Shooting – The Ethical Debate (An Extract)

The argument from anti’s that we hunters are interfering with nature is not one that I can endure. As explained in the previous section, that we have become the dominant species on this planet is far from coincidence. As the creature at the pinnacle of the food chain, we have an immutable responsibility and authority to help manage that chain. Both for the good of our own species and for the vulnerable species around us. I would wholly agree that we have tended at times (and often still continue) to abuse that status. Thankfully, in the modern human era, a common sense approach has been taken to the conservation of habitat and of threatened species. We hunters have played an important part in that approach … though unfortunately often in reparation for the sins of our ancestors.

The most common critical word thrown at hunters by those who don’t understand them is ‘cruel’. The standard dictionary definition for cruel is ‘wilfully causing pain and suffering’. I wonder if our critics would use the word “cruel” if they watched a live robin fledgling being torn apart limb by limb by a magpie? If they watched the hen pheasant fussing up and down in clear distress as a stoat sucks the embryos from her clutch of eggs? If they watch the vixen trotting by with a leveret in her jaws? Were they to pick up a book like this, they might come to appreciate that those of us who choose to spend our precious free time deep in-country with a gun usually do so because of an inherent love of all wild things. Pest control is a necessary and important factor in both crop protection and conservation of vulnerable species. We are fooling ourselves, however, if we deny that sometimes death is less than instant. The ethical hunter abides by long established ‘codes of practise’. We must never shoot for shootings sake. Our quarry must be selected with purpose. Purpose usually falls into three categories. To supply food, to protect other species or to prevent spoilage and disease. You will notice I didn’t say ‘for sport’ ? I will explain why in due course. We have a moral responsibility to despatch quarry as swiftly and painlessly as possible in achieving this. That responsibility involves ensuring that you are an efficient and accurate shooter. Ensuring that your gun is maintained properly and (if a rifle) that it is perfectly zeroed in. Ensuring that you are using the correct gun and ammunition suitable for killing (there, I used the K word) your quarry promptly.

So let’s go back to the K word. The one that really upsets anti-hunters, vegetarians, vegans and urban (and sometimes rural) snowflakes. Hunters kill. It’s the whole point of tracking down a beast or bird. Yet we don’t all enjoy the final part of the exercise. Our disapprovers (I refuse to call them opponents as people have a right to their own opinions) will never understand that moment of decision (or is it indecision?) when we have a wild creature in the crosshairs. There will be many of us who have stared at the magnified beauty of the creature before us and decided “No, not here, not today”. For no-one appreciates the magnificence of nature more than those who see it in its purest forms. Not in parks and zoos. Not on television. Being in amongst it, part of natures web, understanding its fickleness. Watching its fragility, awed by its power, humbled by its neutrality and learning from its revelations. And guess what. Natures kills. Which I constantly have to remind my ‘disapprovers’. Nature kills without prediction, warning, selectivity or mercy. Just reflect on tsunamis, plagues, drought or flooding. Often simply through extremes of weather. Nature insists that many of its charges must kill each other to survive. Predator and prey. Nature never weeps at its own intervention. Many ‘disapprovers’ of our hunting will sit back on the sofa absorbed by TV documentaries showing a pride of lions chasing down a herd of wildebeest, while their domestic cat prowls the garden for a songbird kill. I dismiss their protests at my hunting with simple disdain.

Buy hey! What about you? In purchasing this book (for which I am eternally gratefully) can you put your hand on your heart and swear to be an ethical hunter? Do you pass up on as many shots as you take? Do you spend more time seeing, studying, scenting, tracking? Do you check that your gun is on zero prior to every outing? Do you eat what you kill or (at least) make sure that your dead quarry is recycled? Do you sometimes look down on the creature you have just despatched with remorse, pity? If you do, you are a hunter.

Do you lift your gun to every passing creature? Is it even the right gun? Do you hurry through the landscape looking for any opportunity to kill? Do you know why you are attempting to kill? Do you have any plan on how to dispose of a kill? If you can’t answer any of these honestly please read this book and learn respect for quarry … or put it down and take up something harmless like cross-stitch.

I’ll offer you another train of thought too, if like me you claim to be (or want to be) an ethical hunter. Even if you know for certain that you have ‘legitimate’ quarry before you, will the act of shooting be justified? I have very personal ‘taboos’ around shooting living creatures which I’m happy to share here but I don’t expect the reader to have to share these values. I don’t partake in ‘driven’ shooting … in any form. I don’t object to it. Indeed much of the vermin control I undertake is in defending gamebirds from predation by fox, mustelid and corvid. Standing at a peg just doesn’t interest me. It’s simply ‘shooting’, not hunting. I baulk at shooting hares and will only do so when severely pressed by a landowner. They are an enigmatic creature. Truly wild and rarely a serious agricultural pest.

When challenged on the ethics of hunting, there are some of our community I struggle to defend. This is not the place to raise direct arguments other than to say that there are ‘hunters’ and there are ‘shooters’. This book is for hunters … or prospective hunters … so let’s get on with the real, practical stuff.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2019
An extract from “Hunting and Fieldcraft with Shotgun and Rifle”Available in print and e-book format via

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