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Doctor: Lead Bullets Poisoning Minnesota's Raptors

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Hunters across the state have been waiting for this weekend as deer season starts. And as Minnesotans load up to head out, a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center is making a plea.

Eagles it seems are being taken down by bullets, without even being hit.

Dr. Pat Redig says dozens of bald eagles a year are dying tortured deaths, a problem deer hunters could stop. Redig says just a fragment of lead can bring the country's national symbol to the ground.

"We see 30 to 40 eagles here a year with lead poisoning, but we don't know how many are out in the wild and never recovered," he said. "It probably could be hundreds."

Deer hunters who make a kill leave the guts in the woods behind, and a day or two later is when the raptors eat the meat, says Redig.

"They go blind, they start having seizures, they start becoming uncoordinated, unable to fly, unable to walk, (their) G.I. tract/stomach shuts down so nothing moves," he said.

This video from the U's raptor center shows you what it looks like -- only around about 1 out of 35 lead poisoned birds survive.

"We feel the hunting community all by themselves can solve this problem," Redig said.

By switching from lead to copper bullets, he says eagles would be protected.

After hearing the harm lead bullets can do, South Minneapolis resident and avid hunter Eric Jensen made the switch.

"This Saturday, I will not be hunting with lead," he said. "I will be hunting with an all-copper bullet."

The cartridges look quite similar but the difference between the two runs about $20 per pack, which for some hunters can be a problem. But with lead prices up, the two could soon be priced competitively.

Jensen says it's worth it.

"American hunters can be proud of conservation they've created in this country, and I think it's just consistent with that tradition," he said. "I would say you can fix this problem, all you have to do is use copper."

To find out what effect our late spring will have on this year's deer firearm season, click here.

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