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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Attempts to eliminate lead ammunition use for hunting through regulatory approaches can be controversial and contentious, despite extensive scientific evidence of the detrimental effect of lead on wildlife species. In the United States, voluntary approaches to non-lead use that have used outreach and education in place of regulatory approaches have achieved sustained behavioral change in hunter ammunition choice. However, voluntary approaches to alternative ammunition use can be confronted with both practical and social barriers. In collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Research Units Program, this study assessed the practical and social barriers associated with a voluntary approach to transitioning to non-lead ammunition for hunting white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on targeted National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast United States.

This thesis is presented in two sections. Section one examines the continued use of lead ammunition in the context of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (the Model). The Model presents a unique approach to wildlife conservation grounded in the sustainable use of wildlife resources maintained in a public trust. In accordance with the Model, wildlife resources in the trust are managed by the government at a population level to maintain trust resources in perpetuity for the benefit of current and future generations of the American public. Continued lead ammunition use for hunting that facilitates pathways to exposure for non-target species presents a unique challenge to a core principle of the Model – known as legitimate purpose -- and questions whether lead ammunition use can align with the Model even in the absence of population level impacts. In addition, chapter one explores whether continued lead ammunition use can be considered ethical hunting behavior under the current definition of a “clean kill”.

Chapter two presents the results of a both a quantitative mail-back survey and qualitative focus group discussions conducted at three refuges in the Northeast Region: Rachel Carson in Maine, Edwin B. Forsythe in New Jersey and Rappahannock River Valley in Virginia. The mail-back survey assessed how current lead users view the practical barriers associated with the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition for the purpose of harvesting white-tailed deer and what factors would influence hunters to switch. Focus group discussions assessed hunter understanding of the mechanism of exposure for non-target species and how hunters contextualize the continued use of lead ammunition for the purpose of harvesting white-tailed deer.


First Advisor

Stephan DeStefano

Second Advisor

John Organ

Third Advisor

Gordon R. Batcheller