I have been reading with some interest the issue of lead poisoning in our bald eagle population. First, I can’t tell you how glad I am that the bald eagles have taken up residency here, or returned here, whichever is the case. They are absolutely so majestic I am glad Ben Franklin didn’t get his way and make the wild turkey our national symbol.
Several weeks ago as my bride and I were deciding what we were going to get into for the day, the phone rang. It was my daughter, who apparently gets bored on her drive to work and calls us to see how we are doing. And, since she is expecting next month, we are always glad to hear to hear from her.
She said she wanted to tell us about the bald eagle she had seen on her drive to work. She was effusive with her praise of this big, beautiful bird, large white head and tail feathers and large orange-yellow beak. I asked her what this majestic national symbol was doing. Oh, she said, he was eating a dead possum on the side of the road. So much for majestic.
Anyway, sorry to get sidetracked, but I think that is a pretty good story of how the bald eagle has adapted to live here in the county. And that’s a good thing. Who doesn’t want these beautiful creatures here in the county? Linda and I have a seen a number of them in the back yard, especially after throwing out bones and scraps where we processed a deer.
But, I want to put your concerns to rest, if you think that the bald eagle is being poisoned with lead from a bullet used to kill a deer. It just ain’t so. There is next to nothing to that argument. Let me tell you why.
First, I am not addressing hunting with a shotgun, using lead slugs or buckshot. I know there are some areas where the terrain is pretty flat, or the area is heavily populated and you are required to use a shotgun. But that is not the case here in Rappahannock.
The vast majority of deer hunters that I know hunt with a high powered rifle. In most cases, the bullet passes completely through the deer. Anyone who has taken more than a few deer with a bow and arrow or a rifle knows you try to get your projectile into the “boiler room” of the animal. Without getting more graphic than you may want to read about, you want your arrow or your bullet into the heart/lung area. This area is surrounded by small rib bones, which do not have sufficient mass to stop a high powered bullet.
The argument that the eagle is getting lead poisoning from the offal that the deer hunter leaves in the field when he field dresses the deer is even more of a stretch. All of this tissue is soft material, and not capable of stopping a high powered bullet.
Is it possible for a bullet to remain in a carcass? Yes it is. I have detailed records of about 140 deer kills, and I have found exactly one bullet in a carcass, and that came from a shot that I shouldn’t have taken, in which the bullet first entered the left shoulder and traversed, diagonally, through all the internal organs of the deer and embedded itself in the right hind quarter. But, the projectile stayed in the muscle and was removed when I processed the deer. It did not lodge in the internal organs, and it was not left in the field.
There are still a few hunters around who shoot for the front shoulder. If they hit what they are aiming at, there is more of a possibility that the bullet, or fragments of it, will remain in the muscle tissue of the opposite shoulder, but even so, it will be lodged in the bone and muscle tissue and removed from the field when the hunter takes the carcass home.
And, yes, I know some of you shoot your deer in the head, the same way I shoot squirrels. I have done that on occasion, myself. Even so, there is not enough mass there to stop the projectile, even from the smaller bore center fire rifles.
If I thought my deer hunting, with a rifle, was contributing to the demise of the bald eagle population, I would put my rifle down and go back to bow hunting. But, folks, it ain’t so. It just ain’t so.