As another shooting season draws to a close, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the months just passed and those that lie ahead.
Personally, it has been my least successful shooting season to date. With family and work commitments taking precedence, pre-season practice was all but non-existent and this, unsurprisingly, translated into a poor performance in the field. In fact, it was only during the last two days of my season that I got back into the swing of things and managed consistent shooting; just in time for it to end! Hopefully, I will atone for it on winter pigeons, as it is time to return to my permission to help out farming friends.
But it is important to look beyond personal achievements or failures. We are passionate advocates of an activity that is undoubtedly controversial and to some looking in, unjustifiable. We face attacks on all sides, from TV ‘conservationists’ and celebrities to political opponents and social media trolls. Unlike the quarry we pursue, we, and our industry, are sitting targets.
With the zeitgeist supposedly shifting towards less meat consumption, higher welfare standards, faux-veganism and, in some cases, the use of militant direct action towards those involved in country sports, meat and dairy, we can’t expect those attacks to go away. All we can do is ensure shooting has its house in order and is able to demonstrate that.
And this before we consider the consequences for shooting, farming and the wider countryside of a change of colour in Westminster. With Brexit negotiations stumbling on, that nightmare scenario cannot be ruled out.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to co-host the Country Gent podcast, which is created by the Yorkshire Gent. I jumped at the chance, and not, as most people believe, because I like the sound of my own voice.
The podcast is an engaging mix of fieldsports, whisky tasting and chat, and history, and always includes a guest interview from the worlds of shooting or fishing, or associated trade or lobby groups.
In the short time I’ve been involved, we’ve featured esteemed guests such as Andrew Gilruth from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust; Jim Barrington, animal welfare advisor to the Countryside Alliance; Liam Stokes, head of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance; Tom Adams, founder and managing director of the British Game Alliance, and; the irrepressible Robert Everitt, business development manager at Hull Cartridge Company Ltd.
We’ve covered a whole range of topics including raptor persecution; the environmental impact of raising and releasing game birds; the conservation ethics and credibility of shooting; the game meat market and how to grow it; the validity of the animal rights argument; the use of lead shot and; plastic vs fibre wads.
What comes across firmly in these discussions is that good things are being done by good people to promote and protect our way of life every day. When reflecting on the shooting season past, it is equally important to recognise these things as it is the threats. Without fail, everyone we asked about the future of shooting, while acknowledging the challenges, responded positively. Yes, there are issues to overcome, but things are moving and they are changing, and for the better.
Although my shooting season was in the main, a washout, two things stand out. Firstly, on my last syndicate day I gave my peg to my stepson and stood beside him, coaching him as best I could. He shot his first driven bird that day and was cock-a-hoop about it. I could not have been more proud. He is the future and I hope he continues his interest to become as passionate an advocate of our way of life as I am.
Secondly, my freezer is bulging with game of all varieties, so much so it is almost impossible to close the door. Pheasant, partridge, grouse, mallard, teal, goose, pigeon and rabbit chock the shelves and over the next few months will be the central feature of many a feast.
Personally, I have always felt shooting and hunting are a continuum that begins when I take my gun out of the cabinet and doesn’t end until I have cooked and eaten the animal or bird I have shot. So, my season will go on until the freezer is empty. And with pigeon shooting, rabbit control and some stalking all booked in for the coming months, I’m pleased to say that is never going happen!