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Calls for hunt-free day in France multiply after hiker, 25, killed

The woman was hit by a bullet believed to have been fired by a teenage hunter. Hunting federation insists the practice has and will continue to become safer

There have been renewed calls for a hunt-free day in France following the death of a 25-year-old hiker over the weekend Pic: Scharfsinn / Shutterstock

[Update February 22 at 15:00 - The 17-year-old hunter has now been charged with involuntary homicide. The public prosecution service of the Réublique d'Aurillac said that she had spotted a wild boar and shot, but had then heard the cry of a person on the nearby path and went immediately to see what had happened.] 

A French federation for the protection of nature is calling for hunting to be banned for one day a week following the death of a hiker walking on a known hiking path in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

“We are asking that a working group is created to discuss the sharing of nature between hunters and non-hunters,” member of the France Nature Environnement federation, Dominique Py, told Franceinfo.

This comes the day after a 25-year-old woman from Aveyron, Mélodie Cauffet, was accidentally killed on Saturday (February 19) while hiking with her partner in Cassaniouze (Cantal). 

She was walking on a marked path but was hit by a bullet shot during a wild boar hunt at around 15:00. She died at the scene, having been hit in the left side of her body. 

A 17-year-old woman taking part in the hunt was hospitalised for shock and then taken into custody on suspicion of involuntary homicide by gendarmes, Aurillac’s public prosecutor has said. The teenager is suspected of having shot the bullet in question. She was found not to have had drugs or alcohol in her bloodstream but police have extended her time in custody.

Read more: Hunter, 17, questioned after woman shot dead on walking path in France

Over the course of the 2020-21 season, there were 80 hunting accidents in France, seven of which proved to be fatal. Six of the victims were hunters and one was not, according to figures released by the government. 

There have been 42 accidents, including three deaths, during the 2021-22 season so far. 

Introducing a hunt-free day “is a request that we have been making repeatedly for years and until now, no one has listened to us,” Ms Py said. 

“There needs to be an arbiter, in this case the government,” to take “measures which allow us to facilitate the coexistence of hunters and non-hunters.

“Our federation is not opposed to hunting,” she added. 

“It should be noted that this rule already exists in other countries. So when hunters tell us that it is not possible, look at England for example” where hunting is banned on Sundays.

Such rules also exist in certain areas of France, “but depending on the hunting society, the day of the ban differs.

“The different hunting federations need to agree on the same day.”

Ms Py also stressed the need to remind hunters of safety guidelines as “these accidents are mainly due to a failure to respect rules and safety advice.” 

Read more: France hunting season 2021: Five facts about la chasse

Bullets shot by the guns used for hunting can travel – and cause injury – over a distance of 1.5-3km, according to figures released by the wildlife organisation Association pour la protection des animaux sauvages in 2016.

An election issue 

Environmentalist presidential candidate Yannick Jadot has previously called for hunting to be banned completely on weekends and during school holidays, arguing that “nature must be accessible to everyone.

“Three quarters of people who live in rural areas don’t dare to go walking on Sundays because there are gunshots around,” he claimed.

Last year, a petition demanding two hunt-free days – on Wednesday and Sunday – reached 100,000 signatures, qualifying for debate in France’s Senate. 

Read more: Senate to debate hunting rules as another accident occurs in France

The petition was launched by an organisation called Un jour, un chasseur, which was created by the friends of Morgan Keane, a 25-year-old man who was killed by a hunter’s bullet while he was chopping wood in his garden in 2020.

Read more: Man, 25, shot dead by hunter as he cuts wood at home in Lot

‘One death is one too many’ 

Thierry Coste, who is political adviser for the Fédération nationale des chasseurs hunting federation, has insisted that hunters have “considerably reduced the number of accidents and will continue to do so.

The number of hunting accident victims has indeed fallen over the past 20 years, from 232 in 2000 to 131 in 2010 to 80 in 2020.

“This is not to do with the age” of the hunter who shot the bullet, Mr Coste added. “The person in question had been trained. This training is carried out by the State and is very strict on learning how to control and understand a weapon.” 

Mr Coste does not support the minimum age for obtaining a hunting permit being raised from 16 to 18 years, as “in the majority of cases people argue that the hunters are too old” when accidents occur.

Today (February 21), there will be a meeting between all of France’s nature activity federations, who will discuss how information and safety advice can be better communicated to their members. 

“We must realise that one death is always one too many,” Mr Coste added. 

“We do not want people to think that they cannot go out walking in nature when a hunt is happening. We do not want that hysteria.

“In places where there are many walkers, there are rules. And sometimes there are bans during certain periods. So we must be sensible. There are tens of thousands of people who are going into nature while hunts are happening and everything goes fine.” 

Mr Coste also criticised the position of presidential candidates Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise), who “totally refuse to enter into dialogue with the hunting sphere [...] calling for our disappearance

“There are 22 deaths each year involving scooters in France’s three biggest cities. Does anyone call for a ban, or for different days to be allocated to scooters, bikes and walkers? It has to stop.” 

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Hunter killed by stray bullet during hunt in central France

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