National Wildlife Refuge System
Midwest Region

Image of eagles in tree.
Photo by USFWS.

Image of eagles scavenging. Photo by USFWS.

Image of a radiograph showing toxic lead bullet fragments.Photo by University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center.

Image of father and son hunting.Photo by USFWS.

Deer Hunting and Lead: Be Part of the Solution

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strives to offer quality hunting opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges. We know that hunting is a rich tradition that supports wildlife health and provides natural areas for everyone to enjoy.

Bald eagles are abundant on many Midwest Region refuges during the fall and winter deer hunting season. Eagles and other wildlife eat lead when they feed on deer gut piles or unrecovered carcasses that contain lead fragments from ammunition. Lead is not part of a healthy diet! Ingesting just a small amount can cause paralysis, organ failure, loss of vision, seizures, and death for bald eagles.

When lead ammunition hits a target, some of the soft metal breaks away from the bullet as it travels through the animal.

About Lead

Lead poisoning is a serious problem for both wildlife and humans, but is easily prevented.

Historically, lead has reached us in a number of ways—through gasoline, paint, a variety of manufacturing processes, and in ammunition. We removed lead from most products to protect people, but lead in ammunition continues to harm wildlife.

The x-ray to the right shows the fragmentation of lead ammunition in a deer carcass.

Why is lead a problem?

Recent scientific studies show a definitive link between spent lead ammunition and lead poisoning in scavenging birds. Eagles eat lead when they feed on animal carcasses or gut piles that contain toxic lead bullet fragments. Lead fragments the size of a couple of grains of rice can be lethal. Once lead enters the bloodstream, it damages a bird’s nervous system and paralyzes its digestive tract. Without immediate medical assistance, poisoned birds can starve to death or become weak and easy prey.

Diagram of the amount of lead that is lethal.

See A Review and Assessment of Spent Lead Ammunition and Its Exposure and Effects to Scavenging Birds in the United States

What can you do?

We encourage deer hunters to use lead free ammunition for deer hunting.

You might know lead free as copper, non traditional bullets, California compatible, monolithic copper alloy, or green ammo.

It’s always a good idea to know what brands and bullet types are available before going to your local store. Check the Arizona Game and Fish Department Non-Lead Rifle Ammunition list and hunting with website for more information on finding specific ammunition. It has compiled information from several sources.
Remember to sight in your gun and practice with the new ammunition before you use it in the field. 

Tell your friends and family that you’ve made the switch to non-toxic ammunition.

Learn More

Non-Toxic Ammunition Frequently Asked Questions

Deer Hunting & Lead Fact sheet

Last updated: April 24, 2017