The Irish Farmers Journal has found evidence of guided Irish sheep, goat and deer trophy hunting tours being offered to mainly European tourists.

Hunting tourism has traditionally involved the stalking and shooting of deer legally under licence, particularly during the rutting season, by tourists who have obtained a licence. They often spend a number of days in remote areas of Ireland, guided by licensed deer stalkers.

The legal hunting of red, sika and fallow deer in this way is licensed between the period 1 September to 31 December each year for males and between 1 November and 28 February for females.

Sheep hunting

However, a commercial business was observed publicly advertising the opportunity to shoot sheep held on a privately owned and leased property at a well-known location in Co Wicklow. Its website advertises the opportunity to shoot these sheep all year round.

Breeds of sheep available to stalk and shoot include Jacob, Soay and scotch rams.

The business also notes that wounded animals are considered “harvested” and therefore, qualify for payment in full. Rates offered include a fee of as much as €1,000 per sheep with airport transfers, accommodation, meals and taxidermy costing extra.

When asked for comment on this guided shooting of sheep, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which awards hunting licences, said: “NPWS licensing relates to wild animals that have a protected status under legislation. Neither feral goats nor sheep would fall into this category.”

Shot or wounded sheep are considered "harvested".

The Department of Agriculture deflected queries on the matter to NPWS with both parties initially scratching their heads at what, if any, licensing applies to this activity.

The sheep used for such trophy hunting activity appear to have originated from domestic stock as they are described as rams only. They appear to have been shorn at some stage and are of breeds and colour that could not be found to have historically escaped or to be breeding wild on the hills of Wicklow.

The business at the well-known Wicklow location promotes the opportunity to shoot sheep and goats all year.

It is not clear under what circumstances these sheep originate, where they were bred and when and how frequently they are released on the property.

The Irish Farmers Journal has sought clarity from the Department as to whether welfare, food chain, disease control and flock ownership criteria apply to the sheep used in this hunting activity.

Tourists, many from European countries, can spend a number of days on the privately owned and leased property with varying rates available.