Bad News – but Good News in UC Lead-Poisoning Reports

These turkey vultures were captured on film with a trail camera.

Two reports from UC Davis confirm what most of us have expected. Turkey vultures, ravens and golden eagles eat the remains of deer, pig, bear and various varmints killed by hunters and those birds have been proven to ingest lead when eating the remains that contain lead from lead bullets.

Lead bullets often fragment when they enter the target animal. Those fragments can spread throughout the meat and intestines of game animals killed by lead bullets. Often, the intestines of game animals – along with hide and sometimes bones – are left in the field after the animal is harvested. Vultures are one of the first to take over a gut pile.

Varmints are often left afield when killed by varmint hunters or predator hunters.

Here are links to the UC Davis reports:

The first is entitled, “Impact of the California Lead Ammunition Ban on Reducing Lead Exposure in Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures.”

Golden eagles, like vultures, are vulnerable to lead poisoning from eating carrion laced with lead from bullets.

The second is entitled, “Lead Exposure in Free-Flying Turkey Vultures is Associated with Big Game Hunting in California.”

The end game is a ban of the use of lead in projectiles used by hunters. This is nothing new as lead bullets have already been banned in most of Southern California. Part of the good news is that replacing lead in bullets is primarily only an expense. Hunters who believe in protecting the environment will pay this price as part of hunting.

It is unfortunate that additional costs may make it slightly more difficult to recruit new hunters, but recruitment is already difficult in California where few of us have an opportunity to appreciate the value of and goodness of hunting.

What other good news do these reports contain?

For one, we can maintain that hunters and the hunting industry have once again, as with steel shot,  taken action to protect California wildlife by accepting the costly challenge of producing and accepting non-lead ammunition.

Here is one quote: “These findings indicate that there has been a positive impact of the lead ammunition ban on reducing lead exposure in individual vultures sampled for our study.” Hunters take credit.

Here’s a pig that helped feed the local vultures.

I guess you might say “the spin starts here,” but keep in mind that many hunters supported a ban on lead bullets and many more will support it now that these reports have been published.

And, a diminished group will continue to wail.

One report also makes an unintended pro-hunting statement. “Big game hunting in California is presumed to supply a substantial food source to avian scavengers, especially year-round wild pig hunting, which provides hunter-killed carrion throughout the year to scavengers within the wild pig range. Hunting activities vary by type and intensity throughout California and there is considerable overlap of different hunting seasons.” This may be the biggest endorsement of wild pig hunting by non-hunters ever.

It appears that hunters provide food for a significant portion of this avian population. Without hunting, we would (presumably) be faced with fewer of these large birds –  critters of importance. Hunters also provide a significant source of food for themselves.

So, we hunters are a step closer the elimination of lead bullets as a hunting option. The biggest issue is what will replace lead? Will it be effective? And, will it be inert?

One thought on “Bad News – but Good News in UC Lead-Poisoning Reports

  1. Hi,

    I would assume that if lead bullets are harmful to vultures, they would also be harmful to us, no?

    I ask because several days ago I cooked a leg of hare which I had purchased from poultry butcher. When I was chewing on it, I found two lead shotgun pellets in the meat.

    Is there some procedure either the hunter or the cook should do to prevent finding lead shot in one’s evening meal?


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