French hunters have reacted angrily to suggestions they be stopped from drinking while out shooting to reduce accidental deaths and injuries.
The proposal would make those taking part in hunts subject to the same rules on blood alcohol limits and subsequent penalties as motorists. It is one of 30 recommendations made by France’s upper house of parliament, the senate, to address issues with hunt safety and the threat to members of the public.
France’s powerful hunting lobby, which is supported by the president, Emmanuel Macron, has dismissed the proposal, saying its members are being “stigmatised” and caricatured. It says 91% of breathalyser tests after hunting incidents are negative.
The senate’s proposal was prompted by a petition calling for stricter hunting rules after Morgan Keane, a British national, was accidentally killed by a hunter in December 2020. The 25-year-old was chopping wood in his garden at the time. The hunter, who was charged with manslaughter, said he had mistaken Keane for a wild boar.
A cross-party committee sat more than 100 times and went out on a hunt during its inquiry in order to examine a range of safety issues including the validating of hunting permits, the conditions for obtaining a gun, the shared use of outdoor space and the punishment for infringing rules.
The National Hunters’ Federation (FNC), which represents 800,000 licensed hunters, dismissed the senate report as a “mille-feuille of restrictions” that were “not appropriate or realistic”.
“The FNC denounces a catalogue of measures that are totally against the practice of popular hunting, with measures that are frankly useless because they have already been implemented by the hunters’ federations,” it wrote. It said the proposals were “a series of demagogic and deliberately anti-hunting measures aimed at public opinion”.
The law forbids hunters from firing a gun within 150 metres of a house or road. However, hunting accidents in which the victims were members of the public have involved motorists, walkers and their pets. Bullets have also ended up in people’s homes, including a child’s bedroom in one case.
In 2018, a 24-year-old hunter killed Marc Sutton, 34, a Welsh restaurateur living in Haute-Savoie who was out on his mountain bike. The hunter was sentenced to four years in prison, with three of them suspended. Afterwards, a pro-hunt Macron-supporting MP suggested banning offroad cycling during the hunting season.
In 2017, a 69-year-old woman was killed when a hunter shot at her garden hedge claiming he had seen a deer. He was given a 12-month suspended sentence. And in February this year, a 25-year-old woman was killed by a stray bullet while walking with a friend along a marked trail in the heavily forested Cantal region.
Government figures show the number of hunting accidents fell during the 2020-21 hunting season when there were 80, seven of them fatal, compared with 141 the previous season with 11 deaths. Since the start of the season there have been 42 accidents including three deaths. Most victims are hunters.
Officially 9% of hunting-related deaths and serious accidents are linked to alcohol or drugs. But critics say no study has been done on minor accidents and that the figure is certainly higher as tests are not carried out during the hunts but afterwards, mostly when police stop hunters driving home.
The FNC president, Willy Schraen, said local hunting federations were capable of policing their own members. “What right do you have to pick on hunters; a drunk guy on a bicycle is dangerous too,” he told French journalists.
“We are a little hurt by the way things are presented … implying that hunters are all inveterate alcoholics,” he added. “It’s brutal and stigmatising.”
The FNC has strong support from Macron, who halved hunters’ licence fees and hailed them as the heirs to France’s country traditions that were part of the national identity.
In their report, senators rejected public requests that hunting be banned at weekends or during school holidays when people are out walking. However. its authors said it was not normal that alcohol was not banned while hunting and their aim was to find a balance to avoid future accidents. “Even one victim is a victim too many,” they said.
The report will be debated and a draft bill drawn up for presentation to parliament.