Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the British Deer Society


  The British Deer Society is grateful for the opportunity to submit evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on Controls over Firearms.


  The Society is a registered charity, formed to encourage proper and humane deer management, research and the dissemination of information about deer in Great Britain. Our work concentrates on improving deer welfare. We are not a sporting or shooting organisation, although we are heavily involved in running courses designed to teach the public methods of management and humane control of deer, whether semi-domesticated or wild.


  The use of any air gun or air rifle in deer management is prohibited by the Deer Act 1991, but air weapons are extremely useful for youth training schemes. Air rifle shooting is a demanding discipline, requiring skill and application. Most importantly, it teaches young people the principles of marksmanship and the safe handling of firearms. We consider that under controlled conditions and with proper instruction, familiarity with air weapons at an early age should increase public confidence that young people have the necessary skills and knowledge to make a safe transition to the use of firearms, as and when appropriate.


  Shotguns can be used by occupiers of land or any person acting with their authority to kill deer causing damage to cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland, providing occupiers meet the criteria laid down in the Deer Acts.

  Shotguns are often the preferred means for dispatching injured deer, particularly in road traffic accidents where the use of a rifle might have safety implications for members of the public at the scene.

  The British Deer Society does not encourage the use of shotguns to control deer because in most circumstances we consider the rifle to be the more effective and humane instrument of control. We do, however, acknowledge the need for shotguns in the circumstances outlined above and would ask that the Committee take account of that need when considering future legislation. We do consider it is essential that landowners, deer managers and stalkers retain the ability to employ a shotgun with the minimum of delay when the need arises. There are sound welfare grounds for ensuring that, where necessary, shotguns can be used without undue hindrance.


  The rifle is the instrument used in most cases to carry out deer management by professional and recreational stalkers. Control of the deer population is essential, with approximately 1.25 million deer in the countryside, culling is necessary for both the welfare of the deer, damage limitation to crops and the maintenance of habitat. Although professional deer managers and stalkers account for a percentage of the annual cull, the greater part is achieved by recreational stalkers. There are no official figures available for the number of deer culled in any year, but we consider the figure to be in the order of 250,000. This figure could not be achieved without the active participation of the recreational stalker. Legislation which increases bureaucracy, imposes punitive restrictions and cost on stalkers will reduce the pool of volunteers available to carry out the management of deer in our countryside. The impact on forestry, farming and sensitive habitat would be profound.


  From our dealings with the public, police and government departments, it is clear there has been genuine confusion and misunderstanding on all sides about firearms legislation for many years. The problems were compounded by the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act which further confused and complicated the legislation. We find the police are frequently placed in the position of attempting to interpret the legislation because of a lack of clear guidance from the Home Office. This leads to frequent differences in interpretation between police forces, resulting in conflict with the shooting public. The Home Office publication "Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police", requires urgent review.


  This Society receives regular requests from the police for advice on suitable (or unsuitable) calibres of rifle for deer control and how many firearms of differing calibre an individual may reasonably hold. There is an assumption that some calibres are more suited than others and the number of rifles held should be restricted.

  The Deer Acts contain strict rules on permissible firearms to dispatch deer. Providing the calibre selected by the applicant meets the requirements of the English and Scottish Acts, we see no justification for limiting choice of calibre. We also see no requirement to place arbitrary ceilings on the number of different calibres owned. It is a matter for applicants to satisfy their Chief Constable they have good reason for requiring more than one rifle for stalking.


  We would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the problems surrounding the acquisition and use of expanding bullets resulting from the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act. As well as banning expanding pistol ammunition, the government imposed severe restrictions on expanding rifle ammunition and missiles for such ammunition. The result has been confusion and conflict between the police and stalkers over the acquisition, accounting and storage of expanding missiles and ammunition as well as the use of the ammunition for zeroing, practice and competition shooting.

  Deer may only be shot with expanding bullets (missiles). That is the law. We consider it essential that stalkers zero, practice and compete with the ammunition they intend to use on live quarry. Any other practice would result in misplaced shots and wounded animals.

  In the ninth annual report of the Firearms Consultative Committee, members noted the "practical impact of the law in this area is unclear to many in the shooting community and a source of needless confusion and bureaucracy". They explained the need for adequate supplies of ammunition and the need for adequate practice to ensure an instant kill. They concluded by recommending the repeal of the ban on expanding ammunition. We totally endorse that view from a welfare stand.

November 1999

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