Sunday, June 28, 2009

Research on Hunters use of Lead vrs Tungsten

TPWD Plans To Make Central Texas Dove Research More Organized
AUSTIN - The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be returning to Central Texas to continue its study looking at lead in dove, but this time the department promises to be a better neighbor.

The agency created a ruckus last August when it started a research dove hunt in Brown County two days before other hunters flocked into the area for the Sept. 1 season opener.

The project was held with no advance notice, including to TPWD hierarchy, and after hearing complaints, was halted for a day. It resumed on the normal opening day of the season.

TPWD officials said Monday they are returning to Brown, Coleman and McCullough counties late this summer, but unlike last year will be making a better effort to notify the public and surrounding landowners about the research project by doing it themselves instead of depending on a contract outfitter. Plans include a public meeting in Early on June 30. There will also only be one day of preseason shooting, and that will be restricted - only enough to train department employees working with the project.

RESEARCH HUNT: Dove hunters in Central Texas will again be joined by shooters for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department research project looking at the impact of lead shot.
As a third peace offering, the department is seeking volunteer shooters from Central Texas to participate in the research project.

"We clearly acknowledge we could have done this better," said Carter Smith, TPWD's executive director, said last week during briefing on the research.

The research is in response to concerns that dove ingesting spent lead pellets could be impacting population numbers. In recent years biologists believe that dove are declining at a rate of about 1 percent a year nationwide, however, there are reasons to dispute those findings. Still, several states are looking at the lead issue and some have already banned the use of lead shot for upland birds on sites primarily around wetlands. There are other states and groups that are calling for a general ban on lead shot for hunting.

"This issue is coming from other states," said Corey Mason, the department's dove program leader. "It is something on the horizon, but there are some states that would be willing to go to nontoxic shot now."

Hunters nationwide take about 22 million dove each fall, down from 41 million in 1989.

However, dove hunting isn't as big anywhere as it is in Texas where between 4 and 5 million, or about 28 percent of the nationwide harvest, are shot each year. A 2005 study showed dove hunting had an annual economic impact of $316 million, including $177 million in retail sales that supported 3,145 jobs. However, while Texas dove hunter numbers have dipped from a high of 440,000 there are still between 275,000 and 340,000, depending on the year.

This will be the third year of the lethality portion of the project that looks at ammunition efficiency. In this portion of the project, shooters don't know whether they are shooting lead or nontoxic shot, and if it is one of the nontoxic shells what type it is. All of the shooters are using 12-gauge shotguns.

A spotter is assigned to each shooter who makes notes on whether a shot was a hit, miss or wound.

Dove shot during the study are x-rayed and undergo a necropsy to determine the number of pellets in the bird and how deep they traveled, as well as the number that passed through the bird.

In part, the department wants to know if steel shot can be as effective on dove as lead, or if a switch would lead to a higher wound-loss rate. This portion of the study is similar to research done on waterfowl in the 1980s.

Nontoxic shot is a term used to describe shot pellets not toxic to birds if ingested as grit or with their food. In controlled studies, scientists identified a mortality rate of 24 percent from a single pellet of lead.

However, there has not been enough field research to see how much lead shot dove are ingesting in the wild. That will be looked at in the final stage of the project.

Along with the research into lead vs. nontoxic shot, the department has also contracted a dove hunter opinion survey. A report on the findings should be available later this summer. A quick summary seems to be that most hunters don't know there is a nationwide discussion on the impact of spent lead shot on dove. Another conclusion appears to be that hunters say they are willing to do what is necessary, including switching to non-lead shot.

There are currently seven types of nontoxic shot approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - steel, steel shot with coatings, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron, tungsten-polymer, tungsten-matrix and tungsten-nickel-iron. Some ammunition manufacturers currently make 2 3/4-inch, 20- and 12-gauge shells with No. 7 nontoxic load for hunting teal. These loads could be used on dove, but production would have to be ramped upward. Currently those shells sell for $9 to $11 per box.

The final portion of the study will look at the prevalence of lead shot found in fields across Texas. That research is expected to begin in 2010.

There has been some research indicating lead shot ingestion rates have ranged from less than one-half of 1 percent to almost 4 percent.

Unlike previous studies that concentrated on heavily hunted areas, the TPWD prevalence research will look at a cross-section of dove hunting habitat.

While it would seem this is the most important part of the study and should have been conducted first, Mason said the race to ban lead by some states dictated the need for the lethality component first to counter the other state's arguments.

The cost of this project has been as elusive as the dove themselves. The number now is an estimated $2.2 million. The department pays just under half the cost and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service picks up the remainder of the tab. The state's portion is being paid with revenue from the state's migratory game bird stamp.

Conclusion of the project is scheduled for 2013.

Contact Outdoor Editor Steve Knight at 903-596-6277 or by e-mail at

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