Planning Your California Muzzleloader Deer Hunt

On October 26th, many California muzzleloader hunts open. Make sure you are properly prepared.

One of the main issues with muzzleloader hunting is the amount of paraphernalia it takes to operate. The best way to get past this obstacle is to practice several times before going afield.

However, California laws regarding toxic shot are throwing a new wrinkle into the program. For several years, muzzleloader bullets have had the appearance of being made of copper. In fact, I was one who thought I was shooting lead-free bullets until recently.

Now I’ve found out that the so-called “Copper” bullets I’ve been shooting for over two years are actually only copper coated. To complicate things, I’ve not found any bullets that call themselves “lead free.” However, Barnes does make an all-copper 45 Cal. bullet that fits into a 50 Cal. sabot and it meets the California standards as far as I can tell.

Check them out. Here’s a photo of the POWERBELT so-called “Copper” bullets on the left and the BARNES bullets with sabots on the right.

IMG_7421 bullets

The POWERBELT “Copper” Bullets on the left call themselves “copper” bullets, but as near as I can tell they have lead in them. The BARNES bullets on the right are described as pure copper. They are 45 caliber with a 50 caliber sabot.

I shot the Barnes bullets and they were accurate in my Bonecrusher model 50 caliber muzzleloader. The sabots are a very tight fit and it takes a bit or work to get the bullet down the barrel. Make your first shot count and carry a bullet starter. If you have only a long ramrod, you may never get your firearm loaded.

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?