CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 10/3/23: A large majority of Illinois mourning dove hunters would oppose a state ban on lead shot when hunting doves, according to an Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) survey focused on beliefs about lead vs. non-lead ammunition. Hunters who already use steel shot for hunting waterfowl because of federal restrictions are the group most likely to oppose these same restrictions when hunting doves.
A federal ban for lead shot in waterfowl hunting was initiated in 1992, partly because of INHS studies showing ducks ingested lead ammunition when feeding on the bottom of lakes and rivers or in fields. It’s not yet illegal to use this ammunition in Illinois for dove hunting, but each year more states require nontoxic ammunition for this purpose, said Craig Miller, INHS human dimensions scientist.
“This hasn’t risen as an issue with doves in Illinois,” Miller said.
A decline in dove populations, possibly caused by dove ingestion of lead shot, appears to some to be a problem in Illinois.
Data from mailed surveys of more than 4,300 dove hunters showed that 81 percent were opposed to a lead-shot ban, an increase from 50 percent of hunters in 1997. They also believed that lead shot did not pose a risk to wildlife and that lead ammunition was more effective than non-lead alternatives, such as steel.
“The most interesting trend was that waterfowl hunters had the most negative beliefs about using steel shot compared with non-waterfowl hunters,” Miller said. “They had the impression that steel shot is not effective and that it will wound more doves than kill them, but none of the data bear that out.”
Since the average age of hunters is about 45 years, they would have been in their teens when the federal ban on toxic ammunition went into effect for waterfowl. Nevertheless, their beliefs hold fast, Miller said, to what he considers urban myths.
State agencies outside of Illinois have requested data from INHS on dove hunters’ beliefs and attitudes while considering bans on toxic lead ammunition. This is the largest study of its kind to get a sense of how dove hunters feel about lead shot alternatives and explore the persistent attitude that steel shot is not as good as lead.
This issue highlights a larger matter of environmental contamination, as society becomes more aware of microplastics and “forever chemicals.”
“We’ve been aware of lead toxicity for centuries, and this concern is not going away,” Miller said. “In some respects, we’ve made great strides, such as bans on lead paint and leaded gasoline, but when it comes to lead ammunition, we haven’t.”
While hunters have access to information about non-lead shot, and industry is starting to respond to the issue with new hunting products, deeply held beliefs are not changed by messaging about the risks of using lead shot for hunting doves.
This study was published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin in a special issue on lead ammunition. Miller and coauthor Matthew Ellis have also conducted a study comparing Europe with the United States in efforts to ban lead ammunition, which is published in the same issue.
Media Contact: Craig Miller, 217-244-0691, email@example.com