Get The Lead Out

Get The Lead Out

Lead fragments in meat threaten some venison donation programs.

Ever since lead fragments were found in donated venison on the shelves of North Dakota soup kitchens in 2008, a controversy has raged on whether gun-harvested venison is safe to eat. This topic has no bearing on bowhunting, except that bow-killed deer will be in high demand in soup kitchens, since they are definitely lead free. Not so incidentally, animal-rightists will rejoice at any restriction on the consumption of venison, and you can bet they will get as much mileage as possible out of the situation.

It now appears that lead bullets often do leave lead fragments to one degree or another in deer meat. In the fall of 2008, Minnesota used trained and certified butchers to process all meat going to donation programs, and lead was still found in five percent of the samples. Lead fragments were found up to 18 inches from wounds. Minnesota is now going to X-ray all meat donated to soup kitchens at a cost of 30 cents per pound. Obviously, such expense, if implemented elsewhere, would kill meat-donation programs in many states.

The question then becomes: Are lead fragments dangerous when consumed? When lead was reported in venison in North Dakota, state officials invited the National Center for Environmental Health to come in and sample lead levels in blood from over 700 citizens.

That study, published on October 14, 2008, produced some interesting results. Eighty-one percent of those sampled had consumed wild meat, mostly venison. Eighty-two percent of those who ate venison processed their own meat or had family members process it.

Sixty-two percent of those who ate venison did so at least once a week.

Even though most of the people sampled consumed wild game, none had lead blood levels above the Communicable Disease Center's (CDC) recommended levels. And "the geometric mean of lead in blood among this study population was lower than the overall population geometric mean in the United States." In plain language, lead blood levels for sampled North Dakota citizens -- of which 81 percent regularly consumed wild game -- were lower on average than lead blood levels for United States citizens in general.

Also, children in the study had readings less than half of the national average for children and below CDC concern levels. My guess is that these results are the reason that most states are continuing their hunter-donated venison programs.

However, the North Dakota study did reveal that participants who ate venison had blood levels of lead slightly higher than those who did not eat venison. Those who ate venison within a month before blood was collected had higher levels of lead, and those who ate larger servings of venison also had higher lead levels in their blood. (Note: The excretory half-life of lead in humans is 30 days.)

Where does all of this leave us? Even though the North Dakota blood study showed lead levels for citizens who regularly consume venison to be below the national average, it does raise some cause for concern. For example, lead accumulates in the bones, and the older generations of venison eaters (above 65 years of age) had higher lead levels than younger age groups. This could cause health problems in older hunters. Further, homeless folks may be consuming more venison than other groups, which might lead to problems.

The potential dangers of lead consumption from gun-killed deer have led North Dakota to accept only archery-killed deer in their venison donation programs. While that's good for bowhunting, it will put a major hardship on soup kitchens there. Even though Minnesota and North Dakota have restricted the use of venison in soup kitchens, other states have not made extensive changes in donated meat programs. However, the furor over human health issues will not go away, and the call for non-lead bullets for deer hunting will grow.

In November, a preliminary study linked lead from bullets to lead blood levels found in grizzly bear blood in the Greater Yellowstone area. Half of the grizzlies tested during the hunting season had elevated lead blood levels, while those sampled outside of the hunting season had none. Apparently, bears eating offal piles from harvested game are consuming lead fragments. Studies such as this will continue to put pressure on hunters to use non-lead bullets and manufacturers to produce them.

New Jersey Governor Ignores Bear Problems
For the past six years, New Jersey wildlife biologists have supported a limited black bear hunt to curb bear numbers as human/bear encounters increase. Each time the proposal has arisen, political interference has prevented the hunt. Most recently, Governor Corzine and the head of the Department of Environmental Protection, the department that oversees bear management, supported nonlethal methods such as education and the use of bear-proof garbage cans to resolve problems.

Such measures have rarely worked anywhere, and they haven't worked in New Jersey.

The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance reports that bear-related complaints and damage incidents went from 896 in 2007 to almost 2,000 in 2008. Calls to the state regarding bear problems jumped by 97 percent.

Clearly, the nonlethal methods are not working, yet Governor Corzine continues to ignore reality. Perhaps someone will have to get seriously hurt or die at the paws of a bear before the Governor will wake up and allow hunting for bears in New Jersey? What a shame that we have reached a point in this country at which trained wildlife biologists are completely ignored -- by their own department head, as well as the Governor. The solution to New Jersey's bear problems is so obvious.

New Card Needed in Ontario
If you hunt or fish in Ontario, you now need an Outdoors Card (effective January 1, 2009). You can buy a three-year card for $9 Canadian wherever hunting licenses are sold. Ontario residents have been required to have such a card since 1993, but now nonresidents must also have the card. For information, Google "outdoors card for nonresident hunting in Ontario."

Recommended for You


Elk Venison Steak-frites Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A simple, classic steak and French fries duo gets a wild makeover with this Elk Venison...

ATA Show

Best New Broadheads for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 10, 2019

From fixed to hybrid to mechanical, we've rounded up the best new broadheads from the 2019 ATA...

Field Tools

5 Must-Have Pieces of Gear for Any Elk Hunt

Zach Bowhay - September 23, 2016

For those of us heading into the elk woods with the hopes of a close encounter with a rutting...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Bowhunter TV Editor Derek Mleynek has a chance to fill his buck tag on a mixed bag hunt in Texas.

2018 Bowhunter TV Episode 8: Canyon Ranch Roundup, Part 2

Bowhunter TV's Derek Mleynek and Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson head to Texas for a late-season mixed bag hunt in a truly target-rich environment.

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist witnesses a hen trying to destroy one of his decoys while hunting turkeys in Kansas.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Other Game

Tips for Bowhunting Predators

Joe Bell

Chasing predators is great for calming big-game nerves.


Vietnamese Black Bear Pâté Chaud (Meat Pie) Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Black bear meat is dark and rich, and delicious ground up in this Pâté chaud recipe.

Arrows & Broadheads

What Are the Best Vanes For Hunting?

Joe Bell - May 24, 2017

Years ago, choosing a vane was simple. You had target vanes and you had hunting vanes, with...

See More Stories

More Conservation


Deer Management 2010

December 09, 2010

This annual gathering of deer fanatics is guaranteed to stir your whitetail brain...


Instant Answers

Dr. Dave Samuel - November 04, 2010

To get the most out of modern hunting, learn to use this valuable hunting tool --...


Eastern Coyotes: How Predators Affect Deer Herds

C. J. Winand - June 06, 2013

Are predators such as coyotes negatively affecting our deer herds? In an article in the...

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.