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Correspondence in the Journal Animal Welfare (added 25.3.05)

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Correspondence in Animal Welfare concerning welfare and stag-hunting

LETTERS - Animal Welfare 2001, 10: 113-117

Deer hunting and welfare


Bradshaw and Bateson (2000a) wrote 'overall we judge that the welfare costs associated with hunting red deer were higher than those associated with stalking and reducing the welfare costs associated with hunting was much less feasible than reducing those associated with stalking'. Others have reached the opposite conclusion (eg Harris et al [1999]; Wise [1999]; and submissions by Geist, Denny and Marriage to the Bums Inquiry and recorded in the CD published with Burns et al [2000]). Savage et al (1993) concluded that the communal hunting methods which regard the deer as a valued and respected quarry species, should lie at the heart of the management of the herds.

Both methods have positive and negative physiological and psychological effects on the deer. An assessment of welfare impact can he made by multiplying the severity and duration of the problem (Broom & Johnson 1993). I have argued elsewhere that, based on a comparison of the short-duration, low degree, and reversible stress of hunting, with the long-duration, severe and irreversible suffering of mis-shot deer, hunting methods are kinder by a factor of at least 10. Head and neck shots are not recommended because of the risk of non-fatal wounding and body-shot deer do not die instantly. Many take several minutes to insensibility and death (Green 1992).

The wounding rates quoted by Bradshaw and Bateson (2000b) were 'optimistic in the sense that they represented a best case scenario'. My own enquiries and analysis suggest that a figure of 15 per cent walking wounded is more realistic. This is confirmed by studies of casualties found by the hunts (Wise 1999; White 2000). Deer wounding rates have been variously estimated at 8 per Cent, 26 per cent and 42 per cent in LSA (Nobel 1974; McCaffery 1984; Gladfelter 1985). In 1984 the Farm

Animal Welfare Council reported concern that in the field slaughter of farmed deer, one shot accuracy ranged from 75 per cent to 100 per cent.

Batchelor (1968) showed the effects of stalking as a form of damaging harassment, causing deer to become nervous, nocturnal, less visible and to seek refuge in poorer quality areas, where they shrank in body size, reduced reproduction, declined in numbers and, for some time, stayed faithful to the poor habitat without colonising the good habitat. Erlandson personal communication 2000) illustrated that rifles are unknown in the evolutionary development of deer. These negative physiological and psychological effects were not allowed for by Bateson (1997).

Those interested in the sound management and welfare of the West Countrv's deer herds should be aware of the consequences, listed below, of the bans on deer hunting that have been imposed by the National Trust and the Forestry Commission on following the publication of Bateson's (1997) report.

  1. The number of deer killed on the National Trust's Holnicote Estate have more than doubled, according to the Trust's stalker Mr Charles Harding, who wrote in his testimony to the Burns Inquiry (recorded in the CD published with Burns et al [2000]) explaining the complex factors which have brought about this situation as follows':
    'The deer on the Holnicote Estate are no longer being dispersed by the Staghounds, consequently the tenants are experiencing serious deer damage problems. The deer are ruining their crops and hedges. Without hunting the only way to deal with this problem is to shoot the deer. In 1998 I shot 83 deer on the Estate, the figure for 1999 was 34 deer, for this current season my projected cult is about 40 deer. The ten years prior to the ban when the deer management was carried out by the Devon and Somerset staghounds, I only shot 10-15 deer each year on the Estate. During this period there was far less deer damage, and what there was tolerated to a far greater degree not only because o£ the tradition, popularity and most importantly the underlying social cohesion but the tenants also knew the hounds would be back regularly to disperse the deer over nine months of the year'.
    'The National Trust has no deer management co-operation with its neighbours, in the past the Devon and Somerset Staghounds have always provided a comprehensive Deer Management Service, however, now when the deer go over the Fstate boundaries they are legally shot or taken by poachers. More often it is ihe stags that are killed. Up until the ban we have always had a lovely bunch of stags on my ground, now we have none, they have all been legally shot whilst on neighbouring ground or poached. The bottom line, in welfare terms for the deer, on the Holnicote Estate, is that they are considered a greater pest than before; they are worth far more money dead than alive and, to some people paradoxically, now that thev are no longer under the Staghounds Deer Management umbrella they are dying in far greater numbers. If the Government bans deer hunting, the Red Deer of the West Country will suffer immeasurably and the social cohesion of a unique area will be destroyed; what a most dreadful, dreadful thought.'
  2. As a result of increased shooting, the herd appears to have become more nervous and difficult to see.
  3. It is feared that the deer will come to be considered a greater pest and, subject to commercial exploitation and uncon-trolled shooting, numbers will decline.
  4. Without hunting, during which hounds and staff gain the necessary experience, access rights and local knowledge, the free deer casualty service, which both the National Trust and Forestry Commission have used to dispatch sick or injured deer, would not operate.
  5. The number of casualty deer found and dealt with by the hunt services has declined because of restrictions on where the hunt can go, It seems likely that more casualties now suffer lingering deaths. The timely resolution of casualty problems has always laid beyond the scope of stalking and the stalker's dogs, which unlike deer hounds, are not bred and trained to search for and bring to bay distressed deer.
  6. A ban on hunting would deprive many or these magnificent creatures with a sporting chance of escape and the dignity of the best prospect of an instantaneous death on their own favourite territory away from the herd. They have no premonition of death and have become, over their lives, familiar with the hounds. Provided they are not diverted from the routes they know and choose, they remain calm and in control of the situation, choosing when to stand at bay or to remain in a resting or hiding position. The highest quality glycogen-depleted venison is then fairly distributed to the farmers who tolerate high levels of damage, feed the deer and accept high numbers.
  7. The hunt bans threaten many associated rural industries, including tourism. It is estimated that deer hunt supporters contribute over, 4 million to the rural economy (Centre for Rural Studies 1993).

