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Why do some recreational hunters use a bow and arrow and is this type of hunting humane?

Some hunters use a bow and arrow to hunt animals because they consider it to be an ‘art’ or challenge that requires skill and patience. However, from an animal welfare perspective it results in significant pain and suffering. Wounding rates can be high, the time to death can be prolonged and animals remain conscious while they die from massive blood loss.

Bow hunters use either a longbow, recurve bow or compound bow with a broad-head arrow to kill animals. Compound bows are most commonly used as the system of wheels and cables along with sights, makes them easier to fire.

Crossbows are prohibited weapons in most states and are not permitted for hunting, however, they can still be used when hunting deer in Victoria as long as hunters hold the relevant government approval.

The same game species permitted to be hunted with a firearm can also be bow hunted (i.e. deer, feral pigs, feral goats, foxes, feral cats, wild dogs, rabbits and hares as well as game birds). The arrow is aimed at the chest to cause damage to the heart and lungs. Head shots are never used since deflection of the arrow is likely to occur from striking skull bones.

Bow hunting is regulated in NSW (by the Department of Primary Industries) and Victoria (by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries) but there are no specific bow hunting regulations in other states and territories.

Even when carried out by a competent marksman, it does not result in a rapid and humane death. When an animal is fatally shot with a bow, it can take several minutes for them to die; they will suffer severe pain over this period due to the trauma and damage to tissue and organs caused by an arrow entering the body.

In contrast, when an animal is shot with an appropriate firearm and ammunition by a trained and experienced shooter, death is instantaneous. Firearms deliver a percussive shock to the target animal which can delay the onset of pain, whereas arrows cause extensive damage without percussive shock. Based on assessments of animal welfare impacts using an established model [1], a head shot from a firearm is considered to achieve the most humane death when compared to other hunting methods. Ethically, there is no justification for using a method of killing that causes increased suffering when another more humane method is available.

The number of animals wounded (but not killed) by bow hunting is quite variable but can be very high. For example, with deer hunting, surveys of bow hunters indicate that between 12% and 48% of deer may escape whilst injured [2]. This is significantly higher than the reported 5% of wounded animals that escape when shot with a rifle by professional shooters. Wounded animals that are not retrieved and killed can suffer from the disabling effects of the injury, pain and wound infection.

When using a bow, hunters need to get very close (no more than 20 metres) to the target animal. The arrow’s flight path to the chest must be unobscured by leaves or branches or it might be deflected and hit another part of the body. It can also be difficult to follow and kill mobile injured animals if they escape into thick cover, rough terrain or other inaccessible areas. Furthermore, with animals that are injured and have gone down, it can be hard to get another shot into the chest with an arrow, depending on the position the animal is lying.

Proponents of bow hunting argue that the sport assists with pest animal management. However, for any pest animal control technique, it needs to be carried out as part of an integrated management program that focuses on reducing the adverse impacts of the target animals. In contrast, bow hunting is carried out as a sporting activity that focuses on the achievement of the individual hunter. There is no evidence that bow hunting makes any significant contribution to reducing the adverse impacts of pest animals in Australia.

The RSPCA is opposed to bow hunting because, even when carried out by a competent marksman, it does not result in a rapid and humane death.

How you can help

Please contact the Minister responsible for hunting regulations in your state and your local MP urging them to end bow hunting.


[1] Sharp T & Saunders G (2011) A model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods (Second edition). Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra, ACT. (accessed on Oct 8 2019)

[2] Gregory NG (2005). Bowhunting deer. Animal Welfare 14:111-116

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Updated on September 14, 2020
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