photo from Paul A. Smith

As California works to completely ban lead ammunition by 2019, hunters are beginning to accept the idea of steel shot for waterfowl, but are slower to come around to the concept of using all-copper bullets, according to this story

“They are familiar with the performance of steel shot now. The skepticism is pretty much gone,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association in the story.

One of the reasons for that slow acceptance is precisely what the article brings up in this paragraph: “Another group of researchers fired lead and copper bullets into ballistic gelatin to find that lead bullets break into hundreds of small pieces when they strike an animal, while copper stays more than 98 percent intact.”

While some feel that non-fragmenting copper bullets aren’t as effective as fragmenting bullets, manufacturers have refined copper-bullet development so that the projectiles quickly expand, transferring all of its energy to the target, resulting in quick kills.

The impetus for the new law was high levels of lead contamination in birds and other aviary life. The story says: “Hawks, eagles, owls, and other birds are exposed to lead when they ingest lead shotgun pellets or bullet fragments. The birds scavenge dead animals shot but not recovered by hunters. They come across gut piles and carcasses of animals such as squirrels and jack rabbits shot as varmints.”

Some say the biggest exposure to birds may come from hunters who shoot agricultural pests and animals such as coyotes, and prairie dogs.

“A lot of times, the carcasses are left on the landscape,” said Leland Brown, Wildlife and Lead Control Coordinator for the Oregon Zoo. “We end up with a lot of lead left out there. With steel shot or copper bullets, that wouldn’t be a problem.”

Brown said in the story he has faith that hunters will gradually embrace non-lead ammunition.

“Hunters have a long history as conservationists and taking care of our wildlife. We want to live up to what’s been passed down to us,” Brown said in the story. “No one wants to go out into the woods and never see another eagle again.”

There are still some big roadblocks. Some hunters have stockpiles of lead ammo they will continue to use. There’s also the issue of higher cost for non-lead ammo, along with lingering questions about performance.

From the story: “An informal survey of ammunition prices show a difference in cost between lead and copper bullets. Cabela’s, for example, charges $32.99 for a box of Hornady Superformance lead bullets and $42.99 for Superformance copper bullets. A look into a couple of local sporting good stores showed copper bullets in supply but not moving swiftly off the shelves.”

However, sporting goods store owner Rick Hadden said in the story that copper bullets work well and aren’t that much more expensive. “We’re slow to switch,” he said.