About 1,300 hunters took part in the opening weekend of the duck hunting season in Victoria, fewer than normal, according to the Game Management Authority, which regulates game hunting in the state.
- Duck hunter numbers were down because fewer wetlands were open to hunting, according to the Game Management Authority and the Sporting Shooters Association
- Anti-duck hunting activists say hunter numbers are in decline because the pursuit no longer appeals to society
- Drones are being used to monitor the behaviour of hunters and protesters this season
Game Management Authority CEO Graeme Ford said numbers were down on an average season.
“It’s a reflection of the dry conditions and lower number of wetlands that were opened to hunters,” Mr Ford said.
Anti-duck hunting activists say it was the biggest drop in numbers they had seen in more than three decades.
“Our rescue team outnumbered the shooters,” said Laurie Levey, campaign director of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting.
“It’s the quietest opening we have ever experienced in 33 years. Lake Cullen [in Victoria’s north] in the past would have attracted thousands of shooters but that’s all gone now.”
Justin Law from the Sporting Shooters Association of Victoria said it was hard to estimate the number of hunters on the opening weekend.
“We don’t have exact numbers. It’s very difficult to know exactly where everybody goes because there are so many wetlands,” he said.
“However, some of the traditional areas were down a little bit on numbers this year I think.”
Mr Law agreed with Mr Ford that the dry conditions were responsible for the low numbers.
“The restrictions on the season including a lot of wetland closures, which were brought about for the dry conditions, meant fewer hunting opportunities for hunters.”
Is duck hunting in decline?
But Mr Levey said killing animals as a sport no longer appealed to today’s society.
“Duck shooting is a violent, cruel, antisocial activity that really has no place in the 21st century.
“The number of duck shooters when we first started in 1986 were about 100,000 to today where there are only around 14,000.
“This may be the last season of duck hunting we’ll see.”
Mr Law said the pursuit was still popular and was not dying out.
“We are still seeing an increase in game [bird] licences,” he said.
“We have over 26,000 licensed duck hunters on our books, [but] there’s no doubt there’s a portion of the community that finds the sport unacceptable,” he said.
“It’s a contested space so that’s why we need to make it a practice that happens in a way the community does find acceptable.
“We don’t consider duck hunting a sport, but a cultural pursuit; hunters hunt because they want to put food on their family table.”
Banned in other states
The recreational shooting of ducks, which are native, has been outlawed in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
In Victoria, pressure in mounting on the State Government to follow suit.
In 2017, hundreds of protected ducks were killed at the Koorangie State Game Reserve near Kerang, just a week after Victoria’s duck hunting season opened.
The incident sparked outrage, and the Game Management Authority was criticised for its inability to control hunters.
The State Government has since made sweeping changes to the sport: closing a number of wetlands to hunters, forcing them to harvest breast meat from the duck, and protecting the blue-winged shoveler.
Drones used to monitor hunters and activists
The Game Management Authority is using drones this season to track hunters’ and activists’ behaviour.
“It helped us see hunters where they may have been clashes with protesters and we were also able to send our compliance officers out to where hunters were,” Mr Ford said.
There were 37 offences over the opening weekend, including hunting without a licence and failing to retrieve hunted birds.
Mr Law said protesters were intimidating to hunters.
“Traditionally popular wetlands are heavily targeted by protesters so I think a lot of people avoided those areas.”