It will be illegal to hunt with lead ammunition in California this year after the state Fish and Wildlife Commission chose to phase in a ban  on lead bullets earlier than expected.
With non-lead ammo expected to cost about three times as much due to higher demand, some are calling the new law a de-facto ban on hunting. Additionally, federally regulations are making it difficult to manufacture non-lead ammo.
It is the first such ban in the nation.
A 2013 state law requires all lead hunting ammo to be completely banned everywhere in the Golden State by 2019. The commission chose to implement the ban this year.
The ban is intended to protect endangered species such as the California condor. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law.
The ban could increase prices for some kinds of hunting ammunition  by as much as 387 percent, according to a report that Southwick Associates prepared for the National Shooting Sports Association. When Southwick surveyed ammo manufacturers it discovered that a lead ban would increase prices for centerfire rounds by 284 percent, rimfire bullets by 294 percent and shotgun shells by 387 percent.
The increased costs would force around 36 percent of Californians to hunt less, move their hunting trips out of state or stop hunting altogether, Southwick  found.
“Thirteen percent of the surveyed hunters said they would stop hunting entirely, while 10 percent said that they were unsure if they would continue to hunt and 23 percent said they would likely hunt less,” the report said.
The outlook is dire because only about 5.3 percent of the centerfire bullets. .5 percent of the rimfire rifle rounds and 24 percent of the shotgun shells currently on the market are made of non-lead materials, Southwick discovered.
Additionally, the ATF is holding up petitions from manufacturers for non-lead ammo, concerned that the new ammo will be armor-piercing. The Californian reported last year that “there were 19 petitions that the ATF has received from companies for new material technology in bullets, which are in a holding pattern.” Much non-lead ammo is made of brass, which can make the ammo deadlier. As the Daily Caller summarized, “The federal government is preventing companies from making non-lead bullets, but California won’t allow hunters to use lead ammo.”
Ban Will Cause Ammunition Shortages and Cancelled Hunting Trips
Southwick predicted a shortage of non-lead rimfire ammunition because manufacturers currently lack the machinery needed to manufacture non-lead rounds.
“If all hunters were to switch to alternative ammunition, with no drop in hunting participation caused by higher prices and other factors, the demand in California for the following calibers will exceed national production or require a large portion of national production of all alternative substitutes, causing shortages and canceled hunting trips,” the Southwick report warned.
Production of non-lead ammo would need to increase by 432 percent to meet demand, the report said.
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Numbers from manufactures show that, if production does not increase:
- The demand for 8 mm non-lead bullets in California would exceed current US production by 1,094 percent.
- The demand for lead-free .204 rounds in California would exceed US production by 563 percent.
- The demand for non-lead .22 rimfire rounds in California could be 472 percent greater than US production.
Science Behind Ban Questioned
State legislators banned lead ammunition because of tests that found high levels of lead in the blood of endangered California condors, The Washington Times reported.
But emails from John McCamman, the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor recovery program, show that levels of lead  in the blood of condors in a region of California where it already was banned did not change, The National Shooting Sports Foundation alleged.
The Foundation accused McCamman of withholding that information until after the law was signed.
“[T]he email thread shows that they withheld that [information] from the public; they withheld it from the legislature purposely,” the Foundation’s senior vice president, Lawrence Keane told The Times. “And why? Because the results show that despite the existing law and regulations that ban the use of traditional ammunition by hunters, it was not having an impact on condor blood-lead levels in California.”
The lead was coming from other sources, Keane said.
Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus) told The Ukiah Daily Journal that he thinks the lead ban is actually an attempt by animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States to eliminate hunting altogether.
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