Rebuttal to Audubon Society’s Support for Statewide Lead Ammunition Ban in Cali

Hunt for Truth’s Rebuttal to the Audubon Society’s Support for the Proposed Statewide Lead Ammunition Ban (AB 711) for Hunting in California.

Truth Behind Lead Ammo Bans
Truth Behind Lead Ammo Bans
Hunt For Truth
Hunt For Truth

California – -( The following is an excerpt of The Audubon Society’s “Facts Sheet” recently published in support of AB 711, and the Hunt for Truth’s response to “Their” alleged facts.

Their “Myth” – The 2007 ban on the use of lead ammunition in the range of the California condor hasn’t worked, despite high levels of compliance among hunters.

Their “Fact” – The situation for condors and other wildlife species has improved because of the ban. A recent study by researchers at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center found that lead
exposure in both Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures declined significantly after the condor ban was implemented.

Their “Fact” – Condors continue to suffer because it only takes a small amount of lead in the environment to do a great deal of damage. One contaminated carcass can easily jeopardize six or more condors feeding on the same carcass.

Their “Fact” – While preliminary studies of condors in its California range from 2008 indicate that lead levels are declining, a more comprehensive study completed in 2012 by UC Santa Cruz researchers found that condors continue to be exposed to deadly levels of lead.

Their “Fact” – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reported high levels of compliance a year after the 2007 law went into effect, but further reports from the field unfortunately call that result into question. With fewer than 200 wardens patrolling the entire state at any given time, compliance with the law from both lawful hunting and unregulated activities due to poaching is difficult to measure.

The Truth: Blood-lead levels in California condors have not declined for within the “condor zone” because condors are being significantly exposed to alternative sources of bioavailable lead, including documented evidence of lead paint chip and lead-contaminated microtrash ingestion.  The AB 821 lead ammunition ban (the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act) has done nothing to prevent the alternative sources of lead in the condor zone.

The Truth: The paper by researchers at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center was fatally flawed.  The authors attempted to compare blood-lead levels in golden eagles and turkey vultures before and after the AB 821 lead ammunition ban.  However, 70% of the authors’ blood-lead tests were taken after a lead ammunition ban was put into place at Tejon Ranch, but those samples were characterized as pre AB 821 lead ban blood-lead tests. Despite the flaw, this paper is still cited and is a prime example of the faulty science used by self-proclaimed environmentalists.

The Truth: Several scientific studies have shown that it is extremely difficult to poison raptors with metallic lead, even with constant forced feeding of large amounts of metallic lead shot with food over extended periods of time. In contrast, it is quite easy to poison raptors and other wildlife when they exposed to an alternative source of soluble lead such as lead paint chips and other lead-contaminated microtrash.

The Truth: A paper published by The Wildlife Society found that lead ammunition fragments in game carcasses were not a source of lead exposure or poisoning in large carnivores and concluded that hunting season has no effect on the blood-lead levels in large carnivores. In addition, the study’s data indicate a continuous, year-round alternative source.

Their “Myth” – Non-lead bullets cost twice as much as lead bullets, and aren’t nearly as accurate.

Their “Fact” – A recent comprehensive review of the market for non-lead ammunition concluded that “there is no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead-free and lead-core ammunition for most popular calibers.”

Their “Fact” – The researcher found that “lead-free ammunition has set benchmark standards for accuracy, lethality, and safety. Lead-free bullets are made in 35 different calibers and 51 rifle cartridge designations. Thirty-seven companies distribute internationally ammunition made with lead free bullets.

Their “Fact” – Never before has non-lead ammunition been so affordable and the price continues to decline.

The Truth: The price of non-lead ammunition has dropped, but it still costs more than lead-based ammunition, up to 30% more. Additionally, the ultimate cost is the unknown effects on wildlife that come from using alternative ammunition such as copper, which has been shown to be toxic, and tungsten, which has been shown to be a carcinogen.  In general, alternative ammunition metals are known to have harmful effects on wildlife, and are likely to cause many new problems if lead is no longer available.

The Truth: The availability of non-lead ammunition in different calibers is questionable at best, and there are still many calibers that are not available.  Even if the caliber is being made and marketed, hunters are still reportedly having a difficult time finding and purchasing the ammunition.

Their “Myth” – There is no evidence that poisoned birds got the lead from ammo/gut piles. Lead could be coming from other sources.

