Bald eagle
A bald eagle lands in a tree overlooking the Des Moines River in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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By Larry Keane

The handwringing over the use of traditional ammunition is reaching a fever pitch. Animal rights groups grabbed on to a recently-published study by The Wildlife Society to again press for conservation policy changes that would ban the use of traditional lead-based ammunition for hunting in America.

Their evidence appears to be based on the study’s abstract that hypothesized that the use of traditional ammunition is hampering the recovery of the American bald eagle population. These groups contend that if hunters used more expensive alternative ammunition instead of traditional lead-core ammunition, there would be more bald eagles for all Americans to enjoy.

Headlines designed to catch the readers’ eye played into this, including one that read, “Lead ammo poisoning threatening bald eagle population, study says,” published in The Hill, a Washington, D.C.-focused news outlet. It often publishes policy-heavy news reports and is on the radar of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Beyond the Headline

The problem is that the headline is completely wrong. Anyone reading beyond the headline and a few quotes from the Cornell University researchers that authored the study, as well as unsubstantiated claims that eagles ingest lead fragments from carrion of harvested wild game, might have seen the telling admission that the study actually says there’s no evidence that the hypothesis is valid.

Buried in Page 13 of the 18-page study is the following:

… disturbances to stable stage structure (Stott et al.2010), which constitute the second key inference of this study: despite the depression in the long‐term growth rate, the difference in abundances of eagles between groups during the 3‐decade timeframe was biologically negligible.

In other words, there’s no evidence that there’s any difference in biological outcomes in the 30 years the study examined between hunters using traditional ammunition and if the use of traditional ammunition was banned. The difference in the bald eagle populations is negligible between the control groups and the two theoretical groups in the study that don’t even exist.

This isn’t an argument against the science. This is agreement with the science.

Public conservation policy decisions must be based on the best science available and the science of wildlife management is based on managing wildlife populations. Special interest groups seized a narrative at the opening of this study that a fictional group of bald eagles would have shown a greater recovery rate if the use of traditional lead ammunition was banned. The study itself discredits this.

rifle ammunition ammo
Josh Wayner for TTAG

Here are facts that are indisputable. American bald eagles are at the healthiest levels in decades. Bald eagles recovered from just 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to 71,400 nesting pairs by 2019.

Bald eagles were removed from the Endangered and Threatened Species Lists because they have achieved such a remarkable recovery. The use of traditional ammunition by hunters has been a constant during when eagle populations struggled and throughout their remarkable recovery – a controlled variable. It didn’t cause the decline and it isn’t hindering the recovery.

The Hill, which published this dire warning claiming bald eagle recovery is in a precarious position because of hunters using traditional ammunition, is the same news agency that published an article nine months earlier that exclaimed bald eagle populations quadrupled in just 10 years.

Funding Conservation

Hunters are often maligned by special interest groups in these arguments, but that’s a false narrative. Hunters are the original conservationists. The firearm and ammunition industry pays an excise tax into the Wildlife and Sport Fishing Restoration Program, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson excise tax. These funds are specifically set aside for wildlife and habitat conservation and recovery.

Since 1937, fund contributions have topped $14.7 billion. The Department of the Interior announced that $1.5 billion is being distributed to states for conservation programs in 2022, of which $1.1 billion was derived from the excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers as well as archery product manufacturers.

Those taxes are supported by recreational target shooters, hunters and anglers purchasing firearms and ammunition. Those funds generated by the manufacturers have aided the recovery of Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail deer, antelope, wild turkey, waterfowl and even bald eagles.

Last year, there were over 18.5 million background checks for gun sales and another 21 million a year before that. Ammunition manufacturers are working around the clock to meet the demand of these gun owners, recreational shooters and hunters who are getting back into our woods, fields and marshes. That means more funds for more wildlife and habitat restoration.

That’s a deep sigh of relief for America’s wildlife and America’s national symbol.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. “There would be more bald eagles for people to enjoy.”
    I ate a chicken hawk once ,if eagles are anything like them you gotta be pretty hungry to enjoy the stringy bastards.

    • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

      {Chicken Hawks}

      “gotta be pretty hungry to enjoy the stringy bastards.”

      You just have to let them ‘ripen’ at the bottom of the ditch a few days longer, then the meat just falls off the bone… 🙂

    • I hope you shared it with your girlfriend, possum. Not every day that chicken hawk is on the menu.

  2. You want to see a bald headed vulture come to Northeast Iowa. The buggers are thick. 50yrs ago was a rare sight. Today see several every day when driving.

    • They’re pretty thick in central IA as well. I’ve seen them in the ally behind my house (in town). The wife’s afraid that our cat that likes to sneak out will get swooped off by one. It’s almost like saying that lead ammo is threatening the white tail deer recovery (or that climate change is threatening the polar bear recovery).

  3. Pittman-Robertson is one tax I never mined paying. Even though a large portion of what I paid was on firearms and ammunition I’ll never hunt with.

    • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

      “Even though a large portion of what I paid was on firearms and ammunition I’ll never hunt with.”

      Just consider it a way that the inner-city gang-bangers support wildlife conservation efforts every time they ‘bust a cap’ in another Homies ass… 🙂

      • Geoff, that’s what I call a win-win. Seriously, before I retired, do you know what we called it when one asswipe shot another? A misdemeanor murder. Really, except for the family no one cared.

      • Just wanted to stop by and remind you that you’re a complete fucking idiot 🖕🤡!

        • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

          “Of course I’m better than him!”

          Please, please, *please* keep believing your delusions!

          You certainly seem to have a lot of free time to engage in it, for someone who claims to have a wife and family… 🙂

    • ‘Science’ is becoming as meaningless of a word as ‘racist’. For identical reasons.

    • Prndll: +1

      The restrictions placed on lead ammunition are rooted in political activism, not sound science.

      • The restrictions placed on lead ammunition are rooted in political activism that seeks to ban all hunting irrespective of the science.
        Fixed it for you.

        • Yes, you are correct. The world would be pristine, and full of soft brown fuzzies if it weren’t for us humans despoiling everything. That’s the thinking behind the various flavors of eco-terrorists like
          Stone-Manning. Criminy, can you imagine how difficult it’s going to be to root them out of gov’t service once the administration is changed to something that is a bit more sane? They’ve been slowly increasing their ranks for decades, like poisonous cockroaches.

          Hmm, looks like I have a strong opinion about this. Better get a cup of tea.

    • Just as they conveniently ignore industrial lead pollution and tetra-ethyl lead used in fuels, paints, and other products.

  4. Apparently, in mainstream journalism, the primary ethic is: Clicks = Dollars.
    The second ethic is propaganda for your financial sources.

    In the seminary, I had a prof who made it is mission to show how relative ethics leads to the same place as scripture-based morality. Modern journalism is a good example of how relative ethics does not work.

    Unfortunately, I am seeing some trends in the alternative media that that indicate clicks are more important than accuracy and truth. I’m talking to you, Populist Press and to you, Citizen Free Press.

  5. If lead ammo was a problem, there would be far fewer buzzards and crows (who are primarily or exclusively carrion eaters) than currently exist.

    • The reason for the ban on (first) lead shotgun pellets and (later) hunting ammo was based on disputed science that said that the plummeting numbers of California Condors were due to lead ingestion deposited in various forms by hunters.

      • Wouldn’t metallic lead just pass through? Organic lead compounds such as tetra-ethyl lead are much worse.

        But still I always wash my hands after handling exposed lead ammunition before eating.

        • As I said, “disputed science.” The legislators “erred” on the side of the science that restricted hunting and shooting of guns.

        • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

          “Wouldn’t metallic lead just pass through? Organic lead compounds such as tetra-ethyl lead are much worse.”

          Ordinarily true, but carrion-eating birds have a digestive tract that’s highly acidic. Hydrochloric acid being the worst of it. One of it’s functions is to sterilize the rotting carcasses they eat.

          HCL (hydrochloric acid) turns elemental lead into lead hydrochloride, and that’s water-soluble.

