Get The Lead Out: California Law Targets Hunters, Bullets

Deer and other big game hunting seasons are upon us in California. But one signature by the governor could forever change the hunting landscape in the state.

The California legislature overwhelmingly passed Assembly Bill 711 Oct. 11, which would outlaw the use the lead bullets for hunting. Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, author of the bill, argues that the expended bullet casings leave enough lead in the environment to harm animals that come in contact with it. Supporters of the bill say that endangered bird like the California condor and predators like the bald eagle are poisoned when they eat animals that have been shot and left behind by hunters. Rendon told the Human Society that there’s good reason for the bill since lead has already been removed from paints, gasoline and children’s toys due to the dangers it poses.

Lead poisoning is a problem for pinnacle predators nationwide. There were 583 bald eagle carcasses tested by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 2000 to 2007, with 16 percent of them dying from lead poisoning, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Effect on Hunters

Lead, as of publishing time, sells at about $.95 per pound, while copper goes for about $3.28. Chuck Michel, an NRA attorney, told the San Francisco Chronicle that this is the primary reason why outlawing lead bullets would ultimately end hunting in the state. Copper bullets are not only more expensive, but also emit sparks, which could ignite wild fires. Michel further argues that hunters would have to do extra maintenance on oring seals and re-calibrate their rifles because copper bullets fly differently than their lead counterparts. Other gun lobbies, including the National Sports Shooting Foundation and Hunt for Truth Association, pointed out other potential sources of lead poisoning for condors and eagles. Condors are scavengers that eat just about anything. Michel said there are pictures of condors eating lead paint chipped off of buildings.

Legislative History

This is not the first time the subject of lead bullets for hunting has been tackled by U.S. legislators. Lead bullets for goose and duck hunting have been outlawed since 1991 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the residual lead was contaminating water. The Center For Disease Control released a study in 2008 that warned children and pregnant women not to eat meat harvested with lead bullets because of the toxicity.

California is the first state in the union to ban lead bullets for hunting. The law would not effect shooting range and clay shooting activities. Animal rights activists and other supporters of the bill are hoping to set a precedent more states will adopt. It will take years for the law to be fully enacted.


Mary Edwards

Mary is a freelance writer and expert in guns, hunting, shooting and clay target competitions.

Creative Commons image by USFWS/Southeast

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