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Ground shooting by professional pest animal controllers is considered to be the most effective and humane technique currently available for reducing wild deer populations. A national standard operating procedure for the ground shooting of wild deer by authorised personnel within managed parks and reserves describes how this is done.
To minimise animal stress, culling operations are done in accessible areas at night from a vehicle with the aid of a spotlight. A red filter is placed over the spotlight to reduce the amount of light seen by the deer and rifles fitted with sound suppressors are also sometimes used to reduce animal disturbance and facilitate accurate shooting. Dogs are not used at any stage during a professional culling program.
The aim is to shoot all animals in a group to prevent social disruption and distress in surviving animals. Shooting is conducted with the appropriate firearms and ammunition and in a manner which aims to cause immediate insensibility and painless death.
Shots to the head are preferred over chest shots as they are more likely to cause instantaneous loss of consciousness. Fawns/calves and juveniles are shot before shooting mature deer in case they escape and cannot be located. The target animals in a group are checked to ensure they are dead before moving on to the next group of animals.
However, this standard operating procedure does not apply to the recreational hunting of deer which is regulated by the relevant state agencies responsible for hunting. The NSW and Victorian regulations state that ‘hunting of deer at night is prohibited’ and ‘a spotlight or artificial source of light cannot be used to hunt deer’. The reason why is given on the Victorian DPI website:
“The avoidance behaviour and cryptic nature of deer makes them difficult to hunt during daylight hours. However, at night under a spotlight, they are particularly vulnerable and may be easily shot. Spotlighting of deer has the potential to increase the total seasonal harvest, reducing hunting opportunity for law-abiding hunters. The majority of illegal spotlighting activity occurs from vehicles on public roads or thoroughfares, compounding the potential for firearm-related incidents. The use of spotlights and electronic devices to hunt game is also considered to be unethical”.
Also, recreational deer hunters usually target the chest, rather than the head, to preserve the antlers for trophies. A chest shot causes more suffering than a well-placed head shot because it does not render the animal instantaneously insensible. Hunters often kill the larger males and leave smaller animals and dependent young, which can result in a disrupted social group as well as distressed and orphaned young. Thus, recreational deer hunters are keen to ensure ample deer for future harvest with much less emphasis placed on the welfare of hunted deer or to contributing to effective population control. In contrast, standard operating procedures for professional deer shooters aim to ensure the humane and efficient killing of deer.
The RSPCA opposes recreational hunting, or the act of stalking or pursuing an animal and then killing it for sport, due to the inherent and inevitable pain and suffering caused.