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Holding on: Duck shooting in Victoria 2023

Life in the air

“The 2023 duck shooting season in Victoria commenced April 26 and ends May 30. The mass killing of birdlife occurs despite one natural catastrophe after another. Today, there are startlingly few birds when we compare what was once out there, and not so long ago. And still the slaughter continues”.

Peter and Andrea Hylands

January 20, 2024

As we try to do each year, we attended the Duck opening season in Victoria. In 2023 the location we visited was Lake Buloke in the Wimmera region of North Western Victoria. Australia’s Duck man, Laurie Levy (landing image), was also at Lake Buloke with his dedicated team of rescuers. There were few ducks and even fewer shooters.


In the Southern and Eastern parts of Australia duck shooting occurs in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, duck shooting also occurs in New South Wales on private land including rice farms. Duck shooting seasons in Western Australia were banned in 1990, in New South Wales in 1995 and Queensland in 2005.

In Queensland it appears that the situation is as follows: On private land, hunting of ‘feral animals’ is allowed with the landowner’s permission to hunt. A current firearms licence is required to hunt on private land. Full licence holders must be 18 years of age and children of at least 11years can use firearms (minor’s licence with adult supervision). Currently, Queensland does not have any species classified as game that can be shot by recreational hunters during an open season. The extent of illegal shooting of Australian birdlife is unknown.

In Victoria, the disregard for all Ramsar sites and the convention itself is hard to comprehend, destroying educational and economic opportunities these places should enable.

The annual shooting of the Blue-winged Shoveler and the Hardhead was ‘sustainable’ until these species of Australian Ducks were listed on Victoria’s threatened species list.

“The numbers of Blue-winged Shovelers have steadily declined since the early 2000s and the species was periodically removed, but then reinstated on the ‘game’ list. However, in 2022 their numbers had dropped to such an extent that the species was finally declared ‘vulnerable’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 – Threatened List.  Blue-winged Shovelers are now permanently protected and have been removed from the ‘game’ list”. CADS

Context: Other species

"Australian mammal and bird species are the animals most directly impacted by Victorian Government policies targeted to kill them in very large numbers. Numerous other species die because of deforestation, land clearing, burning, poisoning and development, these include many species from the reptile and amphibian families". Peter Hylands

As well as Duck and Stubble Quail shooting, Victoria is home to the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos, the Victorian Government issues permits to kill a large range of ‘protected’ native species (ATCWs) including in State and National Parks, unprotects other native species so they can be killed outside the permit system and has a secretive Koala killing program.

“As of 25/02/2020 - 88 Australian species in Victoria were subject to control by shooting, a subset of those species (22) were further subject to control by trapping or gassing, again a subset of those on the shoot list were also subject to control by trapping and shooting, a further subset of species (12) were subject to control by destruction of eggs and nests”. Peter Hylands

Context: Environment

Severe floods in Victoria prior to the 2023 Duck shooting season and related climate change impacts follow the devastating droughts and fires of just three years ago.

Climate impacts include toxic algal blooms, mass die off of fish in the river systems just to the north of Victoria, major chemical run off from flooding of farmland and outbreaks of Avian Botulism in Victoria, including at Bells Swamp where hundreds of ducks died.

Lead-based firearm shot was commonly used by Duck shooters in the Victorian wetlands until it was banned in 1994. Although lead-based shot is no longer used to kill Ducks, lead shot is still used legally to shoot Stubble Quail, lead shot still remains in wetlands where hunting took place.

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting report that:

“A recently discovered Game Management Authority paper indicates that aside from the tonnes of toxic lead entering our environment from hunting (quail legally and duck illegally), at least 2.2 million plastic shells and wads are blasted into the Victorian environment each year by duck shooters".

Context: Populations

The Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey in 2022 found that duck abundance for species in the firing line was the third lowest recorded in 40 years and just 25 per cent of the long-term average. The populations of these duck species in Northern Victoria declined in 2022 when compared to 2021 despite record flooding. Waterbird populations, breeding and habitat availability are all showing long-term declines over the last four decades.

In New South Wales its quota survey showed a 16 per cent decline of the species targeted by bird shooters. In South Australia its government survey of duck species showed continuing declines and the second lowest abundance estimate in 19 years of surveys despite a significantly enlarged survey area.

Black-tailed Native-hens at the edge of Lake Buloke

Context: Outcome of previous seasons in Victoria

In 2022, the duck shooting season was not subject to the COVID-19 restrictions which were in place during the 2020 and 2021 shooting seasons. The 2022 duck shooting season ran for 12 weeks, compared with 3 weeks in 2021, and the daily ‘bag limit’ was reduced to four ducks, down from ten ducks. Sadly the arrangements for hunting Stubble Quail remained unchanged, running for 3 months with a ‘bag limit’ of 20 birds per day.

