Environmentally-Friendly Deer Hunt with Lead-free Ammunition

Environmentally-Friendly Deer Hunt with Lead-free Ammunition

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR) are working together to provide 40 physically-challenged hunters and their assistants a special deer-hunting opportunity November 10/11 at the Lost Mound Unit of the USFWS’s Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. The refuge is located near Savanna, Illinois with tracts of public land extending into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

USFWS is collaborating with ABC and SOAR to provide participants in the managed hunt with vouchers for lead-free ammunition. The purpose of this voluntary program is to encourage hunters to experience the enhanced ballistic performance of lead-free ammunition first-hand, while reducing lead exposure to eagles and other wildlife originating from lead shotgun slugs.

“Reducing environmental lead exposure to eagles is a high priority at this national wildlife refuge. We have a large nesting population of eagles here, and there are hundreds more that also are wintering in the area. We want to minimize the potential impacts of lead exposure to wildlife,” said Ed Britton, Refuge Manager.

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Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

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Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

During pre-settlement times, it is estimated there were a half a million bald eagles living in what is now the lower 48 states. Bald eagles declined to around 500 pairs in the early 1960s. With habitat conservation and management, they have made a slow recovery to about 10,000 pairs, though this is still only about 10% of their historic highs.

Lead poisoning from bullet fragments left in the field in the gut piles of hunted game continues to be a major cause of eagle deaths. Hunters are often unaware of its impact on scavenging eagles.

“This is a win-win-win opportunity: hunters get the free opportunity to try non-lead ammunition, which is reliable, effective, and, many believe, ballistically superior to lead ammunition; eagles are exposed to less lead during deer season; and stronger relationships are forged among outdoor enthusiasts!” said John Schulz, Non-lead Campaign Manager for ABC. “This is a completely voluntary program, and hunters who wish to take part will do so knowing that they are doing something positive for eagles and other birds. All we’re asking folks to do is try it.”

“Iowa wildlife rehabilitators have been gathering data on eagles, statewide, since 2004. Of the more than 200 eagles counted, 60% were admitted due to high lead levels. This makes lead ingestion, overwhelmingly, the main cause of death for eagles in Iowa. X-rays show lead fragments in eagle digestive tracts, deer carcasses, gut piles, and venison. To prevent eagle and other wildlife poisoning, SOAR has encouraged hunters to use non-lead ammunition. This project will give hunters a chance to try out the copper slugs, and spread the word to other hunters to hunt lead free,” said Kay Neumann of SOAR.

During 2011, there were 62 dead bald eagles collected from the Upper Mississippi River corridor. The refuge is awaiting toxicology test results from the National Wildlife Health Center to determine how many of these eagles may have died from lead poisoning.

“The deer population at the Lost Mound Unit is high. This hunt provides a unique opportunity for deer herd management combined with a quality hunt experience for a special group of physically challenged hunters. The hunt has gained national attention with hunters travelling from nine states,” said Britton.

In Illinois, 181,451 deer were reported killed during the 2011-12 hunting season. Statewide, there is the potential for many eagles to be poisoned

All hunters with disabilities and their attendants participating in the special two-day hunt will attend a mandatory orientation, scheduled on November 9 at nearby Manny’s Pizza; ammunition vouchers will be handed out during this session. Vouchers for a box of five free rounds of non-lead hunting slugs can be redeemed at the local TruValue Hardware Store in Savanna, Ill.

The 261-mile long, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the longest river refuge in the continental United States. Encompassing 240,000 acres, the refuge begins at the confluence of the Chippewa River near Wabasha, Minnesota, and ends near Rock Island, Illinois. It includes wooded islands, marshes, and backwaters, and provides migratory habitat for a large percentage of the migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway.

Tundra swans and canvasbacks use the refuge as a resting and feeding area in the spring and fall.

For more information on the impacts of lead ammunition, please go to the following links:


Here are two links to information about the ballistic performance of copper slugs:


This article was written by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a 501(c) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.

Saving Our Avian Resources, SOAR is a 501(c) organization established in 1999 dedicated to saving our avian resources through raptor rehabilitation, education, and research.

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