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Free-bullet firearms

The operator of any firearm must be competent in order to protect the welfare of the animal. It is very important that the correct ammunition is used, otherwise the animal might not be killed immediately and/or the operator could be injured. The use of firearms in enclosed spaces, or when animals are on hard surfaces, could result in ricochet of free bullets and is to be avoided for health and safety reasons. There is no need to bleed or pith an animal following effective use of firearms.

Various firearms can be used to kill livestock:

  • A humane killer is a single-shot, free-bullet pistol with a vented barrel. They are extremely dangerous and must only be used by experienced operators. Humane killers are frequently used by veterinary surgeons and knackermen. It is very important that the correct ammunition is used. The muzzle of the gun is placed against the forehead of the animal and a bullet fired into the brain, causing instantaneous death. When using any free-bullet weapon it is possible the bullet may exit the animal’s body and ricochet off solid walls and floors. Animals should therefore be positioned on soft ground near a suitable backdrop. Great care must be taken to get the direction of the shot correct when inside buildings. More information: Humane killer.
  • Shotguns are the best firearm for on-farm destruction of all livestock, when used by a competent operator. Shotguns are a safer firearm to use because the shot disperses within the head of large animals and, in other cases, does not have the potential to travel as far as rifle bullets, reducing the possible risk of operator injury. A forehead shot at close range (5-20cm) will kill outright animals of all species and sizes. The muzzle of the shotgun must not be held against the animal’s head as this will result in severe injury to the operator. More information: Shotgun.
  • .22 Rifles can be used to kill sheep, pigs and small cattle, but correct shot placement is difficult to guarantee and so shotguns are usually the preferred option. The gun should be fired 5-20cm away from the forehead of the animal. The muzzle of the rifle must not be held against the animal’s head as this will result in severe injury to the operator. More information: Rifle.

Once shot, the animal should collapse and may bleed from the bullet entry point, its nose and its mouth. After shooting (typically starting about a minute later) the animal may demonstrate some involuntary movement of the limbs but this is normal and does not necessarily indicate consciousness.

Legislation controlling firearms differs across the world. Operators must ensure that they operate within the bounds of relevant national legislation. Contact your local authority for information before obtaining or using any firearm.

› See the HSA online guide to Humane Killing of Livestock using Firearms for more detailed information on the use of firearms. Information is available on firearms equipment, the correct shooting positions for different species and the operation, maintenance and safety of firearms.


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