I was awoken by the pitter-patter of tiny bullets last weekend, shots that could be heard right across my small town in rural New Zealand.

It was the opening of duck shooting season, for many an opportunity to bond with family members and have ''fun'' with friends.

Can anyone tell me what is fun about killing defenceless animals?

The shooters get up before dawn, don camouflage suits and war paint, trek down to lakes, ponds and rivers, and install themselves in hidden huts called maimai to wait for daylight. When they spot their targets they train powerful firearms on them and blast them out of the sky.


Just moments before the birds were sleeping peacefully, heads resting gently on their backs. Next to them their lifelong partners, also sleeping peacefully.

Suddenly their watery refuge is turbulent with panicking family and friends, the air filled with their cries.

Terrified, they take to the sky in an effort to escape, only to be picked off by shooters who fist pump and whoop in delight when they make a kill.

There is so much wrong with duck shooting that it is hard to know where to begin, but we could start with sentience.

Of the some 1 million birds that will be shot in New Zealand this year, a conservative estimate is that one in four will not die outright.

These wounded creatures may perish in the mouths of retriever dogs, or have their necks wrung by shooters. Many will just lay where they fell, undiscovered, or abandoned to die a painful, lingering death.

Killing ducks is both unethical and immoral. Ducks are animals, like us.

They know hunger and thirst, heat and cold. They experience pain in much the same way we do, and feel excitement, joy, and fear. They also form attachments to their families and friends.

Duck shooting is often called ''sport''?

If so, it is hardly a fair match; For all its macho image, it is a cowardly activity. The ''sportsman'' lurks in a hiding place and employs deceptive techniques such as decoy ducks and hooters to lure their mismatched opponents.

While lead shots are restricted, some firearms are allowed to use them, and these are particularly lethal to both targeted and non-targeted species. Birds mistake the pellets for grit, and if they ingest them they can be poisoned or left with an increased susceptibility to blindness, muscle paralysis or heart attacks.

There is not one compelling reason for shooting ducks.

It goes without saying that we don't have to kill them for our food. Shooters often don't eat their prey. While some may dine out on duck for weeks, many others discard their bodies at the sides of roads and in rubbish dumps.

What is more, ducks pose no threat to our biodiversity and they are not listed as ''pests''.

Contrary to the popular myth they would not "blacken the sky" if left alone. Nature has her own way of culling. When numbers are low species breed more, when high they breed less. While no one wishes starvation, disease or predation on waterfowl, shooting an animal because he or she might starve or get sick is arbitrary and in the end, pretty much useless.

While the government and duck shooting organisations have done good work in establishing wetlands, their reasons are hardly altruistic. The Fish and Game website often tells shooters to reduce numbers so that there will be plenty of ''fun'' left for next year.

What traits are we fostering in our children and in our communities by perpetuating the annual duck shooting season? Indifference to suffering? Irreverence towards other forms of life? Cruelty?

Recently I saw a television programme where a small girl stood and watched her father kill and butcher a healthy cow. Last year Fish and Game promoted the season by showing a young boy with a firearm over his shoulder and holding a string of dead ducks.

Why don't we recoil from seeing children take up arms and shoot harmless animals?

Why aren't we modelling kindness and compassion to our children? Why don't we teach through our own behaviour a respect for all life, and for other species' natural right to share the planet?

Why as a society would we encourage any activity that serves to dull our compassion and pity?

Are we not aware that violence breeds violence? Is the parallel between killing animals and hurting human beings not clear?

Duck shooting is the unnecessary taking of life. The only conclusion we can draw for its popularity is that shooters enjoy killing. Now there's a thought. We really are wading into murky waters now.

* Sandra Kyle is a Waikato-based teacher, writer and broadcaster.