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How to humanely kill a bird

A humane kill is what we should all be concerned with

HOw to humanely kill a bird

A "priest" is a traditional tool used to despatch pricked birds

There are occasions out in the field when pheasants, partridges, ducks or pigeons are pricked (meaning wounded) so knowing how to humanely kill a bird is essential. Every sportsman and woman should keep suffering to a minimum because our quarry deserves respect and to be killed cleanly. (Read a clean kill is what should be aimed for every time.)

So whether you are shooting, beating or picking up, you should know how to use a priest. Never leave an injured bird to flap about in agony.

Read more on how to mark a pricked bird. 

What is a priest?

A priest is a purpose-made tool for dealing with an injured bird, which allows you to knock it on the head, killing it cleanly and swiftly.

If you shoot, beat or pick-up be carry a priest in your pocket or game bag. This instrument will also effectively deal with a wounded duck or goose, but the blow administered to the bird’s head must be really forcible to ensure instant death.

Well-organised driven shoots will have a team of pickers-up who should be handling competent gundogs and be well versed in dealing with wounded birds with a priest.

Bisley Stag Horn Priest




If you are pigeon shooting, then the quickest option is to shoot the injured bird again while it’s on the ground. Pigeons are more frightened of humans walking around the field than they are by the sound of gunshot.

Priest for pricked birds

Using a priest to deliver a swift, hard blow to the back of a bird’s head will kill it instantly


Take great care if you are handling a lightly pricked cock pheasant, especially 
a survivor with long, sharp spurs. 
The bird will kick and unless you 
are very careful you may well end 
up with a badly gashed hand.

Retrieving injured birds to hand

To ensure our sport is as humane as possible, we train our gundogs to retrieve both dead and wounded birds to hand. In the case of the latter, it is essential to ensure that death is instant and painless. This is best achieved by 
a swift, hard blow to the outstretched bird’s head, while holding it with wings closed in the other hand. 
There will be a brief flapping of the wings, but this is merely nerves shutting down. The bird is dead.

Unfortunately on occasion there are some appalling sights when it comes to despatching wounded game. The head-twirlers are a case in point. Holding the pricked bird by the neck, they swing the unfortunate creature round and round until its neck eventually snaps, leaving a length of extended neck that means the bird is not only unsightly but also cannot be hung in the game larder. This shows a lack of respect for the quarry and should never happen.

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.