French hunters are facing calls for compulsory breathalyser tests before bearing arms amid fears that a spike in the number of deaths this year could be drink-fuelled.
Eight people have already died in hunting accidents since September and the season still has another three months to run.
The death toll has already surpassed the seven who were killed last year out of a total 131 recorded accidents.
The spike prompted a plea from environment minister Emmanuelle Wargon for hunters to fully implement new safety regulations.
Last year, French parliament passed a bill tightening security for hunters, who are obliged to wear high-visibility vests, post signs to warn walkers about “collective hunting actions”, and take a security training test every ten years.
In the past, they were briefly shown hunting guidelines over an induction course lasting a day or two and then handed a permit for life.
But animal welfare groups say the new measures are clearly insufficient, in particular as they fail to address the issue of alcohol consumption.
“Today, you can hunt drunk in France, it’s perfectly legal,” said Marc Giraud of the wildlife protection group ASPAS and author of How to Walk in the Woods Without Being Shot.
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“There are no breathalyser tests for hunters as it is not a crime to hunt in an inebriated state nor is being drunk considered an aggravated circumstance in case of homicide,” he told the Telegraph.
“As a result, state rangers do not have the right to conduct breathalyser tests. That should change.”
The problem, he said was that being “merry, a bon vivant who likes to drink and eat well” was part of the hunter’s image “but there is a price to be paid that can be someone’s life”.
The National Hunters Federation, FNC, in France stresses it has improved security, making it harder to get new licences and that the deaths have generally dropped from an annual average of around 20 over the past 20 years.
It insists that accidents are generally down to “fatigue” rather than drink and has baulked at stricter drink controls, saying that alcohol consumption is “more a question of judgement” on a par with “deciding to drive home or not”.
But the FNC slammed as unacceptable the number of deaths this year.
Two of the victims killed were not even taking part in a hunt. One man in the Charentes-Maritime was shot dead while mushroom picking in September.
“Enough is enough,” said Nicolas Rivet, director general of the FNC, who said the majority of deaths were down to “failure to respect security measures”.
“The problem is you can create as many rules as you like and drum them into people but some will continue to do stupid things. It’s like when you’re driving and send a text message behind the wheel despite the dangers for others,” he said.
Errors occur when hunters fail to respect a 30 degrees rule meaning you shoot downwards to avoid hitting a colleague and only shoot once you have identified the prey. Numerous fatal accidents happen when hunters forget to disarm their rifles while climbing obstacles.
Anti-hunt groups are also calling for a national hunting on ban on Sundays, when the majority of accidents occur but say the powerful hunting lobby, which represents around a million hunters, holds sway over politicians.
They point to the fact President Emmanuel Macron recently agreed to halve the price of hunting permits.
Hunters say they are making efforts but that the sport does carry risks by definition.
Thierry Coste, lobbyist for the FNC, said that carelessness was “intolerable” but “with ricochet, (an accident) is totally possible.”
“Zero risk doesn’t exist.”
Hunting has been the subject of fierce debate this week after a pregnant woman was killed by dogs in northern France while walking her own pet in a wooded area during a deer hunt. Prosecutors have launched an investigation and taken DNA tests from all dogs in the local hunt’s hound pack and others in the area.
Her funeral is to be held on Saturday.