I don’t often write about hunting issues; this is at its core a food blog, where I spend time sharing what happens after the hunt. But I am making an exception here because I am going through some frustration with California’s new law banning lead ammunition where California condors live.
Hunting to me is about self-sufficiency and being able to adapt to unexpected situations. I pride myself on being faced with a challenge in the field, overcoming it and still returning home with meat for the table. And I will perservere with this challenge, too. But let me tell you, I am not happy with the all-copper ammunuition that we must now use in the condor range.
Copper isn’t lead. It’s a lot lighter, and weight matters when it’s a bullet. Lead hits like a hammer, while steel-jacketed bullets cut like a knife. What’s the difference? Let me take you back a century. Steel was the common bullet until the British army came across a bunch of really pissed off Sudanese they called the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. Really. These warriors were so tough they’d get shot through with a steel bullet and keep charging, ultimately stabbing the English soldier with his spear before he died. Not so good for the soldier.
This issue is stopping power. You want to stop something in its tracks so it will not run off for a half-mile (or worse), only to die far away. If you think a half-mile isn’t far, try tracking an animal through serious shiggy first. The English “fixed” this problem with the now-infamous “Dum Dum” bullet, invented at an armory oustide Calcutta in the 1890s. If you don’t know what a dumdum bullet is, it’s the hollow-point shell rap stars love to rhapsodize. It will put a man — or a deer — down in a hurry.
Why is this good in hunting? Let’s bring it back to the table. In meat cookery, adrenaline is a very bad thing. It sours the meat. This is why Holly and I spend hundreds of dollars every year practicing our rifle shooting, so when we shoot an animal, it dies. Quickly. Animals that a), don’t see you coming and are thus unaware, and b), killed cleanly and humanely, will always taste better than a poor creature that runs for its life for a good two minutes before it dies.
That’s why I am unhappy with this new copper ammunition. On the plus side, it fragments less (a lot less) than lead ammo, so I am not ingesting any lead — and neither are the condors, which are so prehistoric they cannot expel lead the way other birds can. Incidentally, mammals (like us) process lead far better than birds, which is why you don’t see any lead-poisoned hunters wandering around; Larry the Cable Guy notwithstanding.
The downsides to copper ammo, in addition to its poor stopping power, are cost — $42 for a box of 20, compared to about $30 for my premium lead-core ammo — and accuracy.
Holly made the video above about us sighting in the copper ammo, complete with my (very tongue-in-cheek) rant about how wild the stuff shoots. Short version is this: At 100 yards, I could put five bullets into the diameter of a coffee mug with my lead ammo. Now, with copper ammo, that diameter has widened to a pie plate. There are all kinds of complicated ballistic reasons for this problem that I only half understand; Jason the Rangemaster in the video goes over some of it.
Will I still be able to kill cleanly? You bet. But I will no longer feel comfortable about shooting 250-300 yards, even with a rock-steady rest. And after I think about it a while, maybe this is not such a bad thing. One of my hunting heroes, Long Islander Tred Barta, urges hunters to use a weapon they feel comfortable with, but hunt — get close — to make yourself more of a hunter and less of a shooter.
I feel we’re like the duck and goose hunters in the 1970s, who were faced with the first generation of steel shotgun shot, which was so bad it caused tens of thousands of hunters to hang up their gear. You could no longer shoot ducks cleanly from 40 yards with this early steel, and 60 yards was out of the question. Things are better now in that arena, and waterfowlers happily use steel at 40-50 yards; it just took time to figure out the science. I suspect this copper ammo will be the same way.
In the meantime, I’ll be stalking close. Real close. Thanks for reading.