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WDFW Fact Sheet
October 28, 2011

HUNTERS: Regulations effective January 1, 2011

To protect wildlife species nontoxic shot is required for ALL upland bird hunting on ALL pheasant release sites STATEWIDE.

Many US Fish and Wildlife Service refuges also require the use of nontoxic shot.  See specific refuge rules.

Nontoxic shot required for ALL sites statewide

Printable version of map:
Color  |  B&W

For a complete listing of Pheasant Release sites and maps:
Western Washington Pheasant Release Program Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program
Nontoxic shot is now required for bird hunting (pheasant, quail, chukar, gray partridge, mourning doves and band-tailed pigeons) on all pheasant release areas, statewide.

It is unlawful to possess shot (either in shotshells or as loose shot for muzzleloading), other than nontoxic shot, when hunting for upland game birds (pheasant, quail, chukar, and gray partridge), mourning doves, band-tailed pigeons, on all areas where pheasants are released by WDFW. 

Violations bring a mandatory $1,000 fine and loss of small game hunting privileges for two years.


Problems with the use of lead shot were discovered by extensive testing during the 1970s and 1980s. This resulted in a phasing out of lead shot as an allowable waterfowl load from 1986 to 1991. Waterfowl and other birds can die if they eat even very small amounts of spent lead shot. Swans are the most visible evidence of lead poisoning, due to their habit of feeding deep within wetlands that have lead pellets still remaining from past hunting seasons. Lead-poisoned ducks and other birds carrying embedded lead shot also are known to cause poisoning in other species. For example, bald eagles and other raptors can be poisoned by feeding on other wildlife carrying or containing lead shot.  Problems in other wildlife species have also been recently documented (see research reports below).

Identifying problem areas. Through monitoring, problems with lead shot have been discovered in some western Washington pheasant-release sites that also are waterfowl feeding areas. For example, soil sampling at Skagit Wildlife Area yielded an estimated 6.8 tons of lead. Sampling lead pellet densities in soil and wildlife tissues is considered to be the best way to identify problem areas, but these methods are labor intensive, expensive and sometimes difficult to interpret. Not all sites present potential problems. However, all release sites were converted to nontoxic shot use based on a high potential for ingestion of lead by wildlife, due to the higher densities of hunters depositing lead shot on these areas.

Hunter concerns about nontoxic shot. Hunters have voiced concerns about cost, effectiveness and shotgun barrel damage in using nontoxic shot. This is what we know about these areas of concern:

  • Cost: Alternatives to lead shot are more expensive -- particularly newer alternatives, which can cost more than $2 a shell. However, steel shot prices have declined and are approaching those of lead shot. Prices of newer alternatives are expected to decline as new types become more widely available.
  • Steel performance: In numerous shooting tests, wounding loss from the use of steel shot has been scientifically shown to be no different from that of lead. Poor performance of steel often is related to mismatched load/choke combinations and exceeding the effective range of loads. Several of the new alternatives have ballistics properties similar to lead, helping to reduce concerns about effectiveness.
  • Barrel damage: Fears about barrel damage from nontoxic shot have not been substantiated for the vast majority of shotguns. Hunters should check with shotgun manufacturers to be certain.

Further assessment. In 2001, the Commission directed staff to prepare a report assessing the effects of lead shot on wildlife and identify other situations where nontoxic shot restrictions may be necessary. View the report.


Research Reports on Lead Poisoning in Upland Birds
A frequent question is, "Where is the data that identifies lead shot as a source of poisoning for upland birds?"  Researchers from other states and countries have documented problems with lead poisoning in many species of wildlife.   Below are abstracts for four such studies.

Lead Pellet Ingestion and Liver-Lead Concentrations in UplandGame Birds from Southern Ontario, Canada
Abstract: One-hundred twenty-three gizzards from upland game birds (chukar, Alectoris chukar; and common pheasant, Phasianus colchicus) harvested by hunters in southern Ontario, Canada, were examined for lead pellet ingestion by manual examination of gizzard contents and by radiography. Lead pellets were found to be ingested by chukars (6/76; 8%) and the common pheasant (16/47;34%). Further, 13% (17/129) of the bird (wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo; Hungarian partridge, Perdix perdix; chukar; and common pheasant) livers analyzed had elevated lead concentrations (6 lg/g wet weight [ww]).  Liver-lead concentrations above Health Canada’s guideline for human consumption of fish protein (\0.5 lg/g ww)were found in 40% (51/129) of livers analyzed. Data indicate that the ingestion of lead pellets in upland gamebirds and the potential consumption of lead-contaminated meat by humans are concerns related to the continued use of lead shotshell for hunting.

