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EBass

Minnesota eagles fall prey to lead from hunters' bullets

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EBass

From the Strib.

Christmas Eve anglers on the Mississippi River were stunned as Bill Doms paddled past them with a bald eagle perched on his kayak.

But the bird's odd placement wasn't a stunt. It was sign that something was very wrong.

Doms paddled hard to get the eagle to waiting Wright County sheriff's deputies and a volunteer from the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, hopeful that the whatever ailed it could be treated.

But toxicology tests showed otherwise. In the end, the majestic bird had to be killed, yet another victim of lead poisoning.

Despite more than a decade of efforts to curtail the carnage, dozens of Minnesota eagles die each year after ingesting lead fragments, sometimes as small as a pencil tip, while feeding on the carcasses of deer shot by hunters using the toxic ammunition. And this season, little or no snow on the ground has meant that gut piles and carcasses remain exposed to the birds of prey longer into the winter.

"I'm incredibly frustrated, angered and disappointed," Dr. Pat Redig, a veterinarian and founder of the U's Raptor Center. "I've been talking ad nauseam about this for 16 years."

But nearly every year, 25 to 30 eagles die from lead poisoning, he said. And some years, as many as 45 eagles have succumbed to lead poisoning, Redig said. Last year, 17 eagles -- 13 since October -- were brought into the Raptor Center with lead poisoning. Only two recovered enough that they could be released; a third is being observed.

"It's sad," said Doms, an avid outdoorsmen and hunter. "The eagle isn't just the national symbol of our country, but it's probably one of the most majestic animals you'll ever see."

But poisoned by lead, the eagles can become blind, uncoordinated or too weak to fly. They also can suffer seizures and damage to the stomach and intestines, Redig said. "They're usually too far gone by the time they arrive here," he said.

Other eagles -- more than 120 last year -- come into the Raptor Center suffering from assorted traumas after run-ins with such things as cars or power lines. About 85 percent of those eagles have elevated lead levels in their blood, Redig said.

"We don't know to what extent the lead poisoning increased the possibility that they were injured," he said. "They can't fly or see very well, so they forage on road kill. Then they get killed by a car," he said.

As the Minnesota eagle population has increased from about 100 nesting pairs in the 1970s to about 1,500 now, it can be difficult to convey the seriousness of lead poisoning to the public. "They say, 'If we lose a few eagles, who cares?' Well, I do," he said. "We should be better than that."

Decades of dying

"I've been getting eagles with lead poisoning since the mid-1970s," Redig said. At a time when the deer population was low, the primary cause seemed to be eagles eating crippled waterfowl hit with lead shotgun pellets, he said. Federal officials eventually banned lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting in 1991.

But Minnesota eagles continued to die, baffling scientists. The "aha moment" came when Redig was working with a California team focused on the declining condor population. The condors were tracked with radio collars and researchers quickly learned some condors were succumbing to lead poisoning after feeding on deer gut piles and carcasses left by hunters who used lead ammunition.

"I said, 'Shoot, I bet we have the same thing going on here," Redig said. After more research, Redig published a paper in 1997 that showed lead bullets and fragments left in deer carcasses and gut piles were poisoning eagles.

"But here we are ... years later, and despite talking about it to all kinds of people and all the news reports and papers, it pretty much continues unabated."

Redig attributes the lack of change to "entrenched traditions" in using lead ammunition. And some believe a push to ban lead ammunition -- which he favors -- is a "thinly veiled disguise" to interfere with gun ownership and hunting rights, he said.

Not true, he said. "We just want to stop eagles from dying of lead poisoning."

Carrol Henderson, the DNR's nongame wildlife program supervisor, said state officials have no plans to push for a ban on lead bullets.

"Any time we try to mandate behavior, it engenders a lot of opposition," he said. "We're trying to educate people, not point fingers and put hunters in a bad light. We're just trying to say there's a way to avoid these problems with the eagles."

Nontoxic bullets

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the higher costs of copper and other alternatives to lead ammunition is the main reason deer hunters haven't switched from all lead bullets. But in recent years, the performance, availability and cost of non-toxic ammunition has gotten better, he said.

