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What are the wounding rates associated with duck hunting?

Duck hunting using a shotgun causes inevitable pain and suffering as not every bird is killed outright.

The exact percentage of water birds that are wounded and left to suffer (i.e. are not retrieved) through recreational duck hunting is very difficult to determine with certainty. Based on studies from the northern hemisphere that have measured the incidence of embedded shotgun pellets, it is estimated that for certain species of water birds, nearly one bird is wounded for every one killed.

In Europe, there have been a number of studies to examine wounding of hunted game birds. For species of geese, 28-62% of individuals were found to contain embedded shot, whereas for sea ducks range of 25-35% has been reported. Many of the studies reporting wounding rates have used x-ray examination of live birds, so the reported figures are measuring the proportion of wounded birds that survive with embedded shot. The total number of birds wounded would thus include these surviving birds plus those that are seriously wounded and do not recover. This figure is virtually impossible to ascertain as a proportion of wounded birds will travel some distance before finally succumbing.

In North America, surveys of hunters by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) extending from the present back to the 1930s consistently show that hunters report an average annual wounding loss rate of 18%. However, it has been demonstrated that hunters do not see (or at least report) all the birds that they wound. Many North American research studies have been published involving trained observers that record the harvest efficiency of thousands of duck hunters in the field. These studies document wounding rates of more than 30%.

From the 1950s to the 1980s some surveys of water bird wounding losses in Australia were done, but no recent studies have been conducted. The results from six annual surveys conducted from 1977-1982 reported that NSW duck hunters estimated 9.9% of their total kill were “shot but not retrieved (i.e. cripples)”. Another study to examine the impact of hunting activity on black ducks, chestnut teals and mountain ducks in Victoria from 1972 to 1977, reported ‘cripple losses’ ranging from 14% to 33%. Also, an x-ray study of trapped live ducks in Victoria over the period from 1957 to 1973 reported that between 6% and 19% of ducks (depending on species and the average of 12.3) had embedded shot.

It is indisputable that duck hunting using a shotgun results in a significant number of ducks who are wounded, with a proportion who will survive and others who will not. Until contrary evidence is provided, it would appear that based on Australian studies, approximately 12% of birds shot will be wounded and survive, and 14% will be maimed/crippled but this could be as high as 33% (likely outcome is a slow and painful death).

On the basis of this evidence, we estimate that between 26% and 45% of birds shot will be wounded and will therefore experience pain and suffering.

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 this inevitable outcome of using a shotgun.

​The RSPCA is opposed to recreational duck hunting due to the inherent and inevitable pain and suffering caused.

How you can help

If your State has a declared open duck season, please contact the Minister responsible and your local MP to urge them to take action to end duck hunting.

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Updated on May 2, 2019
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