Skip to main content

Lead Shot Still Controversial 20 Years Later

Lead shotFor 20 years now, lead shot hasn't legally left the barrel of a shotgun pointed at a duck or goose in America. But not everyone's breaking out the confetti and cake to celebrate. It's a 20-year anniversary for 2011 that still spurs controversy over whether the loss of top-notch, affordable and gun-safe ammunition was worth the number of potential birds saved after the nationwide lead ban took effect in 1991.

From the perspective of Ken Richkus, chief of the Branch of Population and Habitat Assessment in the Division of Migratory Bird Management at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the benefits of the ban are clear.

"We're looking at about a million to a million and a half ducks a year, in general, that do not die from lead poisoning due to the ban on lead shot," Richkus said. "That's relative to what we saw in the 1980s."

Twenty years allowed the environment to grow around the former lead pellets that still dot the marshes, fields, ponds and forests where the waterfowl roam. Now, the existing lead pellets have been further diluted, and the chances of a bird picking up those pellets are a lot less.


This all sounds well and good, but considering the clean kills that lead shot so efficiently made on waterfowl, one can't help but question whether the crippling rate has increased with these ammo alternatives. To break down the numbers, Richkus said the USFWS looks at the annual harvest inventory program surveys (HIPs), which waterfowlers voluntarily fill out following a season.


Specifically, the survey asks how many birds were knocked down but not retrieved to gather an idea of crippling loss. Of course, because it's an open-ended question, it's open to interpretation — even the definition of a cripple is debatable. But the surveys are the simplest way to obtain crippling data, Richkus said, and because they're conducted regularly, comparisons can be easily drawn up.

Based on these generalizations, the crippling rate from the 1950s up through the mid-1980s was about 20 percent for waterfowl. When the lead ban began being phased in in 1987, Richkus said they actually saw those numbers increase to about 23 or 24 percent through the early 1990s; some hunters feel it was even higher. Then a few years after the ban took effect, the crippling rate dropped to normal rates again, claims Richkus.

"What you're seeing there is when steel was first implemented, it took hunters some time to get used to the new ammunition and be able to adjust their shots accordingly," Richkus noted. "A couple years after the ban, we're back to the 18, 19 percent crippling rates."

That number declined even further to about 14 percent recently, which Richkus credits to any number of factors that aren't certain yet without more research.


"It could be due to better ammunition alternatives, or hunting tools like roboducks bringing birds in closer so hunters have an easier time killing those birds," he said.

To further celebrate the 20th anniversary of lead shot getting shot down, ammo manufacturers are still introducing effective non-toxic options in abundance. More modern materials in shotshells like tungsten and bismuth have made for dense, high-velocity ammo options, but steel is still the most common for waterfowling. As a result, hunters down ducks with steel with a bit more ease than before. Waterfowlers have learned that they can't just take shots at 60 or 70 yards, Richkus said.

"In the last few years, the crippling rates for ducks are the lowest since we started keeping track in the mid-1950s," he added.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Browning A5 Shotgun -

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call.

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Times have changed, and so has the size of our retrievers. Size Versus Drive in Hunting Dogs Retriever

Size Versus Drive in Hunting Dogs

Tom Dokken

Times have changed, and so has the size of our retrievers. 

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter fromBuilding a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

We might not see anxiety or worry in our dogs, but it is there and can affect hunting ability. How Stress Affects a Dog's Hunting Ability Retriever

How Stress Affects a Dog's Hunting Ability

Tony J. Peterson

We might not see anxiety or worry in our dogs, but it is there and can affect hunting ability.

Develop the duck dog of your dreams by paying attention to neurological needs.Early Neurological Stimulation for Better Duck Dogs Retriever

Early Neurological Stimulation for Better Duck Dogs

Tony J. Peterson

Develop the duck dog of your dreams by paying attention to neurological needs.

See More Trending Articles

More Politics

Your local gyms are closed and you aren't supposed to hit the running trails anymore, but that doesn't mean you have to retreat to your sofa. In this lesson Hollywood Weapons host and former Green Beret, Terry Schappert will talk about the importance of keeping your body fit and some tips on achieving that goal, even if you don't have the equipment already.Shelter in Place - Home Gym

Shelter in Place - Home Gym

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 11, 2020

Your local gyms are closed and you aren't supposed to hit the running trails anymore, but that...

In this lesson, “Hollywood Weapons” host and former Green Beret Terry Schappert will talk about how to transform your “go bag” of emergency essentials into a “get home bag.”Shelter in Place – ‘Go Bag' and ‘Get Home Bag' Essentials

Shelter in Place – ‘Go Bag' and ‘Get Home Bag' Essentials

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 08, 2020

In this lesson, “Hollywood Weapons” host and former Green Beret Terry Schappert will talk...

Canada's Public Safety Minister clarified that 10- and 12-gauge shotguns will not be banned.Canada Gun Ban Will Not Include Waterfowl Shotguns Politics

Canada Gun Ban Will Not Include Waterfowl Shotguns

Lynn Burkhead - May 08, 2020

Canada's Public Safety Minister clarified that 10- and 12-gauge shotguns will not be banned.

In 1991, the average price for a gallon of gas was $1.23; a gallon of milk was just $2.36; and aRead & React: Senate Bill to Raise the Price of Duck Stamp Politics

Read & React: Senate Bill to Raise the Price of Duck Stamp

Kyle Wintersteen - February 14, 2014

In 1991, the average price for a gallon of gas was $1.23; a gallon of milk was just $2.36; and...

See More Politics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now