Parliamentary Middle Way group on Hunting with Dogs

View the full text of the article ‘Wounding rates in shooting foxes’. Published by Animal Welfare 2005.

Summary of the article:
Although large numbers of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are shot in Britain each year, little is known of the welfare implications of this. When foxes are shot at and escape it is impossible to discern what proportion are wounded or to investigate the nature of those wounds.

Both shotguns and rifles are used to shoot foxes and we observed and filmed foxes shot at by all the main methods. We obtained data from the Scottish gun packs for the 2002-2003 season documenting the outcomes of 574 shots fired at 386 live foxes. This revealed an average kill rate of 55% (range 20-79%) for all shots fired, but did not permit exact calculations of wounding rates because some foxes escaped.

We undertook target fox shooting and examined 51 different shooting regimes: 35 shotgun regimes including .410 and 12 bore shotguns using No 6, BB or AAA shot sizes at 25, 40 and 60 yards, using open choke and full choke barrels, and shooters that were skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled. We undertook 16 rifle regimes using both rimfire and centrefire rifles at 50, 100 and 150 yards from both supported and unsupported positions and by day and by night. Shoots took place in England, Wales and Scotland and involved 199 shooters, of which those in the skilled categories frequently shoot real foxes and used their usual fox guns for the tests.

The targets were life size colour paper sheets, cut to the silhouette of a trotting fox, traced from a frozen longitudinal section of a real fox and mapped with the internal anatomy. For shotgun trials the targets moved both right and left across an 8 or 10 yard gap taking 3 or 3.5 seconds to cross. For rifle trials the targets were static and exposed for 4 seconds.

15 dead foxes shot with the same ammunition, range and angle were supplied to independent pathologists for them to assess internal injuries caused by each shooting regime. Penetration of ammunition was also tested in comparative card penetration tests.

1283 shotgun shots and 885 rifle shots were fired during the trials and the outcome of these shots was scored by two independent pathologists as killed, two or three grades of wounding, or missed. The shotgun results showed a trend; as shooter skill increased the kill rate increased, missing decreased but wounding stayed much the same at around 60%. No 6 shot was a major source of wounding, even at 25 yards because of poor penetration, at 40 yards wounding reached 97%. AAA suffered from poor pattern density beyond 40 yards, even well-centred shots having insufficient
pellets to ensure that a vital organ is hit. Up to 40 yards both AAA and BB performed well, BB being the shot size of choice tested. We did not trial No 3 or No 4 shot. .410 shotguns with No 6 shot are totally unsuitable for foxes, wounding but seldom killing.

Rifles killed considerably more than shotguns and wounded less. High-powered rifles in skilled hands were accurate, even at 150 yards (the furthest we trialled) both by night as well as by day. Poor
marksmanship due to inexperience or lack of a gun support lowered this standard. A bullet from a high-powered rifle causes death or fatal injury quickly when hitting almost anywhere on the thorax, skilled shooters under good conditions scoring about 97%.

The welfare consequences of this wounding and mitigating factors such as the use of second shots or dogs are discussed. Ways in which welfare can be assessed and compared across different methods
are outlined.

Abstracts are available online at the UFAW website;

Copies as published are available free from International Wildlife Consultants. Please contact us if you are interested.
Joint authors: NC Fox, N Blay, AG Greenwood, D Wise and E Potapov.


Animal Welfare

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