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Time for More Respect
Eric Begbie wonders if we could make our respect for our quarry a little more overt.


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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 ever attempted.

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 country sports?

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.

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