Lead Ammo Ban, Opt Out Legislation Moving in State Legislature

Measures would limit state land hunters and allow counties to override DEC

State Land hunters may see their options diminish with lead ammo ban

By Rich Davenport, published April 8, 2022, updated 4/11/2022

Two pieces of legislation that were introduced last year in the NYS Legislature appear to be moving, and neither is good news for hunters and sportsmen. The first bill, A.5728/ S.5058, enacts a ban on hunters using lead ammunition while hunting state lands and in the areas which contribute to the surface water supply of NYC. This would include all WMAs, MUAs, Unique Areas, state forests and state parks. In addition, any lands in the Delaware River watershed, the Catskills and areas near the Cohocton Reservoir would also see the lead ammo ban imposed.

The Assembly passed their version of the bill, A.5728, while the Senate version, bill S.5058, remains in the Senate EnCon Committee, while the NYS Budget remains the priority in that house. A framework budget agreement was recently reached, and although late, it is expected the legislature will pass the budget within the next few days, then attention will turn to the ammo ban.

It is important to note that lead ammunition is not toxic in solid, inorganic form, and according to the Mayo Clinic, and many other medical science findings, lead must be atomized (in dust form), suspended in solution (colloidal form, think lead paint), or alkylated (made organic by adding carbon to the metal – think the lead in leaded gasoline) for lead to be toxic. This is true for all living creatures, although some birds are thought to be able to grind the lead up in their crop, which causes the metal to be metabolized – yet this remains unconfirmed to this day.

California enacted a more sweeping lead ammunition ban, starting in 2013, with the final step to full statewide lead ban happening in June 2019. The rationale for this ban was to protect the eagles and California condors from lead poisoning, as the hypothesis posited was unrecovered game and gut piles from hunter-shot wildlife was being scavenged by the condors and eagles, with the birds ingesting the lead, causing poisoning. Yet, despite the 9 year restrictions and 3 year long full ban, both condors and eagles are still being lead poisoned at rates consistent with those pre-lead ban. It isn’t hunter-fired lead ammunition. Again, solid lead is not toxic, as science has clearly documented, and once the patina develops encapsulating the lead, it will not even slowly leech out, even in slightly acidic waters.

It is important to know that NY’s sporting community embarked on an education campaign to inform hunters to the existence of lead alternative ammunition, as some hunters may be concerned about environmental impacts caused by lead – which would be more limited to popular trap and skeet ranges than the open lands being hunted. Shotgun shot has been available in non-toxic steel for waterfowl hunting since the early 1980s, and heavier materials such as bismuth and tungsten have also recently made it to market, under the common term HEVI-SHOT, which is significantly more costly than steel, which is more expensive than lead. Big game single projectiles have also in recent years seen introduction of copper sabots, as well as tungsten, but these alternatives are available only in limited calibers, and the difference in weight causes the need for higher powder charges to achieve effective ballistics – something older firearms with softer barrels cannot tolerate.

The New York State Conservation Council has released a position statement concerning this lead ammo bill, that you can read here.

The second set of bills, A.7785/ S.6510, also introduced last year, were submitted after the NYSDEC proposed and then codified a regulatory established additional hunting time in the southern zone dubbed the “Holiday Hunt”. These bills were submitted at the request of the NYS Snowmobile Association, after several large member clubs complained that this additional 7 day big game hunt, from December 26 – January 1 using archery, crossbow or muzzle loaders would negatively impact the economic activity snowmobiling delivers, as trail access would be limited or denied completely during this 7-day period. Traditionally, the snowmobile trails may open in New York once the last big game hunting season closes, although actual trail rules, which are governed by NYS Parks and Recreation, state the trails may open once the Regular Big Game hunting season closes. Many neighboring states have this similar trail language, and no issues arise with extended season hunting and snowmobiling happening simultaneously. Small game hunting doesn’t impact safety concerns and those season run through end of February in NY, while coyote season extends through end of March, with night hunting permitted, and no issues with safety with this either.

Last year, the NYS Senate passed their version of the bill, which allows counties to “opt out” of the Holiday Hunt, provided they pass their own local law prohibiting the newly formed opportunity. However, before the Assembly could take up their bill, a delegation approached DEC and asked if they would address this regulatorily. DEC proposed Opt Out regulations, however, strong objections from the sporting community, citing the DEC’s supremacy in wildlife-related matters, coupled with some counties wanting to pass one local law, and not revisit every year, caused DEC to shelf the proposal, resulting in the Holiday Hunt going on last year as envisioned. A reality was also illustrated last year, as insufficient snow pack existed to open any of the trails until well after New Years Day, highlighting the folly of the idea itself.

The NYS Senate has already passed their version, but no movement yet at the Assembly. Rumors have been circulating that some adjustments to allow a county to pass a resolution against the Holiday Hunt would be sufficient, with that language being potentially included via amendments.

The sporting community, led by the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, has submitted an emergency resolution to the NYS Conservation Council condemning the opt in/ opt out way of doing things that has recently reared its head in NYS, including the youth pilot program passed last year in the NYS Budget, which lowered the minimum age for youth to hunt deer with firearms, under supervision, from age 14 to 12, which sunsets 12/31/2023, and required each county tp pass their own local law to permit 12 and 13 year old hunters to hunt deer with firearms in the boundaries of their county, before the measure would be in effect. Strangely, the last time the hunting ages were lowered in 2014, no such condition was attached, and the measure was permanent. That law lowered the Jr. archery age to 12 (formerly age 14) for big game hunting (deer and bear), while the Jr. hunter age was lowered from age 16 to 14 for firearms big game hunting. It is important to note that NYS has had a minimum age for small game, waterfowl and fur bearer hunting with a firearm set at age 12 for a couple decades, with no ill safety impacts whatsoever.

On Saturday, April 9, 2022, the NYSCC will hold its annual Spring Meeting, which will discuss the emergency resolution, and it is expected a vote will be taken immediately on this measure, vs. waiting until the fall membership meeting to take the vote, as time is of the essence.

In the meantime, hunters and sportsmen and women are urged to contact their state representatives and urge they oppose both the lead ammo ban and the opt out for the Holiday Hunt by making phone calls, sending emails and writing letters, immediately. The hunting community needs to push back in force with large numbers to beat these anti-hunting, anti-gun measures back. The consequences of inaction sets the stage for even more hardship for NY.