JEFFERSON CITY — Beginning this week, the Missouri Department of Conservation will ban hunters from using lead shotgun ammunition at 21 of the department’s conservation areas.
The ban starts Thursday, a month before turkey hunting season opens.
Eagle Bluff is the only Boone County conservation area the ban affects.
The Conservation Department approved the ban in August, in part because of the high concentration of hunters in the 21 areas.
John Smith, assistant director for the Conservation Department, said the change comes after years of studying how lead affects bird populations. A study by MU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences and Veterinary School suggests that lead shot is so prevalent that birds pick it up when foraging for food. Birds affected by lead poisoning include shorebirds, turkeys, quail, mourning doves and several species of raptors, including bald eagles.
“It’s a widely recognized toxic substance, and it’s something that can be harmful biologically if it’s ingested,” Smith said. “Even one (pellet) would probably result in incapacitation and death.”
Waterfowl and mourning doves seem to be the birds most affected by lead shot. According to a release from the Conservation Department, up to 6.5 percent of mourning doves eat lead shot, which kills almost as many doves each year as hunters do.
Twenty years ago, the federal government banned lead shot for waterfowl hunting after studies showed similar risks. Researchers found other birds later in the year ate and died from the lead shot used to hunt waterfowl.
Kit Maxfield, land manager for Hunting Sports Plus, a club that leases private lands for members to hunt on, applauded the change. He said the effects of lead shot aren’t as great on private lands, where concentrations of hunters are less dense. But in conservation areas, hunters simply deposit too much lead shot onto the ground, he said.
“It’s such a compact area where there is so many guns being fired that the build-up is huge,” Maxfield said.
Like others, Maxfield acknowledged that the ban could disgruntle some hunters.
Chris Baker, operations manager for Columbia’s Bass Pro Shops Sportsman’s Center, said a box of lead shot costs $3.50. A box of steel shot costs $8. Other alternatives cost more.
Plus, Baker said lead shot works. It stays in a tight pattern and it’s heavy, so it flies farther than other types of shotgun ammunition.
“The people who (the ban is) going to upset are the people who don’t necessarily have a ton of money to spend on shells,” Maxfield said. “I think that’s really the only people who it’s going to hurt.”
Smith, who is also the regulations chairman of the Conservation Department,
said some hunters simply have an affinity for lead shot. Some alternative
ammunitions also aren’t compatible with every shotgun barrel.
But Baker said people aren’t going to stop hunting simply because of the change on the conservation lands.
The new regulation will only affect certain conservation areas including Nodaway Valley and Fountain Grove.
Smith said he expects some questions about the ban, but he said most hunters would understand the change.
“Sure there is going to be some grumblings, but I think the hunters in this state are interested in sound resource management,” Smith said.
Lead shot is already banned on most of the 4,300-acre Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in St. Louis.
Tom Leifield, wildlife management biologist, said the ban hasn’t triggered any problems. Plus, he said ammunition companies are now producing cheaper, better nontoxic alternatives to lead shot.
The switch away from lead shot isn’t a novel idea, Smith said.
South Dakota banned lead shot on state game production areas in 1998. Canada implemented a country-wide ban on lead shot in September 1999. And last November, a group of hunters and environmentalists sued the California Department of Fish and Game in hopes the state would ban the ammunition for hunting deer and wild pig. In addition, lead shot has been linked to condor deaths.
For years, the state’s Conservation Commission has resisted calls from environmentalists for a ban on lead shot.
Central Missouri Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Saline County, who is a member of the Senate’s Conservation Committee, said, “I think it’s (the ban is) just another step in public safety.”
Beginning this summer, the Conservation Department will discuss the ban at 25 to 30 seminars across the state. Department officials will post information about the seminars on the department’s Web site once details are planned.