Enough Duck Shooting By Carl Safina

January 18th, 2012 | 5 Comments


Long-tailed duck alive shot photo: Carl Safina

Long-tailed duck alive but dying after being shot in the eye. Photo: Carl Safina



Long-taileds diving

injured duck

original blog posted in Huffington Post:



This morning, I went for a walk on the beach. And from the bay, mere moments later, the muffled crack of guns. Three months of the twelve-month year, the shooting is a near-constant feature of being near the shore. The noise, which reaches into each room of my home, starts at dawn. Especially on weekends, in the predawn darkness I lie in bed hoping for the sound of heavy rain or wind enough to keep duck hunters home.

Unlike duck shooters, deer hunters perform a service. Absent wolves, the white-tailed deer that were once shot almost to extermination in our region have in the last few decades come back in such force that they create intense pressure on seedling trees and native shrubs, hazards to drivers, frustration for gardeners, sharply increased rates of Lyme disease, and such severe competition with each other for food that winter starvation likely causes them more suffering than a lethal gunshot. In short, deer hunting does some good. Plus, I’ve never heard of deer hunters intentionally leaving the deer they’ve shot. As far as I know, they’re all after meat.

Contrast duck hunters. I have seen duck hunters make no attempt to retrieve ducks they’ve killed or crippled. I have seen them throw ducks they’ve shot—but do not want—into the bushes and brush. Or just leave them on the beach among their spent shells. I have also found half a dozen hunter-killed wild geese tossed into the woods beside the road. I have found dying long-tailed ducks struggling after being shot (including one whose eye had just been shot out), while the “hunters” were standing in plain sight just a few hundred yards down the same beach, shooting at birds flying by, utterly disinterested in retrieving the dying birds or ending the suffering they’d inflicted. That time, they were shooting only about a hundred yards from the nearest houses, which is legal, but a clear public nuisance. Everything else I’ve just described is illegal, but where I live, it’s common.

Another time, I saw a boat motoring rapidly across the surface of the bay, charging groups of sitting waterfowl, with a shooter in the bow blasting at all the ducks trying to get airborne ahead of the fast-approaching hull (also illegal).

Apparently, they think all this is fun. I hate it.

Who does this? Not your average person. Average people who have indoor things to do, or who need to go shopping, people who like to be warm in winter, who don’t like to be wet when it’s cold out, who don’t like to keep still while their feet and fingers are uncomfortably numb; such people register low among the ranks of duck-hunters.

The edges of civilization, be it remote locales or mere shorelines, attract people who are not average. In winter, outside, it’s really only nature lovers and nature hunters. There’s some overlap in motivations: getting away from average people is one. Getting nearer to the seasons, and to the wildlife, are others. I share them all.

I am, by predisposition, a hunter. I used to train hawks and hunt with them, mainly for rabbits which I—and the hawks—ate. As a pre-teen I was fascinated by the possibility of hunting deer or birds. When I was 12, I shot a grackle with a pellet-gun. It never occurred to me that I might hit a bird and fail to kill it. Astonished, I saw the bird attempt to rise, and, disabled, drag itself into the undergrowth. Thus ended my personal interest in guns. I’m an avid fisherman, and I consider fishing to be merely hunting for animals with gills.

But fishing disturbs neither the neighbors nor all the fish in the area. It depends on the fish being able to feed undisturbed by the very boats that seek them. Duck hunting, though, frightens ducks from their best feeding locations and forces them to use up more of the precious energy they need to survive the cold.

On admittedly thin evidence, I believe the capacity for pain is higher in warm-blooded animals like ducks and people than it is in fish. Hooked fish act agitated. But crippled birds seem to really suffer, to show true misery.

Duck hunters I have known personally are likeable, admirable people. Some even devote their life’s work to wildlife conservation. Some hunting groups’conservation dollars are based on the idea that more ducks overall will mean more ducks to shoot, and that both are beautiful things.

