Calls for hunting reform in France after cyclist shot

Campaigners have called for hunting reform but hunters say safety precautions are already in place (photo for illustration only)

Campaigners are calling for hunting reform in France after a British cyclist was accidentally shot dead in the French Alps this week.

Marc Sutton, a British national who had lived and worked in Les Gets (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) for four years, was cycling on a marked mountain path in Montriond when he was shot by a 22-year-old hunter. It is thought he was mistaken for an animal.

The shooter was taken to hospital for shock, and a manslaughter inquiry has now been opened.

The incident has prompted campaigners to call for more regulation on hunting, including removal of the “lifetime” hunting permit, and making Sunday a no-hunting day across France.

Around 150 people are involved in hunting accidents every year in France, according to figures from hunting group l’Office National de la Chasse et La Faune Sauvage (ONCFS). While the number of deaths has decreased in recent years - to 113 accidents and 13 fatalities last year (the lowest since the 1990s) - there has never been a year where no-one has died.

Since June this year, the ONCFS has so far counted four fatalities and 25 other accidental injuries from hunting.

Madline Reynaud, director of wild animal protection group l'Association Pour la Protection des Animaux Sauvages (ASPAS), said the case of Mr Sutton reminded her of another incident, where a VTT cyclist was hit by a bullet in the Ardèche.

She said: “Exactly ten years ago, in October 2008, Abio Butali died in exactly the same conditions…[and] a little 10-year-old girl was severely injured near Limoges by a man who was shooting a hunting gun at his home.”

She added that there had been reports of walkers being in danger, and families in the Lot-et-Garonne and the Hérault even receiving hunting bullets shot into their living room.

Punishment for fatal shootings remains ambiguous, she said.

Ms Reynaud added: “Last September, one hunter was sentenced to just one year in prison for having shot and killed a man, a father, who was running on a forest road in 2015.”

Rather than a sign of an increase in safety, campaigners say that the drop in hunting accidents coincides with a reduction in the number of hunters, with figures showing that there were 1.5 million at the beginning of the 2000s, compared to 1.12 million today.

(Marc Sutton was shot and killed / Facebook)

But hunting advocates say that more and more safety precautions are already being taken.

This includes the requirement to pass a hunting license test since 2002 - which trains would-be hunters to know how to cope in accident-prone situations.

Similarly, many hunting federations now require hunters to wear fluorescent jackets, and ask that hunters no longer use shoulder straps on their weapons, as these have been implicated in several accidents.

But Ms Reynaud said that ASPAS was calling for reform that “goes much further than that currently offered by the government” and Willy Shraen, president of the hunting group La Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs (FNC).

Proposals include making hunters take a new license test every two or three years, rather than having one for life with no further medical assessment. ASPAS says the tests should include physical and mental tests, as well as an eye test.

ASPAS has also called for Sunday to be a no-hunt day, as has bird protection group La Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), for which the latter says it has been campaigning “for years”.

But Nicolas Rivet, director of the FNC, has questioned these ideas.

On the subject of licence tests, he drew parallels with driving licences. He said: ”Once you get your [driving licence], you never have to retake it, no matter what age you are.

“[And] hunting is already banned on Sunday in private forests. Applying this rule everywhere would be a challenge to the right of property in France, as many hunts are organised on private estates.”

He added: “And, like most others, the majority of hunters work during the week, and they only have the weekend to dedicate to their hobby."

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