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No. 381: Lead in rifle ammunition - the knowledge and attitude of Danish hunters

Kanstrup, N., Hansen, H.P., Balsby, T.J.S. & Mellerup, K.A. 2020. Bly i riffelammunition – danske jægeres kendskab og holdning. Aarhus Universitet, DCE – Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi, 56 s. - Videnskabelig rapport nr. 381. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR381.pdf


In recent years, the environmental, human and animal health consequences from the dispersal of lead from rifle ammunition have come into sharp focus. Lead fragments become embedded in the tissues of the shot animals and pose a major risk of poisoning to predators and scavengers eating discarded offal or parts of non-retrieved carcasses of shot game animals, as well as to human consumers who eat venison and ingest such fragments. Although Denmark does not currently regulate the use of lead in rifle ammunition, some hunters have voluntarily switched completely or partially from lead to lead-free ammunition, although it is believed that general hunter awareness of the problem remains sparse.


Against this background, Aarhus University initiated a study in 2019 to assess the degree of Danish rifle hunters' knowledge and their attitudes to the environmental and health consequences of using lead ammunition, their extent of the use of alternatives, and determine the factors likely to affect their potential change to lead-free rifle ammunition. The study was based on an electronic questionnaire consisting of 27 questions sent by the Danish EPA via e-Boks (the official Danish online digital mailbox) in the winter of 2019/2020 to 5,579 Danish hunters with a rifle hunting license. Of these, 2,701 (48%) responded a sample considered to be representative of Danish rifle hunters, however, albeit with slight overrepresentation of active (based on their annual game bags), older and male hunters.


Respondents' concern for, and knowledge of, the potential consequences of lead-containing rifle ammunition was generally rather low. There was a connection between hunters' knowledge and concern about the consequences of lead ammunition, generally the more hunters knew about leaded ammunition, the greater was their propensity to use lead-free types. Respondents gained a great deal of their knowledge from hunting colleagues, clubs/associations and, to a lesser extent, from the hunting authorities. Hunting authorities and to some extent universities played a lesser role in terms of information than the respondents expected as a normal source of such information.


A significant impetus to hunters to switch from leaded to unleaded ammunition was based on their hunting experiences outside of Denmark. Respondents reported choosing to switch to unleaded ammunition when returning to hunt in Denmark after hunting in Germany, where they had first been introduced to unleaded ammunition. Respondents who had voluntarily changed to use lead-free rifle ammunition completely or in part, stated that they did so with a view to enhancing the sustainability of their hunting. However, many also reported doing so to reduce the adverse effects of lead on nature and the environment. They also did so, to a lesser extent, to reduce the risks of poisoning to birds of prey and to humans, who consumed the venison.


Among respondents who did not use unleaded ammunition, a large group considered that the risk of lead contamination from ammunition was negligible compared to other possible sources of lead poisoning of game, ecosystems and humans. The most significant barrier to changing their use of lead to unleaded rifle ammunition was due to a general lack of awareness, partly of the adverse effects of lead ammunition in the environment, but also partly of the feasibility of using unleaded and non-toxic types. Some respondents expressed specific reasons for not switching to non-lead ammunition, such as efficacy of killing quarry and ammunition price.


A change from lead to non-lead rifle ammunition is underway in Denmark. It was estimated that 15-25% of the ammunition used today for hunting and associated training in Denmark is non-lead. Young hunters are more likely to switch than older ones. This, combined with the fact that some respondents plan to switch to unleaded ammunition when their existing stock of lead ammunition was exhausted, suggests that this current trend will continue and accelerate. Non-lead alternatives are increasingly available, so that the Danish market now offers at least 15 types of non-lead rifle ammunition designed for a wide range of applications. The elimination of lead ammunition in some private hunting districts already in 2020 will further contribute to the reduction in use of lead ammunition in these districts, but is also expected to affect hunters' choice of ammunition for hunting in other areas.