Duane and I have been beating the non-toxic ammo drum for over 2 years now. I have been converted from lead naysayer to active campaigner following my grandmother’s sage advice. Duane has shared his pilgrimage from lead ammunition to exclusively using non-toxic ammunition while hunting.  

Duane recently read a letter to the editor that expressed the writer’s disbelief that eagles were dying from lead poisoning. So in this post we put some faces to toxic lead exposure. 

The first eagle that Centre Wildlife Care (CWC) treated for lead poisoning was in 2008. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last. 

Here are a few more patients:




All of the eagles that have arrived at CWC since 2013 have tested positive for lead in their blood. Most need treatment. Some die. Birds with lead poisoning are weak, emaciated, and uncoordinated. They often are not able to move, fly, or walk. This leaves them vulnerable to other injuries. Let’s face it – being grounded is not a good scenario for a bird. 

CWC also notes that most of these birds arrived during or soon after the hunting season. Eagles are not above scavenging to get a free meal. Use of lead ammunition contaminates carcasses and makes it available to eagles and a host of other avian scavengers like hawks, vultures, and crows. All of which have shown up at CWC.

California became the first and only state to ban lead-based ammunition for the taking of any wildlife for any reason with a firearm. This ban was phased in over a 5 year period with the final phase completed in July 2019. But it’s not as easy as outlawing lead-based ammunition. 

Higher cost of non-lead ammunition, inconsistent availability of some non-lead ammunition, and uninformative and confusing labeling of non-lead products by manufacturers hasn’t made the transition smooth for hunters and ranchers. But state agencies, non-profit organizations, and sportsmen are working together to eliminate wildlife exposure to lead ammunition.

Lead is toxic. To people. To wildlife. And there is more of it in your deer meat than you realize if you use lead bullets. 

There are alternatives available. If you haven’t yet sighted in your deer rifle now is a good time to pick up a box of non-toxic ammunition.

People and eagles do not need to be exposed to lead from hunting or recreational shooting. Until they aren’t, Duane and I will keep beating our drum. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section
Photo credits: Robyn Grabowski, Centre Wildlife Care; Chet Gottfried

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