Farm Ireland

Sunday 16 December 2018

Deer hunter has guns confiscated by Gardai in row over ammunition

Deer Hunter Kevin Conway pictured at his Galway home.
Deer Hunter Kevin Conway pictured at his Galway home. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN

Eugene Masterson

Meet the hunter who kills more than 200 deer a year – but has now had his guns confiscated as part of a legal row.

Kevin Conway has been one of Ireland’s most prolific deer hunters in recent years, selling the bodies of the wild animals for meat.

But now he has had his guns confiscated by Gardaí in a row about how much ammunition he was entitled to.

Eight Garda members used a battering ram to break down Kevin’s door early one morning in October 2016 after an anonymous tip-off that he was keeping illegal guns.

They seized a rifle and shotgun after they found a quantity of rifle ammunition in excess of what he was entitled to in his possession.

Firearms charges against him were struck out at Tuam District Court after he abided by a decree by Judge Deirdre Gearty to donate €500 to the Galway SPCA.

Deer Hunter Kevin Conway pictured with his dog Holly at his Galway home.
Deer Hunter Kevin Conway pictured with his dog Holly at his Galway home. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN

Kevin now hopes to get his guns back and his licence renewed as he was only convicted on a "technicality" about ammunition.

The 53-year-old, from Leitra, near Glenamaddy, Co. Galway, shares his home with his ex-partner’s five children. He is on disability allowance for the past five years as he claims he suffers lung damage from clearing noxious substances in a factory he used to work in.

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Kevin told the Sunday World that he used to sell 150 of the deer to an abattoir in Claremorris, making €75 to €100 per carcass, 50 privately to friends and kept three for himself.

"I use them to supplement my income," he said.

"There are maybe 60 or 80 burgers in one deer, 20 or 30 packets of mince and 20 or 30 steaks. So you would have enough of it after a while."

He explains that he first started shooting deer in 2015.

"We used to go off to the bog and we brought the shotgun and we would be shooting a few pigeons and that and we used to get on well at it. Then someone gave me a piece of venison and I loved it.

"Venison is the healthiest meat in the world you can eat. It’s healthier than salmon, there’s no mercury in it, it’s cholesterol free and full of goodness.

"You get last year’s calves, that’s the nicest meat to get. If you get one of those it’s the most beautiful tender meat."

Last week, a court heard how gardaí discovered a quantity of rifle ammunition in excess of what Conway’s licence entitled him to following a raid on his home.

Garda Sergeant Daithi Cronin told Tuam District Court that gardaí still had serious concerns over other firearms matters.

When asked about the court case, Kevin said he would rather not comment about the raid or being in trouble with the Gardaí.

"I would rather not go into that," he said.

Hunters are allowed shoot deer from October 1 until the end of February.

"When the season opens up they’re not very wary of people," he said.

"If you get one on his own you have a great chance because there’s only one pair of eyes looking around. But if you get 20 deer in a field there’s 40 eyes looking at you.

"So you’re walking along the edge of the wood and you hope that you will get one coming out early. They come out to graze. Every deer we shoot his belly is full of grass. He will come out early to graze and then when their belly is full they will lie down somewhere.

"So if you go out early in the morning they are waking up, their bellies are full and they ramble back into the woods and that’s the time you get the deer."

He uses camouflage gear to disguise where he’s hiding and sometimes goes out in the evening as well.

He also reveals that often he would get five deer in one morning and he had to do a one day hunter’s course to teach him how to field dress the carcass.

"Firstly you examine its liver to make sure there’s no fluke or sickness or anything like that," he notes. "So we field dress it out and then we dig a hole a metre deep and you would bury all their entrails into that."

He has become an expert at how to kill them.

"You have to shoot the deer in the neck or in the heart, they’re the best places to hit them.

"You can’t shoot on the main road. You can’t shoot after 8pm at night or in the dark. I wouldn’t like anyone shooting near me in the dark."

While the native fallow deer are off limits for half the year, an alien species called muntjac deer can be shot all year round.

Kevin claims there are as many as 10,000 deer in the north Galway area.

"There’s a field in Ballygar and we counted over 140 deer one night coming out of the woods. There’s a football pitch in Ballygar where I see them, but I don’t shoot there as there’s kids there.

"I was hoping maybe to get a crossbow and shoot them with that, as it would be safer. You can’t be using a rifle where there’s people there and there’s a bang.

"To get my licence for deer I have to go to a farmer that will give you permission to shoot the deer. It’s generally around Ballygar and I also shoot around the Glenamaddy area. I’d know all the local farmers from being in the gun club and whatever.

"Dairy farmers don’t like the deer because they’re grazing and also the stag have antlers and they get caught up in the wire and the cows would get out. They would get caught in that especially in the rutting season. Every stag’s horns fall off in the springtime anyway, so you won’t know the stag from a female."

He agrees that some people don’t like him killing the deer.

"We met a guy in Ballygar last year and we were stalking and he said ‘listen there’s three deer that come into my field at night time, please don’t shoot them, the children love them’. Of course we would respect his wishes," he said.

Kevin added that he grew up around animals and his first love was horses and showjumping.

"When I was growing up we always had pigs and their babies and after a few months old then a few of them would be killed, it’s a way of life.

"Ducks would be my thing. I reared 100 of them and 20 geese. I’d also have a few pheasants."

He believes some people give blood sports a bad name, but argues it’s a necessary evil.

"The first hunting I ever did was fox hunting on horseback,. I was part of a community into horses.

"I joined a local hunt. Jumping and cross country. I’m an animal person. Fox hunting is a less cruel way of conservation. Others trap them, they shoot them and some die from blood poisoning. Others dig them out and throw them to dogs. When we dispatch with a gun, end of story. I’ve only seen a fox killed in the open, when a dog broke its neck."

Kevin now has a new ambition.

"I’m hoping to get a job with Coillte as a marksman.

"Coillte has fellows working for them. Deer do a lot of damage."

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