shot. The same is true for shooting geese over cultivated fields or pastures where they feed. That is an inconsistency that has stood for over a quarter of a century. Over time the regulatory agencies started seeing the contradictions in their logic which offered two alternatives. One was to relax restrictions, the other was to increase restrictions for shooting that did not involve waterfowl. Since no bureaucracy has ever shown an ability to reduce restrictions the second option was chosen. This has resulted in the expanded mandatory use of non-toxic shot to cover additional species and in additional areas.

So how does the scientifically substantiated truths, untruths, speculation, and conjecture all play their roles today regarding non-toxic shot and its required use when hunting snipe? Well, that might depend on where you live but there is no doubt that some anti-hunting influence is at play at both the federal level and within some state game agencies. It is unfortunate that the use of non-toxic shot has become a political issue driven more by an agenda than scientific facts. Perhaps where you live lead has already been banned for snipe. If not the odds of your state game agency attempting to ban lead in the near future are probably good. You should note that as of today lead shot is legal for snipe in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, the three states where the most snipe are shot in this country. In fact, it is probable that more snipe are shot in those three states than in the other forty-four states combined that have snipe seasons. How can that be? Do the game agencies in those states not know what they are doing. No, precisely the opposite is the case. They are the most knowledgeable on the issue because they are the most exposed to both the birds and the people that hunt them. They have a substantial enough database of information collected that they can draw a reasonable conclusion about lead shot and the minimal threat from it. I applaud them for not taking an unnecessary knee jerk position on the use of lead shot for hunting snipe. Other states would do well to learn from them.

If your state is currently requiring non-toxic shot for snipe I hope you will petition them for the scientific data used to arrive at such a conclusion. You might be dealing with a state agency that turns a deaf ear or you might be dealing with one that made their decision based on "better safe than sorry" reasoning. If the latter is the case and you find them to be open minded you might want to present them with the data below from a study conducted by the state of Georgia over a six year period. It was conducted under strictly controlled conditions and involved the study of both gizzards from harvested birds and samples to determine lead deposition in the soil. It stands alone as the best and most scientifically accurate study of shooting snipe with lead. The results show conclusively and unequivocally that the sky is not falling.

Lead Shot Deposition in Waterfowl Impoundments by Common Snipe Hunters

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