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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
Lead is poisonous to both humans and wildlife. Since the late 1800's, lead poisoning in
waterfowl has been found throughout all the major flyways in the world. Lead poisoned birds
quickly become lethargic and weak, and can no longer fly or even walk. Eventually the birds
die. Very few lead poisoned birdsare ever seen by humans because the birds move into cover
and hide at the first signs of the disease. Lead poisoned waterfowl are also more susceptible to
hunters and predators and are easily killed. The source for this lead poisoning is lead shot
deposited into the environment by hunters.
Many wildlife biologists recognized the need to eliminate lead shot as early as 1935. In the
50's, people began experimenting with non-toxic shot like steel. By the 70's, the US Fish and
Wildlife Service, as well as many other conservation groups, were calling for a legal change from
the toxic lead shot to non-toxic shot. This change occurred in 1991 with new laws requiring non-
toxic shot such as steel or bismuth instead of lead shot. All subsistence waterfowl hunters in
Alaska are also required to use non-toxic shot such as steel shot. Beginning March 1, 1998,
anyone possessing lead shot while hunting waterfowl will be subject to enforcement action,
regardless of time or place.
Some of the early non-toxic shot alternatives had some problems. Steel shot behaves
differently than lead shot, so many hunters felt it was ineffective. Also the price of steel shot was
quite a bit higher than lead shot. Hunters were also concerned steel shot would damage their gun
Many of the concerns about using steel shot are largely the result of misinformation.. Steel
shot is harder and lighter than lead. To compensate for these differences, hunters need to use two
sizes larger steel shot than when using lead. At any given distance from the gun, steel loads
generally have a more dense shot pattern. To compensate for this, hunters can use a more open
choke. The price of steel shot, like all consumer goods, is the result of supply and demand. As
more non-toxic shot is used, prices will continue to drop. Some older steel shot made in the mid
to late 70's had some problems with damaging gun barrels. Steel shot shells have now been
modified with a plastic shot cup that fully encloses the shot charge and prevents it from even
coming in contact with gun barrels.
There are ways to improve shooting performance with non-toxic shot such as steel shot. One
is to pattern test your shotgun to learn about the performance of your individual gun. Also,
experiment with different size shot and chokes, and make a point of practice shooting at moving
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, this is Beverly Skinner. The
key to eliminating lead poisoning in waterfowl and other birds is to stop using lead shot and
switch to non-toxic shot. Remember, spent lead shot can remain in the environment for several
thousand years. It is up to all of us, including Alaska's subsistence hunters, to contribute to
waterfowl conservation by learning the facts about nontoxic shot and developing the skills to
shoot it effectively. For more information on steel shot, you can call 1-800-478-shot.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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