The hunts are run by farmers for farmers, to meet their responsibilities in caring for the herds of wild red deer, as they would care for their herds of domesticated animals. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no comparable alternative to this superb example of species management.

Edmund Marriage Cirencester UK


Batchelor C L 1968 Compensatory responses of artificially controlled mammalian populations.

Proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society 15: 25-30

Bateson P 1997 The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Wild Red Deer. Report to the Council of the National Trust. The National Trust. London, UK

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000a Welfare implications of culling red deer. Animal Welfare 9. 3-24

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000b Deer hunting. Animal Welfare P.341-342

Broom D M and Johnson K G 1993 Stress and Animal Welfare. Chapman & Hall: London, UK

Burns T, Edwards V. Marsh J, Soulsby L and Winter M 2000 Report of the Committee of Inquiry into to Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales. The Stationery Office: London, UK

Centre for Rural Studies 1 993 Economic and Social Aspects of of Deer Hunting on Exmoor and the Quantocks. Royal Agricultural College: Cirencester, UK

Gladfelter H L 1985 Deer in Iowa, Iowa Wildlife Research Bulletin No. 38. Iowa Department of Natural Resources: USA

Green P l992 Killing deer. Stalking Magazine (November 1992): 21-23

Harris R C, HelIiweII T R, Shingleton W, Stickland N and Naylor J R J 1999 The

Physiological Response of Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) to Prolonged Exercise Undertaken During Hunting (Joint Universities Study on Deer Hunting). R&W Publications: Newmarket, UK

McCaffery K R 1984 On 'crippling' semantics. Wildlife Society Bulletin 13: 360-361

Noble R E 1974 Reproductive Characteristics of the Mississippi White-tailed Deer. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission Game Division: Jackson, USA

Savage R J G, Pearce D G and Blok R 1993 The Conservation and Management of Red Deer in the West Country. Report to the National Trust. The National Trust: London, UK

White D 2000. Deer hunting. Animal Welfare 9: 341

Wise D 1999 The Bateson Report: Use or Abuse of Science? The Countryside Alliance: London, UK

Dr Bradshaw and Professor Bateson reply:

Edmund Marriage raises three main concerns about the welfare implications of stalking: specifically, the proportion of deer that escaped injured, the length of time taken to die by body-shot deer, and the effect of disturbance on the behaviour of deer.

No one would dispute that careful management of stalking is important from the point of view of welfare (Bateson 1997; Bradshaw & Bateson 2000a, b). We estimated, from retrospective and current cull records that 2 per cent of deer culled by rifle by professional stalkers escaped wounded. This percentage is bound to be higher where culling is carried out by inexperienced or incompetent individuals. Training schemes, such as those provided by the British Deer Society, proficiency in the use of firearms and an adequate shooting protocol are important in preventing unnecessary injury and suffering (FAWC 1985; Agricultural Departments 1989; Green 1992).

How much deer suffer when fatally shot in the heart, spine, liver or lungs is hard to ascertain. Loss of consciousness will not be instantaneous as with head and upper-neck shot deer. It should not be assumed, however, that all body-shot deer will feel pain. In studies on humans, initial freedom from pain was reported in one-third of emergency department patients, whose injuries included cuts, fractures and amputations, and in 70 per cent of wounded soldiers (references in Wall [1984]). Nobody should be complacent about wounding deer - swiftly despatching deer shot in the chest must always be a priority. Nevertheless, the evidence from humans does emphasize the point that the welfare costs of wounding should not be exaggerated.

