If Wyoming hunters and sports shooters switch to lead-free ammunition, it should be because they care about wildlife conservation and health, not because the federal government forced them to, some Cowboy State riflemen said.
“If a person plans to take one shot, and there is an option of spending $3 for that bullet and the result is giving a baby eagle's brain lead poisoning and serving your family lead-laced meat, and the other option is spending another dollar to avoid that, I am not a rocket surgeon, but it kind of makes good common sense,” Shepard Humpries of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily.
Humpries is one of the leaders of the Jackson-based Nomad Rifleman Team, which last year set a long-distance rifle world record with a seemingly impossible 4.4-mile shot.
To make that shot, they used a 422-grain copper bullet fired from a custom-built rifle chambered for the .416 Barrett cartridge.
The best way to get hunters to switch to lead-free ammunition is “education, not legislation” avid hunter Bryan Bedrosian of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily.
Bedrosian is the conservation director at the Teton Raptor Center and the co-founder and director of sportingleadfree.org, which advocates for lead-free hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.
But the group doesn’t want lead-free options forced by law.
“Every time we talk about new regulations, it just creates knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “And I understand that, (but) I don’t want to see any more regulation telling me what to do.”
Lead Ammo Controversy Flares Up Again
Concerns over lead ammunition’s effects on the wildlife and the environment have ebbed and flowed for decades.
In 1991, there was a federal ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting. Since, duck and goose hunters have used shotshells loaded with pellets made from alternatives such as steel, bismuth or tungsten.
That ban was implemented over concerns about waterfowl gobbling down spent lead shot while foraging on hunting grounds, thereby poisoning themselves and any predators or scavengers that ate them.
There have been several subsequent pushes to implement a similar ban on hunting or target shooting with lead-based rifle ammunition. Proponents argue that traces of lead in big game carcasses and gut piles can poison raptors such as eagles and hawks, as well as other predators and scavengers.
Most recently, there was strong backlash against the Biden administration’s move to ban all types of lead ammunition on some federal wildlife reserves in the Eastern U.S. Some worry that could lead to an eventual lead ammunition ban on federal lands across the country.
Wyoming Republican U.S. Rep. Harriet Hagman co-sponsored a bill that would bar the federal Interior and Agriculture departments from banning lead ammunition on any federal lands. She also blasted the Biden administration, claiming the president is trying to use lead ammunition bans to undermine the Second Amendment.
A Real Problem
Bedrosian said his group stumps to get hunters to understand that lead ammunition hurts Wyoming’s raptors and voluntarily switch to alternatives.
“The data are conclusive. I know there are some folks who will saw that the data aren’t conclusive, but we know that eagles do digest lead from gut piles and they die,” he said.
Copper bullets are a great alternative for hunting rifles, he said, adding that he’s had good luck dropping all types of big game with them.
One thing to be mindful of when switching to copper ammunition is that hunters should expect to use lighter bullets, Bedrosian said. For example, if a rifle preforms well with 180-grain lead-core bullets, it will probably be most accurate with 165-grain all-copper bullets.
He added that his group would also like to see upland bird hunters switch to lead-free shotshells, as was done for waterfowl hunting.
Studies indicate that a significant number of upland birds are hit, but not killed, by hunters, Bedrosian said. If those birds escape with lead shot in their bodies, that can subsequently poison the predators or scavengers that eat them.
Target Shooting Isn’t A Threat
One concern over the Biden administration’s proposed lead ammunition bans is that they would apply to not just hunting, but target shooting as well.
Banning lead ammunition for target shooting wouldn’t do anything to protect raptors and other wildlife, Bedrosian and Humphries said.
“There is no evidence that lead bullets shot at steel targets, which is his main area of interest in shooting sports, do any damage to anything on the high dry plains of Wyoming,” Humphries said.
Bedrosian said that although he hunts exclusively with copper bullets, he still uses lead-based ammunition for target practice, as there’s no reason to think that’s a threat to wildlife.
The only possible exception would be areas of really high-density shotgun shooting where you might have bird like doves and grouse that will come in and pick up the lead pellets, he said.
Keep Politics Out Of It
Bedrosian said the movement toward lead-free ammunition for hunting is catching on in Wyoming, so it’s best to just let hunters decide for themselves and make it about conservation, not political squabbles.
“It’s becoming more of a political piece,” he said. “And I always come back to the fact that we set an example in Wyoming of such a great way to move forward with this in a manner that works for all sides.”
Humphries said he supports Sporting Lead-Free’s approach.
“I like what Bryan and Sporting Lead-Free is doing. They are doing it the ‘voluntaryist way,’ education rather than legislation. A law about bullet composition, like any other law, is basically a threat,” he said. “It is basically a politician and a cop and a judge telling you that they are going to steal money from you or put you in a cage if you don't use the kind of bullet they, in their infinite wisdom, ‘know’ is best for you in your situation.
“Good neighbors wouldn't treat other folks that way. Good neighbors chat with folks and make suggestions, they don't threaten violence. I appreciate Bryan and his organization for that.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.