          It’s what happened in Flint, Michigan, not long back. They started drawing municipal water from the lake, but the lake was acidic enough to attack the lead water pipes in town.

          Lead water pipes aren’t usually a problem, because the pipes form a ‘skin’ of lead oxide that seals in the lead underneath (the same thing happens to lead-based ammunition lying in the soil.) . Flint’s water had high levels of lead in it, because they failed to take a simple step – Pass the water over a bed of crushed limestone before being treated with chlorine). The lime would have neutralized the acid, and the city pipes wouldn’t have gotten attacked, putting water-soluble lead in the city’s water…

        • Geoff, thanks for your reply. It made me think about dogs who can eat food so off it would at best make us humans sick, if not kill us.

          No wonder dogs like their food seasoned. Just as much as possums would.

  6. Yay us I guess? Mixed feelings about it, I understand it’s PR to say “look, gun owners are contributing in big ways to help conservation!” Throw this out there to balance all the usual “need to penalize gun owners for destroying society” articles, and “guns are a public health issue costing billions of dollars” arguments.

    Still this is a forced tax on guns and ammo, I don’t get a choice to pay or not or get to direct how the money is spent or wasted, nor a refund if not needed, or a little paper deer with my name on it on the wall like a fundraising drive.

    I wonder if any of the funds get used in studies like this that are used to say hunting with lead ammo is bad…

    It’s like how my property taxes go to fund crappy public child indoctrination centers, er schools that say they need more and more funding, that my kids don’t even attend. Paying to educate the people who will likely vote to punish me or restrict my rights…

    • Yup.
      Abolish the Dept. of Ed. It has NOTHING to do with interstate commerce.
      Abolish the Public Schools. They are inefficient, ineffective, politicized, and corrupt.
      Make the teacher’s unions irrelevant.

    • In defense of the tax, there is no doubt that early on the pioneers/settlers/farmers/ranchers/etc, hunters all, had a devastating effect on North American fauna. Just look at Europe; nothing left but wabbits and spawwows. We would be there now if not for well funded efforts and as Gadsen said every gun owner, hunter or not, can be proud to contribute, even though it may be ‘forced’ onto non hunters as well, as most all theft… I mean taxes… are.

  7. Itd be my guess that maybe in a duck lake where the ducks was gobbling up stuff from the bottom but I cant see how anything eating on a gut pile would get lead. ?? Most bullets of big game shot ain’t in the guts and besides itd more then likely go through and into the dirt.
    Just something else to bitch about and make emu nition more expensive.
    What’s the word on all them batteries that are going to wind up in a landfill or recycling center. That stuff is poisonous.

    • Even slow Joe “might” concede bald eagles are common. You want my lead ammo? Come n get it one boo-lit at a time…

    • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

      “but I cant see how anything eating on a gut pile would get lead. ??”

      Hydrochloric acid is a component of stomach digestive fluids. It’s not in high concentrations, but it’s high enough to dissolve lead over time.

      That’s how those kids were poisoned by lead paint chips way back when, kids put everything in their mouths, and the chips had a slightly sweetish taste to them. That encouraged them to do it again.

      Ever get that nasty sour acid taste in your mouth when puking?

      That the hydrochloric acid your stomach makes to help break down food for digestion…

      • I always thought it was the tequila mixed with the single malt mixed with the beer mixed with assorted shooters of interesting colors.

  8. There would be more bald eagles If the writers of The Hill didn’t have so much of the problematic red herring in their diet (it is just so full of lead paint chips, and mercury, and plastic straws).

    • The excessive amount of plastic in the ocean is becoming a problem. It grinds itself up into microscopic particles that fish finally ingest .
      The scientists do not know what the long term effects will be as plastic hasn’t been around that long.

      • It’s a good thing we’ve added billions of masks, face shields and test strips to the ocean over the last two years. Maybe that’ll speed up the recognition of long term affects.

        • “It’s a good thing we’ve added billions of masks, face shields and test strips to the ocean over the last two years”

          vast islands of plastic have been building up in the oceans for decades. it really is an issue.

