By JIM MATTHEWS
The ammunition manufacturing industry in the United States effectively said it is going to abandon California hunters, help reduce hunter opportunity and sound wildlife management, and assist in driving more hunters from the sport. This will make it much easier for the anti-hunters in this state to accomplish their goal and simply ban hunting entirely.
To explain that requires some background:
The anti-hunters have more influence in Sacramento politics than the hunting community. It was the pressure from those anti-hunters that pushed the California legislature to ban the use of lead ammunition for hunting (AB 711) by 2019. The antis were able to convince the liberal legislature, which is profoundly anti-gun, that lead ammunition shot by hunters was a danger to the state’s wildlife resources. It doesn’t matter that is a profound lie. With an emasculated Department of Fish and Wildlife that was muzzled from refuting those claims and a pro-hunting lobby that is largely ignored in Sacramento, the legislation passed easily.
However, seeing the writing on the wall, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife did something unprecedented. In return for publicly supporting the bill, the director pressed legislators in Sacramento for two concessions in the legislation: First, to give the agency five years — until the 2019 season — to phase in the ban, and second, to give the director of the Department the leeway to continue to allow the use of lead ammunition IF the federal government banned current non-lead alternatives as ìarmor piercing.î
This was unprecedented because the agency (or director) never offers its advice or scientific opinion on bills publicly, only behind the scenes and only when asked to do so. These are governor’s orders, and it has pretty much always been that way. Director Chuck Bonham received a lot of flack from the hunting community by supporting the lead-ban legislation. We expected it was going to pass, but he assured that it would pass since it had DFW support.
I was one of those who hammered hard on him for that move. You and I might argue that the director and his staff should have simply pointed out the biological flaws in the legislation and urged legislators to not pass the bill, which may have halted the legislation. But in the DFW’s political world, they would argue the director and his staff worked to assure that the ban wouldn’t be implemented immediately for this fall’s hunting seasons. And they assured that if the alternatives to lead were banned, we could go back to traditional ammunition. Both of these moves addressed the issue of ammunition availability for hunters and saved hunter opportunity, at least in the short term, in their eyes.
If implemented immediately, there was no way the ammunition pipeline could be filled with non-lead ammunition needed statewide, and many hunters would simply be forced to stay home. The anti-hunting groups know this and are still pressuring the Fish and Game Commission to push implementation of the legislation up to 2015. The DFW staff, concerned about what that would do to hunting participation, game management, and wildlife funding, is recommending that implementation — for most species — is pushed right up until the 2019 season in hopes that the ammunition companies would see and fill the California need.
That brings us up to this week.
On Monday, the National Shooting Sports Foundation released a study it commissioned called, ìEffects of the Ban on Traditional Ammunition for Hunting in California Participation and Associated Economic Measures.î The data was compiled by the respected Southwick Associates, which specializes in fish and wildlife statistics and economics. [This report is available at this direct link: http://nssf.org/share/PDF/CA-Alternative-Ammo-Impacts_9-15-2014.pdf].
My first reaction to the data compiled by Southwick was more anger at the California legislature: Cost of non-lead ammunition will be from 300 to 400 percent higher than lead ammunition used for hunt=ing. The California demand for non-lead ammunition will exceed current production of non-lead rimfire ammunition by about four times, and our increase in demand for shotshell and rifle ammunition will make all of those products even harder to get. It will run a minimum of 13 percent of California hunters out of the sport and the number could be double that. It will cost the DFW at least $1 million in lost federal revenue and that doesn’t count lost license and tag sales. So, yes, there is a lot to be angry about with our legislature.
But the more I looked at the data and read the details of the report, this emerged: Because of current demand, the companies simply won’t be able to meet the new California need for non-lead ammunition. In fact, the companies say it would be a bad economic investment to expand production.
Anyone who is a shooter or hunter knows that ammunition has been scarce for several years. Virtually all of the nation’s makers are running plants seven days a week 24-hours a day to try and keep up with demand in just the sporting market. Yet, they have all been reluctant to expand production capability in a significant way because they fear this is a panic-driven boom in sales.
As one spokesman for the industry told me, ìDemand is so high that they can’t produce enough traditional ammo, causing them to say ëno’ to many long-time customers [placing orders now].î
Using the NSSF report, and based on the increase in costs for non-lead ammunition it reports, the value of the added non-lead market in California is $91 million a year ($61 million in centerfire ammunition, $24 million for shotshell, and nearly $6 million in rimfire). That is $10 million more than the $81 million value of the nationwide non-lead shotshell marketplace, and this is a highly competitive market battled over by the makers. But they are unwilling to invest in any new production capability to serve California hunters and a $91 million market?
Does that make sense to you?
ì[The ammo makers] would let the California market slip aside,î said an industry insider who preferred not to be named. ìBeing an explosive product, [They say] it takes a long time to site and permit new production facilities. Ramping up production significantly is time consuming and costly, and financially risky to do based on one law in one state that could be changed back. If they build more production capacity, it’d be for traditional ammo with a known market and known profit marginÖ. Securing long-term financing to build based on a single controversial law will be a challenge.î
They have a guaranteed $90-plus million market in California! Our DFW made sure they have five years to ramp up production to meet the new sales demand. Besides, there are political moves across the nation to push non-lead ammunition for all types of hunting. It’s not just a California thing. The military is moving toward a ìgreenî military ammunition. Investing in non-lead ammunition production is hardly a bad idea.
So does the ammo makers’ excuse sound disingenuous to you? I can understand the makers being reluctant to expand with the current and uncertain boom (although many observers who do the gun sales math say the current ammo boom is really more likely a ìnew normalî because there are so many new shooters who have entered the sport in the past decade). The California need is new and guaranteed. We all know there is zero chance the law will be changed back, even if we find out condors don’t get any lead from ammunition. That is reality.
Like it or not, non-lead ammunition is a growing marketplace, but the politics within the ammunition companies are as ignorant and hard-headed as the politics in Sacramento. By saying they can’t (or more accurately, won’t) meet the California demand, the ammo makers somehow think they are getting back at California liberals who dislike guns. The only thing they are doing is abandoning the California hunters who have and continue to support them. They are abandoning traditional game management by assuring less money to manage game here. They are assuring the maximum number of hunters will simply give up hunting in California, and probably entirely. The only ones who win in this game are the anti-hunters, and with thinner ranks it makes a total hunting ban far easier and more likely.
I have friends who always ask me why I still live in California with all of the political insanity here. I always say that only cowards cut and run. I will not let the anti-hunters win in this state. I don’t care how much trouble it becomes or how much it costs. I will hunt in California. I will not let them win.
Chief Sitting Bull said, “When the Buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice. For we are hunters and we want our freedom.” A contemporary paraphrase would be easy to write. But if it gets so bad that I have to use rocks collected on site, thrown by hand or hurled from a slingshot made with organic materials, I’ll hunt.
I want to know who’s with me in this fight. So I’m publically asking all the ammunition companies if they are indeed going to cut and run, disserting California hunters in a critical time of need, or if they are going to step up to the plate and figure out a way to be here for us.