Having become involved in a ‘debate’ on Twitter last night over Fox Hunting, then Hunting in general, I’ve decided to pen my thoughts on the subject. I don’t see myself as different from anyone else, but maybe my experiences will shed some light on how I have my viewpoint.
Now I’m not going to profess to be any sort of expert on the subject of Hunting, or indeed on the In’s or Out’s of the law banning Fox Hunting or Bloodsports. What I intend to give here is a clear account of my own personal experience of the countryside where I grew up and attitudes I have come across in relation to Hunting.
Growing up in a small, rural (Working Class) village in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ was a strange upbringing for anyone. To square the tranquil, beautiful nature of your surroundings with the daily grind of the ‘Troubles’ is a difficult thing for any youth. We were surrounded on all sides by farms, great places for a kid to explore, but there was an ugliness blighting my country which was impossible not to see. Everyone kept pets, many worked on local farms, but everyone had a liking for animals and their welfare.
I don’t consider myself a monster, though I’m sure some will
I would add a disclaimer to the following personal opinions with regards to Hunting. Firstly, I am not some sort of monster who willingly kills animals for sport (though I have done), neither am I a hater of anything to do with Nature. I understand Nature and the delicate balancing job being done to keep all the relevant species in check.
I am an avid dog-lover. I have a pair of completely bonkers dogs, a black Labrador/Retriever Cross and another slightly larger Retriever-type. The Retriever was actually found as a pup in a river, where someone had tried to drown him at about 4 months old. I took him home, he’s been here ever since (he’s nearly 3 now). I put a lot of effort into my dogs, they get walked every day and I allow them the run of my house while I work from home. The ‘rescued’ one has some serious issues and is extremely nervous, having had a rough start in life – I cater for this in my daily routine. My dogs live a very spoiled existence and I am very much against any physical chastisement whatsoever.
So, I do not consider myself to be a monster when it comes to animals, maybe a realist? Anyway, let’s look at some Hunting-related issues where I have experience.
I have shot a lot of Clay Pigeons, being my sport of choice during my twenties. This led me to build some friendships and I was given a few individual days shooting Pheasants at a private estate over a period of years.
Having never actually shot a Pheasant, focussing only on Clay Pigeons, I was unsure what my reaction would be when I was faced with the decision to pull the trigger.
When my first time came, I was standing at the top corner of a field, just on the edge of a small copse of trees. The dogs rose a pair of birds in the field opposite mine, driving one of them my direction. I raised my shotgun, swinging it smoothly (as I’d been taught when shooting clays), remembering that Pheasants are accelerating, so would need more ‘lead’. I swung through, taking a right to left swing, trying to hit a bird maybe 30 yards away and moving rapidly. I saw it go down, and was amazed at the feeling it gave me. I felt no sorrow for the bird at the time, I merely saw what was a very challenging target to anyone who shoots, then performed as best I could to hit it. I probably attended this ‘Shoot’ on another dozen occasions over a period of 4 or 5 years.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Pheasants are magnificent creatures. The Cock birds are colourful and decorated, the Hens a little more plain but sleek and beautiful nonetheless. What you have to remember here is that, we were not shooting these birds truly in the wild – the Syndicate who operate this actually breed and rear 2000-3000 Pheasants every year to stock their area. I know the arguments of cruelty, etc – but the surrounding area has many Pheasants living wild who have left the Syndicate’s land and they survive happily in the wild, providing a sight well worth seeing for anyone who happens upon one. All in all, of each year’s crop of birds, the Syndicate would expect to lose up to 300 as they naturally move outside their boundaries or fall foul of predators. There would be NO wild Pheasants in the area if it were not for the Shooting Syndicate.
At the end of a day’s ‘Pheasant Shooting’, there would be a few little drinks and each member would take a brace of birds home. The remainder were taken to a local Hotel to be served in their restaurant, providing a means of funding for the following year’s birds. The cost of joining such a Syndicate was quite high, outside the reach of the average Working Class person where I lived. The expense of rearing and feeding so many birds was immense, as was the effort put into keeping the local habitat maintained to suit them – making this a ‘rich’ man’s game.
I had an offer once to go ‘Driven Grouse’ shooting, in Scotland, but I turned this down. I do see the Grouse Shooting as a bit more ‘slaughter’ than I’d be comfortable with, so I refused what would have been a day costing £3000 (being given to me for nothing). There are just too many birds being sent up, little or no ‘sporting chance’ of escape, a little too bloody for even me. I guess it’s a numbers game as far as my tolerance is concerned.
I have never been involved in traditional Fox Hunting, though because of my ex-wife’s involvement in horses, we met many people who were. There was a Hunt local to us, so we would see it from time to time. I have no strong opinion on it either way, I see no harm in it, and it is one method of keeping the fox numbers down.
I know some people see a small fox being ripped apart by a pack of hounds, but in reality the fox dies almost instantly as the first of the hounds will snap it’s back or neck. It’s not a sport I ever see myself wanting to try, I’m not really into running a small animal across miles of ground to kill it. I don’t object to others doing so, but it’s just not for me.
