Biologist makes a case for alternative ammunition

Written by Vic Augustine

Dubois Frontier Staff Writer

Published in Dubois Frontier

*Photos were not a part of original article, they were added to this online version*

Bryan Bedrosian is a hunter and a wildlife biologist at the Teton Raptor Center in Jackson, Wyo. He has, among other projects, been studying the effects of lead ammunition on wildlife.

When the Dubois Gun Club board had its monthly meeting Jan. 16, he was invited to give a presentation on what his study has revealed.In an interview Jan. 18, Bedrosian recapped what he told the gun club board.


He reported that he has been investigating the effects of ingested lead fragments on scavengers– primarily eagles, ravens and coyotes– since 2004. Bedrosian was not working in isolation at the end of one of his published works– over 20 supporters are specifically acknowledged as well as the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, Grand Teton National Park, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Department of Transportation. Studies and similar advocacies are taking place in other states as well.Bedrosian said from the start his findings and recommendations are not intended to discourage or in any way diminish hunting. He said his intention is to “maintain hunting and the sportsman’s enthusiasm” and to “advance the most ethical way of going about it.”


He advised that the levels of lead found in the blood of bald eagles rises and falls in direct correlation to the hunting season. “Two-thirds of the those tested during the hunting season had lead levels of concern,” he said.

The fragments generated by a mushrooming lead rifle bullet upon impact in big game are more numerous and have a distribution pattern more broad than might be imagined.
Bedrosian explained he has examined, by x-ray, “many, many gut piles; there are, on average, 146 fragments in each one. And they can be as far as 18 inches at right angles from the wound track.”


When a scavenger, such as an eagle, ingests the fragments, the lead is absorbed on the molecular level by the digestive system and makes its way via the blood to the soft tissue and, ultimately, to the brain and bone marrow.


It is the same process by which humans are poisoned.


The effects of exposure can be lethargy and slowed reaction time for the eagle which means its capacity for gathering food is reduced. It can starve to death as a result. Long-term exposure can result in blindness and acute symptoms will include terminal digestive and renal failure.The means by which captured specimens are evaluated is “the same test you would get in a doctor’s office– for adults and children,” Bedrosian said. “It’s immediate and gives results in three minutes.”


Lead remains detectable for two weeks in the bird’s body, so not only are results of the test quickly gained, but it can be discerned that the ingestion took place within that two-week window, he explained.


Bedrosian said rehabilitation for the lead-poisoned eagles can necessitate chelation therapy in acute cases. A solution is introduced intravenously which binds with toxins in the bloodstream and then the captured material is excreted as waste.


As a result of the several years of data gathering and the demonstrated correlation between the presence of lead particles in wild game and its subsequent effect on free ranging scavengers, the raptor center initiated a lead-free ammunition use program in two Jackson area locations. Interested hunters were given the alternate ammunition in 2009 to be used in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. In 2010 it was offered at a discount.


The ammunition used in the program was “Federal ammunition packed with Barnes TSX or TTSX bullets, Winchester E-tip and Hornady GMX ...,” according to Bedrosian’s peer-reviewed journal on the research he and his colleagues performed.


Bedrosian advised, “Every hunter is required to turn in a survey” in those two locations. On the survey is a question about the type of ammunition the hunter used.He reported that in the first year “one quarter of the successful hunters” used non-lead ammunition and “there was a corresponding decrease of lead levels in ravens and eagles.” In the second year, one third of the successful hunters used non-lead rounds and there was a corresponding reduction in levels found in tested birds, he said.


In the year which followed, there was no data gathered from scavenging test subjects, but Bedrosian said the survey revealed an increase in the number of hunters using non-lead bullets.


He said there have been responses from hunters who had “reservations and concerns” about the advocacy of non-lead ammunition, possibly being the prelude to legislated coercion.But Bedrosian emphasized he is not looking for such actions. He is dedicated, however, to ensuring that members of the hunting community are aware of what choices they have and the associated consequences. For him, it is a matter of providing correct information and leaving the issue up to personal ethics.


Bedrosian also said, when other scavengers such as coyotes and bears are evaluated, the lead exposure seems to have less impact. Bedrosian suspects they have a “wider winter diet,” and the physiological effects of what lead they may ingest are “not as critical.”