But other duck hunters—the ones I most often see—strike me as slobs. In my region, they’re most shooting bay- and sea-ducks for fun, not for meat. They like to kill them but don’t want them. It’s target practice using living targets. Their mess and the wasted birds; there’s no excuse for it. And unlike deer hunting, which benefits people, the land, and the surviving deer, no justification for duck hunting rings true.

Yes, duck hunters pay for a lot of conservation. So do conservationists who don’t kill ducks. I invite the former to join the latter. There is too commonly in waterfowl hunters a blind spot for the suffering inflicted. And the waste.

What is the answer? As a lifelong advocate of fresh air and taking kids outdoors, my recommendation to those interested in this form of recreation is: stay inside. On the couch. Eating sugar and watching sit-coms and reality shows and playing video games. Safely indoors, out or harm’s way, develop your capacity for humane treatment of animals. If you must interact with animals, play with a puppy or get a parakeet. If you must go out, I suggest you challenge yourself to take up birding, which requires vastly more skill and knowledge, but still gives you an excuse to buy nice, warm boots and a cool camo jacket, and to get wet and cold anyway.

But if that just isn’t you, put yourself under house arrest where you’re less a menace. Or—go deer hunting.



5 Responses to “Enough Duck Shooting By Carl Safina”

  1. Betsy Walker Hasegawa in Kyoto says:

    Lacrimosa (“weeping”). It is said in the very ancient Agama Sutra, when we kill animals (let’s consider it at least referring to killing for sport), all living creatures in the universe are shaking in fear. (To weep or not, each to his own.)

  2. Brian Healy says:

    Thanks for the post Carl-
    This utterly disgusts me, particularly because I used to hunt ducks quite a bit when I lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but I’m also an increasingly obsessed birder and wildlife photographer. There’s something special about sitting in the marsh with your labrador retriever waiting for the sun to come up and the morning flight to happen. I used to work hard to bring one or two mallards home, which I enjoyed eating very much! How wasteful…I hope you have called the DNR or other wildlife authorities.

  3. Lowell says:

    Dr. Safina,
    My admiration for you is immense….and this excellent article actually caused it to increase (I hadn’t thought it possible!).
    Keep up the good fight.

    Jensen Beach, FL

  4. Martin says:

    Let me start off by saying you are terribly misinformed.Who do you think you are that you can judge ALL duck hunters by what a few unethical hunters do? Not all of us hunt illegally and there are fewer of those kind of hunters than you think.This would be like me saying “ALL of you bleeding-heart tree huggers are neucenses+ because you do what you think is fun”.And really,its cruel?Come up with another argument thats more valid and less time waisting.To top it all off; yes,you are welcome to live where ever you would like but if you dont like us duck hunters hunting, move.There are pletny of other places to live; or you could quit your complaining.

  5. Mark says:

    This caught my attention as a duck hunter. It is a very good post, and I agree with you mostly. However, I still think for one to stereotype the majority and say that someone should refrain from duck hunting isn’t a solution. I love duck hunting and God’s creation. I despise those who take advantage of our wildlife laws and produce a poor image for others. I think they should all be locked up and prosecuted a LOT more than they are…when they are actually caught; especially those who purposefully ignore a downed bird to suffer. I hate it. I make every effort possible to find birds I shoot, but it does not always happen, and that is part of hunting. You won’t always find deer and you won’t always find waterfowl. But both of these animals suffer painful deaths everyday without human interference. It is part of life.
    I love introducing young kids to hunting because it kept me out of trouble growing up and keeps me challenged in something I love. I work hard for what I shoot and I feel that the reason so many issues come up regarding hunting is that people are becoming lazy and fail to work for what they kill. Kids need better influences and people who abide by the law to introduce them to duck hunting. They don’t need to be sitting on the couch, playing games, and being lazy. That is a major problem with our country these days.
    I agree with you, some duck hunters are despicable. In fact, I would argue that the majority are that way. But I don’t believe waterfowling should come to an end because of this or your opinions. Our laws and limits need to be enforced. I wish I had a way to get rid of that majority that doesn’t abide by the laws. I also wish that you could understand the significance of hunting to someone such as myself and what it means to other honest SERIOUS hunters.

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