Shooting ducks with shotguns has always been cruel. But knowing how cruel hasn’t always been clear. Many duck shooters believe that if the duck doesn’t fall from the sky when they shoot it, then they missed; completely.
The truth is that if you sometimes hit a duck with enough pellets to make it fall from the sky, perhaps 4 or 5, then you will sometimes hit it with 1, 2 or 3 pellets. Perhaps the pellet will be in the guts and the duck will take days or weeks to die, or perhaps the pellet hit some fleshier part of the duck and it will recover. A shotgun pellet pattern is intrinsically random. Here is an example.
Why do we use it?
The big circle is about 75cm in diameter. Each of the pellets has a diameter similar to a roofing nail; which tells you something about the pain when it hits you. The two circles in the upper right are, respectively, the size of the vital area and the rest of the duck. They are drawn accurately to scale.
Let me explain.
Consider the following picture of a duck. If you were to measure the black vital region and draw a circle having that area in square centimeters, then it would be the size of the inner circle above … when scaled in relation to the big reference circle. Similarly with the slightly bigger circle around it.
As you shoot a shotgun at a duck, the chances of hitting it with 1 or more pellets in the vital region and causing life threatening injuries are the same as the chance of hitting that inner circle in the image above.
How do we know all this?
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the shotgun maker Winchester hung up and shot thousands of ducks in macabre research to investigate the killing power of shotguns. They wrote mathematical papers about it. For example:
Andrews, R., and J. R. Longcore. 1969. The killing efficiency of soft ironshot. Transactions of the North American Wildlife Conference 34:337–345
Kozicky, E., and J. Madson. 1973. Nilo shotshell efficiency test onexperimental mallard ducks, 1972–1973. Proceedings of the InternationalAssociation of Game, Fish, and Conservation Commissioners 63:100–117.
This research was done with the duck tied to a pole so that it could flap its wings as if flying and the gun was electrically aimed so as to hit the duck with the centre of the pellet pattern. Even so, wounding rates were horrific. For example, in the first of these studies, at a range of 40 yards, only 66 of 100 ducks were killed quickly. No real shooter is that good.
Paradoxically, shooters with good aim wound more ducks than shooters with bad aim. Why? It’s actually obvious when you think about it. Shooters go out hunting with a certain number of shells (1-2 boxes of 20). The good shooter can always get very close to the duck most of the time. The shooter with poor aim simply misses most of the time.
You can’t fix duck shooting with regulation. The physics is what it is. It’s the same now as in the 1960s (or 1900 for that matter). The papers above are hard to obtain but a more modern study was done in 2014 using shotguns to shoot Mourning Doves. These are much smaller than a duck, making them much easier to bring down. But the physics is the same. They recorded 1,146 doves “bagged” (meaning dead or wounded seriously enough to retrieved) and 739 escaping wounded. They recorded 3,209 doves as “missed”. As I said at the beginning, it is impossible to know if a duck (or dove) is missed from simple observation. Panic and terror will enable them to fly despite injuries.
Hunting is a dying activity. It has always been the most environmentally unsustainable form of eating meat, that’s why European Kings and Queens hung or otherwise punished poachers for centuries. If the peasants took to hunting en-masse, the Royal forests would be quickly denuded of “game”. Hunting is one of the few activities where proponents have to hope like hell that it doesn’t become popular … if it did, there’d be no wildlife left at all.
Here’s the situation in South Australia over the past 60 years. As you can see, despite a tripling in population size, hunter numbers just keep declining. For ducks, the number of shooters is now below 900. Why should we ban duck shooting rather than wait for it to die out of its own accord? Because 900 shooters will still wound thousands of ducks every year. It’s unconscionable.