I did, however, when I was married own a small ex-farmhouse, with a couple of acres of field adjoining. We used this for keeping a horse or two, plus I invested in about 400-500 Hens and a few dozen Ducks. I kept these totally Free Range, only locking them into their sheds at dusk. They were let out at daylight each morning, to travel around the fields as they wished, only returning for food and shelter at night (or to lay their eggs in areas I created for them).
I actually made a fairly decent second-income selling Eggs via a few small local stores and from my house. I looked after my livestock very well, I am a stickler for animals being kept in tip top condition, so nothing is skimped on.
Foxes, however, are a serious danger to an enterprise such as this. The Hens don’t travel far, they stay around the adjoining fields – but the Ducks will take flight if necessary and travel to local water spots (small rivers/lakes, or in my case the sea).
I found out on one occasion just how deadly a single fox can be when I lost almost 30 ducks in one evening. My ducks had misjudged the dusk falling, it came too quickly, so they literally just go down in the middle of a field. They lie down into the grass as best they can, hoping it will protect them from predators. In my case, on this night, I went out looking for them, gathering up any I could find. I lost about 30 that night, all ripped apart by a single fox.
At that time, foxes were becoming a problem in our area. Local farmers were even losing new-born lambs to foxes, so they were getting agitated about the growing numbers being sighted.
Immediately after that, I joined a group of local farmers and we set out on a Fox Hunt overnight one stormy weekend. About 12 or so of us hunted through the night, using lamps, lures, etc. We covered a wide area, covering many large farms, and shot about 13 foxes in one single night. I felt nothing for these foxes, I was too busy multiplying the 30 missing ducks by 13 and seeing the carnage these guys could cause. I joined similar ‘hunts’ like this maybe 3 or 4 times over a similar number of years.
I see a serious need to keep the population of foxes down in rural areas, and I also see the huge financial impact a decent ‘Hunt’ can have, creating jobs and introducing some magnificent animals locally (horses, hounds, etc). I understand that some people see the sport as cruel, but these foxes do need kept under control and shooting them doesn’t always mean a painless death (not all die with a single shot, unless you are close, good or lucky). The ‘Hunt’ itself creates a social atmosphere which is very beneficial to any rural area, bringing with it a financial improvement as it is serviced locally.
I have, when younger, gone out across rough terrain to shoot Wild Fowl and Rabbits, etc. I only did this a few times, then decided it wasn’t for me. The ground was difficult to get permission to use and the distances were pointless to travel for a day’s shooting – I found I drifted towards competition and Clay Pigeon Shooting instead.
I understand the need to keep the Rabbit population under control, they can cause havoc with local farms. I also know many locally who will happily eat any they shoot, in a stew or suchlike. I’ve tried it, I’m not fond of it, so I’ll leave this sport to others I think. I’m also not particularly into Wild Fowl either. I’ve tried Pigeon and Snipe – I’m not a fan, I’d rather have Chicken or Pheasant.
Yet again though, as anyone who shoots at moving targets will tell you, a Snipe rising quickly is one heck of a target to take down. The speed and acceleration is amazing, making it an interesting shot (from a purely sport-viewpoint).
This sport is dwindling out nowadays anyway, as farmers refuse to allow people to shoot across their lands any more. The wild bird population is shrinking as their habitat reduces and even Rabbits are not so plentiful.
I see the ‘cruelty’ issue being a number one reason for banning Hunting in various forms, but I see no solution to how the local population is to be controlled with regards to predatory animals in particular (the fox and others). I think the actual death the fox gets from a pack of hounds is not just as bad as some would make out – again I maintain the first hound or two will break neck/back and kill the fox very quickly. To turn this into a Rural Industry makes sense to me.
Farmers and those with fowl really do need to keep fox numbers under control, the fox is a serious predator who will take an opening and kill everything it can find. It might take a chicken away to eat, but it will kill every single one it can, should it take all night. The fact they hunt at night makes them a particularly difficult problem, one lapse in security can be very costly. To Sheep farmers, every lamb counts, so to lose some new-borns through the night, if they are born before the farmer gets there, is very costly.
I see all of the major ‘Hunting’ groups near me (Shooting and Fox-Hunting) as actually providing a service to the local countryside, controlling the numbers of predators, and introducing some additional wild birds for everyone’s enjoyment. Yes, they may enjoy their chosen sport, it might not be for me, but I see no reason to have any problem with them.
I get continually baffled when I see the Animal Rights activists who try to sabotage hunts, causing distress & harm to horses, dogs and humans all supposedly in the plan to save a predatory fox. I struggle with the hypocrisy when I see the physical violence towards Hunts from those supposedly so against the cruelty side of the sport.
There you go, it’s for you now to judge me on whether or not I am a murderer, a monster, or just an evil member of society. Personally, having been reared in the countryside, I do not maybe hold the same views as City-folk, but I do feel I have a fairly strong understanding of how these hunted animals fit into the local eco-system. I detest outright cruelty, and any animal I have ever kept has always been kept well, with strong focus on its physical well-being and general happiness.