Snow falling in the woods during a storm

Nothing drives people to the grocery faster than the prediction of a snowstorm. But those have been almost nonexistent this winter which may prove to be an issue when it comes to catching deer.

But I’m not talking about the white fluffy stuff that falls from the sky. I’m talking about the cloud of lead particles that are produced on impact by traditional lead-core hunting bullets. It is often referred to as a “lead snowstorm.”

Deer sniffing holly branch in the snow.

Duane and I have discussed this topic many times before. Lead bullet fragments have been observed via X-ray along the wound channel of harvested animals as well as in ground venison meant for consumption. Millimeter and sub-millimeter sized fragments are too small to be noticed while enjoying dinner. Unlike copper and iron, lead has no known role in biological processes and is in fact a known toxin. So much so that we have legislated its removal from gasoline and paint. Things that are not normally ingested!

I certainly don’t need more evidence to ban the use of lead in the collection of my food but in case you do new technology has shown that there are even MORE teeny tiny lead particles disbursed by lead bullets. Thousands of sub-10 μm lead fragments were found which cannot be seen with common X-ray. A μm is a micrometer which is one millionth of a meter! 

You may be asking if ingesting lead measured in one millionth of a meter is a big deal. YES – particles that small are worse than larger fragments because they are more bioavailable. There was a 5-fold absorption enhancement of lead in rats for 6 μm particles compared to 197 μm particles. Lead is also known to dissolve in tissue over time. Lead poisoning kills but even sublethal exposure alters cognition, movement behavior, bone mineralization, and reduced constitutive immunity to name a few. And remember these are not just wildlife related. Humans are also affected. 

Venison has been screened for lead with X-Ray which indeed have found fragments. But how much was missed? The smallest and the most dangerous pieces of lead go undetected with conventional screening processes. 

This is a predicable and dangerous “snowstorm.” But instead of buying bread and milk, I’ll be reaching for copper. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission

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