Reducing wounding of game by shotgun hunting: effects of a Danish action plan on pink-footed geese.
Shooting of game by shotgun inevitably leads to wounding of some individuals. Few attempts, however, have been made to quantify the numbers involved. Following demonstration that for certain species nearly one bird was wounded for every one killed, a national action plan to reduce wounding of game was implemented in Denmark in 1997. The plan called for substantial improvements in hunting practice to reduce the number of wounded birds, granting hunters an initial period to achieve this on a voluntary basis. The Svalbard pink-footed goose is hunted exclusively in Norway and in Denmark, where two-thirds of the annual harvest is taken. Before 1997, 25% of the first-year and 36% of the older geese carried embedded shot, corresponding to at least 0.7 wounded geese per bagged one. We studied the effects of the action plan by X-raying annual catches of geese during 1998-2005. Since 1998 there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of geese carrying shot for both first-years (7-11% in catches) and older geese (gradual decrease to c. 18% by 2005). A simple population dynamic model predicts these decreases to be consistent with a c. 60% reduction of numbers wounded for both age classes. During 1996-2005 the Svalbard pink-footed goose population increased from 33 000 to 50 000 individuals. Information on harvest size is sparse, and the possibility that declining harvest rates could have affected the proportion of geese carrying shot cannot be disregarded. We show that the observed decreases cannot be explained solely by decreasing harvest rates, although calculated effects of the plan may have been somewhat inflated. Even in that case, however, reductions of at least 50% appear to have resulted from the plan. Synthesis and applications. The basic remedial action to reduce wounding has been to encourage compliance with the 25 m maximum range recommended for shooting geese in Denmark. This reduction in range eliminates shots that have a low probability of killing and a relatively high risk of wounding. Since 1997, the total annual number of harvested geese in Denmark has increased from 15 000 to 30 000. Thus, reductions in numbers wounded do not appear to have had any negative impact on harvest size.