Charles Ketchabaw - Contributed, Dml -

Hunters, choose your ammunition with care

  • Article by: AMBER BURNETTE
  • November 4, 2011 - 7:10 PM

With deer-hunting season upon us, I'd bet there's not one Minnesota hunter who's thinking: "Along with my eight-point buck, I want to kill a bald eagle."

And yet, that is what happens every fall.

The reason? Lead poisoning in eagles that ingest spent ammunition.

Bald eagles, which are scavengers, are enticed by an easily available meal of gut piles from field-dressed deer shot with lead ammunition.

Most hunters just want to partake in a traditional outing with friends and family. They have no intention of killing our nation's symbol, directly or indirectly.

It is hard to believe anyone would intend to cause a slow, terrible death to such a patriotic icon. Death from lead poisoning isn't quick; the birds experience seizures and blindness.

They can slowly starve to death because they can't stand, let alone fly. They are often hit by cars or suffer other injuries due to their illness.

It's one of the most terrible ways to die, and one I hope none of you ever has to witness.

What can be done? Simple -- buy lead-alternative shot.

Let me be very clear: The University of Minnesota's Raptor Center is not advocating against hunting. We are advocating for hunters to spend just a little more at their sporting goods stores on lead alternatives to save eagles' lives.

You will actually save them twice; in the spring, after the snow melts, carcasses of deer that weren't found in the previous season are exposed, and unfortunate eagles will welcome another meal opportunity.

How do we know that spent ammunition is linked to the 100-plus lead-poisoned bald eagles admitted to our clinic last year?

The Raptor Center conducted a 13-year retrospective study testing this hypothesis and found that lead from ammunition, present in the carcasses and gut piles of white-tailed deer, represented an important source of lead poisoning.

There is value in the Minnesota tradition of hunting, in sharing it with friends and family. There is value in the tradition of seeing bald eagles flying free and healthy in our skies, not dying alone or in our clinic.

Finally, there is also value in a new tradition of voluntary behavior change in hunters' choice of ammunition.

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Amber Burnette is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and a volunteer at the College of Veterinary Medicine's Raptor Center.

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