With everything that industry touches, there are health costs to humans and the natural world.
This is very true for modern hunting and the usual weapon of choice—firearms.
Guns use a projectile that can strike the animal at incredible speed and at long distances. Lead has been the “go to” metal for ammunition for quite some time. This was due, in large part, to its cost (it was relatively inexpensive), but its weight also provided ballistic attributes that made it a choice for most hunters.
However, it was banned in 1991 for waterfowl because the lead pellets were being consumed by ducks and geese after the pellets came to rest in the waterbodies. These birds, who unknowingly consumed the spent pellets that had missed their mark, were subsequently poisoned by the lead shot and died.
A brief tangent, but an important one that needs to be mentioned—hunters resisted voluntarily changing to non-toxic shot because of cost and inflated concerns of performance of replacement shot (I use the word inflated because surveys of hunters showed no statistical difference in killed and wounded birds using different metals for shot).
If you are a hunter and your hackles are being raised now, please don’t direct that at me because it is well known that most waterfowl hunters did not choose to change to a non-toxic metal, but instead were forced to by law.
Despite knowing what was occurring, it required a law to change the hunter’s behavior.
It speaks volumes to me, and hopefully to you too who are reading these words.
Now, we are learning that lead bullets used on larger terrestrial animals, such as deer, are contaminating the carcasses with minute lead fragments. Most of these fragments are too small to be seen, and they are not at all confined to the immediate area of the bullet wound (they can range up to three feet from the bullet wound). The lead fragments, which can number in the hundreds (literally) are bioavailable, meaning they are absorbed into the bloodstream of the consumer of the meat.
Research shows that there is a measurable difference in lead levels in the consumer’s blood a couple days after consumption of an animal that was killed with a lead bullet.
You can read this for yourself.
Of course, the lead also contaminates the organs that are left in the field after the animal is field dressed, passing to those animals that scavenge the remains. So now, again, we are learning that lead bullets are contaminating the landscape and our own bodies. And, again, there will likely be loads of resistance to changing because of the same concerns: cost and ballistic performance of the bullets.
If you aren’t aware, lead isn’t anything you want to be located in your tissues, especially your brain.
I could go into all the effects of lead that adults experience, but most won’t consider these warnings seriously because they already have a number of behaviors that indicate their personal health isn’t a focus (sorry, I realize that is blunt, but still very true).
So, let me put this another way: lead impacts children’s cognitive ability (permanently), their motor function, and increases their risk of cancer (among many other problems). Even if you don’t care about your health, you should consider limiting the feeding of animals killed with lead rounds to children, because they are far more sensitive to the lead contamination in the carcass.
For those who are still on the fence, be aware that in some states they’ve even halted the gifting of hunted animals to food pantries because of the lead contamination.
It is a real issue and should not be ignored. That all written, there are (fortunately) alternatives.
Of course, there exist non-toxic metals that can be used in rifles and muzzle loaders, such as copper (options for shotguns have existed for decades now).
Yes, these alternative metals cost more, but isn’t the health of you, your family, and planet worth the expenditure? You can pay a higher price for ammunition or you (and everyone else) can pay a higher price for health bills.
Of course, rifles still use explosive powders and (rapid) chemical reactions that aren’t the best choice for health. Non-toxic bullets are simply less bad. For those animals that can be hunted with bows, this is a good alternative because there are many brands of broadheads that can be purchased made of non-toxic metals (such as stainless steel). These broadheads, which function by cutting blood vessels in the animal, aren’t contaminating the carcass like a lead bullet.
It is worth mentioning that anyone who hunts or aspires to hunt with a wooden bow and a stone-tipped wooden arrow, you will not be polluting the carcasses of your kills with anything (nor will you be leveling mountains and polluting streams to make your hunting weapon). For those animals that can be hunted with bows, it makes so much sense to do so, especially in light of the evidence that is emerging.
A final strategy that has merit is to consume chlorella (a green alga) concomitantly with the animal meal. This plant food is widely available in stores and online. Its value is that it binds to lead (a process called chelation) and prevents it from being absorbed by the body—evidence-based research validates this.
I believe that hunters should be proactive and take the responsibility to change (i.e., let’s not wait until use of lead bullets becomes illegal, as it will be in California soon). Throughout my lifetime, I’ve noticed hunters were happy to make changes that incorporate technology that makes it easier to find, kill, transport, and butcher animals. But changes that are designed to protect populations and promote cleaner ecosystems are not always received well.
We have a responsibility to steward the landscapes we inhabit, such that coming generations can also participate in the activities we love. We need to promote a new ethic in the community, one of extreme responsibility to the non-human persons we rely on for food.
Changes have learning curves, but, ultimately, we can interact with the world around us in a way to leave it in the same or better condition than it was when we first came into it.