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Why is the risk of wounding so high when hunting game birds?

Hunting of ducks and quail, as well as other waterfowl classified as game, are shot using shotguns, which inevitably results in pain and suffering. With shotguns, the major determinant of wounding capacity using any given load is the ‘range’ or distance from the target. If hunters shoot at birds from too far away, the increasing dispersal and decreasing velocity of the shotgun pellets leads to increased wounding of the target birds and adjacent individuals. To bring down a game bird, the bird’s vital areas (i.e. head 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 an effective range, the dense shot pattern is likely to cause death rapidly. Death occurs from damage to vital organs, bleeding and shock.

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 volley might only be hit by a few pellets. Some of these wounded birds will fall to the ground and be retrieved by the hunter or his gundog, however some will not be found. Of the wounded birds that are not retrieved, some will eventually die from their injuries and other birds, that are only lightly injured, will survive with embedded pellets. Wounded birds can suffer from the disabling effects of the injury, from sickness due to infection of the wound, from pain created by the wound or from thirst or starvation if unable to drink or eat often due to injuries to the bill. Wing fractures, which increase the likelihood of being taken by a predator, are common in wounded birds.

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 opposes 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 end duck hunting.

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Updated on May 2, 2019
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