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Is recreational hunting an effective form of pest animal management?

The answer is no, although pest animal management sometimes involves the ground shooting of animals as a control method, it is different to hunting in a number of ways. For example:


Pest animal management programs are carried out with the aim of reducing the negative impacts on agricultural production and natural resource systems, using the most humane, target specific, cost effective and efficacious techniques available. In contrast, most hunting is primarily done as a desire to kill pest or game animals as a recreational activity.


Pest animal management programs must be carefully planned and coordinated to have a desired and lasting effect. Most recreational hunting is done on an ad-hoc basis. There is no defined objective, no planning, monitoring or assessment of effectiveness. The methods used by hunters are labour intensive, expensive and not effective in reducing populations of pest animals over large areas for the long term.

The following comparison reveals the ineffectiveness of recreational hunting of feral pigs compared with government coordinated pest animal management control programs:

  • The NSW Game Council has reported that 73,000 game and feral animals, including 11,079 feral pigs, were removed through hunting activities from declared State forests across NSW in the 6 years from 2006-2012.
  • In contrast, in 2012 in a single region in NSW, local livestock and catchment management authorities worked together to undertake three large-scale, integrated programs, conducted over several weeks and covering an area of approximately 1.6 million hectares, to kill almost 10,000 feral pigs.

This means that recreational hunting removed roughly the same amount of feral pigs over a 6-year period that were removed by a coordinated and planned feral pig management program conducted over a matter of weeks.

Animals targeted

Pest animal management programs target all animals including females and young. Whereas hunters will often target large trophy males and leave behind females and/or young to maintain a sustainable harvest for the future.

Methods used

Pest animal management programs take an integrated approach and use a variety of methods depending on the species targeted e.g. poison baiting, trapping, habitat manipulation, mustering, exclusion, biological control, etc. Ground shooting is sometimes used as a control method, but for most species and in most situations shooting by itself is not an effective way to significantly reduce animal numbers and is of limited use to achieve long-term control.

Hunters use ground shooting, bowhunting and ‘sticking’ (or stabbing) with a knife to kill animals. All of these methods are labour intensive, expensive and are inefficient for the long-term control of pest animals. They are used primarily because they are a test of the skills and technical competence of the hunter, not because they are useful for managing the impacts of pest animals.

Some of the methods used by professional pest animal controllers are more humane than those used by hunters. For example, in some situations aerial shooting has been assessed as being more humane than ground shooting since the distance from the shooter to the animal is much shorter and any wounded animals can be followed up quickly. Also, shooting of deer at night with the aid of a spotlight causes less stress to the deer compared with recreational hunting where deer are only permitted to be shot during daylight hours.

Competence of operators

Operators conducting pest animal management programs are highly skilled and experienced with firearms and hold the appropriate licences and accreditation. If they are shooting animals they must undergo shooting proficiency tests and must always act in a professional manner. For example, operators who participate in aerial shooting operations are competent marksmen who hold an appropriate licence and are specifically trained for the task (e.g. NSW Feral Animal Aerial Shooter Training (FAAST) course, NT Parks and Wildlife Advanced Firearms course, QLD Biosecurity Aerial Platform Marksmanship Course).

In contrast, hunters have highly variable skill levels and there is no shooting competency test required to acquire a hunting licence. In a survey of hunters carried out by the University of Queensland in 2012, 58% of 6,892 hunters said they had not done any accredited hunter training. Disturbingly, in some states, young children can hunt animals under a junior hunting licence. In Queensland the minimum age is only 11 years old, in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales it is 12 years of age. Junior licences are free in some jurisdictions and may have fewer conditions than adult licences.

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.

Is recreational hunting an effective and humane form of pest animal management in National Parks?

Recreational hunting causes inevitable pain and suffering to animals and is not an effective form of pest management. In the limited circumstances where shooting is carried out as part of a pest animal management program, professional marksmen have been shown to be more effective than recreational hunters.

For example, in the Gum Lagoon Conservation Park in South Australia, 65 recreational hunters over 4 days were only able to kill 44 deer, while one professional marksman in a helicopter was able to kill 182 deer in 4 hours. In Tasmania, an investigation into wallaby shooting methods found that in two nights of shooting, a single professional marksman achieved the same level of population reduction as four recreational shooters were able to achieve in a year.

Professional marksmen are also proficient at shooting animals humanely. During a cull of 856 wild impala in the Mkuzi Game Reserve, South Africa by a marksman, 93% of animals were killed with only one shot (to the head) and 6% were wounded and then killed. The average survival time for wounded animals was 30 seconds. No animals escaped wounded. The animals were hunted at night with the aid of a spotlight to reduce animal stress prior to shooting and to ensure a high proportion of animals were killed instantaneously. In this example, the level of instantaneous unconsciousness quickly followed by death is comparable to what is achieved in commercial abattoirs (>94 % stunned instantly).

Undoubtedly some recreational hunters are highly skilled at shooting, but there are many who are not. In New Zealand, 5% of recreational hunters account for more than half of all deer shot for sport, leaving the majority of hunters with limited experience of shooting animals. The picture is similar in Australia. Even more disturbing is that junior hunting licences are given to children as young as 11 years’ old. It is very doubtful that children of this age would have the skills, knowledge and motivation to kill animals in a humane and efficient manner. Also, there is no requirement for hunters to demonstrate shooting competency as a condition of licensing. Given that one of the main factors influencing animal welfare is operator skill, a shooter skills test should be mandatory. Of greater concern is the fact that there have been no independent audits of wounding rates of animals shot by recreational hunters. Until such studies are done recreational hunters cannot make claims regarding the humaneness of their hunting.

The RSPCA is opposed to 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.

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Updated on May 1, 2019
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