For many Minnesota families, the holidays and hunting season go hand in hand. Since venison was the main course at that historic Thanksgiving centuries ago, it seems appropriate that Americans still celebrate and give thanks by harvesting wild game to feed their friends and families.
However, the choices that hunters make can have a big impact on the natural settings in which they spend their time during the hunting season. Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about the harmful effects of lead ammunition.
Hunters recover the meat they intend to eat from their game, and the inedible parts--the entrails--are usually left behind and consumed by scavengers such as coyotes, ravens and eagles. However, if the hunter is using ammunition that contains lead, this toxic metal can slowly poison the animals that feed on the leftover organs.
Minnesotans saw it happen recently with a golden eagle rescued by the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. This type of eagle is uncommon in Minnesota, and those who manage to see one are lucky. However, when this eagle was tested, it was shown to be suffering from lead toxicity. An X-ray showed the animal had ingested eight lead pellets. Raptor Center Director Julia Ponder told KARE 11 News that the neurological damage caused by lead was so severe "that the brain is basically Swiss cheese" at those levels of toxicity.
The eagle was humanely euthanized, but lead poisoning continues to be a problem for Minnesota ecosystems. Lead has been a big conversation in Minnesota recently, since the DNR denied a petition from environmental groups to ban lead in early November.
As the debate goes on about whether lead should be legally banned, many hunters recognize the impacts lead can have on the environment, and are choosing to make the switch to non-toxic ammunition anyway. For them, the removal of damage to the environment is worth the slightly higher cost of lead ammunition.
Some hunters balk at the higher expense of copper ammunition. It also might not be commonly available from local outdoor sports stores, and sometimes has to be specially ordered online.
Other hunters say that copper ammunition performs differently than lead. It's true that copper is lighter than lead and might not have exactly the same velocity of a lead round. However, in some ways, copper can perform better--it is harder than lead and less likely to fragment and travel into the muscle and organs. In comparison, lead fragments could travel into the meat, affecting not only the organs eaten by wildlife but also the venison enjoyed by people.
Recently, some sporting good companies and natural resource organizations have started hosting copper ammunition demonstration days at the gun range to let people try it out for themselves.
During this holiday season, one way for local hunters to express their appreciation of nature's wild bounty might be making the change to non-toxic ammunition this year.