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Letter from Professor Geist to Alun Michael (added 25.3.05)

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Letter from Professor Geist to Alun Michael

Valerius Geist Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science
current residence:
P0 Box 1294, St. A Port Alberni, BC. Canada V9Y 7M2
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August 25th, 2002

Dear Minister Michael

Re: Hunting with dogs and the issue of cruelty.

I must confess that when I was first approached by the British Field Sport Society in 1997 to review the Bateson Report, I was less than enthusiastic. My view on hunting deer with hounds was not unlike that of Lord Graham of Edmonton, as expressed on p.566 of the debate by the Lords on the Hunting Bill. I then lumped hunting with the likes of cock fighting, bear baiting or bull fighting. It was not for the love of hunting that I wrote a critical review of the Bateson Report, hut to oppose a grave misuse of science in formulating public policy. In the process I became acquainted with hunting as practiced in Great Britain, and I became persuaded by the evidence, reluctantly at first, that hunting was a more humane means of controlling red deer than stalking. Moreover, hunting was imbedded in a remarkable management system that assured the continuous existence of red deer, and that a prohibition of hunting would put the deer in jeopardy. There would be unintended consequences to the prohibition on hunting, which, as a student of wildlife conservation policy, I was aware of. I expressed this in my critique as published in Hunting (1997, Vol.5, issue 45, July-August, pp.56-59). It is with regret that I read the testimony of Charles Harding, Deer Warden and accredited stalker for the National Trust's Holnicote Estate, as submitted to the Burns Inquiry, for it shows that - alas - I had been right in my predictions.

I read with interest the detailed submission to you on comparative welfare by Edmund Marriage, July 2002. He makes the case for hunting having a lesser welfare effect than stalking. In short, hunting is less cruel than stalking. I must not only concur, but have to raise additional points in favor of that assessment. To that effect I am copying below a portion of a letter I sent to Professor Douglas R.Wise (I have slightly edited its content).

Excerpt from a letter to Professor Douglas Wise, Nov. 27th, 2001.

Now to a different subject. I think your challenge of the notion that culling by stalking is more humane than bunting has merit. My persona] experience in these matters supports your critical comments. I have stalked and shot big game for 46 years, taking about 135 heads, ranging in size from small black-tailed deer to moose - not much by European standards. I have shot on military teams in competition, have a small collection of firearm's, shoot primarily band-loaded ammunition, and have published in the (American) sporting press on how to insure quicker kills to minimize losses and suffering (1990 The One Shot Kill, Deer and Deer Hunting I 4(4): 28. and 1993 in A. Hofacker (ed.) Deer & Deer Hunting (collection of articles) Krause Publication, Vol, VI pp.124-127).

Let us begin with, missing animals by able marksmen under the best conditions, that is when the shot can be taken froni a rest. When I traveled in Europe, I have on a few occasions had an opportunity to shoot and thus inspect rifles. I am invariably assured that the rifle is sighted in properly because it was done by a gunsmith. This leads me to believe that a good many shooters do not know that how one holds a rifle translates into where it hits. Only the shooter can correctly zero a rifle. It cannot be delegated to a gunsmith. Unless the shooter has carefully sighted in his rifle, and has practices shooting on target with expensive hunting ammunition, misses and wounding are inevitable - particularly at longer ranges, 200 yards and beyond.

Even if the rifle has been carefully zeroed, and all screws tightened, its point of impact can shift fairly rapidly. This can be a problem with rifles stocked in wood with a one-piece stock when carried about in wet weather. The rifle may have come from a dry storage place, and soon absorbs moisture. Within a week it may shoot two or more feet off aim at 100 yds. I speak from bitter experience. However, Canadian wilderness and continuous exposure of the rifle to the elements may not be typical of England. Wooden stocked, bull barreled American target rifles failed as sniper rifles in Vietnam on that count. In recent times inert plastic stocks have overcome that problem. Trappers (whose rifles were exposed to all weather conditions daily), opted for the light lever action rifles with a split stock. These kept their aim, but shot low-powered loads only. The problem of inconsistent shot-placement is reflected in the current price of sniper rifles as compared to regular hunting rifles!

Other causes of misses are a scope tube bend accidentally during transport, scope mount screws working loose, or - rarely - the reticule coming loose or braking. The latter happened to me three times and I discovered the problem only after missing a big mule deer buck in the first case, and five shots from a rest at a huge bull moose at about 150 yards in the second. The third time it happened to a Baush & Lomb scope - the best money can buy! Here the reticule was photographed on a lens which worked loose. Since I could still hit a pie plate at 25 yards, and it was the last day of hunting season, I took the rifle into dense cover and killed a bull moose at 10 paces.

