15 shots to kill a horse: National Parks cullers accused of criminal misconduct

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) shooters used up to 15 bullets to kill individual horses during an aerial cull of 270 brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park last month, leading to demands that their ‘inhumane actions’ be referred to police.

A government report into the culling operation revealed that each horse required at least three shots before being killed, with an average of 7.5 rounds fired per horse killed. 

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MLC Mark Banasiak said the deaths of the animals appeared to be a breach of the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and he wants police to investigate.

“As anyone with even moderate shooting experience would know, a humane kill is not achieved by 15, or seven shots for that matter,” he said.   

The helicopter-borne shooters were using .308-calibre rifles. A NSW Parliament hearing was told yesterday that the calibre was inadequate for humanely killing such large animals. 

This seemed to be supported by the results in the report into the cull, which stated 98% of bullets entered the thorax of the target animal, and said “repeat shooting was performed consistently”.  (See this article for more information about repeat shooting.)

The aerial cull, which was a trial before large-scale culling operations begin, was observed by independent vets and the RSPCA, and was carried out using practices recommended by the RSPCA.

The government report on the shoot claimed the “median time” before a horse became insensible or died was five seconds.

It stated there were “a notable absence of adverse animal welfare events” and no brumbies escaped wounded.   

However, Mr Banasiak said “chasing an animal for several hundred yards whilst delivering as many as 15 shots into it” could not be considered humane. 

He pointed out that the report also stated “many TTI [time to insensibility] observations could not be assigned an exact value” because of difficulties with watching from a helicopter. 

“In other words, the independent observer was not able to confirm if the horse’s demise was swift, or if they suffered,” he said.

“I am surprised that report saw the light of day. If it were recreational hunters involved we’d be crucified.”

He suggested the RSPCA could not be trusted to act as an independent observer, given it had a clear conflict of interest.

“The RSPCA saw this [cull] happening and didn’t stop and reassess and ask, did we get this wrong?” he said. 

“It reeks of hypocrisy. The RSPCA is anti-hunting and yet they sign off on this.”




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.


  1. I am not sure if you listened to all the evidence given but I did and what you have written is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. The RSPCA inspector following in another helicopter saw each horse shot and put down with one round. The trial adopted a policy of repeat shooting to ensure the horse was killed. While I consider 15 shots more than necessary there is no evidence it took 15 shots (or even the average of 7.5) to kill the horse. The opposite is true from the vet inspections. It is was also misrepresented at the hearing that the .308 was inadequate. The evidence from vet inspection showed bullets had passed through the horse or were palpable from the skin on the exit side. Clearly the Sako controlled expansion rounds did the job and repeat shooting was employed to satisfy those who are opposing this method.

    It is clear Mr. Borsak, Mallen and Boyle would like to see recreational hunters used to shoot horses in the National Park but the program in Lichfield NP in the NT. (as reported on this site) showed hunters wounding horses and a pig and having to chase them down many minutes later to finish them off. Hardly humane.

    The object of this program is to quickly reduce numbers of horses in KNP so the park has some chance of recovering and the many small animals that are under threat can be better protected. The quickest way to do this is aerial shooting and it is also recognised as being more humane than all the other methods currently being used.

    Mr. Mallen and Mr. Borsak suggested the 9.3 x 62 should be used but how many variants are available in semi auto with a 10 plus magazine? That capacity is necessary when aerial shooting to ensure a humane kill.

    I fail to see any objection to the program and would hope most sporting shooters support it.

    1. The evidence of it requiring up to 15 shots to kill a horse, and an average of 7.5, was reported in the post-cull documentation, which was presented before the inquiry. The report suggests some horses were killed instantly but certainly not all of them, with at least one taking 53 seconds to succumb. The suggestion that each horse was shot and put down by one round is simply not true. The adoption of ‘repeat shooting’ meant each horse was intentionally shot at least three times, regardless of the effect of the first shot, and no evidence at all indicates the second, third and sometimes subsequent shots were never required. The RSPCA inspector in the observation helicopter was not always present so cannot have seen each horse shot. The post-cull report was based on the observations of independent vets sitting in the same helicopters as the shooters. This story reported primarily on the fact that accusations of inhumane practices had been levelled against professional shooters during a parliamentary inquiry, which is significant news. We also ran this follow-up story, which provides a bit more analysis:

    2. Im not sure they totally understand what is involved in taking down an animal of that size and humane, it would definitely not be from the air but from the ground precisely placed in the vitals.preferably with large caliber. African countries have a 375h&h minimum for animals that size
      buzzing around in the sky thinking they can take down herds with a self loading peashooters thinking they are war heros (15 shots) is nothing but lame excuse and cop out of hypocrisy from a failing government department
      i say let the animal justice party deal with this mess (joking) they can explain it to their voters