Time for a Little More Respect?
Eric Begbie wonders if we could
make our respect for our quarry
a little more obvious.
No, I am not advocating support for George Galloway’s one-man
political party but I have been musing over this respect issue for a
while. Maybe this is an area where our actions speak louder than our
words ….. and putting it into words is not the easiest task I have
I need to begin by making it clear that, although I am an elected
member of the governing Council of the British Association for
Shooting and Conservation (BASC), what follows is a personal view
and may not necessarily accord with the current policies of BASC.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way, why should we spend a
little time contemplating the way that we conduct and talk about our
Although I am happy to ignore the poisoned pronouncements that LACS,
HSA and their ilk spew from their seedy inner-city sanctums, for
every rabid anti there are a thousand decent, impressionable folk
who will believe our detractors unless we neutralise the vitriol.
Possibly we have to start by pointing out the basic errors in the
very language the antis use.
“Killing for sport” or “killing for fun” are two of the most
venomous misconceptions that our enemies can spread. We do not kill
for sport. We may hunt or shoot or fish for sport but we kill only
to provide food or to control pests. That is not a facile pedantic
distinction. It lies at the very heart of what we do and it defines
the entire “respect for quarry” agenda.
If we derived any pleasure from killing, then the ultimate orgasm
would be when our retriever brought back a wounded pheasant and we
had to despatch it by hand. We all know, of course, that while
administering the coup de grâce is sometimes a necessary chore, we
derive no enjoyment at all from the act.
Over the next couple of years, BASC will be launching a number of
initiatives aimed at highlighting the respect that every true
sportsman affords to his quarry. The more that we take care to
ensure that our personal conduct reflects this ideal, the easier it
will be to persuade the public of our high ethical standards.
Perhaps more than we imagine, we rely upon the claim of being
self-regulating to fend off the threat of statutory restrictions.
Believe it or not, shooting sports in Britain are remarkably free of
bureaucratic control compared to many other countries. I believe
that this is so because of the degree to which we allow our
consciences to regulate our sporting conduct. Once again, this
engagement of conscience is a manifestation of the respect we have
for our quarry.
Because successful wildfowling is dependent upon the fowler having a
deep understanding of the habits and habitat of the fowl, it is
perhaps not surprising that self-regulation is strongest in that
branch of the sport. Every wildfowler worthy of the name knows the
huge satisfaction that is obtained from a successful shot. Equally
he knows the twinge of regret he experiences when his labrador
retrieves the wild duck or goose he has slain. It is the balance
between those two emotions that dictates the personal limit that he
places on his sport.
Nowadays I never shoot more than two wild ducks or geese in a day.
Any more, and the regret would outweigh the satisfaction. Forty
years ago, on the other hand, I might have shot ten or twelve birds
before that point was reached. The balance between satisfaction and
regret is a matter for every individual fowler and it is the reason
why statutory bag limits are neither necessary nor desirable.
When game shooting there may not always be the same deep communion
between hunter and hunted but other factors kick in to let each
Shot’s conscience decide when enough is enough. Personally, I rather
like the criterion that states that if, on the morning after a
shooting day, you cannot clearly remember each and every bird that
you shot, then you possibly shot too many. It is the adherence of
most sportsmen and sportswomen to ethical concepts such as those
that will convince politicians that they can leave us to govern our
own pursuits without unnecessary intervention from the plethora of
quangos that dog so many other aspects of modern life.
Just a few weeks ago I watched while a real archangel of a partridge
flew over the line at a height of at least 60 yards. The occupants
of the three pegs closest to it all raised their hats instead of
their guns. That is respect for quarry. So is choosing the optimum
shot size to ensure a clean kill, using a well-trained gundog to
immediately retrieve any wounded birds and even laying out the bag
with dignity at the end of the day.
I must confess that I prefer the American use of the word “hunting”
to our own rather mechanical terminology. Talking about “shooting”
does not necessarily suggest the primordial relationship between the
hunter and the hunted that is central to our pursuits. It is that
relationship that engenders respect for quarry and distances our
sports from the warped picture painted by the antis.