The Urban Deerslayer

NYT says more urban folks learning to hunt for safe, low carbon-impact meat-

The Urban Deerslayer. By Sean Patrick Farrell. New York Times.

Fewer and fewer people have been learning to hunt, to the dismay of many. Hunting is generaly taught as part of a family tradition or with young friends while growing up.

The article writes of what might be an unexpected source of new hunters — urban adults who want a more honest connection to their food and/or worry about the hormones, fat, and other contaminants of factory farmed beef and pork.

My personal belief is that unless you have killed and eaten an animal, caught and gutted a fish, you don’t understand the value of meat. You don’t understand the difficulty getting high quality protein, nor what much of human history has been like.

Much of Eastern United States is overrun with whitetailed deer due to environmental changes that have lifted natural restraints on deer populations. Some urbanites are well situated to shoot a deer.

There should be a word of warning, however. First, if you can’t shoot your deer locally — if you travel many miles — your meat acquisition does not save a lot energy. Secondly, if the deer graze contaminated zones, the meat might not be safe. Third, bullets fragment. If you use lead bullets, there will be lead in your venison.  Use of ground venison maximizes the amount of lead. The type of bullet makes a big difference. Lead shotgun slugs and encased (jacketed) lead bullets leave the fewest fragments. If you hit large bone, there will be more fragmentation. Best, use copper bullets or go bowhunting.





  1. kt Avatar

    Firedoglake had a great Monty Python clip up about this all yesterday ….

  2. mikepost Avatar

    Ralph, while your lead in the meat comments are accurate, there is a context issue that most people do not hear about. Yes, families that consume lead shot meat on a regular basis do show some minor elevation of lead levels over their neighbors who do not consume lead shot meat, HOWEVER, lead levels in large urban city dwellers who only shop at the super market are HIGHER than those of the lead shot meat eaters.
    There is nothing wrong with limiting lead ingestion but the point is that some New York socialite is more at risk for incidental lead ingestion from other sources than any venison eating country person will ever be.

  3. Cris Waller Avatar


    Do you have any links to studies to back that up? I did some research on this a while back, and I haven’t seen anything to support that assertion, at least in the US. Since lead based paint and leaded gasoline have been banned, the biggest source of lead exposure is workplace exposure ( Children’s blood lead levels are actually dropping ( Lead shot can be a significant source of lead exposure for children, who are more sensitive to lead damage than adults. Some states have actually advised hat pregnant women and children not eat meat from animals killed with lead ammunition. (

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    If you want to eat safer venison, I think I put up the sidebars. It sure helps to be a good shot. That means don’t take poor shots.

    Don’t take your deer to processor for ground venison.
    Overcome the resistance to using copper bullets.

    One trouble is becoming a good shooter takes practice. Ammo is expensive. Expenditures on ammunition takes away any cost savings from shooting your own meat. Well too there’s bowhunting.

  5. Devin Avatar

    Great read Ralph. I only wish that the new hunters are not getting too caught up in the new gizmos and gadgets that take away the sportsmanship from hunting. I feel hunting is a great pastime as long as hunters don’t give in to the “urge for comfort at all costs.”

    After reading and rereading and then rereading Sand County Almanac, I’m currently trying to simplify my hunting equipment and make myself more dependent on my skills and knowledge of the outdoors. Goodbye pump action 12 gauge and hello break barrel .410. I sold my 30-06 a year ago and have been meaning to go out with my bow but missed any chances this year.

  6. Ryan Avatar


    I’ll disagree with you on the 12 ga vs 410 argument simply beacuse the 12 ga is more lethal, which allows for more Humane kills. (also its much cheaper and more readily availiable to get non toxic shot in 12ga than 410). I archery hunt 99% of the time for big game and I try to use as much technology in my equipment to make for lethal humane kills. That being said what it takes to get close still requires skill and practice, both of which are dying arts it seems in some cases. I love my Trail cameras, but I’ve never actually killed a critter I’ve seen on them.