"As time goes on, more and more deer hunters will start using nontoxic bullets," he said. "And that will be good for the egles."

In the meantime, hunters should cover the gut piles left behind after they dress their kill, he said. "If the eagles don't see it, they won't come."

"Hunters are the ultimate conservationist," Johnson said. "They pay for the opportunity to interact with nature and their dollars fund the [Department of Natural Resources], fund the recovery of species. They're very attuned to what's going out there. But this [lead poisoned eagles] is one of things we just have to remind them."

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charliepete

Are Eagles in danger? No. Is lead poisoning among the leading mortality factors for Eagles? No. Are there any definitive studies directly linking the lead poisoning in birds of prey to gut piles? No. Are anti hunting groups using the lead ban to further restrict hunting on their way to their goal of the total elimination of hunting? Yes.

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fivebucks

They may or may not be any "definative" studies linking lead poisoning to gut piles but it makes sense that it can happen. I bet there are some studies with the California Condor. We know lead poisoning exists and as sportsmen we should use alternatives where possible. I initially didn't like having to use steel for waterfowl but I now realize it is a good thing. I still use lead sinkers and jigs because there just isn't a good alternative. I will probably switch over to non-lead rifle bullets next year or the year after that just because it can't hurt. You are correct though that "anti's" will use anything they can to try to eliminate hunting. We just have to change as needed to not give them ammunition.

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NoWiser

I switched to copper bullets this year. Very happy with the results. I'm slowly persuading the rest of the hunters who I get together and make sausage with to do the same. I think we will see more and more people go that route, without having to make it law.

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broken_line

i agree with charlie.. i just cant wait till they ban all lead ammo becasue some million doller do gooders kid eats a few deer slugs that look like candy stuck in a tree.. and where is the money coming from to "save" all these egales?

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Getanet

NoWiser, how much more did a box of coppers cost you? After seeing the Eagles story I meant to check on the cost when I was at Fleet Farm over the weekend, but didn't think about it once I started looking at flashers for ice fishing.

Quite frankly, I'm a bit surprised at the push back this has received. Nobody is really disputing lead bullets are the cause of Eagles dying. Scientists, the DNR, MDHA officials, and even a few of the more expert people on this forum all state it's our bullets that are the culprit.

Unless copper bullets are ridiculously high priced, I hardly see this as any sort of attack on hunting. Yet you get a lot of people questioning the science, questioning the impact, and questioning if this is another veiled attack by the "antis."

Since most hunters are ethical and care deeply about the outdoors, you would think this is something the hunting community would embrace.

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TruthWalleyes

I've seen Eagles destroy small trout streams...It doesn't sadden me to see so few die from lead poisening, but it does concern me that there is that much lead being consumed by other animals as well.

I'm not against going to a non-toxic shot either.

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NoWiser

Getanet,

I reload my own hunting bullets. For me to switch from the Nosler Accubond to the Barnes TSX costs about 12 cents per bullet. From the experience I have had so far, they perform much, much better, and I no longer have to worry about eating lead fragments, or now, have to worry about eagles eating them.

I think if you were to buy factory ammo, you would be looking at about $40.00 per box vs. $20.00 per box for Core-loks if you were shooting a 30-06. The difference shrinks even more if you like to shoot "premium" hunting bullets anyways.

For me a box of hunting bullets would last about 4 years if I didn't reload. Practice at the range can be done with cheap lead bullets of the same weight as the copper. Shoot 3 or 4 copper at the end to make sure they are hitting the same as the cheaper ones, and one bullet for your deer. That's an extra $5.00 per year to ensure that neither you, your family, nor the eagles are eating any lead. To me it makes sense.

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mrklean

Barnes is a popular copper bullet maker, a box 7mm shells for them runs $43, a box of my normal Federals runs about $25ish you do the math makes trying to target practice before season pretty spendy

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Musky Buck

Is Minnesota like the only state where this happens ? Think of the millions of gutpiles across the country. Why do they worry about high caliber rifles in a way, I can remember 1 out of 29 deer where the bullet didn't do a pass through and we skinned that slug out of the hide later, the only reason it didn't go through was I hit a 1" or so poplar before it hit the deer. Anyway, whatever the law is the law is and I'll go with it.

