What is 'game' bird shooting?

The idyllic impression that many have of ‘game’ bird shooting, in which wild birds are skilfully plucked from the sky by marksmen then taken home for a feast, is nothing but a sham.

Investigations, undercover filming, scientific research and economic analysis reveals that commercial shooting in the UK is nothing but a cynical industry which exploits loopholes in animal welfare laws, puts our landscape at risk and exaggerates any financial benefit to the economy.

In terms of the numbers of animals persecuted and killed, no other cruel sport in the UK has such a devastating impact on animals as commercial 'game' bird shooting.

It is estimated that 100,000 birds are shot every day in the UK during the shooting season.

What is wrong with 'game' bird shooting?

Canned Hunting

Commercial 'game' bird shooting is steeped in animal cruelty on an industrial scale.

Millions of birds (pheasant, partridge and grouse) are shot for sport during the shooting season, estimated at 100,000 a day.

What happens on the day of a shoot is little different to ‘canned’ hunting – where animals such as lions are tamed and confined in an enclosed area to make killing them easier. Pheasants and partridges which have been farmed, fed and ‘protected’ from predators are driven towards paying shooters by employees called beaters.

With so many guns firing quickly at so many birds, wounding is common. It has been suggested that 40% of birds are wounded, rather than killed outright, according to a former training officer at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

This is an incredible compromise of animal welfare and this is why first and foremost we believe the shooting of wild or farmed birds for sport is morally wrong and should be banned.

Agroup  of caged birds bred for shooting. One of them is dead

Factory Farming and Cage Breeding

Before these animals even reach the killing fields, for many partridges and pheasants in particular, they have already experienced a life of cruelty.

According to Defra, virtually all of the red-legged partridges released on UK shooting estates come from breeding birds confined in barren wire-mesh cages with less space per bird than an A4 piece of paper, often for their entire life. An increasing majority of breeding pheasants are now also confined in wire-mesh cages for at least three months a year.

Conditions are often worse than allowed under the law for chickens, leading to injury, stress, mutilation and death.

Many of the birds released on UK shooting estates actually start their lives on factory farms abroad – at least 50% according to Defra. These young birds can spend 20 hours or more crammed inside a crate stacked in the back of a lorry travelling from the factory farms to their destination in the UK.

There are other birds that are victims of the shooting industry. In the UK, mallards are the most prolific and heavily shot duck species by wildfowlers. 'Game' farmers have now started to extensively rear mallards specifically for shooting, as they do with partridges and pheasants.

Male mallard taking off from the water

Trapping and Snaring

As well as the millions of birds that suffer at the hands of this industry, millions of other animals are harmed and persecuted.

In their bid to have as many birds as possible to shoot for sport and profit, gamekeepers wage a war of persecution on animals that predate on 'game' birds. Wire snares and traps are set to target animals such as foxes, stoats and corvids, however, due to the indiscriminate nature of these devices, many non-target protected and endangered species such as badgers and hares get caught in these traps.

Bone-breaking Fenn traps are set in their thousands across pheasant and grouse shooting estates to eradicate native stoats and weasels. Animals take up to two minutes to die in these contraptions, which are deemed 'inhumane” by the government, and other species – including protected birds, cats, hedgehogs, pine martens and lambs – are routinely captured.

This is the indiscriminate killing of animals to facilitate the killing of other animals for 'sport'.

See our snaring campaign page for more information.

Gamekeepers on grouse moors cull mountain hares due to unwarranted fears they carry a tick borne virus which kills grouse chicks and are therefore seen as a threat to the grouse shooting industry.

A fox hunging dead in ahole, trapped in a snare

Wildlife Crime

Wildlife crime is also embedded, we believe, in the management practices of game bird shooting estates, with birds of prey being eradicated on grouse shooting moors and in pheasant woods. The problem is so severe that the hen harrier, a beautiful bird of prey that should be a common site across the uplands of the UK, is now on the precipice of extinction as a breeding species in England.

Other bird of prey species, including owls, buzzards, golden eagles and peregrine falcons, have also borne the brunt of this illegal persecution. However, this relentless wildlife crime is not just limited to birds of prey. Badgers have had their setts dug out and even been targeted with poison.

Raptor Persecution UK have documented what they describe as the “relentless and illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK” associated with 'game' bird shooting, which shows clear evidence of systematic raptor persecution.

Environmental Destruction

Pheasants and red-legged partridges are not native to the UK, and there is concern amongst conservationists that the annual mass release of these birds, with a total biomass greater than that of all our native birds combined, has an adverse impact on native wildlife.

Studies and recent reports link grouse moor management with environmental degradation, river pollution, contributing to climate change and the potential link between grouse moors and urban flooding.

See our driven grouse shooting page for more information.

Overstated Economics

Analysis of shooting industry claims that the ‘sport’ brings huge benefits to the UK economy shows massive discrepancies. Their figures include clay shooting, claims that the industry provides large numbers of jobs are dubious, and large tax-payer subsidies to shooting estates are included as benefits.

Our briefing paper Shooting Animals for Sport: Worth Less is based on work done by economic experts who were asked to review two shooting industry reports on the economics of sport shooting (PACEC 2006, 2014). Overall, they concluded that the reports are in essence advocacy statements, containing much information that is not testable, robust data, but opinion submitted by a sample with a stake in the outcomes.

It is because of all this evidence that the League Against Cruel Sports believes that 'game' bird shooting is nothing but a hobby that leads to massive animal welfare abuses and environmental damage, and should be stopped.

Simulated pheasant and grouse shooting – which uses clay discs as an alternative to live birds – can provide substantial investment for rural communities and a small army of loaders, technicians, catering staff, garage owners, publicans and landowners benefit. Rather than damaging the ecology and regional economy like its live-quarry-counterpart, simulated shooting allows the countryside to be conserved by benefiting all wildlife beyond the red grouse and pheasant.

There are wider economic and social benefits which would come through replacing shooting game birds with simulated game shooting. This includes bringing an end to the flooding, landslides and water pollution caused by damaging grouse shooting practices such as burning, as well as boosting wildlife which would otherwise be targeted by gamekeepers.

Take Action against 'Game' Bird Shooting

  • Sign our joint Care2 petition calling for better conditions for 'game' birds
  • Write to your MP and express your concern about 'game' bird shooting
  • Share this page on social media


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