Loons & Lead: What’s on the Line?

Learn about the negative impacts lead has on loons and what you can do to be part of the solution.

What’s on the Line?

Sporting activities like hunting and fishing don’t have to come at the cost of the environment in which they’re enjoyed. When lead tackle is lost to the lake, we’re the ones on the hook for its consequences. Lead is a toxic substance for consumption, and its unnatural presence in our lakes is destructive to wildlife and ecological stability. While its cost is cheap, its convenience comes at the expense of the environment. With the future of our loons and lakes on the line, what’s on yours?


Because of its cheap price and its dense physical properties, lead became an industry standard material for hunting ammunition and fishing supplies such as jigs and sinkers. But the more popular it became for various sporting activities, the more problematic it became for the environment. Lead is a dangerous substance to dispose of and poisonous for consumption. In 1991, lead shot was federally banned for waterfowl hunting due to its drastic effect on waterbird populations. But lead products are still widely used and remain in circulation for other sporting activities. When it’s used by hunters and anglers, lead inevitably makes its way into the environment and instigates drastic complications and fatalities for wildlife. But there are other options. Stop using lead, and lead the way – lead-free.

Loons & Lead

Lead poisoning is the cause of 20% of loon mortalities in Minnesota. Loons will swallow small stones on the bottom of the lake to assist in digestion, and it is very easy for them to mistake a lost piece of lead tackle for a small pebble. Loons also ingest lead by eating fish that are carrying lead jigs and sinkers. The consequences of lead use in our sporting endeavors is not immediately noticeable to us, but it is to the natural world that we love. Without a change, we will soon notice, too.

Domino Effect

Some animals, like loons, waterfowl,  and upland game birds, are directly poisoned by unknowingly ingesting lead. Predatory birds like eagles and other raptors feed on the remains of these animals, as well as gut piles from game harvests, and oftentimes clean up after lost and wounded game. As a result, one lead fragment can very easily work its way up the food chain and poison multiple animals. Whether the process begins with a fish, a bird, or a big game animal, it always starts with us.

Non-Toxic Alternatives

Sporting activities such as hunting and fishing should not come at the cost of the environment in which they’re enjoyed. Fortunately, there are options to hunt and fish responsibly that will preserve the intrinsic nature of these sporting activities for generations to come.

Fishing Lead-Free

The use of lead in fishing most directly impacts loons. Primarily used for sinkers and jigs, lead is favorable to anglers because its density enables it to drop through the water quickly. But not many people realize that some alternatives, like tungsten, have even denser physical properties. Inevitably, tackle will be lost to the lake – but when it’s lost, we don’t need to be on the hook for poisoning the environment. These non-toxic materials are leading the way in the fishing industry:

  • Tungsten
  • Tin
  • Steel
  • Brass

Hunting Lead-Free

Despite the federal ban of lead shot for hunting over water in 1991, lead still remains in wide circulation for other types of hunting. While dense, lead is a very soft metal. When used in rifle hunting, lead has been shown to leave behind considerable traces of fragments large enough to poison raptors that feed on wounded game or gut piles. While we might hunt for game animals, we can kill protected animals by using lead. Look for these materials instead:

  • Steel
  • Copper
  • Bismuth
  • Tungsten


Sporting Lead-Free


Sporting Lead-Free is a Wyoming-based organization of hunters and anglers with a non-political, educational initiative that works to reduce inadvertent lead consumption by wildlife and people through the voluntary choice of lead-free ammunition and tackle. Visit their site to gather additional insight on the affects of lead in the environment, view informative videos on the properties and dangers of lead, and gain tips and proper instructions on how to make the switch away from lead bullets, shot, or tackle.

Get The Lead Out


Get The Lead Out is a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) educational program intended to protect and restore the population of common loons in Minnesota. In the early 2000’s, a similar MPCA program held over 200 tackle exchanges that collected over 8,000 lbs of lead, distributed 50,000 sample packets of lead-free tackle, and created displays of lead-free tackle at retail stores. Visit their site to learn more about where to find lead-free fishing tackle and how to get involved in the advancements being made towards clean sporting.

Lead Drop Off Form

If you dropped off lead at the outdoor exhibit, please enter your name and email address for a chance to win prizes and NLC merchandise. Thank you!

Lead Drop Off Form