THE NEW STEEL SHOT
Reprint With Permission Of
Generol Ducks, Inc.
The controversial issue of steel shot is heating up again, with Interior
Secretary William P. Clark, pledging to appoint a new panel to review the
federal government's position on the matter.
The renewed focus on steel shot
is spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation, whose executive vice
president, Jay D. Hair, has assumed the role of an environmental white knight
who views the abolition of lead shot as his Holy Grail.
Clark has not publicly
stated his views on the issue, although on a recent quail hunt he emphasized
that he fired steel shot loads. Soon after winning Senate confirmation to
replace the controversial James Watt, he sought to reduce the tension between
the administration and the federation by giving it access to all steel-shot
For all the uproar, however, virtually no new scientific data has
surfaced in the past few years to change anyone's mind, either pro or con. The
issue remains the same. The arguments on both sides are virtually identical to
those of past years, and half-truths prevail.
On the surface, the argument to
abolish lead shot appears persuasive. Lead is an environmental contaminant. It
has been removed from paint, for example, and from much of the gasoline sold in
this country. No rational person could dispute the medically proven harmful
effects caused by excessive ingestion of lead.
For waterfowl hunters, the
issues boil down to numbers of ducks. The biological community contends spent
lead shots kills from two to three million ducks a year, a significant number.
The number of ducks raised each year on all national wildlife refuges is
established between 1.8 and 2.4 million. From two to three million ducks are
raised each year on Ducks Unlimited's projects in Canada.
Continued use of
lead shot appears to mean that, in effect, hunters each year are willing to
sacrifice production on either national wildlife refuges or DU projects, both of
which were acquired with sportsmen's dollars, either through the purchase of
federal duck stamps or voluntary DU contributions.
The primary opposition to
steel shots comes from hunters who believe that steel is less ballistically
efficient than lead shot and cripples too many birds, a matter which not only
violates the sportsman's ethical pledge to kill as cleanly as possible but also
"wastes" ducks which are wounded and fly off to die an agonizing
The National Wildlife Federation, of course, keeps hammering home the
fact that two to three million ducks die each year of lead poisoning, inferring
that this number would survive if every waterfowl hunter would fire steel shot.
cites studies purporting to show that the difference in the crippling rate is
insignificant. (Most early field studies showed only a slight increase in the
crippling rate when hunters used steel, a difference described as
But the reputedly most
statistically powerful study thus far is the so-called Lacassine study in
Louisiana. It found that steel resulted in 41.5 percent more cripples than
A breakdown of the study, which defined a crippled as any
bird visibly hit or downed but not retrieved, is illustrative. The first column
represents the type of shot, the second shows the total number of birds killed,
the third the number crippled, and fourth the number of cripples per duck
As you can see, hunters using steel shot crippled nearly one duck for every two brought to bag.
If we use these figures on a nationwide basis, the results are interesting.
In 1982-83 season, the last for which official kill figures are available, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the total duck kill to be 11,670,900.
let's go into some detail using the Lacassine percentages. The first column is
the type of shot, the second is total nation-wide kill, the third the cripples
based on the number of ducks killed.
Under this analysis, the number of cripples would increase by 1.75 million if
every waterfowler was required to use steel shot.
During this same year, the
federal government estimated the fall flight of ducks to number 76
million. If two percent of the ducks each year die of lead poisoning (the
low biological estimate for lead-poisoning deaths), the number of ducks
succumbing to lead poisoning would be 1,520,000.
As you can see, crippling
losses would exceed lead-poisoning deaths by 230,635, and the nationwide use of
steel shot would prove more harmful to waterfowl than continued use of lead shot
because we would cripple more ducks than we would save.
There are some glaring
deficiencies in the above scenario. Some lead-shot die-offs would continue,
simply because spent pellets from previous seasons would still be available to
waterfowl. Not all ducks crippled would die. Whether the difference in the
crippling rate between steel and lead nationwide would be the same as found in
Louisiana is another matter. Some also might argue "statistics",
asserting the above scenario is not statistically valid.
Another way of
viewing the problem is to take the service's calculations. In the 1982-83
season, for example, it estimated hunters crippled and failed to retriever
2,236,400 ducks. The statisticians who compiled the Lacassine study said steel
shot increased the crippling rate by 41.5 percent.
Assuming all hunters in the
U.S. used lead shot during the 1982-83 season (and there is no way to break out
number of ducks crippled with lead shot), the nationwide use of steel would
increase the number of crippled ducks by 928,106, a figure derived by
multiplying 2,235 by 41.5 percent.
Using the same figure as above for the
number of ducks which die each year from lead poisoning, the nationwide use of
steel would not result in the saving of 1,520,000. Instead, if we subtract the
additional number of cripples from the number which die of lead poisoning
(1,520,000 minus 928,106), we find the savings to only be 591,894 ducks.
The National Wildlife Federation, by constantly declaring from two to three
million ducks die each year from lead poisoning, infers this number would
survive if lead shot were outlawed. But as the above figures show, this is pure
Another means by which the federation downplays the crippling issue
is by showing he Tom Roster film. If you recall, was made for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service during the Carter administration. The film shows Roster
shooting ducks and geese at long ranges in hopes of persuading skeptical hunters
that steel loads are "killing loads".
The federation acquired a copy
during the early days of the Reagan administration. In an effort to embarrass
Interior Secretary James Watt, it accused the Interior Department of attempting
to sabotage the steel-shot program by refusing to release the film - and offered
to show the film to anybody.
No mention was made of the fact that the
Carter Administration first refused to release the film because of its inherent
problems. And the federation to this day is showing the film to anyone who asks.
significance of this should not be lost, because the film does not show
Roster crippling a single duck or goose. A Waterfowling subscriber who
participated in the Roster study noted that Roster killed birds at long ranges.
But, he said, "I saw him sail quite a few birds, but there were no cripples
shown in the film." The federation's continued display of this film is
further evidence of its willingness to ignore one of the central issues.
should not conclude from all the above that steel-shot should be banned. There
are areas where lead poisoning die-offs exceed the number of ducks crippled by
hunters using steel, and in these hot-spots the use of steel effectively reduces
unwanted losses. There is concern that non-fatal doses of lead make waterfowl
more susceptible to disease, and reduce reproductive capability.
you can conclude from the above, however, is that the federation is playing fast
and loose with facts.
All concerned waterfowl hunters would like to eliminate
losses of waterfowl to such causes as disease, lead-poisoning and crippling. But
the federation's continued propagandization of the lead-steel issue, it's
continued attempts to ignore the crippling issue, does nothing to create a
climate where all concerned can reach a rational, just solution.
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