        • “vast islands of plastic”

          Where they at? Serious question. I’ve seen pics of some floating plastic but never anything like a helicopter flying over an island of plastic, such as is described. One would expect to see it on Google Maps or something, given all the hoopla.

        • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

          ““vast islands of plastic”

          Where they at? Serious question.”

          A serious answer – It tend to happen where 2 normal ocean currents impact each other. It turns into a ‘swirl’ of sorts, trapping what ever is floating there, to tend to stay there. Stuff eventually accumulates.

          There are plans being developed to take huge barges out there, and ‘process’ the floating debris into bales that can be delivered back to port for disposal :

  9. I’m not an expert on birds of prey, so all I can offer are my own observations and opinions. Never saw a bald eagle along the local rivers until 2001. Plenty of hawks and osprey, but no eagles. Now they are fairly common. If lead shot or bullets were the problem the anti hunters claim, it should also affect other birds of prey, as well as vultures/buzzards and crows that feed on carrion. One would think lead would also be having a detrimental effect on other scavengers like coyotes, foxes, skunks, and possums. All seem to be doing quite well. Only lead poisoning that seems to affect scavengers like feral hogs and coyotes are those bullets still traveling at high rates of speed, not those just laying in a gut pile or discarded carcass.
    No surprise a so called journalist is sensationalizing a story to increase interest or get clicks online.

    • There may be something to lead in scavengers like possums… we have a possum here who can use a computer. Rise of the planet of the Opossum?

      • Scary thoughts indeed. Can’t even ‘run to the hills’ on that one; they’d be like the Drop Bears in Australia, but more smarter.

    • Ahhhh… the BBC. A fine organization with all the credibility of CNN. Dacian, you sure know how to pick ’em.

        • Hey, Dan @ TTAG, maybe it’s (past) time to take out this open bag of garbage sitting in your living room that you invite all these good folk into. It’s starting to stink pretty bad. If there was at least entertainment value or conflicting opinion I could understand, but there isn’t. Jus sayin’…

        • To Rider of ignorance

          You are a typical hiilljack hell bent on destroying the 1st Amendment because you believe everyone should follow the “party Line” which promotes pure ignorance and rejects science.

      • To Upinarms

        One of the most respected news organizations in the world but what would a hilljack like yourself know about the news media.

        • Ha! That would be “Rider of My Mommy” to you there, little damian. I of course realize it’s prob you under all these different names but the point stands; if all the object brings to the party is the stink of sh!t, then it’s past time to remove it from the premises. Rights are not abused without consequence, little man. See how that works? But then obviously you don’t, do you?

    • You do realize the study from the link you provided is from 2015, and the study you dispute is from 2021?

  10. Meanwhile, countless bald eagles actually are killed each year by the boondoggle that is wind turbines. What we hear from these same people about that is crickets.

      • avatar Geoff "A day without an obsessed, apparently brain-damaged and mentally-ill demented troll (who deserves to live in New Jersey) is like a day of warm sunshine" PR

        Proof you can never satisfy a Leftist.

        Renewables have their own sets of limitations. Wind turbines can kill birds (efforts are being made to try and drive them off, like irregular loud noises or a ‘scarecrow’ of some sorts, but the birds get used to them after a while.) Like the wind doesn’t always blow.

        Overcast skies drastically reduce solar voltaic output, etc, etc, et cetera…

  11. Just another angle the Commies use to try and get rid of guns. To expose the lead bullet contamination argument as a false narrative, ask the question if they are so concerned about lead in the environment, how about all the lead vehicle batteries in the world? Just one average-sized car battery contains enough lead to make over 50,000 bullets. Multiply that by billions and billions of batteries in every type of vehicle in the world over the last 100 years, that is a lot of lead in the environment. Lead vapor is emitted into the atmosphere every second a vehicle is running. Electric vehicles have even more lead in their batteries and cannot be easily recycled. So, little-bitty bullets are not the ‘big threat’ to the environment like the Commies want you to believe. It’s a political angle to get your guns.

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