  7. Devin Avatar

    Ryan, I don’t plan on using the .410 until I am a good enough clay shooter to take one to the field and trust that I can drop an upland bird with one shot. With a 12 gauge I can hit 22/25 clays. I figure if I can work up to about 20-21/25 with the tight pattern of the .410, I’ll be comfortable in the field.

    I’m not waterfowl hunting any more so I don’t need the power and spread of a 12 gauge for bigger birds. For waterfowl though, I would agree that a 12 gauge is best.

    I’ve bowhunted for almost 10 years now and it just constantly amazes me to hear rifle shooters boast of their long range shots. But…I guess I’m ok with coming home with nothing but the experience 🙂

  8. mikepost Avatar

    Cris, I believe there was a local study done in Minn where they compared the three demographics. I will try and find it. All levels were low but the urban levels were the highest of the three. Unknown if they factored for the ages of the people tested. Us old timers got more than our share in decades past. Perhaps the real result is that some of us have been eating lead shot game for 50-60 years with no issues. We have done such a great job of demonizing lead that there seems no room left for even some “acceptable” level.
    I am sure there is still a lot of lead soldered copper pipe and other fixtures in older areas of major cities. The real key is soluable lead. I think you could swallow a whole lead bullet in a fresh venison chop and get less impact as it passes thru your system then from a small lead fragment that was soaking for months in frozen/defrosted hamburger.

    Of interest is some very preliminery work in the SoCal no lead area that seems to show no improvement in Condor lead levels in spite of a full season of no-lead hunting. It begs the question of what else could it be and it will have some real hunter political impact if it turns out that the lead bullet ban with all the sacrifices in cost and wounded game does not bring about measurable improvement with the condor.

  9. Nathan Avatar

    What kind of trail cameras do you operate Ryan? I have been interested to set some up to see what lurks about at night in a lot of the areas I frequent for wildlife photography.

  10. Ryan Avatar


    The Cuddebacks are my personal Favorite, a little expensive though. I like them because they allow me to see whats in an area without disturbing the wildlife to much.

  11. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I switched to pure copper bullets 2 years ago. What I’d read from early reports about measured lead levels in families that use lead core bullets didn’t sound too alarming – but why not avoid it altogether when its easily done? I suspect we weren’t getting a lot of lead from the 3 to 5 home-processed little Sitka blacktails we’ve used yearly, but our pets probably got a higher concentration in the trimmings – also the eagles, ravens & other birds that clean up all the fat, scraps and anything left on the bones down by the beach. I read somewhere that elevated lead levels have been found in villagers in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta who eat large quantities of waterfowl, much of it apparently taken with cheaper (although illegal) lead shot.

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    So for comparison what is the price difference?

    How difficult is it to change your aim, etc. if you use copper?

  13. Cobra Avatar

    I wish they would allow the muzzle loaders in Idaho to use something other than all lead bullets. We usually get our deer this time of year with muzzle loaders, in fact today I got mine and my son was really close on his, anyway there can be a lot of lead fragments when you do hit a bone. I think by doing our own butchering of deer and elk we have little to worry about because we really check the meat before we grind.
    SEAK, I think the best eating deer I’ve ever gotten was a sitka blacktail up behind the college while I was going to school there years ago.

  14. cc Avatar

    The weaker digestive systems of humans makes hunters less affected (but by no means unaffected) by ingesting lead bullet fragments than eagles, ravens, vultures, etc. The damage using lead bullets does to avian scavengers is indisuputable and hunters should include safeguarding these birds in their conservation efforts.

    Lead bullets were banned for hunting in the condor’s recovery area in California but we all know not everyone complies. It took over a decade after lead shot was banned for hunting waterfowl for full compliance by hunters and for wildlife to fully benefit. All condors with lead poisoning are x-rayed and the lead has been identified as bullet fragments. That’s not to say that there aren’t other sources of lead out there, but those who doubt the negative impacts of lead bullets on condors and other scavengers are akin to those still doubting climate change.

