California's Lead-Free Ammo Regulations

California's Lead-Free Ammo Regulations

Bullet Blues in the Golden State

Back in 2008, when lead ammunition was banned in eight southern California counties, big-game hunters winced but complied, figuring shooting non-toxic bullets was their contribution to bringing back endangered condors. The ban was later enlarged to include coyotes, feral hogs, and small-game species in the defined condor recovery area.

The wincing turned into full-body shudders in 2013, when California’s legislature passed a bill extending the lead ban to the entire state, purportedly to assist condor recovery. The ban, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, took effect this past July, and this time it’s not just certain rifle hunters who must comply. All hunters, whether pursuing desert bighorn sheep in the Mojave, pigs on the Central Coast, or cinnamon teal in the Klamath Basin, must use only certified non-toxic ammunition.

The statewide non-toxic law has a double whammy. Also taking effect on July 1: draconian ammunition restrictions that require buyers to pass background checks before buying even a single box of rimfire ammo.

While the ammunition-buying restriction will affect every shooter, whether targeting long-range steel, clay pigeons, or ground squirrels, the lead ban has caused a curious sort of conflict among hunters.


“Back in 1991, when the feds mandated non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting, I was one of the first to recognize that hunters have a responsibility to the resource,” said Bay Area waterfowler Joel Adkins. “The science seemed clear. By shooting lead, we were poisoning the ducks and geese we were honor-bound to conserve. This time? I just don’t know that banning lead across the state is going to save the condors. It seems like hunters and shooters are taking a disproportionate share of the burden.”


Avian researchers say the science is just as clear that lead ammunition is poisoning endangered condors. An aggressive captive-breeding program has brought back the condor population from just 22 birds in 1982 to nearly 500 birds spread from Baja California, across the Grand Canyon, and into Utah. Researchers say that elevated lead levels affects about 20 percent of the population. Adult condors with lead poisoning must be trapped and detoxified before being rereleased into the wild. The main culprit, say researchers: lead with the isotope that matches that used in bullets.


By removing lead from the environment, including gut piles of hunter-harvested animals, condors will have one fewer barrier to recovery, says the Center for Biological Diversity, which pushed for the statewide ban.

But the state’s game wardens aren’t as sure.

“California game wardens are on the front line enforcing the ban on lead ammunition for most hunting in con-dor range,” the California Fish & Game Wardens Association testified. “But there is insufficient data to justify such a drastic action across the entire state.”


Recommended for You

Smaller and lighter, sub-gauge shotguns are making a resurgence in the turkey woods. Guns

Sub-Gauge Shotguns for Turkey Hunting

Larry Case

Smaller and lighter, sub-gauge shotguns are making a resurgence in the turkey woods.

The most modern ammo and gear increase the odds of bagging a tricky tom this spring. Other Game

Today's Updated Turkey Hunting Gear

Joe Arterburn

The most modern ammo and gear increase the odds of bagging a tricky tom this spring.

Whether you're looking for a whitetail, bruin or waterfowl adventure, Saskatchewan can be the place for you. North America

From Bucks to Bears to Ducks, Saskatchewan Is a Hunter's Heaven

Lynn Burkhead - February 05, 2019

Whether you're looking for a whitetail, bruin or waterfowl adventure, Saskatchewan can be the...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 11: Wheelgun Buffalo

Host Craig Boddington lays claim to hunting more than 100 Cape Buffalo over the course of his 40 plus year career, but he never took one with a handgun. That changed in South Africa when Craig faced down "black death" with a magnum wheelgun.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in North America

Best Units for Hunting Western Mule Deer

Josh Dahlke

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have been Shooting

7 Favorite Truck Guns

Joseph von Benedikt - May 11, 2015

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have...

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223 Ammo

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223

Joseph von Benedikt & David Faubion

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223

See More Stories

More Conservation

Teaching young hunters increases our ranks and hones our hunting skills in the process. Conservation

How Mentoring Made Me A Better Hunter

Joe Arterburn

Teaching young hunters increases our ranks and hones our hunting skills in the process.

Jim Shockey follows Craig Boddington in winning the 2018 Weatherby Award. Conservation

Shockey Follows Boddington in Claiming 2018 Weatherby Award

Lynn Burkhead - February 12, 2019

Jim Shockey follows Craig Boddington in winning the 2018 Weatherby Award.

Sportsmen are locked out of thousands of acres of public land because of a quirk of geometry. Conservation

Is Corner Crossing Landlocked Public Property Trespassing?

Andrew McKean

Sportsmen are locked out of thousands of acres of public land because of a quirk of geometry.

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.