Stalking, hunting with hounds, 'tourist activity, orienteering events and other forms of human disturbance can all cause deer to leave the immediate area for a few hours or even days (Jeppesen 1987; Bateson 1997; Bradshaw & Bateson 2000a). Supporters of hunting often refer to the beneficial effects to farmers of the hounds 'dispersing' the deer (eg Charles Harding [2000] in his written testimony to the Burns enquiry: see, This is only one of many possible behavioural responses to disturbance or perceived threat. Edmund Marriage gives an example of another (point 3). Many factors will influence the response of a deer: individual differences in their behaviour and their past experience, reproductive status, sex, the nature and degree of disturbance, the habitat, season and so on. We did consider ways to assess disturbance from stalking as well as hunting, but in the study area in which we worked it would be difficult to disentangle the effects of different types of disturbance. They are, in any case, likely to be cumulative (Jeppesen 1987). There is no evidence of the type of extreme consequence of disturbance cited by Edmund Marriage. Red deer thrive in the South West irrespective of whether the culling is carried out using both methods or by stalking alone. Furthermore, roughly four-fifths of the current culling in stag-hunting country is carried out by stalkers. Therefore, any increase in stalking arising from a hunting ban is unlikely to have a substantial effect on the behaviour of the deer.

Finally, we must take issue with the comments on the effects of a hunting ban on deer numbers. Since the early 1990s an annual census of red deer numbers on Exmoor has been carried out by the Exmoor and District Deer Management Society. These data are the best available estimates of population trends, although we accept they are liable to underestimate numbers. The census shows no evidence of a decline since hunt licences were revoked. The National Trust adjusts cull figures each year according to the results of this census. If deer are no longer killed on National Trust land by hunting it follows that, in order to maintain previous cull levels, more deer must be killed by rifle.

Elizabeth Bradshaw Oxford, UK

Patrick Bateson Cambridge, UK


Agricultural Departments 1989 Codes of Recommendations for the Welfare of livestock Farmed Deer. (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland; Welsh Office Agriculture Department) MAFF Publications: London, UK

Bateson P P G 1997 The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer.

Report to the Council of the National Trust: The National Trust: London, UK

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000a Welfare implications of culling red deer. Animal Welfare 9: 3-24

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000b Animal welfare and wildlife conservation. In: Gosling L M and Sutherland W J (eds) Behaviour and Conservation pp 33-348. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK

FAWC 1985 Report on The Welfare of Farmed Deer. FAWC: Surbiton, UK

Green P 1992 Killing deer. Stalking Magazine (November1992): 21-23


Animal Welfare 2001 10:346 -

Deer hunting and welfare


As members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons we read with dismay the recent letter in your journal (Animal Welfare 2001, 10: 11 5 -11 6) from Dr Bradshaw and Professor Bateson in which they seem to dismiss as insignificant the acute pain and suffering that may be endured by deer shot by stalkers and not killed outright. Even supposing their analogy with soldiers shot and wounded in the heat of battle is correct, that still leaves 30 per cent to suffer acute pain and distress. But the analogy is not correct. Soldiers shot in the heat of battle not only benefit from the well recognised phenomenon of stress analgesia, mediated, in part, by centrally released endorphins and enkephalins, but they are also shot with hard nosed bullets. These are considerably less tissue-damaging than the soft nosed bullets used in stalking, which are designed specifically to cause maximum shock and damage on impact and thereby reduce the chance of escape. Unlike soldiers in battle, stalked deer are shot unsuspecting and unstressed, in the absence therefore of anv stress-induced analgesia, and so may suffer acute, severe pain that remains unameliorated until they are filially dispatched sometime after the first shot. A small proportion of shot deer, presumably in varying degrees of pain, will escape and either die from starvation and sepsis of will adapt to their wounds - that is unless they are found by hounds at some later stage.

The protracted and painful death of deer not killed outright by shooting may be contrasted with the certain and instantaneous death of the hunted deer which, even in the final stages of the hunt, will have suffered no more stress than that of the extended racehorse or athlete and may be expected to benefit at the same time from exercise-induced analgesia. The final shot comes at point blank range from the huntsman straight into the brain of the animal at bay, thereby bringing about an instantaneous and painless death.

