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Bald eagle is king of the gut pile in trail camera photo

A bald eagle swoops in to chase a hawk from a gut pile in this Nov. 7 trail camera photo in northern Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Birchem)

Jeff Birchem, a retired Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who lives near Roosevelt, Minn., shared this trail camera photo from early November during Minnesota's firearms deer season.

"This rough legged hawk thought he was king of the gut pile till this eagle came along," Birchem writes.

Birchem and his family are among a growing number of deer hunters who have made the switch from lead to copper bullets in recent years. He wrote about the switch to copper bullets and their benefits in a November 2017 article that appeared in the Herald and several other Forum News Service outlets. That story is available at

Besides offering similar or better performance to lead bullets, copper bullets are safer for bald eagles and other critters that feed on gut piles left after deer are field-dressed. Research from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center has shown a spike in lead poisoning incidents among eagles when deer season begins because of the number of birds feeding on gut piles left behind in the field. Lead fragments from the bullets are left in the gut piles and cause the poisoning to occur, sometimes with fatal consequences.

A Herald story from Oct. 28, 2012 cited results from the Raptor Center's research, which was published in the spring of 2012:

"From 1996 to 2009, 26 percent of the 1,247 bald eagles admitted to the Raptor Center had elevated lead levels, the study showed. Tests of birds that died also showed traces from the copper jackets that coat lead bullets in many of the eagles, further strengthening the connection."

Additional information on the research is available on the Raptor Center website at

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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