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Is a Public-Land Lead Ban Coming Soon?

Brow Tines and Backstrap

Is a Public-Land Lead Ban Coming Soon?

Posted 2023-08-25  by  Josh Honeycutt

Efforts to require nontoxic ammo are ramping up at state and federal levels

Image: ImageBy_Bill_Konway_lead_bullets_1

Some refuges are banning lead ammo. Image by Bill Konway

Animal rights activists and other anti-hunting groups regularly push for wholesale changes, large and small. Political administrations routinely do the same. As a result, discussions of public-land lead ammo bans have been in the headlines for years. Most of those efforts were unsuccessful. Now, however, the threats are more real.


A few weeks ago, news broke that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will require nontoxic ammo for state-park deer hunts. The ruling will also extend to 56 state natural areas. Per the change, lead is no longer allowed.

According to the report, some animals — including eagles, ravens, hawks, and bobcats — might ingest lead ammo in gut piles and from leached lead. The DNR said lead poisoning in wildlife is an increasing concern.

Interestingly, the DNR said, “Hunting is not a primary purpose of state parks and SNAs.” It also said hunting is only permitted when it “advances the management of natural resources on these lands.”

Although the latter phrase sounds acceptable, the first seems to set a dangerous precedent for public lands. Fortunately for hunters, those lands only account for 10% of Minnesota’s DNR-managed properties.

There are exceptions to the lead ban, though. “Peatland SNAs are exempt from this requirement,” the report said. “Due to shortages in certain ammunition types, this requirement also will not apply to state park youth deer hunts in the shotgun zone if hunters remove all parts of harvested deer, including the entrails.”

For those who plan to hunt under these conditions, it’s important to follow the rules, regardless of your feelings about them. For more information, reference the Minnesota DNR’s page on nontoxic ammo.

According to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, New York underwent a similar ordeal this spring.

“Assembly Bill A2084A (active currently for the 2023-2024 legislative session) prevents the use of lead ammunition in the taking of wildlife on state-owned lands and on lands contributing surface water to the New York city water supply,” the report. “This bill has recently been amended to include updating the annual syllabus (NYDEC hunting regulations book) to include language of this bill. A similar bill (S4976A) has been in introduced the New York State Senate and has been recognized as the same bill.”


Image: ImageBy_Bill_Konway_lead_bullets_2

Check ammo regulations for the specific public land you plan to hunt. Image by Bill Konway


Lead bans aren’t just occurring at the state level. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to enforce bans on numerous lands. Eventually, it plans to outlaw lead ammo, and even lead fishing tackle, on eight national wildlife refuges. The use of lead would be phased out by 2026. Affected refuges include the Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Neck, Erie, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research Refuge, Rachel Carson, and Wallops Island national wildlife refuges.

Additionally, members of the U.S. Congress introduced similar measures. In this effort, lead ammunition would be banned on all public lands. Further, the current White House administration is making big steps to outright ban lead on all public lands, too.

“The proposed lead ban on refuges kicks open the barn door to banning lead ammunition and tackle on all federal land, including national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, national preserves, and other areas,” said Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs for the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “It provides a legal basis for radical animal rights and environmental groups to sue the federal government to force additional lead bans. In effect, President Biden is handing extremists a howitzer to fire at the federal government until the use of lead in ammunition and tackle for hunting and fishing is banned everywhere.”

Some proposed legislation states it would require the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture departments to present scientific, peer-reviewed research that proves lead ammo is damaging to wildlife populations. But efforts are already being made to circumvent that requirement.

Overall, the biggest opposition and argument against these changes and attempted changes is that states already have the power to make those alterations. Further, states have better knowledge of what’s needed in local areas and case-by-case situations.



For now, the only hope is that sportsmen make their voices heard to afford change. But until then, where nontoxic ammo is firmly required, the only option is compliance.

Fortunately for hunters, there is one good nontoxic ammo option: copper. It offers effective hydrostatic shock. Although it’s not quite as effective as lead ammo in that regard, it’s still lethal. Unfortunately, it’s more expensive than lead, which might be a challenge for some hunters. It’s also more difficult to find on shelves.

Are public-land bans coming soon? In some places, they already have. It’s up to the people if they will arrive elsewhere.


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