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Outdoors Q&A: When and Where Is Nonlead Ammunition Required?

Pellet rifles for hunting turkeys are not included in the nonlead ammunition ban. Click to view larger
Pellet rifles for hunting turkeys are not included in the nonlead ammunition ban. (Carrie Wilson / California Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Question: I have a question about airguns. With the new lead ban going into effect, can I still hunt turkeys with lead airgun pellets? Are pellet rifles included in the nonlead ammunition ban? (Bill K., Placerville)

Answer: Since pellet rifles are not firearms, the use of lead projectiles in pellet rifles is not prohibited.

Was there a federal reversal of the ban on lead ammunition?

Q: I heard there was a federal reversal of the ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting on federal lands. How does this affect those of us who hunt on federal lands in California? (Michael H., Yuba City)

A: The new administration reversed a January federal order from the former director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that would have phased in federal requirements to use nontoxic ammunition (and fishing tackle) on federal lands nationwide. The federal order was separate and independent from California’s effort to phase out the use of lead ammunition. For California hunters, there is no change whether hunting on federal, state or private land. Neither federal action affects the phase-in of California’s prohibition on the use of lead projectiles while taking wildlife in California.

California is phasing out the use of lead ammunition for hunting across the state, including while hunting on federal lands. Beginning July 1, 2019, nonlead ammunition will be required when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California. Until then, nonlead ammunition is required when hunting big game or coyotes in the California condor range with a rifle or pistol. Nonlead ammunition is required when hunting any species on California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s wildlife areas and ecological reserves. When hunting bighorn sheep, or when using a shotgun to hunt waterfowl or upland game birds (except for dove, quail, snipe and any upland game birds taken on licensed game bird clubs) you must use nonlead ammunition. In addition, nonlead shot is required when using a shotgun to take resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds and any wildlife for depredation purposes.

For more information and details, please check our nonlead ammunition website.

What are the nonlead ammunition requirements on private land?

Q: We enjoy hunting on a friend’s private ranch and would like to know if the nonlead ammunition laws apply to private lands and landowners. This property is not open to public access and is only hunted by family and friends of the landowner. (Samuel P., Paso Robles)

A: These laws apply both to public and private lands. Please refer to the previous answer regarding California’s phase-out of lead ammunition and where restrictions apply, as well as CDFW’s nonlead ammunition website.

Will nonlead ammunition be required for target shooting?

Q: When we go out target shooting, are we required to shoot only nonlead ammo? (Anonymous)

A: No. You are not required to use nonlead ammunition when target shooting. Use of lead projectiles for target shooting is legal unless CDFW or another government entity has determined otherwise for lands they administer. California’s prohibition on the use of lead projectiles only applies while taking wildlife. For more information and details, please check our nonlead ammunition website.

Nonlead requirements for concealed carry firearms?

Q: I know that nonlead is required for use when hunting, but if I have my concealed carry weapon permit and I’m carrying my pistol concealed for my personal protection along with my shotgun, does the pistol have to also contain only nonlead bullets? (Ben W., Merced)

A: No. CCR, Title 14 section 250.1(c) provides, “Nothing in this section is intended to prohibit the possession of concealable firearms containing lead ammunition, provided that the firearm is possessed for personal protection and is not used to take or assist in the take of wildlife.” With the exception of ammunition for concealable firearms possessed for personal protection, hunters may not possess lead ammunition along with a firearm capable of firing that ammunition when nonlead ammunition is required.

How will wildlife officers check for compliance?

Q: How will wildlife officers check and confirm that hunters are using nonlead ammunition? (Anonymous)

A: All ammunition in a hunter’s possession may be inspected by wildlife officers. In some cases, if a wildlife officer suspects a hunter is in possession of lead ammunition and cannot prove otherwise in the field, he or she may seize a cartridge or bullet for further analysis. Hunters are encouraged to assist in confirming compliance by retaining ammunition boxes or other packaging.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at [email protected].

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