KILLING FOXES with shotguns - the farmer's preferred choice if hunting with dogs is banned under the Governments Hunting Bill - wounds as many foxes as it kills, according to research published last week by the all-party Middle Way group of MPs.
The MPs claimed that the study, by five independent animal welfare specialists, proved that a ban on hunting would have a detrimental effect on animal welfare rather than lead to an improvement.
The findings come as the Government's Hunting Bill, which bans hare coursing and stag hunting and imposes strict conditions on other forms of hunting before they can be legally registered, awaits its report stage in the Commons.
The study found that shooting foxes with .410 shotguns and 12 bore shotguns containing No 6 shot, mostly used for pheasants, was more likely to maim than to kill.
The specialists could not agree on exact figures for wounding rates because of the wide range of conditions and skills of the shooters involved, but concluded that when it came to shotguns, at least the same number of foxes were wounded as killed, with many of the wounded never being found.
Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of Middle Way, said: "Shooting has been constantly cited as a better alternative, yet this research clearly shows the facts are very different.
"No longer can anyone pretend a ban on hunting with dogs would lead to an improvement in animal welfare - especially since there isn't even any evidence to suggest the chase is worse than being wounded by a gun."
Peter Luff, MP, the Conservative co-chairman of the group, said: "It is the responsibility of the Government to properly investigate the repercussions of its legislation.
"Those who have supported a ban on hunting with dogs now need to seriously consider what purpose is served, in animal welfare terms, of pursuing this line."
Dr Nick Fox, a wildlife consultant and one of the authors of the report, said: "This report shows that the idea that a skilled professional will pick off every fox is not what happens in real life."
The International Zoo Veterinary Group said that rifles over a variety of ranges at night killed about 45 per cent of foxes, seriously wounded 36 per cent and wounded nine per cent.
Shotguns loaded with "BB" shot - found to be more deadly than the heavier AAA shot because they form a bigger pattern - killed 32 per cent of moving foxes at 25 yards range, seriously wounded 31 per cent, and wounded 19 per cent.
Approximately 199 shooters took part in the tests, carried out on moving targets for shotguns and static targets exposed for four seconds for rifles.
Animal welfare groups were split on the significance of the study. Mike Hobday, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "This shows that there are significant problems caused by shooting which the Government really ought to address."
Prof Stephen Harris, an expert retained by the coalition Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals, said: "I have seen foxes shot from central London to Australia and most of the foxes I have seen shot do not go anywhere. We see hundreds of foxes with car injuries, so where are the ones wounded by guns? They must disappear off the face of the earth.
"If people can't shoot very well, don't give them a gun licence."