The Victorian Government estimates show that a total of 262,600 ducks were killed in Victoria in 2022, 19 per cent lower than the average annual duck kill, currently estimated at 324,000 ducks (significantly reduced from earlier years). During the COVID reduced 2020 duck shooting season 60,000 ducks were killed, in 2021 government estimates show that 52,000 ducks were killed. Even COVID could not stop the killing of birdlife in Victoria.

The 2022 season kill comprised:

  • Pacific Black Duck 38 per cent;
  • Australian Wood Duck 26 per cent;
  • Grey Teal 18 per cent;
  • Chestnut Teal 10 per cent;
  • Mountain Duck 8 per cent; and
  • Pink- eared Duck less than 1 per cent

The Blue-winged Shoveler and the Hardhead were already protected in 2022.

For Victoria, as at 30 June 2022, there were 27,810 game bird shooting licences including duck shooting licences of 11,083 and game birds / duck and deer entitlement (various) 15,491 licences.

Of the 262,567 ducks killed in 2022, estimates show that the number of birds wounded (additional) was likely to be in the range of 17,000 to 100,000.

Taking into account the likely number of birds killed in the south eastern and south central states of Victoria, New South Wales (on private land), Tasmania and South Australia, a conservative estimate puts the total kill in a band between 700,000 and 800,000 in the year. This is a long way from being sustainable. Wounded birds would be additional.

For Victoria in 2023, and in its shortened duck shooting season, initial estimates of the number of birds likely to be killed were in a range of 85,000 to 100,000 with, in addition, as many as 35,000 birds wounded. As it turned out the actual numbers were very much higher. See below.

Lake Buloke

After the opening: Some of many

Context: Economy

Tourism Research Australia data shows that tourists who birdwatch spend around $2.9 billion in a given year. In 2021, the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office found that Duck shooting contributed $10 million to Victoria, most of the benefit flowing to Melbourne. This does not account for climate change costs from vehicles, the fact that all equipment is likely to be imported (including vehicles, fuel, tents and other equipment), helicopter surveys, consultants, modelling and reports, costs of law enforcement, costs of the Game Management Authority, cost of public servants and politicians defending the mass killing of birdlife, costs of the majority opposing the killing and losses from unrealised tourism opportunities (including from the state’s Ramsar sites) and the destruction of amenity (which is very stressful and disruptive of work and leisure) of local residents near the shooting activity.

Pity about Victoria’s 12 Ramsar sites then

“The most popular reserve is the Penguin Parade, receiving over 700,000 visitors per year, over half of which are international visitors. Phillip Island Nature Parks is estimated at providing over $450 million for the Victorian economy annually”. Victorian Government

Context: Cruelty and wounding

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting report that:

"The discovery of a Game Management Authority Board paper discussing a Victorian taxpayer-funded Game Management Authority trip to Denmark to “study wounding” amongst other things. The paper outlines how bird wounding in Denmark went from one bird killed for one bird wounded, to a wound rate of 10 per cent after thirty years of educating shooters to improve their practices. Unlike Victoria, Denmark imposes rigorous training for written and practical tests before handing out a bird hunting licence”.

Lake Buloke in the evening before shooting commences the following morning

Context: Experiments on Australian Wildlife

Among its discoveries Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting report that:

“In yet another taxpayer-funded project, the Game Management Authority recently trapped 596 live ducks to x-ray them for shotgun shrapnel. Bear in mind these birds are the ones who survived – most of the wounded would have succumbed to their injuries. 3 per cent of those captured had shrapnel embedded in their bodies. It’s unknown if these hapless Ducks were able to rejoin their flocks and families once their ordeal was over”.

Ducks crossing sign, St Arnaud, Victoria

Context: Use of language and methodology

The language and methodologies used to try to justify the ongoing mass killing of birdlife in Victoria begins to look more and more like the well strategised language used by the commercial exploiters of Kangaroos.

Not a bird to be seen, Gariwerd National Park, Victoria

Parliamentary Inquiry into recreational native bird hunting in Victoria

“In February 2023, the Andrews Labor Government moved and passed a motion to establish a Legislative Council Select Committee to examine recreational native bird shooting in Victoria.  The public campaign against duck shooting is in its 38th year and this is the first time the public have been given the opportunity to present evidence to a committee in support of a ban. This inquiry is the result of an enormous effort by advocacy groups, wildlife rescuers and the broader community and it is our best chance at ensuring 2023 is the last year of suffering for our native water birds and quail”. AJP

After the opening: One of many

“Duck season in Victoria is a highly regulated and sustainable activity that injects millions into our local economy”. Melina Bath MLC, Nationals 

Stubble Quail shooting Victoria 2023

Odd sets of numbers and poor environmental policy are a feature of this cruel activity.

