With California, the nation's most populous state set to ban ammunition with lead components for use by hunters no later than 2019; the stage could be set for an incremental prohibition of a much greater magnitude.
Quietly, California Assembly Bill 711, passed in 2013, authorized the California Fish and Game Commission to set up regulations to take lead out of the environment for the sake of wildlife populations. However, it didn't go after lead fishing weights (thousands of which are lost in lakes and rivers due to popped lines) or lead tire weights (thousands of which fly off of car and truck tires and then end up due to drainage in low lying areas) but they did, specifically target ammunition.
The thing is, 95 percent of the bullets made in the U.S. are lead or have lead components, meaning most rounds, with the exception of some steel and bismuth shot shells (mandated for use in waterfowl hunting by the federal government), would eventually be off the table for hunters in California. In fact, AB711 requires the complete ban on this type of traditional ammunition for hunting in California by July 1, 2019.
Yes, this includes California's rabbit hunters who will be forced to transition to non-lead alternative loads. As the state enjoys abundant numbers of bunnies, it has a decent season (typically July through January for cottontail, brush, pygmy and snowshoe rabbits while black-tailed and white-tailed jackrabbit season remains open year round with the use of dogs to locate and retrieve your rabbits allowed). However, there is trouble ahead.
Increasing costs, diminished public funds.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, who has a great infographic on the subject, there are very little offerings available in steel shot, tungsten, or bismuth loads. In fact, at least half of the common calibers currently marketed are just done in lead alone. While yes, you can get some very pricey steel shot 12 gauge waterfowl rounds, good luck finding a .410 rabbit load!
And with ammunition makers already overstretched trying to make bullets (when is the last time you found a good deal on .22LR much less a stocked shelf of these rounds?), the likelihood of them carving out assembly line space to make new loads for California is rather far-fetched. Further, you have to realize that steel shot will wear away soft steel shotgun barrels designed for lead, cutting the lifespan down of that favorite rabbit gun down significantly.
This translates into fewer hunters (NSSF did a study that says some 36 percent of those who currently hunt in California will hang up their game bags) which in turn means that less hunting revenue will be available to state conservation agencies from the federal government (which is garnered through Pittman-Robertson funds via the number of hunting licenses sold) which means efforts for hunter's education, habitat management, and species restoration will go unfunded.
The NSSF's side of the story
But we are saving the animals though right?
Environmentalists and anti-hunting groups like the Humane Society of the United States contend that by switching away from traditional ammo, it will save endangered species like the California condor and bald eagle who often die of lead poisoning. Well, about that, according to a number of scientific studies have found that, while yes, these animals often die from lead poisoning, this lead is not necessarily from hunter's ammunition.
"For example, lead-based paint, gasoline, pesticides, and micro-trash, which include hardware such as galvanized screws, nuts, bolts washers and the like have all been shown to be available and attractive to condors. These items have appeared not only in their nests, but also in their digestive tract and the digestive tracts of their fledglings. However, activists and researchers advocating for lead bans consistently overlook such alternative sources," reads a page maintained by Hunt for Truth.
But regardless, Phase One of the California ban has been set up this year while Phase 2, which will prohibit the use of lead shot (but not bullets) by July 1, 2016, when taking small game mammals (including rabbit), furbearing mammals, non-game mammals and birds, any wildlife for depredation purposes, and any upland game birds except for dove, quail, and snipe is looming. A total ban will take effect for everything else by 2019 in the state.
With California down, how long until activists push for a similar ban in Texas, or Georgia, or Michigan?
Then, since lead is so offensive in the wild, how long before it is banned overall for all ammunition use?
If you are a California rabbit hunter, or have feelings on mandating non-lead ammo in general, what are your opinions on this subject? Drop them below.