(An extract from my second book, Airgun Fieldcraft)
Where better to tackle this tricky subject than right at the beginning of a book about shooting? Over the years I have been constantly concerned, though never surprised, at my activities being challenged on moral grounds. I have thankfully maintained many friendships with folk, mainly urban folk, who view the death of a wild creature at my hands with displeasure. Let’s just say we have agreed to differ. Such people find it to difficult to understand that I find more pleasure in the tracking, stalking and getting near to vermin than the actual execution of a shot. I take no real pleasure in gazing down on a shot animal or bird but I fully confess to enjoying the knowledge of the effect it will bring … be it saving a nest full of fledglings, the continued growth of a crop or the elimination of spoilage and disease. For that is the purpose of vermin control.
The argument that we are interfering with nature is not one that I can tolerate. Homo Sapiens have been hunting, trapping and killing since they first stood on two legs. That we have become the dominant species on this earth is no coincidence. As such … as the creature at the top of the food chain … we have an irrevocable responsibility to manage that chain. Both for the good of our species and for the threatened species around us. I would wholly agree that we have tended at times (and often still continue to) abuse that status. Thankfully, in modern times, a common sense approach has been taken to conservation of habitat and threatened species. We hunters have played an important part in that … though unfortunately often in reparation for the sins of our parents and grandparents.
In more recent times, the sensibility of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981and the advent of the General Licenses to legislate vermin control and the species allowed were welcomed by all responsible shooters. No longer could we raid wild bird nests for their eggs (yes … I was guilty as a child, but that’s how I learned species identification) or shoot indiscriminately at anything (not guilty, M’Lud!). Sadly, the Hunting Act and the recent repeal of the rarely enforced Pests Act 1954 were steps in the wrong direction. The former pressed through by the “uninformed” with nothing but crass political posturing as a motive. The latter? Victim to a lack of application by a rural community reluctant to upset it’s neighbours. Rather than upset an adjoining landowner, most farmers preferred to instruct someone like ‘yours truly’ to take care of business on their own side of the fence rather than bring the power of the Crown to bear on the other side of it. Such is the tolerance of the true countryman or woman.
In an age of processed, factory reared food I also take great pleasure in putting natural food on the table. Those friends who debate against the simple act of going out with a gun and potting a rabbit for dinner have forgotten that mankind … for all of it’s machines, industry, internet and media … is part of nature too. The damage we do, without conscience, is unbelievable … so please let me wander in my countryside (while it’s still there to enjoy) with my gun and my dog, doing what comes naturally to me.
Consider this too. For some of us, the hunting gene remains pure. For others it is transferred into mimicry of those primeval urges. Most sport is simply an extension of the basic instinct to prove accuracy, speed, endurance and concentration. As we migrate (as a species) from countryside to city, other basic traits are transformed in a deep-rooted, unconscious attempt to show dominance. Violence … domestic or gang related. Mob mentality and riot. Professional competitiveness … climbing the corporate ladder … can be an uncompromising and vicious journey. As a consequence, many urban dwellers now seek solace in the countryside … mostly recreationally but many to live there. In both cases, they sometimes seek to challenge the traditions and lifestyles of their new neighbours … but how dare they! Can we consider too (please) the hypocrisy of accepting that a new road, a new golf course or a new factory is acceptable before criticising my shot magpie or culled coney? Which will upset natures balance more?
The only debates I consider have merit on the subject of controlling vermin or pot-hunting are around the methods employed … and there are many. Trapping, snaring, netting, ferreting, shot-gunning, air rifles, rimfire rifles, lamping, use of dogs. I have no axe to grind with any of them. I just prefer the challenge of getting “up close and personal” with a silenced air rifle. It’s discrete, specific and requires a certain level of skill. I happen to be, through many years of practise, quite good at it. Yet even I don’t profess to despatch cleanly with every shot. Please don’t ever believe a shooter who claims they do … in any shooting discipline. If I’ve covered the morality of shooting from my perspective, let me please expand on the ethic. That, very simply, is that we owe our target quarry the dignity of as quick a despatch as we can achieve. To this end, we need to be accurate and need to practise precise shooting ad infinitum on static targets before having the audacity to shoot at a live creature. We need to check that our equipment is functioning properly and that the rifle is perfectly zeroed before shooting vermin. Most of all, we need to know how to deal with the eventuality of wounded quarry. For eventual it is. Faced with such trauma, many air rifle shooters have abandoned the gun for good. Sadly, this is because they have neither expected it nor received advice on how to handle such a situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong in finding the plight of a wounded creature distressing. You should … and I still do … even after 30 years of vermin control. Which is why I started this, my second book, with the subject of morals and ethics. Hunting vermin does not mean you have a disdain for wildlife. It’s a dirty job … and someone has to do it … for the sake of protecting crops or food stores and for vulnerable bird conservation.