In October 2013, California passed a ban on lead ammunition for hunting. Naturally, hunters were opposed to this legislation as it would have a negative impact on their ability to hunt. Proponents of the bill insisted that non-lead ammunition alternatives were widely available based on their Google searches.
However, in September 2014, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) released a report chock full of evidence that the availability of non-lead alternatives will plummet as more and more hunters seek to make the transition.
This is because manufacturers of ammunition are not equipped to produce the non-lead alternatives that will be required by hunters. Part of this is the federal government’s doing. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives prohibits the manufacture and sale of any non-lead ammunition because it can be considered “armor piercing.”
Manufacturers may petition the ATF for a “sporting purposes” exemption, but more than 30 petitions for exemption have been submitted to the ATF over the past few years and none has been acted on.
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The truth is, the availability of legal alternatives for hunters is extremely limited, and what is available will only increase in price as the demand for this type of ammo increases. Currently, there are a few types of ammo that hunters could use, but they’re already more expensive than their lead counterparts.
The research suggests that when hunters require more ammunition, the average price will skyrocket by almost 300%. When supplies run out, hunters will be out of luck.
California is a huge market for ammunition, and hunters make up a big part of that.
For all the non-hunters out there, it’s worth noting that hunters have to use certain calibers to ensure that they are humanely harvesting game. Most of the popular hunting calibers have little to no supply of non-lead ammunition.
In fact, in the report released by NSSF, demand for non-lead 8mm ammunition would constitute over 1,000% of what is available nationally.
In other words, California hunters would be demanding 10 times more ammunition than is available in the entire country.
All of these factors ensure that at least some hunters will quit based on the price alone. For everyone else, they may be forced to quit the sport if they can’t find legal ammunition.
Availability is not determined by what’s on the shelf at the local sports stores; manufacturers have to be consulted to see what they’re capable of making.
Anyone who has tried to buy .22 caliber ammunition in the past two years already knows that manufacturers are struggling to keep up with popular traditional ammunition demands.
Producing non-lead ammo requires an entirely separate technical process that manufacturers are not ready for.
In addition to all of these issues with availability, there are the related issues that come up when fewer hunters take to the field.
Less ammunition means fewer hunters, and fewer hunters means less money for conservation.
Wildlife funding is based on license and tag sales as well as excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. These excise taxes go into a federal wildlife restoration fund that is then remitted to the states.
With California hunters denied the opportunity to hunt with legal ammunition, they stay home. And their money stays with them. Many of those hunting tags will go unsold because hunters won’t be able to use them.
California will lose all of that revenue, plus a significant portion of the revenue that comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Fish Restoration Program.
This ban needs to be fixed; hunters can’t comply if they can’t legally hunt. Alternative ammunition needs to be widely available before this law has a chance at working.
If you want to get involved, email the California Fish and Game Commission at email@example.com to tell the commission to fix this law in a way that works for hunters.