Songbird Protection Coalition

Toxic Lead Shot Problem in Shooting Fields

The citizens of Michigan are all too familiar with the issue of lead poisoning, which affects not only our water supply but also our environment.  Because of its dangerous toxic effects, products that contain lead, such as leaded gasoline, leaded paint, and any item where lead is used, have been immediately removed from the marketplace or phased out of use over time.  However, lead ammunition and lead shot remain as the “greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States” (Bellinger, et al. 2013). 

Lead is also extremely harmful to wildlife.  Ingestion of spent lead shot, ammunition, and fishing tackle by wild birds is recognized as a significant problem because of the harmful toxic effects and high mortality rate among victims (Golden, Warner, Coffee, et al. 1995, 2016).  Birds confuse spent shot for seeds or grit, and scavenging birds eat offal or meat contaminated with the fragmented remains of lead shot (Kendall, et al.).  ​ Mourning doves are particularly susceptible to ingesting spent lead shot, which mimics seed due to its symmetry.  Dove shooting fields and “hunts” are managed to deliberately attract a large number of feeding mourning doves and keep them on the wing for shooters to target (US Fish and Wildlife Service).

It takes an average of five to eight shot shells per bird to bring down fast, erratically-flying mourning doves.  Releasing this excessive amount of lead into the environment (crop growing soils) invariably causes a build-up of lead in the soil of dove shooting fields, threatening not only the doves, but also other wildlife.  Lead shot ingestion in mourning doves has been well documented in scientific research for more than 50 years (Kendall, et al).  The numbers are staggering; it is estimated that from 8.8 to 15 million mourning doves consume lethal amounts of lead shot per year (Schultz, et al.).  Studies confirm the histological findings and toxicological concentrations in lead-poisoned mourning doves contribute to a higher mortality rate...additional deaths continuing even after the shooting season is over.

​Lead shot, which is toxic to wildlife, would not necessarily be restricted for the use of hunting Sandhill cranes if a recreational hunting season were approved.  While some Michigan Managed State Game and Wildlife Areas with special regulations restrict the use of lead shot, outside of these areas, Sandhill cranes could be hunted with lead shot.  The federal regulation restricting the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting “applies to the taking of ducks, geese (including brant), swans, coots (Fulica americana), and any other species that make up aggregate bag limits with these migratory game birds during concurrent seasons” (50 CFR 20.21(j)(3)).  The existing Michigan law implementing the federal non-toxic requirement applies to “waterfowl” which Michigan defines as ducks, geese, gallinules, and mergansers – not cranes.  Several, but not all, states that allow Sandhill crane hunting require the use of non-toxic shot for hunting the species, whether statewide or for some specific properties within the state.

Sandhill cranes are especially attracted to "shiney" objects and are susceptible to poisoning from ingesting lead, with well-documented lethal effects on individuals (Windingstad,
et al., US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service).  Bald eagles and other countless birds and mammals are also susceptible, due to feeding and scavenging on carrion that contains lead shot.

In conclusion, the negative impact of lead used in recreational hunting and fishing activities is far reaching and cumulative, with its full and long term effects still to be determined.  No amount of introduced lead in the environment is considered safe for human consumption.

Comparison of Steel and Lead Shot in Mourning Doves, Crippling Loss Rate Non-Toxic ShotLead Exposure from Wild Meat, and Environmental Impact of Lead Shot and Sinkers 

Note: Scientific data, research and studies were compared and compiled from multiple sources, while some links provided, available date is significant, including but not limited to:  United States Fish & Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey Division, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Nature Publishing Group, Prairie Naturalist Journal of Environmental Research, The Science of the Total Environment,Canadian Wildlife Services.