Accidental wounding can take place as follows: the animal is standing broadside, alert offering a perfect shot. Just as the trigger finger tightens and the shot breaks, the animal bolts forward. Instead of landing in the chest or the shoulder, the bullet hits the small intestines. A lengthy search is inevitable unless the animal stops, allowing a follow-up shot. It happened to me twice.

On rare occasions a bullet can deflect upon hitting a bone and ricochet right out of the animal. It happened to my son whose powerful bullet hit the upper humerus of a mule

deer buck and ricochet out, causing a flesh wound. The buck was killed by the second shot. It also happened to me when I shot straight up at a mountain goat male in a cliff at point blank range. The bullet skidded along the scapula and out.

Sources of wounding and poor killing power can be bad batches of ammunition from reputable manufacturers. I bought one batch in which the bullets blew up virtually on the surface of the animals with minimal penetration. I care not to repeat that experience, even though I recovered every animal I shot with that ammunition. I have also experienced the obverse, namely, a batch of bullets that would not open up sufficiently on impact. I recovered all deer and pronghorns I shot with that bullet too, but despite well-placed shots three, out of five ran a fair distance before dropping.

Bullets may be designed to kill consistently, but not quickly. The German jacketed bullet is a case in point. The soft tip explodes on impact causing a shallow surface wound while the hard rear-half of the bullet tumbles on through the animal leaving a narrow wound channel. The result is not a pretty sight to see! I also lost an elk I shot at twenty yards. I saw the large red spot right behind the shoulder blade, but the elk ran off and I could not find it in time. The coyotes got there ahead of me. I shot three deer with this ammunition and quit using it in disgust. In Germany the hunter can count on mandatory tracking dogs, so a quick kill is less important than a good blood-trail which the H-jacketed bullets certainly delivered.

Anatomical knowledge in shooters can be minimal. Advertisements in sporting journals may carry illustrations of reticules centered on game. Often such aims would lead to mere wounding. Game targets for practice may reward the shooter with high scores even though the shot hits into the stomach. Professor Hofluanri, an excellent artist, has railed against such targets. This means that shooters may carry the false aiming-image into the field, which cannot but lead to wounded deer.

Then there are conflicts of interest! The quickest killing shot in the field is with a fast-traveling, relatively heavy bullet that holds together, through the middle of the shoulder blade. This usually hits the spine, or destroys the nerve strands that enervate the rib basket and front legs. The animal drops unconscious, unable to breath or move its legs. Such a carcass, however, has blood-shot shoulders and thus wasted meat. There is less carcass damage if the bullet enters into the thoracic basket just behind the shoulder blade. To achieve a quick kill with that shot placement requires a fast, light bullet that opens up quickly. Such a bullet opens up rapidly when traversing lungs and blood vessels and usually drops the animal on the spot, while massive damage to lungs, heart and blood vessels leads to quick, massive hemorrhaging. Such a bullet is unsatisfactory on a shoulder shot, while a heavy, slow to open bullet that traverses the lungs leads to less than quick death. However, it leads to less meat wastage! Where do stalkers place their shots?

Please note on lung shots. In humans the bullet comes from the front or rear and, if the victim is very lucky, will penetrate only one half of the thoracic basket, leaving the other lung functioning. In deer this does not happen. On a lung shot the bullet enters behind the shoulder blade and exits behind the second shoulder blade - penetrating both halves of thoracic basket, leading to a collapse of both lungs. In humans the comparable shot would be one traversing the thoracic basket from arm-pit to arm-pit. With both lungs collapsed death is through suffocation. It may be slow and torturous with bullets that do not expand well, but it is certain.

On neck shots - which I dislike very much! I have never seen an animal with a neck shot that was down and conscious. I have seen enough animals in which the bullet went through the neck, failing to damage seriously the neck vertebrae. In all such cases the animal was alert and on its feet, getting away fast. I have used the neck shot to finish off wounded game. In my experience the animal is instantly unconscious if the neck-vertebrate are destroyed by the bullet.

The stalker killing 75 deer with 125 shots may not have done so badly!

In conclusion, I urge you to retain hunting of red deer with hounds. it Is not only more benign than stalking, but the unintended consequences are far worse. Moreover, it retains a remarkable system of deer conservation that has considerable social benefits, in addition to retaining well-managed herds of free-living red deer.


Valerius Geist, PhD, P. Biol.
Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science
The University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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