Memorandum by the British Deer Society
INQUIRY INTO CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS
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
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.