  15. mikepost Avatar

    The big difference is that most birds end up with lead particles in their crop and it is retained for long periods allowing soluable lead to enter their bodies. It is the human dangers we are discussing and the very fact that our bodies expell lead particles as waste within the day makes a big difference.

    I agree that the ban will assist the condor to some degree. Unfortunately they will still kill themselves and their chicks with micro-trash so it may very well be for naught in the long run. At some point in time we have to bring an end to human intervention with the condor if the recovery project is to be termed a success: that is a viable breeding population in the wild without human asistance.

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I haven’t shot any copper bullets. I am hoping someone has and can give their impression.

  17. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    Ralph –
    I have reloaded, hunted with copper bullets for years now. I now hunt only with copper bullets for the health concerns being discussed. My experience is that copper bullets equal or exceed performance of standard and high performance lead core bullets in both accuracy and lethality. They are more expensive than standard lead core bullets but comparable to high performance lead core bullets.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Oh good, some information. Thank you, Mark.

    What about the variety available? . . and for pistols. I have a .22 rifle. That’s it for rifles, but I have several pistols. I feel kind of bad filling the hillside full of lead when I go shooting.

  19. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native


    Check out the Barnes Bullets website. I will be reloading with them from now on after seeing them in action this hunting season.

  20. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Wyo Native,

    Thanks. They have the calibers we need.

  21. Cobra Avatar

    Any cance IDFG will ever allow copper or platinum bullets in the future for any of the muzzle loading hunts? Just curious as I live in north Idaho.

  22. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I have used Barnes triple-shocks (pure copper) in two bullet weights and velocities (200 grain @ 2,600 feet-per-second and 150 grain at 2,250 fps) in 30-06. The latter is for the island where I do most hunting and has only black bears (that will steal deer but generally not with the hunter attached) while the former is for Admiralty Island with about 1 brown bear/square mile. With the exception of occasional alpine hunts, most shots are at quite close range in the woods. The heavier load has worked well, the only noticeable difference being that it makes the big hole on the entrance rather than exit (unlike conventional bullets), but overall damage is about the same. I have been disappointed in the lighter load as expansion was poor enough on the first couple of deer that I discontinued using it – there seemed to be a chance of losing a deer even with a reasonably good hit. Cheap jacketed lead bullets had worked well on many deer with the same powder charge.

    I’m definitely not going back but am going to try a lighter bullet (130 grain) with a little more powder and the newer model of triple-shock with a polycarbonate tip that is supposed to facilitate expansion at lower velocity (as well as being more aerodynamic). My goal is to kill deer cleanly but not unneccesarily blow them apart (as Cobra says, Sitka blacktails are superb eating – actually ranked top of all big game in Alaska in one poll I saw, even above sheep).

    Although there are a few reports of experiences like mine with poor expansion, most hunters seem very happy with tripleshocks and they seem actually to be about the best design out there for use at very high speeds, were the other type of failure can occur with bullets disintegrating and not penetrating. The cost of copper and guilded metal bullets (about $34-$36 per 50) appears to be right in line with other bullets with premium features, but about double the cost of the cheaper unbonded lead core bullets that are most susceptable to fragmentation. I’ve found the copper bullets shoot fine as far as accuracy. There were complaints about copper fouling in barrels with the earliest pure copper Barnes bullet but that has apparently been alleviated by adding grooves on the triple-shocks and using guilding metal instead of pure copper on the new Nosler e-tip which apparently doesn’t foul. I suspect with the increasing awareness of lead there will be more options coming on the market soon, including perhaps one or more that will be lower in price.

  23. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    Cobra –
    The Commission policy on traditional muzzleloader hunts is that those hunts adhere to traditional weapons, including ammunition. Of course, modern muzzle loading technology (in-line ignition, sabots, copper or platinum bullets, shotgun primers, scopes, etc.) is legal for use in general rifle hunts.
    The Commission receives regular input from the muzzleloader hunters on this issue. I can’t speak for the Commission, but I do expect that it will continue to closely monitor the issue.

