Pheasants aren’t the only ones that will have to get the lead out Saturday when Washington’s special youth upland bird hunting seasons opens.
Hunters under 16 looking for action at one of Washington’s 29 pheasant release sites in Eastern Washington will, for the first time, be required to load up with non-toxic shot.
Pheasants are scheduled to be released at the sites four times from this week through November.
The new requirement for upland bird hunting does not extend to other lands, except for those previously off-limits to lead, such as the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
The nontoxic shot rule has been in effect at refuges and release sites for several years in Western Washington.
The first state-land nontoxic shot requirements in Eastern Washington were enacted last year near Pasco, where lead shot was banned for hunting pheasants, quail and partridge as well as mourning doves in three units of the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area.
This year’s new restrictions at East Side pheasant release sites are the latest in the state’s phase out of lead for some hunting and fishing uses.
A federal rule that banned lead shot for use in waterfowl hunting nation-wide starting in 1986.
Scientists say the actions are prompted by continued concern over the accumulation of lead shot in hunting locales where wildlife congregates. Wildlife that are finding and ingesting the spent lead become ill and often die, prompting fishing and hunting policymakers to extend the bounds of the nontoxic rules.
The Eastern Washington pheasant release sites and the boundaries of the nontoxic shot zones are defined in maps available online at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website (wdfw.wa.gov).
Those sites include Fishtrap Lake managed by BLM, Sherman Creek Wildlife Area managed by the sate, and Corps of Engineers habitat sites near the Snake River.
Incidentally, the boundary was adjusted and the size of the release area on Sherman Creek west of Kettle Falls was increased this year.
All sites will be posted with “Nontoxic Shot Area” signs in the field, state officials say.
Washington’s new non-toxic shot requirements shouldn’t be a major factor for youths who hunt sites where pen-raised pheasants are being released this week in preparation for the youth season, said Matt Monda, a state wildlife manager and hunter in Ephrata.
“For as little shooting as the kids do, you can buy lead alternatives that are heavy and perform as well as lead,” he said.
“Steel shot ought to work fine, too,” he said, referring to steel’s reputation for being lighter and packing less killing power than lead shot.
“Release birds are not particularly cagy. They usually flush close, so there shouldn’t be much problem with knocking the birds down.”
The main thing to consider when using steel shot is that it patterns much tighter than lead.
“You need a more open choke,” Monda said.
Many hunters go to improved cylinder, skeet or open bore chokes for upland bird hunting with steel shot to get a pattern wide enough for maximum shooting accuracy.
A direct hit with a tight choke and steel shot will mutilate the bird.
Since nontoxic shot has been required for more than two decades for waterfowling, Monda has tested it on pheasants as he jump-shoots creeks where he’s likely to see both pheasants and ducks.
“I go with size-4 shot and it gets the job done for me,” he said.