California hunters who thought they had until 2019 to switch over to non-lead ammo may have done a double-take while reading this year’s update from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

In big, bold letters, the DFW directed hunters’ attention to new lead-free hunting updates in its 2015 Big Game Digest. The department has proposed that non-lead ammunition be required for all hunting on DFW property, as well as for all bighorn sheep hunters, beginning with the 2015 season.

“The California Fish and Game Commission officially noticed the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed phase-in regulation at their February 12, 2015 meeting in Sacramento,” stated the DFW. “This proposal was based on public input received at 14 public scoping meetings held at various locations around the State and from the written comments provided from those who could not attend the scoping meetings.”

It should be noted that when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the lead ammo ban back in 2013, lawmakers decided that the measure should be phased in no later than 2019, but with the expectation that new regulations could take effect by as early as 2015. Supporters of the law initially wanted the ammo ban to be set in place as soon as 2014, but state wildlife officials needed time to review the law—not to mention that it would take time to phase in such a drastic change for hunters. At the time, California sportsmen widely opposed the lead ammo ban and some viewed it as part of a wider legislative push to restrict hunting. Others argued that non-lead ammunition is more expensive and not conclusively proven to be safer for wildlife. Many said that they would stop hunting altogether.

“Based on a survey of California hunters, higher ammunition prices will drive 36 percent of California hunters to stop hunting or reduce their participation,” stated a report by the survey firm Southwick Associates.

In the survey, which was commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firm found that 13 percent of the surveyed California 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 cause for this decline in interest? A nearly three-fold increase in cost between traditional lead ammo and non-lead alternatives.

Due to increased demand caused by the lead ammo ban, the report found that non-lead centerfire rounds would jump 284 percent in price, rimfire rounds by 294 percent, and shotshells by a staggering 387 percent. Hunters may also have trouble finding non-lead ammunition, as it only accounts for 5.3 percent of all centerfire ammunition produced in the United States, 0.5 percent of all rimfire rounds, and 24 percent of shotshells. The report estimated that the production of non-lead ammo in California has to increase by at least 432 percent to meet current demands.

High ammo prices and empty shelves could mean a significant dip in the number of hunters that will hit the field this year. If 13 percent of California hunters—some 51,000 people—do decide to stay home, the report estimates that the impact will affect 1,868 jobs. That in turn could lead to a loss of just under $20 million in state and federal tax revenues.

Supporters of the ban argue that lead bullets endanger wildlife like the California condor. Several other states have encouraged hunters to use non-lead ammunition as well, but have not regulated the choice of ammo.

The DFW will be taking public comments on its proposal until April 9, the scheduled adoption date. If finalized, regulations will go into effect in July.

Image from Kalashnikov on the Wikimedia Commons

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