The French government has angered anti-hunt campaigners after refusing to ban hunting on Sundays during the season.
Instead, it has declared a ban on drinking alcohol and taking drugs while hunting, a move activists say is unenforceable, and will set up a voluntary application for hunters to indicate where they are active.
Bérangère Couillard, the ecology minister, said hunt organisers would be required to undergo training and there would be tougher sentences for those guilty of causing an accident.
The government bowed to pressure to address hunt safety after a senate inquiry prompted by the death of Morgan Keane, 25, a French-British man shot dead in December 2020 while chopping wood on his land by a hunter who mistook him for a wild boar.
The hunter who fired the fatal shot, Julien Féral, was on trial along with the hunt organizer Laurent Lapergue, 51, in November on charges of manslaughter. A verdict is expected on Thursday.
Anti-hunt campaigners had called for at least one non-hunting day a week during the season and were optimistic the government, though broadly sympathetic to the powerful hunting lobby, would agree.
According to figures published in September 2022 by the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB), which issues hunting permits, there were 90 accidents during the 2021-22 season, six more than the previous season, eight of them fatal.
Over the past 20 years, 88% of the victims of hunting accidents have been hunters themselves. As the government prepared on Monday to announce measures to make hunting safer, it was reported an 84-year-old hunter fatally shot himself in Corsica while putting his gun away in his car. Two other accidents were reported at the weekend involving two hunters, one 19 years old and the other 67.
However, the number of non-hunt bystanders or passersby injured has increased from 12% to 26% of the total over the last two decades, according to OFB figures.
“For the very great majority, they [the accidents] are the result of human errors linked to a failure to respect the basic security rules,” the OFB said.
In October 2021, Joël Viard, 67, was killed when a hunter’s stray bullet hit him in the neck as he drove along a motorway from Rennes to Nantes. The hunter is under investigation for manslaughter.
In February 2022, a hunter’s stray bullet killed Mélodie Cauffet, 25, who was walking with a friend on a forest path in Aveyron.
Before Monday’s announcement, the French bird protection league (LPO) told the government it would face an outcry if it failed to take into account anger at fatalities linked to hunting. It said the alcohol ban was “laughable”.
“If the hunting security plan ends up being a few little measures like banning hunting while drunk – which is the least it could do – or the idea of a voluntary mobile application for hunters to announce where they are, the government will hugely disappoint the four out of five French people who want a hunting-free Sunday,” Matthieu Orphelin, the director general of the LPO, told Le Monde.
Couillard said the government’s aim was “move towards zero accidents”, an aim the head of France’s National Federation of Hunters, Willy Schraen, has said is an impossibility.
“Half of all hunters should be trained between now and 2025 and all by 2029,” Couillard told journalists.
Schraen had warned there would be “fire and brimstone” across the countryside if the government bowed to activists’ demands for no-hunting days.
An Ipsos poll in September found 81% of French people were for a ban on hunting two days a week during the season and throughout the school holidays; 87% of people questioned said hunting was a risk to the safety of people out walking.
Muriel Arnal, the president of the animal rights association One Voice, said there was a “huge gulf between these small measures, that will do nothing to resolve the [hunting] problem, and the expectations of the French people”.
She added that the government had showed “a lack of understanding of the reality of hunting, a leisure activity that puts the lives of people who aren’t taking part in danger”.
Couillard had argued there was no evidence banning hunting on Sunday would reduce the number of accidents.
Mila Sanchez, a co-founder of the association Un jour un chasseur, and a friend of Keane, disagreed. “The figures on which the minister is relying don’t take into account fatal accidents. We have compiled articles about 83 accidents during the 2022-2023 season and the results show that 57 happened at the weekend, 39 of them on Sundays,” Sanchez said.
The organization tweeted: “Bravo to the government for putting in place completely useless measures”.