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How many ducks and quail are wounded due to recreational hunting?

In recreational duck and quail hunting people use a shotgun to shoot the birds; this causes inevitable pain and suffering as not every bird is killed outright. While no recent studies have been conducted, one historical report showed that on average nearly a quarter of ducks were wounded and not killed outright, but the figure could be as high as one third. No wounding rate figures are available for quail.

The RSPCA is opposed to recreational duck and quail hunting because wounding is inevitable, causing birds to suffer pain and distress.

Australian shelduck, used with permission from Jeff Groves Birds SA.

Why are so many birds wounded and not killed?

Negative animal welfare impacts associated with recreational hunting, particularly injuries, are recognised and reported [1]. During recreational hunting, native ducks and quail, as well as other waterfowl classified as game, are shot using shotguns. This inevitably results in pain and suffering because a shotgun releases a spray of pellets rather than a single bullet. To kill a game bird, the bird’s vital areas (i.e. brain or heart/lung) must be hit by pellets, but the chance of achieving a fatal shot decreases the further the bird is from the shooter. If the bird is flying alone and shot from a relatively close range, a large number of pellets are likely to hit vital organs increasing the chances of causing death rapidly. Death occurs from damage to vital organs, bleeding and shock. However, if a bird is shot at by a hunter from too far away, the pellets will spread further out and, coupled with the reduced pellet velocity, this will result in the wounding of both the target bird and the birds surrounding it, inevitably leading to pain and suffering.

If duck hunters shoot at a group of flying birds rather than aiming for an individual bird, there will always be a high risk of wounding, irrespective of how competent the shooter is. A bird hit by the central cluster of pellets will usually be killed quickly and fall to the ground, but those at the perimeter of the pellet spread might only be hit by a few pellets, which may not hit a vital organ. A study which used a mathematical model to examine the pellet cluster pattern reported that for every two ducks killed, at least one would be wounded and that even competent shooters cannot avoid wounding birds. This is because shotguns spray a multitude of pellets at a group of birds, rather than targeting an individual bird [2]. Some of the wounded birds will fall to the ground and be retrieved by the hunter or their gundog, but some will not be found. Wounded birds not retrieved and killed will suffer; some will eventually die from their injuries and birds with less serious injuries may survive with embedded pellets. Wounded birds can suffer from the pain and disabling effects of the injury, from sickness due to wound infection, or from thirst or starvation. Injuries to the bill often lead to an inability to drink or eat. Wing fractures are also common and, as with other injuries, the wounded bird is at a heightened risk of being taken by a predator.

Measures such as decoys, duck callers and using dogs to retrieve downed birds may help to reduce the number of ducks wounded but will never eliminate birds being wounded by using a shotgun.

How many ducks are wounded?

From the 1950s to the 1980s, some surveys of water bird wounding losses in Australia were done, but no recent studies have been conducted. A study which examined the impact of hunting activity on four species of native ducks in Victoria from 1972 to 1977, reported 14% to 33% of birds were wounded but not retrieved [3]. Duck hunting also results in a significant number of surviving ducks with shotgun pellets embedded in their body. An x-ray study of trapped live ducks (of mixed species) in Victoria from 1957 to 1973 reported that between 6% and 19% of ducks had embedded shot [4].

It is indisputable that duck hunting using a shotgun results in a substantial number of ducks being wounded, with some individuals surviving, whilst others will suffer before eventually dying. Until evidence to the contrary is provided, it appears that based on Australian studies, approximately 26% of birds shot will be wounded or maimed/crippled [3]. Of these, approximately 12% will be wounded and survive, and approximately 14% will be maimed/crippled but this could be as high as 33%. The likely outcome for wounded, maimed or crippled birds is a slow and painful death.

For more information please contact your local RSPCA.


[1] Hampton JO & Hyndman TH (2018) Underaddressed animal-welfare issues in conservation. Conservation Biology 33(4):803-811.

[2] Russell G (1994) Shotgun wounding characteristics. Maple Tech: Maple in Mathematics and the Sciences (Special Issue). Boston: Birkhauser, pp 17-20.

[3] Norman FI & Powell DGM (1981) Rates of recovery of bands, harvest patterns and estimates for black duck, chestnut teal, grey teal and mountain duck shot during Victorian open seasons, 1953-77. Australian Wildlife Research 8:659-664.

[4] Norman FI (1976) The incidence of lead shotgun pellets in waterfowl (Anatidae and Rallidae) examined in south-eastern Australia between 1957 and 1973. Australian Wildlife Research 3:61-71.

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Updated on February 8, 2023
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