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Ammunition manufacturers set to abandon California hunters, make total hunting ban easier


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 “armor piercing.” 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, “Effects of the Ban on Traditional Ammunition for Hunting in California Participation and Associated Economic Measures.” 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:]. 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 hunting. 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, “Demand is so high that they can’t produce enough traditional ammo, causing them to say ‘no’ to many long-time customers [placing orders now].” 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? “[The ammo makers] would let the California market slip aside,” said an industry insider who preferred not to be named. “Being 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 margin…. Securing long-term financing to build based on a single controversial law will be a challenge.” 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 “green” 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 “new normal” 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. END Can ammunition companies afford new or expanded production facilities? Ammunition companies are suggesting the investment needed in new or expanded ammunition production facilities for both non-lead and traditional ammunition is not a good investment because of the uncertainty of the market. The California non-lead hunting market is estimated at more than $91 million, more than the current nationwide non-lead shotshell market ($81 million). All of the companies have reported massive profits from the past decade’s boom in ammunition sales. One of the only public companies, ATK (Alliant Tech Industries) sporting group, which owns Federal and CCI, together one of America’s biggest ammunition producers, posted a first quarter increase in sales this year of 53 percent over 2013. The amount was $358 million, largely driven by sporting ammunition sales. Profit was up 79 percent over the same period. The reason profit increase was so much higher than sales was because the companies largely funneled production time and raw materials into more expensive ammunition product lines, where mark-up is higher and profit greater. With demand so high, shooters and hunters would buy the higher-priced products because it was all that was available. With those kinds of profits, is there room for reinvestment in expanded production? END How much more expensive will ammunition become? The NSSF survey has solid data on the cost increases involved in switching from lead to non-lead ammunition, an issue that was ignored in the debate over the passage of AB 711 which banned lead ammunition for all hunting by 2019. Even if ammunition is available, the price increases are a certainty. Shotshell ammunition increases, depending on load and gauge, will increase an average of 387 percent from lead to non-lead, according to the report. Centerfire ammunition will jump 284 percent, which is about what hunters have experienced when purchasing big game hunting ammunition to comply with hunting in the current Condor Zone. Finally, the cost of rimfire ammunition will increase 294 percent -- if it is available at all. Currently, California consumes only 2 1/2 percent of all of the non-lead centerfire rifle and pistol ammunition purchased in this country. That would jump to 43 percent if lead ammunition were banned here tomorrow. In simple terms, that roughly works out that 40 percent of customers in this country would not be able to purchase the non-lead ammunition they currently shoot. While lead shotshell ammunition is more available because it is already required nationwide for all waterfowl hunting, California hunters currently only purchase about eight percent of what is sold nationally. That number would jump to about 30 percent once non-lead was required for all shotgun hunting. Non-lead rimfire ammunition will become the most difficult product to find for California hunters because its production is so low now. The NSSF report says that U.S. production of non-lead rimfire would need to increase by 430 percent just to meet the California demand alone. END

For more information on the lead ban and its impacts on California hunters and the state economy, here is a link to a very well done story by Katy Grimes:

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