Their “Fact” – The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center study showed that blood lead concentration in turkey vultures was significantly higher during the deer hunting season compared to the off-season, and blood lead concentration also increased with increasing intensity of wild pig hunting at study sites.

Their “Fact” – The UC Santa Cruz researchers definitively identified the isotopic fingerprint of lead from ammunition and associated it with the source of exposure and poisoning in condors.

The Truth: Most of the condors’ diet is cattle carcasses from nearby ranches, not hunters’ gut piles. Cattle are very prone to lead poisoning. Feeding on lead-poisoned cattle is more dangerous than feeding on lead ammunition because the lead in the cattle is more bioavailable than the lead in ammunition.

The Truth: The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center study regarding turkey vultures is fatally flawed.  The authors did not properly assess the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s hunter’s take data, which was integral to their conclusions. Even with the flawed assumptions, methodologies and conclusions by the UC Davis researchers, self-proclaimed environmentalists still cite the paper, despite the faulty science.

The Truth: The UC Santa Cruz researchers claimed that they identified the lead source of exposure and poisoning in condors using an isotopic compositional analysis. The truth is that isotopic compositional analysis cannot be used to positively identify a single source of lead from commercially available ammunition.

Their “Myth” – Non-lead ammunition is not as accurate or effective as lead ammunition.

Their “Fact” – It is the effectiveness of non-lead ammunition that first ignited interested in alternatives to lead. Safari Club International was the first to sing non-lead ammunition’s praises during safari hunts in Africa. Many hunters are voluntarily changing ammunition type
because of the improved “knock down” power and accuracy of non-lead ammunition.

Their “Fact” – A 2006 survey by the Arizona Game and Fish Department found that hunters overwhelmingly approved of both the accuracy and performance of non-lead ammunition compared to their experience with lead.

The Truth: Because most alternative metals are less dense than lead, they lose energy and velocity in flight faster than lead and retain less down-range energy. For rifle ammunition, alternative metals are able to offer similar performance to lead at close range, but the generally lower density of non-lead alternatives undermines their ballistic performance above 100-150 yards and makes lead a superior ammunition for long-range targets. In addition, bullets used for large game mammals during safari hunts in Africa are generally of solid construction, not the expanding design usually approved for taking big game in North America. Lead ammunition also provides superior terminal performance and a more humane kill, as harder alternative ammunition can allow game to escape and remain in the field to die.

The Truth:  Bullets used for large game mammals during safari hunts in Africa cannot be compared to the bullets used for taking big game in North America. The bullets used in safari hunts are generally of solid construction while the bullets used in North America are designed to expand. Comparing the two different types of bullets is like comparing apples with oranges.

Their “Myth” – Federal law preempts any lead ammunition limits because of the body armor piercing issue.

Their “Fact” – This is just the latest red herring generated by the manufacturing industry intended only to slow the progress of lead ammunition abatement policy. The industry’s claims are especially dubious given that they continue to manufacture and sell non-lead ammunition for sporting purposes, despite their alleged legal concerns.

Their “Fact” – The federal law banning armor piercing ammunition has been on the books since 1968 and contains a specific exemption for “sporting purposes.” The law has never been interpreted as prohibiting ammunition for hunting purposes, and ATF has made no effort to interfere with either the longstanding federal waterfowl ban on lead ammunition or California’s recent condor habitat ban.

The Truth: The ATF has made a determination that non-lead ammunition for rifles and handguns meets the tests for armor piercing ammunition, because of its chemical composition.  Add in the fact that various makes and models of handguns exist that can shoot virtually all of the alternative ammunition. Thus, it is illegal under both state and federal laws to use or possess such armor piercing ammunition. To date, ATF has not granted any waivers for alternative ammunition under the “sporting purpose” exemption.

Their “Myth” – Alternatives to lead ammunition are also highly toxic and problematic for the environment.

Their “Fact” – While non-lead ammunition does contain substances that can be considered toxic under some circumstances, there is absolutely no evidence that these materials pose anything close the environmental threat that lead ammunition presents.