  24. Brian Ertz Avatar

    A couple years ago I was at a commissioner meeting where the in-line v traditional debate got pretty heated. A lot of pissed off people who went out & bought or were gifted an in-line found themselves hunting general 😉

  25. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    I find it very sad that technology has become so much a factor in hunting over the last ten, to even thirty, years. I guess it goes with an innovative capitalist society. For manufacturers of modern firearms its more power – whether increased velocity and distance from new chamberings (like the .300 Rem Ultra mag or the WSM offerings), or the optics, like scopes with the reticles that theoretically permit shots out to 500 yards. Disgusting in my view.

    And, for muzzleloaders, the original intent in the 1970’s when it first became popular was to have an ignition system open to the weather, simulating the challenges of hunting of 18th and early 19th Century.
    The rationale behind it was also to offer more hunting opportunities. Then along comes the in-line ignition system which some states allow.

    And then bow hunting, as it changed first from the long bow, to recurve and then to the -deadly and more accurate at longer distance- compound bows, and the evolving arrows they shoot.

    In each case, in my view, the skill of hunting has been sacrificed by more technology theoretically producing, higher success rates and ever longer, and maybe even chancier shots. And, to anyone who would say it ensures fewer wounded animals go unfound, I say BS. It just encourages shooters to take even more risky shots, like the idiot who thinks he can put five of five shots in a pie plate at a distance beyond say 250 yards ,in the case of a rifle. Or, who says he/she can put five of five arrows in the circumferance of two basketballs at forty in field conditions.

    Ah, but the change in bullet composition is a good thing.

  26. jerryB Avatar

    I’ve never used a trail camera, but have a non-hunting reason to set up a couple of them.
    Noticed that you recommended the Cuddeback….which model do you recommend? Also what are the usual “distance” limitations?
    And, flash or no flash?

  27. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    putting arrows in the circumference of two basket balls at 40 yards anywhere is a piss poor shot and needs to practice a whole lot more, our goal when shooting arrows is a group at 25 that can be covered by a quarter, which I can do regularly when I am getting ready for bow season with a compound, most of the time I choose to hunt with a long bow and I can cover a cup saucer sized group at 25 with that..

    Pie Pan at 250 with 5 shots, is actually quite easy…

    Now don’t take me wrong, I am NOT advocating the average shooter take longer shots, but for someone that is serious and practices all the time, either scenario is not difficult..

  28. bigbrowntrout Avatar

    I agree with save bears completely. I would bet up and down with my .243 that I could put five of five into a pie pan at 300 yards. However most people dont practice enough to do it. I grew up shooting with my father, I would run 100 rounds through a rifle before I ever took it into the field. I agree though that most dont ever practice and then go into the field and start lobbing shots.

    The taking of a life is serious business and sportsman need to understand that, and practice properly. Sadly most do not.

  29. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    Save Bears & Trout

    You both are undoubtedly the ethical and experienced exceptions.

    The average hunter -rifle especially- does not practice enough, and does not understand ballistics very well, including the effects of up or down hill angle on bullet trajectory at the longer distances. Furthermore, most do not practice under field conditions. A bench with sandbags at a range, or with a couple of blankets across the hood of the pick-up, and the time to take a deep breath and get the right amount out, while waiting between heartbeats is alot different than shooting down hill in a ten mile an hour cross wind at a moving target, maybe in the snow or rain. Try the pie plate then at 250, or even 100. I dare to say many shots are offhand with no rest. And, in my recent experience, more often at moving target in wolf country.

    One can only hope good judgment accompanies the longer or more challenging shot for every hunter.

  30. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Technology messes up a lot of outdoors experiences. I won’t bother to talk about obvious examples like motor vehicles.

    I’ve prided myself as being better than about anyone one at finding my way outdoors, with or without a map. I never used a compass.

    Nowadays, you see people out in the middle of the woods with their damn GPS.

  31. Cris Waller Avatar

    “Nowadays, you see people out in the middle of the woods with their damn GPS.”