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Bear55

I have no problem shooting copper I just hate when they try and gouge you for the stuff. If you look at the metal prices right now a 150 grain bullet costs an ammunitions company 8 cents for copper and 2 cents for lead. That is a $1.20 price difference per box. I can undestand there are other costs involved in make bullets out of different materials but come on $15-20 more a box, for what?

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thatoneguy

I've seen Eagles destroy small trout streams...It doesn't sadden me to see so few die from lead poisening,

Shame on those eagles for living in their natural habitat and eating their natural diet!

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Musky Buck

I wasn't aware the eagle was nimble enough to scavenge trout streams. I'm with ya bear, the gouging is what America is all about. Check your pay stubs. Thing is with the eagle there are alternatives bullet wise and wouldn't have an issue changing.

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Musky Buck

After thinking more about this and shots passing through, and there are so many different weapons and bullets and slug guns etc and bone gets struck and there's definitely a % whatever it may be that don't go through, I thought about muzzleloaders some, the last deer by muzzy didn't go through and I thought man I may have left a 370 grain chunk of lead for some critter to swallow. Is there alternatives in the muzzy world I'm sure there are.

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TylerS

You want to hear about how "great" copper bullets are? Just ask all the volunteers out culling elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I've talked to at least two people who told me how awful the copper worked. It got to the point where they were double or triple tapping every elk they shot, and some still weren't dead until being dispatched at close range. My buddy said one cow he shot was hit five times in the vitals before finally falling over and expiring.

That copper is garbage. And this "lead is bad" stuff comes up every year (a few years ago, a lead "study" by some tree-hugging "scientist" from California caused Nodak to ban all venison donations, resulting in the needless waste of tens of thousands of pounds of meat meant for food pantries).

Know what further studies by the Game and Fish found out? Lead amounts in tested batches of donated venison were so minute, you'd die from eating too much meat before you'd get lead poisoning. And in no way, shape or form could hey replicate the supposed results from that Calis scientist. Almost like his batches were tampered with or something...like maybe someone put large hunks of lead in the meat he tested JUST to get a result that would cause alarm and get the media's attention.

Crazy, eh?

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mrklean

i would be more worried about eating to much fish and getting mercury poising then lead from any wild animal....maybe they should test the eagle for mercury poising as well they eat fish don't they?

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NoWiser

You want to hear about how "great" copper bullets are? Just ask all the volunteers out culling elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I've talked to at least two people who told me how awful the copper worked. It got to the point where they were double or triple tapping every elk they shot, and some still weren't dead until being dispatched at close range. My buddy said one cow he shot was hit five times in the vitals before finally falling over and expiring.

That copper is garbage. And this "lead is bad" stuff comes up every year (a few years ago, a lead "study" by some tree-hugging "scientist" from California caused Nodak to ban all venison donations, resulting in the needless waste of tens of thousands of pounds of meat meant for food pantries).

Know what further studies by the Game and Fish found out? Lead amounts in tested batches of donated venison were so minute, you'd die from eating too much meat before you'd get lead poisoning. And in no way, shape or form could hey replicate the supposed results from that Calis scientist. Almost like his batches were tampered with or something...like maybe someone put large hunks of lead in the meat he tested JUST to get a result that would cause alarm and get the media's attention.

Crazy, eh?

What type of copper bullets were they using? If you look at any reviews of the Barnes Bullets, I think you will see the majority of people absolutely love them. I have not talked to a single person who has used them, that hasn't liked them. Many hunters I know are making the switch, and having great success. I took a bull moose this year at 300 yards with my .270 WSM. One bullet passed completely through, the other lodged under the hide on the far side, mushrooming perfectly. I know the first shot would have been all it would have taken, but when you see a moose walking in the opposite direction you need to carry it, you are going to keep shooting. It only made it about 50 yards. A month later I shot a 240 pound (dressed) buck at 60 yards right behind the shoulder. It looked like it got hit by a bolt of lightening. Dropped in its tracks. Never, in my life, have I hit a deer in the vitals like that and not had it run at least 30 or 40 yards. The next weekend my dad dropped a doe in her tracks with one shot.

