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Getting the lead out

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BY RICH PATTERSON
The big doe dropped in its tracks a split second after I’d tried something new. I’d been using lead core pistol bullets in my muzzleloader. But, when Barnes brought out copper bullets I bought a box, used them when sighting in my Knight rifle and found them deadly accurate. And when the doe fell, I knew they’d also humanely drop a deer.
That was about 15 years ago and I’ve not used a lead hunting bullet since and with the copper alternative, no one needs to.
More than 20 copper-killed deer have gone in our freezer without ever losing a wounded one. A few years later I chucked lead completely and now use nontoxic shot for all small game.
Calling a bullet nontoxic may be the ultimate oxymoron. Copper is selective. It’s deadly to the deer yet kind to any scavenging creature that feasts on a gut pile or unrecovered animal.
The impact of lead bullets on California condors is well known, but a new study on Upper Midwest bald eagles shows that lead is also deadly to bald eagles and other wildlife.
Over a two year period federal biologists examined 168 dead eagles and found lead in 48 percent of their livers — 21 percent had lethal levels.
“Although most eagles showed no visible eternal signs of lead poisoning, internal examination showed clinical signs and gross lesions of lead poisoning that included distended and bile-engorged gall bladders,” said Ed Britton, project leader and manager of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge’s Savanna.
A secondary study found lead fragments in 36 percent of gut piles recovered from the Lost Mound unit of the Upper Mississippi Refuge in Illinois. When you consider the hundreds of thousands of gut piles left in the field and the enthusiasm eagles show for feeding on them the impact is enormous.
Banning lead ammunition is controversial, and I might not favor a ban if effective alternatives weren’t available — but they are. Copper based bullets are now readily available for muzzleloaders, shotgun slugs, and rifles.
We got lead out of paint, gasoline, and waterfowl ammunition years ago. Now it’s time to get it out of the deer woods. ♦
— Rich Patterson is an avid deer hunter and member of the Circle of Chiefs. 
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