He does not know how many eagles have died of lead poisoning. But of those mortalities which have been found, “poisoning is the third leading cause of death.”Bedrosian also said there are abundant eagles in the area of Thunder Basin National Grassland in the northeast corner of the state that are at risk to exposure to lead. “There is varmint shooting– ground squirrels and prairie dogs. A lot of lead is used there,” which makes the golden eagles and ravens particularly vulnerable to exposure.


Non-leaded ammunition is not just a civilian issue. The military became concerned about the amount of lead that was being deposited on its 3,000 firing ranges.It has been developing an alternate round since the 1990s and deploying non-lead rounds to its combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years by the time a June 15, 2015 article was published in the online energy and environment publication E&E News.


The modified standard issue M885 lead round was named the M885A1 and has proven to outperform the M885 by being faster and having the desirable quality of piercing steel and masonry barriers at increased ranges without losing its intended path. The M885A1 can also penetrate Kevlar body armor fabric at the increased distance of 1,000 meters, according to the article.


But at the same time, the round has the highly desirable quality of not passing through the soft target (human flesh). Instead, it tends to destabilize upon impact, tumbling (yawing) inside the body, wrecking internal organs in the process. It is, therefore, more likely to kill or at least incapacitate the enemy. As grim as it may sound, such a characteristic is essential in combat to turn the odds of a successful fight against the enemy.


The conclusion of the Army is that its “green bullet” outperforms its lead predecessor, according to the E&E News article.


Now that the data gathering has proven to be conclusive on the effects of lead on the scavenging community, Bedrosian’s next step is to launch a survey of hunters to better learn their practices and attitudes. “We’re gearing up the effort and hope to be ready before next season.”


One other point Bedrosian made about non-lead ammunition is that earlier products “were much more expensive. Now, the performance is great and the price point is reasonable. It is a good, viable solution.”


Dubois Gun Club secretary Tim Kenney decided to try out the non-lead ammunition. He bought GMX and Nosler E Tip bullets. “It was just interesting to see...it’s worth looking into,” he said. “I would just as soon not poison eagles and ravens, I like them.” He added, “I like the way he (Bedrosian) came at it– he’s just a hunter presenting what he discovered in his own experience, not trying to beat you over the head with it.”


Gun club director Bert Tuckey said, “A lot of hunters don’t understand what the consequences are. Until you actually hear about it, you don’t know.”


“We eye-witnessed it– an eagle going down, about four years ago in our driveway. It was conscious, but the best way to describe it was that it looked drunk.” The golden eagle was taken to the Teton Raptor Center where chelation therapy and a two-month rehabilitation period saved its life and it was released. “It was an eye-opener,” he said.


Even though Tuckey is more of a recreational shooter than a hunter, he reminded, “When you change loads, you need to resight your rifle because it won’t perform the same.”


Donn Loseke is the gun club president. He was concerned that perhaps Bedrosian had an anti-gun agenda. But Loseke felt the presentation was more informative than confrontational. “I might try it (non-lead ammunition), especially if I go back across to the other side to hunt. They sort of encourage it over there.” He concluded, “I don’t think we’re being pushed to it (non-lead ammunition), not yet anyway.”'

Bedrosian’s published study referred to in this article can be found online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3526477//. The E&E News story can be found at https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060020236


Bedrosian releases a Golden Eagle after drawing a blood sample. Photo by MooseJaw Bravo Photography

Bedrosian releases a Golden Eagle after drawing a blood sample. Photo by MooseJaw Bravo Photography

Bedrosian with a Golden Eagle

Bedrosian with a Golden Eagle

An x-ray of a prairie dog shot with a lead bullet. Notice the number of fragments found throughout.

An x-ray of a prairie dog shot with a lead bullet. Notice the number of fragments found throughout.

Bedrosian examines a blood sample taken from an eagle.

Bedrosian examines a blood sample taken from an eagle.

Bedrosian with 2 kills harvested during hunting season.

Bedrosian with 2 kills harvested during hunting season.

Bedrosian working with a young eagle

Bedrosian working with a young eagle

Bedrosian after testing a Bald Eagle for lead

Bedrosian after testing a Bald Eagle for lead

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