The Game Management Authority will shortly release a field guide for duck hunters, but SSAA Victoria has some concerns about its real-world application. The Guidelines for the humane dispatch of downed ducks has been designed to provide information to hunters on how to humanely dispatch a duck that is not killed outright.
The objective of every ethical hunter is to immediately kill any duck they target with a single shot. There are numerous variables in play in the hunting environment and a single-shot kill does not happen in every instance. There are times when the bird will need to be dispatched following a shot that is not immediately fatal.
The education of hunters to improve their knowledge and skills to ensure they can competently and humanely dispatch a wounded bird is fully supported. The concept of a field guide to assist hunters in gaining that requisite knowledge was also supported by SSAA Victoria. The humane treatment of animals when hunting is a priority for the Association and its hunting Code of Ethics reflects this position.
The Association was pleased to have the opportunity to provide advice and feedback to GMA during the development of the guide. The key points identified by the Association were that the directions in the guide needed to be accurate, simple and practically applicable in a field hunting setting.
The guide, as published, does not meet those criteria. At 24 pages it is overly long, complicated and prescriptive. A two-page flow chart reinforces the academic, rather than practical, nature of the publication. SSAA Victoria had significant concerns with parts of the draft guide and made constructive suggestions to GMA on how to make improvements to it.
There is some good information contained within the guide and hunters will be able to take something from it. However, the Association considers the prescriptive nature of the document to be a significant risk to hunters. Some of the techniques advocated are not practical in many hunting situations and some that are deemed “unacceptable” are both effective and humane.
The guide purports to demonstrate “best practice” but uses abattoir standards as a benchmark. The listing of “unacceptable methods of dispatch” potentially leaves hunters liable to prosecution under animal cruelty legislation if they utilise any of those methods, even though they may be both humane and effective.
The Association is concerned that hunters may not have a defence to charges of cruelty if they do not follow the so-called “best-practice” outlined in the guide, even though they are not always appropriate.
A check of the references used to develop the guide shows only one that is applicable to duck hunting. The Association considers that The Code of Practice for duck hunting in Tasmania (sic) is relevant to the topic. The entire code is only 16 pages and there is a single paragraph relating to dispatching a wounded duck. Simple, clear, concise and practical information. The Victorian Guide would have benefitted from following the Tasmanian example.
The rest of the references relate to domestic animal production, transport and slaughter or the scientific use of animals. They are appropriate for their intended purpose but the Association questions their relevance and applicability in a field hunting setting. It is not practical to expect hunters in a field environment, usually a swamp, to be able to deal with an isolated wild duck in the same way that an abattoir kills large numbers of domesticated poultry in a controlled environment.
GMA has sourced references from Canada and the UK for killing poultry in a controlled environment but has not sourced any references from the USA or elsewhere on dispatching hunted waterfowl. Given that the issue is a hunting one, “best practice” should reflect hunting best practice, not best practice for the commercial slaughter of poultry.
SSAA Victoria expects hunters to act legally, ethically and humanely when hunting ducks. Hunters have a legal responsibility to recover and kill ducks immediately if they are not killed outright by the shot. The Association expects that appropriate education and training be available to hunters to ensure they have the required knowledge and skills to be able to do that. Such training and education need to be able to be practically applied in the field.
The Association recognises the positive intent of GMA in developing the guide. However, it considers the published product to be a significant missed opportunity to produce something of genuine worth for hunters. Rather than having a simple, accurate and practical guide to help them humanely dispatch a wounded duck, Victorian hunters have been burdened with an academic and politically correct document that is only likely to have negative consequences for them.
SSAA Victoria works co-operatively with GMA and other government agencies on many hunting issues and will continue to do so. There is a lot of common ground. However, it will always advocate on behalf of its members’ best interests and will not shy away from criticism of actions or policy positions that threaten those interests.
The Association was not shown the final guide until after it was printed. It will continue to push for amendments to future editions of the guide to ensure that it provides practical advice that will improve humane outcomes without threatening hunters with the possibility of unwarranted cruelty charges.