California Begins Roll-Out of Lead Ban for Hunting Ammo

The beginning of California's ban on lead in hunting ammunition, which lawmakers say is intended to reduce lead exposure to wildlife, came and went last week. When the state announced it would become the first in the union to ban tradition lead ammo, hunters were not happy, saying that there weren't enough lead-free options on the market, and the ones that were available were prohibitively expensive.

As the ban went into effect, it appears that one of those concerns may have been met, according to this story on revealnews.org.

Clark Blanchard, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is an avid hunter who says he's had no problem finding lead-free ammo in common calibers like .30-06 and .270 for rifles and in most gauges of shotgun shells. The story says 39 companies currently make ammunition that is certified by the state as containing less than 1 percent lead by weight.

One thing that hasn't changed since the ban was announced: the price.

Lead-free ammo typically costs 1-1/2 to two times the amount as traditional lead, which is about $1 a round or less in most cases.

Blanchard says he's starting reloading his own to mitigate the cost increase.

"Whether you have bad feeling about it, or think this is just another burden for hunters, I think folks will comply and be just fine," he said in the story..

The ban hasn't gone into effect in the entire state all at once, however. July 1 marked the beginning of a four-year rollout of the ban. Currently the changes are limited to about 1 million acres of land owned by the state DFW, as well as hunting of one species of bighorn sheep found in the state.

Hunting with lead ammunition remains legal on private property, federal forest land, and areas owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which comprise most of the state's hunting areas, according to the story.

The DFW said it will enforce the ban uniformly across the state in 2019 because of push-back from hunters and the gun industry, which included a failed attempt to repeal the ban earlier this year. The new rules don't cover shooting ranges.

At least one longtime hunter, Ed Bradley, 73, doesn't plan to try any of the new lead-free ammo, since the vintage double-barreled shotgun he has hunted birds with since 1965 doesn't have bores that can handle steel ammunition, which is much harder than lead and prone to damage barrels not designed for it. Right now, the ban doesn't include most of the Southern California desert where Bradly hunts for doves, quail and other upland birds. Once the law is expanded, he said he won't renew his California hunting license.

Most lead-free bullets for centerfire ammo are made with copper, and lead-free shotgun pellets are usually made with steel. More expensive rounds use tungsten and bismuth.

The new law could present enforcement challenges, Bradley pointed out. California is a big state. Not surprisingly, Bradley says, in 50 years of hunting, he has seen exactly one game warden in the field.

"They are few and far between and they aren't going to be able to go around and stick a magnet to everyone's ammunition," he said. "It's impossible to enforce." California has about 300 game wardens charged with enforcing the band. Violators will be fined $500 and could be required to pay court costs.

And not everyone has had as easy of a time finding legal hunting ammo as Blanchard.

Tom Pedersen, a lobbyist for the California arm of the National Rifle Association, says most common ammunition sizes are produced in lead-free variants, but that doesn't necessarily translate to them being readily available in local gun shops.

"You can look through catalogues and see lots of nonleaded options. The problem is, when you go to the store you can't find the product. If you're lucky, they'll have it in the morning, limit you to three boxes, and then it's gone," he said. "We are very concerned about supply and demand."