Thirty years after Home on the Range was written, only 500 buffalo remained in the United States. In Kansas — Higley’s home state — deer were gone and antelope practically non-existent. Their habitats largely destroyed by human development, these iconic game animals were hunted out of existence.
In an era where ‘eco-friendly’ is the hip phrase of the day, new hunters and the hunting curious are more frequently asking if hunting is sustainable. Could I take up hunting, they wonder, as an environmentally-conscious means to eat? Is hunting better for the earth than buying meat at the grocery store? Should we all just revert back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to ‘save the planet’?
Are some non-lead bullet options, like these copper bullets from Barnes, possibly toxic?
Lead is toxic to humans and the environment. This fact — rooted in solid scientific evidence — is the source of much debate among hunters and shooters. Many claim that the science isn’t settled or is wrong, oftentimes relaying personal anecdotes about how they’ve eaten animals shot with lead ammo for years and haven’t noticed any ill effects. Others attest that the notion that lead is toxic is merely a ploy to further regulate hunting and shooting sports. But the science behind the toxicity of lead is sound. Lead harms the nervous and reproductive systems in the human body and accumulates in and harms animals and their ecosystems. Really, it isn’t something we should be tossing into the environment in large quantities. It also is certainly something we don’t want to be eating.1
In response to its proven toxicity, lead ammunition is in the process of being slowly phased out. However, when lead is phased out, other materials will be phased in. How safe are these primary substitutes and how well do they work? Are non-lead bullets toxic too? I wanted to know the answer to these questions to make sure that I could harvest wild animals humanely while minimizing ammunition-based contamination of the meat and the environment. Unfortunately, some of what I found in my research is rather concerning.