Evidence of Lead Shot Problems for Wildlife, the Environment, and Human Health -- Implications for Minnesota
Abstract: There is considerable evidence published in professional scientific journals demonstrating that lead shot negatively impacts the health of wildlife, humans, and the environment. More than 100 species of birds (including upland birds, raptors, and waterfowl) have been weakened or killed by ingesting lead shot. The impacts of lead shot on wildlife include decreased survival, poor body condition, behavioral changes, and impaired reproduction. Studies in Canada, Greenland, and Russia have linked lead shot found in game animals to higher levels of lead in people who eat those game animals. Recent evidence shows that meat far from entry wounds may contain lead fragments. Effective nontoxic alternatives to lead shot are available at a similar cost. Countries such as Denmark and The Netherlands, as well as some states in Australia have banned the use of lead shot. In North American, federal regulations prohibit the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting and 26 states and provinces have additional nontoxic shot regulations for hunting doves, pheasants, and other species.

Causes, Extent, and Consequences of Lead-pellet Ingestion by Chukars (Alectoris chukar) in Western Utah: Examining Habitat, Search Images, and Toxicology
Abstract:  Lead ingestion adversely affects humans and over 130 species of wildlife. Wild chukars (Alectoris chukar) are documented to ingest lead, but the causes and consequences of this ingestion are poorly understood. The objectives of this research were to 1) examine the influence of habitat use, the hunting season, and seasonal climate on the extent and severity of lead ingestion by chukars in western Utah, 2) assess the effects of habitat use, feeding behaviors, and lead density on the causes of lead-pellet ingestion in captive and wild chukars, and 3) investigate the consequences of lead-pellet ingestion in captive chukars as a function of lead weathering, diet, and wild onion (Allium spp.) supplementation. I documented that 11.5% (n=54) of my sample of wild-harvested chukars contained an ingested lead pellet or increased liver lead (≥ 0.5 ppm). In conjunction with data from captive chukars dosed with lead, I was able to differentiate between bone-lead concentrations resulting from chronic or acute exposure to lead. I documented individuals from seven different mountain ranges with an ingested lead pellet or increased liver lead. I recorded 19 instances of ingested lead during Juneiii October (n=221) and 20 during November-January (n=193). I observed 14 events of increased liver lead for June-October (n=97), but did not find a single occurrence during November-January (n=24). The frequency of lead-pellet ingestion by captive chukars increased significantly when given a greater density of lead pellets with food and when fed a diet with seeds and grit pebbles that were similar visually to lead pellets. I estimated a density of 1,712,134 pellets/Ha in soils at an area used for target shooting. I found significantly more lead pellets in soils near springs than near guzzlers or reference points. I calculated that as many as 58,600 pellets/Ha may be present in soils near springs, and up to 2,445 pellets/Ha in soils surrounding guzzlers and reference points. One #6 lead pellet was able to induce morbidity and mortality in captive chukars. A mixed-seed diet and lead weathering exacerbated the effects of lead ingestion, whereas wild onion supplementation alleviated them.

Abstract: A more complete understanding of nonhunting and harvest mortality for Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) will be critical to improving regional and national harvest management decisions. Poisoning from ingested lead shot is of particular concern in Mourning Doves, which are often hunted on managed shooting fields where lead shot densities can be high, potentially increasing the risk of lead exposure. Previous studies of lead exposure in Mourning Doves have been local in scope and sample sizes have varied widely among areas. We provide an evaluation of lead exposure in 4,884 hunter-harvested Mourning Doves from Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Overall, the frequency of ingested lead pellets in gizzards of doves on hunting areas where the use of lead shot was permitted was 2.5%, although we found a high degree of variability among locations. On areas where nontoxic shot was required, 2.4% of Mourning Doves had ingested steel shot. Hatch year (HY) doves had a greater frequency of ingested lead and steel pellets than after hatch year (AHY) birds, suggesting that they either ingested pellets more frequently or that young birds with ingested shot were preferentially harvested over older birds with ingested pellets. In doves without ingested lead pellets, bone lead concentrations were lower on an area requiring the use of nontoxic shot than on areas allowing the use of lead shot.