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Morken: Proposed non-toxic shot rule on WMAs draws hunters' attention

A couple of Minnesota roosters taken on a hunt on November 21. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 2
Eric Morken2 / 2

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking for public input on a proposed rule change on Minnesota's wildlife management areas that will likely affect a lot of hunters in this area.

Now it's on those hunters to take an active role in the conversation, and to do so with an open mind.

The DNR is suggesting a rule that would require the use of non-toxic shot on WMAs in Minnesota's farmland zone. That includes the Alexandria area in the western part of the state, along with the southern portion of Minnesota.

"The non-toxic shot rule would apply to hunters using shotguns with shot, not to hunters using single-projectile ammunition such as rifles or shotguns with slugs," Jason Abraham, a furbearer and regulations specialist with the DNR, said in a release issued in mid-October. "We're trying to reduce the amount of lead deposited on public land, especially wetlands."

It is currently against the law to use lead shot while hunting waterfowl. This proposal, if implemented, would not affect WMAs in the forest zone in northeastern Minnesota.

"We're listening at every stage here," Abraham said in an interview with the Echo Press on Nov. 23. "At this point in the rule-making process, we've developed some rules and we're seeing how we could tweak them and what we can do to improve on them or change them and to generally see how the public feels about them."

The DNR has targeted September of 2018 as to when this would go into effect if it does become law. There are a lot of steps between now and then if that is to happen, including an adoption phase and holding public hearings in front of an administrative law judge. The governor also has veto power.

"It's a long ways from anybody deciding on anything at this point," Abraham said.

There's no doubt it's an issue that hunters are interested in. Abraham said he has already had between 2,200-2,300 comments since the DNR asked the public to weigh in during a 60-day period that started on Oct. 13.

He added it seems opinions have been relatively split between those in favor and those who oppose the change.

"There's a couple major concerns from those opposed to it," Abraham said. "That's that some non-toxic shells are more expensive. The other point they bring up is that they can't shoot or find non-toxic loads that will work in their older guns or in smaller caliber guns. Those that support it are typically folks who are concerned with ingestion of lead shot by birds. They're also concerned about ingestion of lead shot by waterfowl since a fair number of WMAs in the farmland zone have wetlands on them."

Another argument I've heard from hunters who oppose the change is that steel shot leaves more birds crippled than lead shot.

All of these concerns have their place in this argument, but the issues associated with using lead shot have been around for years, and they are not going away.

The DNR assembled a nontoxic shot advisory committee (NSAC) in 2006 to study the nontoxic shot issue. This committee consisted of 11 people, 10 of which were members from outside the DNR. The group unanimously agreed that lead shot will have to be restricted for all shotgun hunting at some point in the future. They also knew that any changes would be met with pushback.

Some hunters I have talked to want to see more specific research on the effects that lead shot is actually having on upland birds. Are pheasants and turkeys actually ingesting the shot that is left behind by hunters?

Pheasants and turkeys scavenge for food all the time. It's not unreasonable to think that they may ingest lead pellets along the way.

"The research on the effect of lead shot is evolving," Abraham said. "There is an accumulation of research out there that points to issues with ingestion of lead shot by upland species, particularly mourning doves. There's also some evidence of lead shot in other upland species like ring-necked pheasants. There is quite a lot of research out there, and we do know some things about lead already. It is a neurotoxin and we do know ingestion of it by any wildlife is dangerous."

This issue deserves some serious thinking from hunters.

I made the move to hunting with almost all steel shot about 10 years ago. Part of that is the land I hunt. A friend of mine owns hundreds of acres of CRP that holds a lot of pheasants.

He doesn't allow the use of lead shot when hunting his land. We shoot and kill plenty of birds with steel and seldom lose cripples. Some of that has to do with having many good dogs to hunt behind.

Banning lead shot on WMAs would affect plenty of people and make hunting more difficult for some, but hunters have been through this and adjusted. The use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl has been banned in the United State since 1991 and in Minnesota since 1987.

Plenty of other states have gone a step further to include restrictions of lead shot beyond just waterfowl hunting. South Dakota is included in that with non-toxic shot required for small game on walk-in areas and some other public lands. Maybe it's time for Minnesota to follow suit.


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is taking public comments through a 60-day period from Oct. 13 through Dec. 11 on proposed rule changes that include the banning of lead shot on WMAs in the state's farmland zone.

Comments may be directed to Jason Abraham of the DNR by calling (651) 259-5197 or by email at

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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