Jordan O. Hampton, Andrew J. Bengsen, Anthony Pople, Michael Brennan, Mal Leeson and David M. Forsyth
Helicopter-based shooting has been widely used to kill deer in Australasia, but the animal welfare outcomes of this technique have not been evaluated.
To assess the animal welfare outcomes of helicopter-based shooting of deer in Australia by quantifying the fates of deer seen and shot at, the duration of procedures and the number and location of bullet wounds in deer.
Three deer control operations were assessed. These operations targeted: (1) chital deer (Axis axis) in Queensland, (2) fallow deer (Dama dama) in Australian Capital Territory and (3) fallow deer in New South Wales. For each operation, an independent veterinarian conducted ante-mortem (i.e. from the helicopter as shooting occurred) and post-mortem (i.e. from the ground after shooting had ceased) observations. The ante-mortem data were used to estimate the proportion of deer seen that were shot, chase time (CT), time to insensibility (TTI) and total time (TT; CT þ TTI). The numbers and locations of bullet wounds were recorded post-mortem.
Ante-mortem and post-mortem observations were performed for 114–318 and 60–105 deer, respectively, in the three operations. Shots were fired at 69–76% of deer that were observed. Median CT ranged from 73 to 145 s. Median TTI ranged from 17 to 37 s and median TT ranged from 109 to 162 s. The mean number of bullet wounds per deer ranged from 1.43 to 2.57. Animal welfare outcomes were better in the two fallow deer operations than in the chital deer operation. In both fallow deer operations, most deer were shot multiple times and at least once in the head or thorax. In contrast, chital deer were shot fewer times and less often in the head or thorax, and non-fatal wounding was observed.
The best animal welfare outcomes were achieved when helicopter-based shooting operations followed a fly-back procedure and mandated that multiple shots were fired into each animal. Implications. Animal welfare outcomes for helicopter-based deer shooting in Australia could be improved with a national-level standard operating procedure requiring helicopters to fly back over shot animals and repeatedly shoot animals in the head or thorax.