Long story short, you are the first person I have ever heard of who has said anything bad about the all copper bullets. I would encourage everybody to give the Barnes TSX a try. No more worrying about how much meat you need to toss in order to not eat lead fragments. You won't be disappointed. They really do work great. They are a little more money, but in my mind, with the improved performance I get, and the peace of mind, it is more than worth it.

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TylerS

What type of copper bullets were they using?

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ATV hugger

How many hunters actually gut shoot a deer? How much lead is left in a gut pile? I know bullets fragment but most pass through shots send the bullet into the dirt. Do eagles eat dirt? I know we all trim the meat in the area hit when butchering and dispose of our carcasses properly. Sure not all deer are recovered but that seems like a small percentage.

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goblueM

Well you're the first person I've heard who's actually had success with copper bullets. I've yet to meet a deer hunter in Nodak who would use them, but that's neither here nor there.

AS far as "the peace of mind" of eating lead, I've never heard of any hunter in my circles who dwells on that. Unless you absolutely hork your food, I'd imagine a tooth would search out a fragment of bullet before it passed any further. At least that's what happens when I eat ducks, grouse, pheasants or any other critter dispatched via scattergun. Come to think of it, I've found a lot more lead that way than by eating venison. In fact, I've NEVER found a piece of bullet in the venison I've eaten.

Weird...

The issue for humans eating lead is from slugs and high-velocity bullets that fragment upon impact. Shotgun pellets don't really fragment, the lead remains whole and you find it. Not a big deal. However, hundreds of tiny fragments can be left by bullets and shotgun slugs, which is the real issue for us.

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goblueM

How many hunters actually gut shoot a deer? How much lead is left in a gut pile? I know bullets fragment but most pass through shots send the bullet into the dirt. Do eagles eat dirt? I know we all trim the meat in the area hit when butchering and dispose of our carcasses properly. Sure not all deer are recovered but that seems like a small percentage.

A LOT of hunters gut shoot a deer. Even if a bullet passes thru, it can still fragment very easily. And a LOT of deer are shot and not recovered. Heck, I was bird hunting in Kansas in January and found THREE nice bucks in a 3-square-mile area, all shot and not recovered. In just that tiny, tiny area. Doesn't take much to poison a scavenging bird, and they are very efficient at finding carcasses

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randallt

So is Global Warming true or false?

Sorry couldn't resist! mad

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BLACKJACK

Since most hunters are ethical and care deeply about the outdoors, you would think this is something the hunting community would embrace.

Thats what I don't understand, you hear all this about 'its not just the killing of game, its being out in nature blah blah blah' but when push comes to shove, they'd rather have cheap ammo.

Who doesn't like to see an eagle soaring across the road or sitting in a tree??

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TylerS

The issue for humans eating lead is from slugs and high-velocity bullets that fragment upon impact. Shotgun pellets don't really fragment, the lead remains whole and you find it. Not a big deal. However, hundreds of tiny fragments can be left by bullets and shotgun slugs, which is the real issue for us.

Really? That's interesting. You'd think with the millions of hunters killing deer across the country every year with high-powered weaponry firing lead ammunition, illness and deaths from lead poisoning would be proportionately high. But in all the years I've been hunting, I've yet to hear about anyone falling victim to it.

Know what that says to me? People enjoy finding solutions to problems that don't exist...

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fr0sty

There is a good review of it on the dnr website. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/lead/index.html The online presentation link gives more detail.

Here is a quote from the page

To date, no illnesses have been linked to consumption of lead particles in hunter-harvested venison. But the DNR recognizes that the potential impacts of lead fragments ingested when eating hunter-harvested game are not well understood. Only now are state and federal health, wildlife and food safety agencies beginning to collect, study and analyze data to determine exactly what those impacts may be.

Since lead is a known neurotoxin, it makes sense to be aware of the risks associated with eating venison shot by lead ammo. Fwiw, I still use lead bullets when hunting deer, but to dismiss the possibility of lead causing harm is foolish.

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