“Hunting Method: shotgun only, not exceeding 12 gauge. Lead shot may be used. However, we encourage hunters to use non-toxic shot as it is less harmful to the environment. Gundogs may also be used to hunt Stubble Quail”. Game Management Authority

The Victorian Government estimates that around 175,000 Stubble Quail are shot in Victoria each year, predominantly on privately owned land in stubble paddocks and grasslands and in 2023, 16 ‘State Game Reserves’ are open to Stubble Quail hunting.

The ‘State Game Reserves’ were Blond Bay, Bow Lake, Clydebank Morass, Darlot Swamp, Dowd Morass, Gaynor Swamp, Hateleys Lake, Heart Morass, Jack Smith Lake, Jones Bay, Lake Coleman, Lake Connewarre, Mansfield Swamp, Macleod Morass, Rowan Swamp and Wallenjoe Swamp.

“Victoria’s first statewide survey of Victoria’s Stubble Quail population show an estimated 3.1 million Stubble Quail in Victoria, with the highest population densities located in non-native pasture and seasonal wetlands. The survey was conducted in January 2022, at 54 randomly selected Stubble Quail habitat sites including native tussock grasslands, dry-land crop, non-native pasture, and seasonal wetlands. Wildlife ecologists walked more than 200km of transects on public and private land to estimate quail numbers at each site”. Victorian Government

Note: The population of Brisbane, a major Australian City, in 2023 was 2.5 million.

“Despite an unprecedented population estimate of 9 million Stubble Quail in Victoria this year (up from 3 million in 2022) the Minister has slashed the length of the season – announcing it will run for the same period of time as the 2023 Victorian Duck season (26 April to 30 May)”. Field and Game

Note: This estimate of the Stubble Quail population in Victoria is getting close to double the population of Melbourne, now Australia's largest city. Seen a Stubble Quail recently?

2023 actuals, how many birds were killed?

Victoria’s Game Management Authority has provided its grim statistics for ‘recreational’ duck and quail shooting for 2023.

  • Ducks killed – 319,900;
  • Active duck hunters – 14,092; and
  • Licensed duck hunters – 21,900.
  • Stubble Quail killed – 302,800;
  • Active quail hunters – 4,761; and
  • Licensed quail hunters – 26,000.

0.002 per cent of Victoria’s population was responsible for the enormous carnage of waterbirds in 2023.

0.0007 per cent of Victoria’s population was responsible for the enormous carnage of Stubble Quail in 2023.

This small band of individuals were responsible for the death of 622,700 native Australian birds and the wounding of many more, and all of it in the name of 'family fun'.

De-listing the Hardhead

“This native species should be kept on the threatened list because it has suffered decline this century and has failed to recover. Climate change and habitat loss will continue these losses. Currently the Hardhead is being artificially supported in a man-made environment, with the majority favouring sewage ponds at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP)  The WTP is  seriously vulnerable as bird habitat, as it faces growing salinity from rising seawater due to global warming. With hot dry seasons predicted to worsen and El Nino upon us, the environmental situation elsewhere in Victoria is dire for the Hardhead. The precautionary principle must be heeded”. RVOTDS

Another attempt to de-list a threatened species in Victoria became apparent during the Christmas period in late 2023. This time for the Hardhead, populations of which have been destroyed by mass killing events during the ‘recreational’ duck shooting season in Victoria. The next two quotes are from Victorian Government documents in relation to this de-listing attempt.

“The taxon nominated for de-listing is currently listed as Vulnerable in Victoria on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act) Threatened List under Primary Criterion 5.1 – Sub-criterion 5.1.3 (b) (ii) (IUCN criterion C2a (ii)) (State Government of Victoria 2021)…. The IUCN guidelines (2022) allow for the removal of a species from the Threatened List (de-listing) when new or corrected information arises since the first or previous assessment. Evidence demonstrates that the taxon does not meet the criterion under which it was listed as Vulnerable in Victoria under the FFG Act (C2a (ii))”.
“Data from the Eastern Australian Waterbird Aerial Surveys 1983 - 2022 (Porter et al. 2022) and the Victorian Duck Season Priority Waterbird Counts 2014 – 2021 (formerly the Summer Waterbird Count) (Game Management Authority 2023a) indicate that while Hardhead numbers fluctuate, there is no evidence of a declining population trend. The past population reduction does not meet the threshold for eligibility under criterion A2, and the future population reduction does not meet the threshold for eligibility under criterion A3”.

The reality, given the drastic decline in waterbirds in south eastern Australia is that the shooters need the de-listing as they can’t afford to allow these listing to occur, otherwise it will signify the end of their heinous and cruel behaviour.

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting note the argument to remove the Hardhead from the threatened list references an average estimate (18,700) of mature Hardhead 2014-2021.  Given the date range and the GMA reference, it seems this result is related to GMA’s Priority Waterbird Count (PWC)  2014-2021.  

“The quoted 18,700 figure is misleading for three reasons: the calculation appears to be arithmetically incorrect; there is no context provided; and it is only a “snapshot” count of a fluctuating population”. RVOTDS