THE NEW STEEL SHOT 
CONTROVERSY

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 files.

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 death.

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.

It 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 "statistically insignificant". 

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 lead. 

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 killed.

Load Kill
Steel 986
Lead 1,242

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.

Again, 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.

Load Kill
Steel 11,670,900
Lead 11,670,900
Difference

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 the

Cripples C/DK
436 .44
366 .29

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.

C/DK Cripples
.44 5,135,196
.29 3,384,561
1,750,635

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 hogwash.

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.

The 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.

You 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. 

What 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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Hunting Retriever Club, Inc. Newsletter Vol. 1 #1 reprint and reproduction from August-September, 1984
with permission of Hunting Retriever Club, Inc. and Hunting Retriever Magazine.
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