Thursday, September 29, 2005

WASTEFUL & GREEDY WATERFOWL KILLERS

Derived from the October 2005 issue of Field & Stream, the following article highlights the documented fact that ducks and geese are excessively wounded and crippled by waterfowl hunters. Even some hunters admit to the wastefulness of duck hunting, but their concern has little or no effect on waterfowl killers who are driven by their need to kill innocent animals.

The Humane Society of the United States fired the first shots in a new campaign against waterfowling. The HSUS report "The Ones That Almost Got Away" asserts that experienced hunters cripple and lose up to 45 percent of the ducks they shoot, while novices wound birds at an even higher rate. Any duck hunter can tell you those figures are inflated, but does that mean crippling is a nonissue? Just ask hunters in the Australian states of New South Wales and Western Australia, who lost their duck seasons after antihunters convinced voters of the excessive cruelty of high crippling losses.

"The HSUS is a group of slick professionals, and they know the cruelty message works with the general public," says Rob Olson, director of Delta Waterfowl's U.S. office.

It would be easy to dismiss the HSUS's exaggerated numbers if the real statistics on crippling weren't so troubling. Several studies conducted in the United States during the debate over nontoxic shot from the late 1960s to the early 1980s consistently showed crippling rates from 25 to 35 percent, regardless of whether hunters shot lead or steel. The crippling rates reported by the trained observers who sat with hunters in the blinds, incidentally, were about twice what hunters themselves reported. Surveys of the general public suggest nonhunters will accept rates of less than 10 percent.

"I've known for years that we were vulnerable on the crippling issue," says George Vandel of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. "This HSUS report is a real wake-up call." Vandel serves as chairman of the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP), a group formed during the switch to nontoxic shot and currently made up of representatives from 20 state and several foreign wildlife agencies, as well as Remington and Winchester. CONSEP puts the wounding rate at 25 percent and sponsors educational programs aimed at reducing crippling.

"This debate may get even bigger than the fight over lead shot," says Tom Roster, CONSEP's shotgunning consultant. "The anti-lead-ites claimed 2.5 million birds a year died from lead poisoning. If you crunch the numbers, we may be losing 4 million birds a year to crippling. The antihunters are no dummies. There are tons of facts and no way to sweep them under the rug." Not that Roster advocates denying the problem. On the contrary, he says, hunters need to take the initiative.

Roster has taught clinics to thousands of waterfowlers, and he's certain we can reduce crippling rates to below 10 percent. "Hunters must learn to estimate range better, improve their shooting, and choose chokes and loads properly," he says.

Olson agrees: "The public will tolerate hunting if they believe hunters are proficient at what they do. I believe Delta Waterfowl and other conservation groups have to play a role in training hunters." We waterfowlers have to realize what's at stake: Every time we lose a duck or goose we've not only left a bird to die, but we've shot ourselves in the foot.

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