“If shooting quarry accurately and cleanly is important, making sure that you don’t shoot another species in error is equally important. Not just because it’s unethical but also because shooting any bird not on the General License or recognised as game could see you in deep trouble with the law. For example, shooting a stock dove thinking it is a woodpigeon in the UK (and being seen doing so) could land you in jail or fined and your guns confiscated. By far the most common errors made by over-exuberant shooters happen around doves and pigeons. More on this later.
I’ve studied wildlife since boyhood and started long before taking up shooting. Six decades of observation have blessed me with a pretty deep knowledge of not just animal and bird identification but also other attributes. Song, silhouette, gait, flight pattern, nesting site or den, breeding season, call, food, track and trail. Yet I still continue to learn, day in and day out. It would be impossible for me to get all that experience and knowledge onto the written page. It comes through application, enthusiasm and a desire to learn. Don’t think, though, that you can only learn out there in the field and wood. If you are brand new to hunting, much homework can be done through research. Shooting / hunting books and the Internet are packed with advice. Much of my knowledge (particularly regarding identification) has come through books. You’re doing that right now, so I hope this book contributes to your own knowledge. Reading text-books isn’t particularly absorbing but when it comes to birds, for instance, it’s essential to know the difference between similar species … and to know what you can or can’t shoot. Of course, what you see in a book is often far different from the view ‘in the field’. The bobbing flight of the silhouetted bird that you assume to be a jay, therefore a legitimate target? It could be a green woodpecker. The key to ethical shooting is certainty. Never take a speculative shot at any living creature. I’d like to share a few tips on how to avoid some basic mistakes with the most common species but be aware that this is by no means extensive.
Can you instantly tell the difference between a rabbit and a brown hare? You would be highly advised to learn this. Though both are loosely classified as ‘ground game’, the rabbit enjoys no protection by law (against shooting) as it is a designated pest. Shooting the brown hare is a statutory right for any landowner, occupier or owner of sporting rights under the Ground Game Act 1880. However, under the Game Act 1831 game must not be shot on a Sunday or Christmas Day. We all know that ignorance is no defence when it comes to the law, so erroneously mistaking a hare for a rabbit on your Sunday rough shoot could land you in hot water. The quick ‘hack’ for identification is the size of the ears and the shape of the head. The rabbits ears are shorter and and its head more rounded than the hares. Hares also have a black tip on their long ears. Even a small hare is bigger than a large rabbit
If you are lucky enough to live in an area in the UK where the red squirrel is still breeding you will need to know how to quickly define the distinct differences between grey and red squirrels. Indeed the more greys you shoot, the more chance you will have to see red squirrels. See the section on squirrels later. Shoot a few greys and you will soon realise that at certain times of the season and at certain ages, they carry a lot of red fur too. The true British squirrel, the red, is smaller than the grey and has pointed, prominent ears. The grey squirrel has ears shaped like a rats … “
Read more in “Hunting and Fieldcraft for Shotgun and Rifle”.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2019