Firing at ducks: it’s too hit or miss

Each year, the sound of gunfire destroys the peace and tranquillity of some of our state’s precious wetlands. Unlike other states, South Australia still allows shooters to kill and maim native waterbirds during a designated season.

The 2020 season runs from March 28 until May 31. On any day during this period, shooters can fire at native waterbirds from 15 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

RSPCA South Australia believes there is no justification for killing and injuring native waterbirds purely for ‘sport’. It is cruel and unnecessary.

For every bird killed, another is wounded or maimed

Birds shot with a shotgun while in flight often fall wounded, but not dead. That’s because shotgun cartridges create a spray of pellets, which often miss a bird’s vital organs.

Up to 45 per cent of waterbirds are wounded, not killed outright, by shotgun pellets, according to some Australian estimates. But with little formal monitoring, accurate statistics are difficult to obtain. Some estimates place the injury rate significantly higher.

A slow, painful death awaits many injured birds, left unable to feed or escape from predators. The video below shows the reality of duck shooting. WARNING: contains graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.

8 in 10 South Aussies agree duck shooting should be banned

Three Australian states have already banned recreational duck shooting – Western Australia in 1990, NSW in 1995, and Queensland in 2005.

When Queensland’s then-premier Peter Beatty announced the ban on duck shooting more than a decade ago, he said it was “not an appropriate activity in contemporary life”.

Yet, this activity continues here in South Australia, despite broad community support for a ban.

Research conducted in SA in 2011 found that, once respondents learned of the high rate of birds wounded but not killed outright, 83 per cent of respondents agreed that recreational duck shooting should not be allowed to continue (McGregor Tan Research, 2011).  

SA permit system fails to ensure waterbirds shot have a humane death

Shooters on public land do need to apply for permits and abide by rules that include bag limits. In the 2019 season, shooters are permitted to take 8 ducks per day, four less than in the 2018 season. Shooters are also required to pass a once-only Waterfowl Identification Test.

Following very dry conditions, especially interstate, duck numbers in South Australia have been boosted by migration from dry areas – but that doesn’t mean numbers are sufficient to warrant shooting. A 2017 report (the most recent publicly available report) concluded: “Most game species abundances were well below long-term averages, in some cases by an order of magnitude.”

And, with little or no monitoring in the field, it is impossible to know if threatened species such as the Blue-winged Shoveler are among the birds brought down.

Despite the need for shooters to kill an injured bird as humanely as possible, permits also do not require shooters to undertake training or demonstrate competency in this crucial skill. 

In 1993, shooters were required to replace lead shot with non-toxic shot because the lead shot was contaminating waterways and poisoning native wildlife. Compliance with the Code of Practice for the Humane Destruction of Birds by Hunting in South Australia is also a condition of the shooting permit. This code states that:

  • Only one bird should be targeted at any one time.
  • Shooting at a flock is unacceptable.
  • Injured birds must be killed as quickly and humanely as possible.

But again – who is checking that any of this happens? A recent government commissioned review of Victoria’s Game Management Authority found that the GMA’s inability to ensure compliance with hunting laws had seriously undermined its credibility as an independent and effective regulator.

Read more on the GMA’s compliance and enforcement function here.

It’s important to note that not all waterbird habitat in South Australia is on Crown Land. Many wetlands are located on privately owned properties. Landowners, and shooters acting on behalf of the landowner, do not require a shooting permit when shooting on private land.

Duck shooting: what we want

The only way to protect birds from the inevitable suffering caused by recreational duck shooting is to ban it.

The inclusion of a new regulation under the South Australian Animal Welfare Act would be a quick and easy way to make the shooting of our native waterbird illegal.

How you can help push for change

Your voice truly can help make a difference. Email our Premier and State Environment Minister using this simple form, and ask that they support a ban on duck shooting in South Australia.

And in the interim, while duck shooting continues, ask our leaders to prohibit the use of shotguns for duck shooting, since it is almost impossible to humanely kill birds using this weapon.

Page last updated: February 27, 2019.