Despatching pricked birds

A vital component of shooting would be the humane despatching of an injured bird or creature, be it even a pheasant, duck, pigeon, rabbit or pigeon.

The prime objective of shooting quarry would be to ensure, wherever possible, an instantaneous death for your monster we’re pursuing. We are, hopefully, taught how to take by qualified teachers, but inevitably there’ll be occasions, especially on pushed shoots, even when birds have been wounded and need to be quickly despatched. Well-organised pushed shoots will have a group of pickers-up who must be handling capable gundogs and be well versed in dealing with wounded birds. Each will be armed with a priest, even the critical tool for managing a wounded bird.

But anyone who has any experience of shooting will 
have witnessed some appalling sights when it comes to despatching wounded game. The head-twirlers really are a case in point. Holding the pricked bird from the throat they swing the unfortunate monster round and round until its neck finally slides, leaving a period of extended neck that means the bird isn’t just unsightly but also can’t be suspended from the game larder.

hanging pheasants

Pheasants combined and wrapped properly

Respect for your quarry is essential

  • This is an inefficient process of killing. Not only that, but displays a lack of regard for your quarry, akin to the tossing of birds to the back of 
a wagon, rather than coupling 
and dangling them properly.
  • Then there are the head-bashers. Lacking a priest they swing the bird from its own legs against the nearest tree trunk, fencing pole or even the side 
of a stationary vehicle in the vague hope that the unfortunate bird’s thoughts is likely to make contact. Previously some keepers and also pickers-up were known to bite a pheasant’s skull to destroy it.
  • To ensure our game is as humane as possible we train our gundogs to regain both dead and wounded birds to hand. In the event of the latter, it is crucial to make sure that death is painless and instantaneous, to optimise welfare. This is best accomplished by 
a fast, hard blow to the bird’s head, while holding it with wings closed in the other hand. 
 There will be a brief flapping of the wings, but this is merely nerves shutting down. The bird is dead.
  • A word of caution, however. Take great care if you are handling a gently pricked cock pheasant, especially 
a survivor with long, sharp spurs. 
 The bird will probably kick and unless you’re extremely cautious you may well end 
up with a badly gashed hand.
Priest for pricked birds

Using a priest to provide a swift, hard blow on the back of a bird’s head will kill it immediately

Despatching pricked birds using a priest is the most humane way

The Humane Slaughter Association (HSA), although offering information to poultry keepers on techniques of despatch, notes neck dislocation, if used correctly by an experienced operator, can create extensive damage to the brainstem and render the bird immediately unconscious. Studies have indicated this isn’t always the case, especially where there hasn’t been full separation of their throat and destruction of the brainstem. It has also been revealed, horrifyingly, there could still be brain function and awareness around 30 seconds after 
a bird has been decapitated.

The use of so-called humane neck crushers, or pliers, is also condemned by the HSA on the grounds that there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that throat crushing produces immediate unconsciousness and may be less powerful than direct neck dislocation. I’ve, in the past, briefly used among these instruments but shortly dropped it on the grounds it wasn’t, in my opinion, efficient.

Continued below …

What is the most humane method to dispatch an injured bird?

What is the ideal means of despatching a pricked pigeon? Will a pricked bird flapping around close to the decoy pattern cease…

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