Conservation Matters April 2015

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Dove study finds no difference in lead and steel shot loads

By Kathy Wythe

Dove study finds no difference in lead and steel shot loads

A recently published Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) study examining the lethality of lead shot versus nontoxic shot for mourning dove found no difference in hunter outcomes between lead and steel shot loads.

“From the hunter’s perspective, we found no difference in the harvest metrics, meaning birds bagged, birds missed and birds wounded,” said Dr. Brian Pierce, a research scientist for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and part of the research project. 

Since 1991, federal law has prohibited hunters from using lead ammunition on waterfowl because ingested lead shot was linked to toxicosis. Scientific research at that time had shown that ducks were being poisoned by eating lead shot.

Because there is evidence that dove consume lead shot and groups are calling for similar regulations to be applied to migratory game birds such as dove, TPWD needed scientific data on the efficiency of using nonlead ammunition for mourning dove, Pierce said.

Since changing to nonlead ammunition could potentially affect a large group of hunters, TPWD conducted the study “to have information to provide to the public, particularly Texas hunters, as to whether nontoxic ammunition was going to be as efficient for harvesting birds as the ammunition they are currently using,” Pierce said. “We needed to know those answers for the hunting public and for management of the bird.

“The study was done proactively because no other lethality study has been done on shot shell ammunition of this pellet size or on birds of this size,” he said.

The study used volunteer hunters and observers in the field portion, conducted in Brown, Coleman and McCulloch counties in Central Texas. Hunters fired more than 5,000 shots, using three different shot shells, one lead and two steel. Neither the hunters nor observers knew the ammunition types being used. The ammunition was specifically manufactured for the study and identical in appearance.

“Hunters were unable to distinguish the ammunition type being used in the field, and we detected no relationship between ammunition type and level of hunter satisfaction,” Pierce said. 

The researchers chose steel shot because steel is representative of shot sizes available commercially and is the cheapest.

“We used steel in particular because if there is a disparity due to pellet type, it is more likely to occur in steel rather than any other nontoxic type available,” he said.

Steel has the lowest density among available nontoxic pellet types, and if pellet density is the dominant factor influencing ammunition performance, then a difference is more likely to be detected using steel shot than any other commercially available nontoxic pellet type, Pierce said.

Recent dove hunter surveys indicate that some hunters believe nontoxic shot to be inferior to lead, according to a TPWD news release on the study.

“There continues to be a spirited national discussion on the use of lead and other types of shot and these results help inform one aspect of the conversation,” said Corey Mason, a TPWD wildlife biologist and an author of the study, in the news release.

Other authors of the study are Thomas Roster, an internationally recognized shotgun ballistics expert, and Michael Frisbie and Jay Roberson of TPWD.

For more information, read the TPWD news release. For a detailed article on the study, read the paper, A Comparison of Lead and Steel Shot Loads for Harvesting Mourning Doves, published in The Wildlife Society Bulletin.

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