« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Condors and bullets

  Dear HCN,

Four things that I wish you had covered in your story on lead in condors (HCN, 2/18/02: Condor program laden with lead):

1) The problem is with deer gut piles left by legal hunting, probably not with wounded and lost game. Gut piles from legally taken game number in the hundreds during the hunting season and often are left in open areas. Lost game is rare and probably crawls back into brush, where condors aren't likely to get it.

2) There are two simple solutions to lead residue in gut piles that can be addressed today without the need for a new, expensive, tungsten-based bullet. Either bury the gut piles or shoot bullets that do not leave lead residue in the gut piles. There are already two bullets on the market that do not leave lead residue behind.

3) Hunter groups in Southern California have taken a lead role in informing and educating their ranks about the dangers of lead to condors, eagles, vultures and other wildlife. I have written extensively in Western Outdoor News and my own publication, California Hog Hunter, about the lead issue. Turner's Outdoorsman, a chain of 13 retail stores in Southern California that cater to hunters, has run information on its Web site and hands out flyers on the issue prior to and during deer hunting season. The Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre property in condor country with an extensive hunting program, will be phasing in the use of what we call "gut-pile safe" ammunition to help protect its eagles and the foraging condors that are again using this property.

4) All of the Arizona condors, the four that died and those that were rescued from the wild to be chelated for lead poisoning, were all likely poisoned from a single source that had nothing to do with hunters losing game nor gut piles left in the field. The condors all picked up lead shot (not rifle fragments or bullets) from a carcass that has been shot at least twice with a shotgun (two sizes of shot were found). Voluntary or regulatory changes in rifle-hunting ammunition would not have prevented this fluke event.

It would have been nice for HCN to publish information on how sportsmen could help solve the lead problem by shooting one of the two gutpile-safe ammunitions already on the market. Solutions are better than hand-wringing and finger-pointing.

Jim Matthews
San Bernardino, California