Stalking will always be needed, in addition to hunting, to control numbers of red deer but the welfare of wild animals is not well served by the suggestion that shooting may not lead to acute pain in suffering

L H Thomas, Newbury, UK

D R Wise, Cambridge, UK

D R Denny, Worcester, UK

I G Jones, Newtown, UK

W R Allen. Newmarket, UK

Dr Bradshaw and Professor Bateson reply :

Thomas et al have not done their homework. First, a pain-free period after injury commonly observed in human patients who were unsuspecting and unstressed prior to their accidents. Second, the evidence for exercise-induced analgesia in humans has been weak, inconclusive, or anecdotal.

The moral imperative on any sportsman is us to reduce the risk of suffering by' endeavouring to kill an animal as swiftly and cleanly as possible. Stalking clearly has the potential to lead to pain and injury as does hunting. However, it does seem to us that the welfare costs of stalking are more easily reduced than those associated with hunting with hounds. The vets who attempt to minimise the problems with stag-hunting should stop the bluster and tell world how the welfare costs of hunting with hounds might also be reduced.

Elizabeth Bradshaw, Oxford, UK

Patrick Bateson, Cambridge, UK


Animal Welfare 20009: 340-342


Having studied the connection between deer hunting and the healthy state of the easily visible West Country herd of wild red deer for more than 30 years, I should like to comment on the paper Welfare Implications of Culling Red Deer in your February issue.

The statement that a second shot was necessary at 50 per cent of the kills for which the authors had visual evidence (p12) gives a very false impression of how often it is necessary. Evidence submitted to Lord Burns' inquiry shows it to be 5 per cent or less. Similarly, hounds only attack deer on very rare occasions and the figure of 25 per cent that is quoted on the same page also bears no resemblance to what actually happens.

These statistics were based on the fact (stated elsewhere in the paper) that two kills were actually observed. The other two occasions on which the authors had 'visual evidence' were two videotapes provided by an anti-hunting organization. The latter are known to have filmed a large number of satisfactory kills during the past 10 years but these were not apparently considered; those provided by the hunts themselves were ignored because they were not electronically dated and so as Professor Bateson claimed in his report to the National Trust (Bateson 1997) 'could not be verified'.

With regards to shooting, many of your readers may be unaware that most deer are shot in the body, as recommended by the stalking societies, rather than the head or upper neck as was the case in this study, and many by land holders rather than expert marksmen. The wounding rate of 2 per cent came as stated from the stalkers themselves but two methods were used to support these. I would suggest that the figures from game dealers are optimistic since carcases with multiple bullet wounds are not nonnally sent to them but are butchered at home. If the figures of casualties found by Quantock Staghounds had been included in the calculations as surely they should have been, then the percentage would have been at least doubled.

DH S White Taunton, UK


Bateson, P P G 1997 The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer.

Report to the Council of the National Trust. The National Trust: London, UK

Dr Bradshaw and Professor Bateson reply:

Mr White mav have misunderstood the purpose of the video evidence, which was to supplement the visual observations we made of hunts during the l995-996 and early l996-1997 hunting season. Hence, only videos of hunts that took place over this time period were used. To avoid claims and counter claims as to the provenance of the videos, we decided to use as evidence only those that were electronically dated. This policy was made clear from the outset.

One purpose of observing hunts over a specified time period was to obtain data on the frequency with which certain alleged events occurred. At two of the four kills we witnessed the hunted deer were not killed cleanly, and at one kill the deer was attacked by hounds before being shot. No one would claim that such a small sample size is representative of what happens as a whole. This is why, in the discussion, we concluded that: '...[these] events [ie non-instantaneous death, arid attacks by hounds]...definitely do occur, but we cannot say with what frequency

We used three disparate methods to assess wounding rates by stalkers (including the analysis of carcase digrams from game dealers). In Bradshaw and Batesori (2000a) we discussed the varied reasons why estimates generated using such methods may well be underestimates (Mr White provides another example). Nonetheless, it is significant that the different approaches gave very consistent results.

Our wounding rate figures are only optimistic in the sense that they represent a best-case-scenario - we were dealing with competent stalkers, or amateurs accompanied by such. The point that careful management of stalking is essential if wounding rates are to be minimized is indisputable, and has been made by us on several occasions (Bateson 1997; Bradshaw and Bateson 2000a,b). Organizations such as the British Deer Society already run schemes along the lines of those described by Ruth Harrison. At present, however, such schemes are voluntary.

Elizaheth Bradshaw, Oxford, UK

Patrick Bateson, Cambridge, UK


Bateson P P G 1997 The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer.

Report to the Council of the National Trust: The National Trust: London, UK

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000a Welfare implications of culling red deer. Animal Welfare 9: 3-24

Bradshaw E L and Bateson P 2000b Animal welfare and wildlife conservation. In: Gosling L M and Sutherland W J (eds) Behaviour and Conservation pp 33-348. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK

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