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Lead or Traditional Ammunition

Advice for the Shooter

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, opposes the banning of lead ammunition, also known as traditional ammunition. Recently many attempts have been made to scare good people into thinking lead ammunition poses a danger to (1) individuals consuming game that had been harvested using traditional ammunition and (2) endangered species (i.e. the California Condor) feeding off of gut piles. There is simply no evidence or science to support either fear.

This is why NSSF, along with countless other conservation and sportsmen's groups, supports further scientific research with conclusive results, not hypothesis or consensus, before a measure as drastic as banning lead ammunition is even considered.


The CDC report on human lead levels of hunters in North Dakota has confirmed what hunters throughout the world have known for hundreds of years, that traditional ammunition poses no health risk to people who consume game harvested meat and that the call to ban lead ammunition was nothing more than a scare tactic being pushed by anti-hunting groups -- in fact, even the Humane Society has jumped on board calling for a ban on all lead ammunition.  Who's next PETA?

  • In looking at the study results, perhaps most telling was the fact that the average lead level of the hunters tested was lower than that of the average American. In other words, if you were to randomly pick someone on the street, chances are they would have a higher blood lead level than the hunters in this study.

  • Consider that the adult with the highest lead level (9.82 micrograms per deciliter of blood) was still below the CDC recommended threshold for that of a child (10 micrograms per deciliter of blood) and well below the CDC recommended threshold for an adult (25 micrograms per deciliter of blood). Consider too that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't even require removal of an employee from a job involving lead exposure until that employee's blood lead level reaches 60 micrograms per declilter of blood. Now consider that the ND Dept of health can't even verify that this participant consumed game harvested with traditional ammo.

  • Also demonstrating their understanding that game harvested with traditional ammunition is safe to consume, the ND Department of Health encouraged hunters to continue donating venison to local food banks as long as processing guidelines were adhered to.

More evidence

  • 21 state employees who participated in the study (and regularly consumed wild game) volunteered their personal test results -- their results averaged 1.34 micrograms per deciliter of blood -- half of the national mean (which is 2.68 micrograms in adults)

  • The difference in blood lead levels between hunters and non-hunters was only .3 micrograms per deciliter of blood -- non-significant.

What's troubling

  • The ND Department of Health is still recommending that children under 6 and pregnant women not eat any wild game.  Children's lead levels in the study had a mean of 0.649 – less than half the national average.  The CDC's level of concern for lead in children is 10.

  • Food Banks are still refusing to accept venison taken with traditional ammunition (unless they are whole cuts).

Lead Ammunition and Consuming Venison (North Dakota and Minnesota)

For more than a century, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely consumed game harvested using traditional hunting ammunition. There is absolutely no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the unfortunate and unnecessary overreaction by North Dakota and Minnesota officials to take nourishing, high-protein food out of the mouths of the needy by requiring food banks to discard tons (literally, tons) of venison donated by hunters because of an unwarranted fear of lead poisoning.

A dermatologist in North Dakota, affiliated with the Peregrine Fund – an animal rights group whose political agenda includes banning lead ammunition – claimed to have collected packages of venison from food banks that contained lead fragments. North Dakota health officials did not conduct their own study, but merely accepted the lead-contaminated meat samples he submitted, and sent them to a lab in Iowa for further testing. The lab official in charge of the testing said this, "I think North Dakota is drawing the wrong conclusions," said Rick Kelly, Assistant Director of the University of Iowa's Hygienic Lab. "We did what they asked, but they did not take an arbitrary sample."

To help put in perspective the outlandish claims concerning the safety of game harvested using traditional ammunition, consider this statement from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) – a state agency that has conducted an extensive panel of blood-lead testing for more than fifteen years: "IDPH maintains that if lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened." It has not.

The California Condor and Lead Ammunition

In California, anti-hunting groups and radical environmentalists waged a strong lobbying campaign to ban lead ammunition, citing allegations that lead is poisoning the California Condor.

Some condors have shown elevated levels of lead, a naturally occurring element found in batteries, light bulbs, paint chips and many other items found in condor nests; incidentally, these lead-based items have never been tested as a possible source of elevated lead levels in condors. This is especially noteworthy when one considers that there is no credible scientific evidence to support the notion that higher lead levels in condors are due to the ingestion of ammunition fragments.

While the Executive Committee of the Condor Recovery Team joined with the NSSF and numerous conservation and sportsmen's groups to support the adoption of science-based voluntary, non-ban measures -- measures that would have served to interrupt the potential pathways for the ingestion of lead bullet fragments by condors -- Governor Schwarzenegger chose to disregard science and the opinions of experts by signing into law legislation banning lead ammunition in key hunting areas in the Golden State. This lead ammunition ban went into effect on July 1, 2008.  Now, these same anti-hunting groups who pushed the initial ban are back and advocating for a statewide ban of lead ammunition.

A recent survey conducted by the Responsive Management Company confirmed the results of earlier survey research demonstrating that California hunters strongly support a program of voluntary measures, not a lead ammunition ban, which would help avoid the ingestion of lead bullet fragments by condors.

In summary, the survey results showed the following:

  • The majority (68 percent) of California hunters oppose a mandatory ban on the use of lead ammunition. Most are in strong opposition to such a ban.

  • Approximately 25 percent of hunters would either quit big game hunting or hunt less in California if a ban was adopted (15 percent would hunt in another state, 8 percent would hunt less frequently, and 2 percent would quit hunting altogether).

  • Most hunters (73 percent) indicated that they would be likely to participate in some or all of the voluntary measures that would help prevent condor exposure to lead from ammunition.

The following is a brief summary of estimated economic losses based on analysis of existing data related to hunting license/tag sales, sales of firearms and ammunition, and expenditures of hunters while preparing for, and while engaged in or traveling to or from, big game hunting:

  • A loss of $624,000 per year in Federal Pittman-Robertson grant money to the Department of Fish and Game

  • A loss of $3.9 million to the Department resulting from a decline in California hunting license/tag sales

  • A net loss to the state of $266 million

  • A decline in retail sales of $131 million

  • A reduction of $15 million in state and federal income taxes

  • A loss of 2,230 jobs

At present, non-lead big game hunting ammunition is a very limited source technology, with hunters having finite availability of non-lead ammunition suitable for taking big game. Furthermore, the long term toxicity of substitute metals in ammunition has not yet been tested and many hunters would not be able to find non-lead ammunition for their own particular big game rifle due to the scarcity of alternative metals. Additionally, would-be substituted metals are more expensive than conventional ammunition thereby further discouraging lawful hunting.


Despite there being no scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that lead ammunition is endangering the health of individuals or the California Condor, anti-hunting interest groups are continuing to press state legislatures around the country to support a ban on traditional ammunition. These politically driven groups understand that while an outright ban on hunting would be nearly impossible to achieve, dismantling the heritage of hunting one step at a time is a substitute goal. Banning lead ammunition is a first step -- a step that is literally taking the food out of the mouths of the hungry, unnecessarily, to advance a political agenda.

Much more research on the actual claims of toxicity in humans must be done prior to even considering abolishing the use of lead in ammunition.

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