The death of a 25-year-old hiker who was hit by a stray bullet in Cantal over the weekend follows the death of a hunter during a similar accident earlier this month.
Both incidents, as well as the 83 accidents – seven fatal – which occurred during the 2020-21 season, have added fuel to the debate over how the countryside should be shared between hunters, walkers and other nature lovers.
Several organisations have repeatedly called for hunt-free days to be introduced in France like in countries including the UK, and hunting federations have themselves said that “one death is one too many.”
Although the discussion seems to have gathered momentum in recent months with the French Senate agreeing to consider a petition calling for the introduction of stricter regulations, figures show that the number of hunting accidents has in fact fallen by nearly two thirds.
The 83 incidents recorded by the Office français de la biodiversité (OFB) during last year’s season compared to 232 such accidents in 1999-2000.
This is of course due in part to the fact that Covid restrictions were in place for much of the season, but incident numbers have been falling gradually for years, with 131 being reported in 2010.
The OFB states that this is also down to the “evolution of hunting permits, of training, of education campaigns and of the rules.”
For example, it is only since 2003 that hunters have had to take part in practical exercises as part of the training required to obtain their licence.
A 2019 reform also means that hunters now face stricter sanctions if they ignore safety rules, such as having their permit suspended.
Hunting-related deaths have also fallen over the past 20 years, from 39 in 1999-2000 to 31 in 2001-2 to 24 in 2005-6 all the way down to seven in 2020-21.
Of the seven people who were killed last year, six were hunters, according to government figures.
So far this season, which began in September and will conclude in most departments at the end of the month, there have been 42 accidents, including three deaths.
What causes accidents?
During the 2020-21 season, hunting large animals such as wild boar and deer proved to be more dangerous, with 59% of incidents occurring in these situations.
Accidents are most often caused by a failure to respect safety rules, which include limiting shooting to the 120-degree arc directly in front of you and not in the 30 degrees to your left or right.
Damage or injury can also be caused if hunters mistakenly shoot towards roads, pathways or habitations, if they shoot while walking or running or if a bullet ricochets off an object.
Accidents falling but material damage on the rise
The number of accidents involving humans has declined in recent years, but incidents causing damage to material objects or injury to animals has become more common.
In 2020-21, the OFB recorded 92 such incidents, 15 less than in the previous year but 13 more than 10 years ago.
More than half of these incidents (52) involved bullets shot towards homes, 26 towards vehicles and 16 towards pets.