The Truth: Alternative ammunition containing bismuth, tungsten, copper, and jacketed steel have all raised various concerns among conservationists. Recent studies show that bismuth has been found to leach into the soil and groundwater and interfere with soil bacteria. Other studies demonstrate that tungsten, which is transformed to a soluble form by oxidation, can accumulate in the spleen of wildlife and possibly cause immune system disorders. Even copper has been shown to be toxic under certain circumstances, and has been found to be the primary cause of mortality in certain condors exposed to copper fragments and microtrash containing copper.

The Truth: Lead ammunition from the Civil War has been in the field for over a century with no negative environmental impact. Minie balls found on 150 year-old battlefields retain most of their shape and mass because metallic lead is not very soluble and does not tend to migrate.  In other words, lead ammunition does not tend to dissolve and wash away in surface or ground water and is not the threat that environmentalists claim.

Their “Myth” – This campaign is a thinly disguised effort to limit hunting.

Their “Fact” – As noted above, hunters have been shifting toward non-lead ammunition for both technical and conservation reasons for years.

Their “Fact” – A 1991 federal ban on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl had little impact on the number of hunting licenses issued in California, and subsequently enabled the resurgence of many populations of ducks, geese, and other species being killed off by poisoning from lead shot.

Their “Fact” – The 2007 requirement of non-lead ammunition in the condor range did not reduce the number of deer tags issued.

Their “Fact” – Condors and eagles benefit from animal remains left over from hunting if lead contamination is not a factor. Hunting can actually be a conservation benefit by increasing available food supplies for scavenging species.

The Truth: AB 711 is sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States.  Nearly two decades ago, the present Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle stated, “We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States. We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state.”

The Truth: Hunting is Conservation. There are many conservation benefits of hunting. The population of elk, whitetails, ducks, wild turkeys, and pronghorns has increased dramatically thanks to the money and hard work by hunters to restore and conserve habitat. Additionally, the tax hunters pay for their equipment has raised more than $2 billion for wildlife conservation, which comes to about $280 million per year. Most important, hunting is a wildlife management tool that helps balance wildlife populations with its habitat, which in turn limits property damage (e.g., crops) and curtails outbreaks of disease. 

Their “Myth” – This campaign is taking advantage of current anti-gun sentiment.

Their “Fact” – Each of the sponsoring organizations supported the use of non-lead ammunition long before the recent political push for gun control legislation.

Their “Fact” – Audubon’s founder first extolled the risks from lead ammunition in 1894, and Audubon was the primary sponsor of the 2007 legislation.

The Truth: There is no dispute that the sponsors of this bill have been pushing for a lead ammunition ban for many years, but they are using the current anti-gun sentiment and tried and true scare tactics to push their “get the lead out” campaign.  These anti-lead ammunition groups seized the opportunity despite the California Fish and Game Commission’s urging to “allow us the opportunity to try to make this work before you go to the legislature and get a bill going. That’s what rushed it through the last time. Give us an opportunity [to address this issue] first.” 

The Truth: The California Fish and Game Commission set up a working committee to investigate both sides of the lead ammunition debate, and to make an informed decision based on the facts and sound science. But before the working committee even started, the lead ammunition ban proponents disregarded the Commission’s admonishment, circumvented the Commission’s committee process, and convinced an assembly member to introduce AB 711 in the legislature, where the science will not be scrutinized.

Their “Myth” – This law would place an undue burden on all gun owners.

Their “Fact” – Assembly Bill 711 only creates a requirement for non-lead ammunition for hunting in California.

Their “Fact” – This excludes law enforcement, home security, target shooting, and other non-hunting uses.

The Truth: The undue burden on all firearms owners is based on the limited availability and the higher cost of non-lead ammunition. The cost of non-lead ammunition is up to 30% higher than traditional lead-based ammunition and non-lead ammunition is not available in all calibers. With the ATF’s determination that non-lead ammunition for rifles and pistols meets the test for armor piercing ammunition due to its chemical composition, if AB 711 is passed hunters may not be able to hunt because there will be no legal ammunition for hunting in California.              
The Hunt for Truth and like-minded wildlife and natural resource conservation groups continue to review various regulatory threats to traditional hunting and shooting sports. Where the science leads to a wise management conclusion, we support wildlife managers in their efforts to conserve our natural and wildlife resources. But where the science is faulty, politically biased, distorted or unsupportable, we continue to work tirelessly to expose the truth. Visit:

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Really? Only 200 wardens.
I live in the smallest county in the state by population, and we have nine as well as a multi-million dollar complex.
Boy, am I in the wrong place.