    At least a GPS is quiet. My pet peeve is people on cell phones, or playing radios. Or, for that matter, just talking loudly about stupid things and scaring off all the wildlife for miles. And don’t get me started on people riding ATVs or dirt bikes in areas where they aren’t allowed…

  32. Cris Waller Avatar

    Oh- and another thing about people with a GPS- they may be geocaching, which does require one.

  33. Wilderness Muse Avatar
    Wilderness Muse

    I have attempted to raise the issue of cell phones in wilderness area and national park master planning over the last couple of years. The objective being to minimize their use, including the prohibition of building cell towers, or even radio repeating stations. I am not for either in wilderness areas. Both the FS and NPS have dodged the issue, not even really addressing it in their environmental impact statements. They just state something to the effect that incidental availablity of cell phone signals is helpful for rescue situations, and repeater stations which are used for dedicated Park Service radio communications do not affect visitors (well ya they do, the stupid towers and antennas weren’t ever in wilderness that I recall and they are ugly).

    On the other side of the issue, about four years ago I called in medical help for a woman I encountered high on Mt. Adams, who had just broken her leg while glissading (that is riding down a glacier on your butt, with your feet forward – she was wearing crampons, which is something you do not do). I requisitioned three cell phones from climbers each with a different carrier, and found one that got a signal to call 911.

  34. Cobra Avatar

    I’m with saves bears on the shooting issues, with bow, rifle or muzzle loader but probably have practiced more than most, we make it a point to practice and always find the best rest possible tree, prone or even sitting with knees for a rest. I can’t remember the last time I shot off-hand but I assure you it was a close range shot. This is the first year hunting with an in-line. I have a 54 cal. sidelock I made from the kit I have used for years but I kind of like the light weight of the in-line, the in-line I have now is still open to the weather and in Idaho we still must use loose powder and all lead bullets. I shot round balls in the 54 cal. and it amazed me how well they put down game. Most shots were with-in 30 yards on elk and deer but they did do quite well.
    I like having cell phones for hunting, it allows my 16 year old son and I to keep in touch texting each other, kind of sets my mind at ease when we split up.

  35. Ryan Avatar

    Jerry B,

    The cuddeback Capture is what I have, it works well. I like the IR because it is less intrusive than a flash and it makes it a little less noticible to ner do wells who will steal them. (also cudde backs are password protected so if they are stolen, the theif cant use them). The Moultries and bushnells aren’t bad either and can be bought cheaper.


    I agree on the compounds shooting faster giving people a false sense safe distance. I shoot a ton with my bow and pride myself at being able to put 5 arrows in a pie plate at 100 yards with my bow. It makes shots up to my 50 yard limit a breeze. The problem with long bow shots is the amount of time an arrow takes to reach the allows for too many variables (for example, it takes approximately 1 second for my arrow to travel 100 yards). Once again the constant factor is skill and knowledge of ones quarry, that allows for ethical humane kills.

  36. jerryB Avatar

    They’re on sale!!

  37. cc Avatar

    If you live in bear country you’ll also want to purchase a bear safe cover with your trail camera. It’s a metal case that fits over and around the camera. Otherwise the camera will get chewed on and mashed up. They’re available through Cabela’s and probably every other outdoors company that sells trail cameras.

  38. Ryan Avatar

    Does anyone know why bears like trail cameras so much? They seem to have a love affair with them.

  39. Cobra Avatar

    If you can find out how to keep the bears off trail cams let us know. I had what should of been some great pics of a couple good bulls and bucks. Problem was I had pics of a bear walking towards the cam and then a big black nose, teeth and a big tongue, needless to say all the pics after the bear are kind of blurry.

  40. Ryan Avatar


    I have a bunch of nose pics too. There is a guy locally who makes boxes out of 1/4 plate that seem to work, although they won’t do much for a nose smudge. I am working on a prototype one with a local fab guy that is spiked, although I am guessing the bears will just use it as a scratching post.

  41. josh sutherland Avatar
    josh sutherland

    Be careful with people stealing your cameras, thats big business in UT… 🙂


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Ralph Maughan