Under specific and strictly controlled circumstances, the culling of deer at night for purposes of control and damage containment is regarded as an important deer management tool. Night shooting should however, never be considered as a replacement for deer management during the permitted open season and time period.
Section 29 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended) (“the Act”) prohibits the hunting of deer other than from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset, during the permitted Open Seasons only. Section 29 also prohibits the use of a lamp for hunting deer.
Sections 23 and 42 of the Act allow for the hunting of deer at other times, i.e. during the Closed Seasons and at night (i.e. from one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise), with or without use of a lamp. It is a condition of the section 42 licence, if intended to be exercised at night, that the applicant or the person exercising the licence on behalf of the owner or occupier of the land over which it is to be exercised, is certified under the terms of the Deer Alliance Hunter Competence Assessment Programme (HCAP). Application must be made on the prescribed form, available on the website of the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS). The applicant must specify the particulars of the damage caused and nominate the holder of a valid deer hunting licence if not exercising the licence himself. Conditions may be attached to the licence and the applicant must indemnify and keep indemnified the Minister, his successors, employees, agents and assigns against all actions, claims, demands and costs in respect of any such losses, injuries, accidents or damage. Licences are time-limited and specific to the area on which damage is alleged. A return giving particulars of the species and number of deer captured, killed or otherwise controlled pursuant to the licence must be made to the NPWS on expiry of the period of validity of the licence.
Purpose of Night Shooting
The purpose of night shooting should be to deal with circumstances of measurable or extreme threat or damage to agricultural crops or forestry, population densities of deer incompatible with their immediate environment, or to deal with injured or diseased animals, where the problem cannot be dealt with in daylight hours, in season. Recognising that such circumstances can arise, special considerations arise where night shooting has to be deployed as a management tool.
Public safety and the humane dispatch and welfare of deer are paramount in the issue of night shooting licences and must be the overriding considerations. Operators are advised to undertake a risk assessment to help ensure safe and humane working practices are exercised at all times. Marksmen must be fully familiar with the firearm to be used and possess the appropriate firearm certification. Before night shooting takes place, the licensee and operators involved must make themselves thoroughly familiar with the site. Safe and unsafe areas must be identified; shooting must only take place where there is a suitable backstop. Anyone likely to be in the vicinity should be given advance warning and adjacent occupiers should be informed and agreement reached on roles and responsibilities e.g. what happens if an injured animal runs on to a neighbour’s land. It is advisable and may be a condition of the licence to inform the local Gárda Síochána and NPWS staff before the commencement night shooting operations.
The minimum operating team is two; a spotlight operator and a marksman. If a vehicle is used a driver will also be necessary. The duties of each team member are as follow:
To locate and help select deer to be shot and to mark the position of shot deer for prompt recovery.
To confirm identification of the target animal, to shoot and to observe the effect of the shot. The marksman should control all movement of personnel in and out of the vehicle.
To position vehicle in collaboration with the team and to observe and assist in locating and recovering fallen animals.
Use of a vehicle, which is otherwise prohibited under section 36 of the Act, should be a permitted condition of the licence. There should be no shooting from a moving vehicle, the vehicle must be stationary with the engine turned off. The vehicle may need to be adapted to provide a means of preventing participants from falling from the vehicle or being injured when the vehicle is moving e.g. a safety cage in the bed of a pick up; and a rest such as a shooting rail that provides a good support for the rifle when shooting and lifts the muzzle well clear of the supporting surface. Care must be taken to ensure that parts of the vehicle or its passengers cannot easily be brought into the line of fire. Shots must never be taken by stretching across the driver or passenger inside the cab. Good communication between the marksman, the driver and the spotlight operator is essential and when shooting no one should step outside the vehicle unless given the all-clear by the marksman.
Visibility & Shot
Deer must be positively identified, fully visible and clear of obstructions before a shot is attempted. It is critical that the background is safe with a wide margin for error. Heart/lung shots only are recommended when night shooting. Shots should be limited to the appropriate
range and should normally be within 100m. If there is any doubt about the safety or humaneness of a particular shot, it must not be attempted.
A trained dog should be available to assist with carcase recovery if necessary.
Firearms and Ammunition
The firearm used must be deer-legal and suitable for the purpose. The accuracy/zeroing of the rifle and scope and effectiveness of the shooting set up must be checked in daylight, before undertaking any night shooting. The rifle must be unloaded at all times except when shooting is in progress. A back-up firearm should be carried for the despatch of wounded animals at close quarters where a second rifle shot may be unsafe. This must be unloaded except at the moment of use. It is recommended that either the spotlight operator or the driver act as the back-up shooter but only under direction from the rifle shooter. Considerations as to safe backstop are the same as with the rifle.
A specification with good light gathering properties is a requirement. The minimum recommended specification is 6 x 40. The use of light-intensifying, heat sensitive or other special sighting devices may be used only if permitted under licence. Telescopic sights should never be used as a substitute for binoculars e.g. for searching for or identifying deer.
Binoculars are an essential aid to clear identification of the target animals. A specification with good light-gathering properties, e.g. 7 or 8 x 40 is recommended as a minimum.
A minimum spotlight rating of 1 million candle-power is recommended. Care should be taken not to shine the light into operators’ eyes, skywards or towards occupied buildings or roads.
Working at night can increase the likelihood of mistakes, these can be minimised by a well organised routine. A first aid kit should always be carried. Details of location and expected time of return should be given to a third party. A radio or mobile phone should be carried.
Removal and processing of carcasses
All carcasses should be removed as soon as possible and handled in accordance to best practice. It is recommended that where possible, gralloching and further processing are carried out in a deer larder rather than in the field.