THE JARGON JUNGLE
Do we say what we really mean when talking about game shooting... and should we be more aware than ever of our Ps and Qs?
Shooting terminology enriches, protects and enlightens us. By John Clements.
It was longer ago than
I care to remember but nonetheless the idea of the terminology of shooting certainly hit home when, for some reason, an email had not turned up. It was one of those quick-turnaround conversations that bounce merrily back and forth like a good rally at Wimbledon. It concerned some timber I needed for a project at school. In return for a few hours’ work, the children would soon be building. It was all going swimmingly and then communication ceased: blocked because it contained words which though common in shooting, didn’t get past the school’s email security. More of that later.
Shooting has an extensive glossary; it has to really. The detail we need to communicate to others throws up a rich and wonderful vocabulary; whether it is what we are shooting at or where to stand in order that we, in turn, are not shot at. These words and phrases, which may loom, like some particularly hench doorman, over the newcomer, definitely appeal to the inner nerd; they draw us ever inward until they are part of us and we are members of the club. Once through the door of this club – among the chosen – there is no stopping us and it isn’t long before we too find ourselves raising an eyebrow when we hear someone getting something wrong and nodding sagely as we gather around the resident fount of wisdom, absorbing each new word and noting it silently, so we might go home and find out what the old bird was on about. Then there is dog language – are you a “sit” or a “hup” type? When receiving retrieved goods do you say “dead” or a “thank you”? Then there are names of breeds and for the owners of some HPRS there is the outrage of, “of course it’s not a bloody labradoodle!” For those with still the momentum to continue there is deer stalking language, shotgun language and rifle language, and each one makes us slightly more prone to the likelihood of our pulse quickening and having a vein rise up on our forehead when we hear it aired incorrectly.
It can get a bit much, though, and if we are lucky, as the club becomes more and more fogged with nearterminal terminology, a pal will come along and open a window, by saying something like “Do you want to borrow a spreader?” and hand you one. It may have the traditional rose and scroll; it may also be that every second of its history is recorded in its beautiful, aged walnut and steel, but you see just a gun and you can breathe once more. I have to say, I like all this jargon. I admit that I don’t know most of it, but
I do enjoy it. It becomes part of the fabric of our community. And that is it; our community; it is part of who we become and who we are.
Dust to dust
Recently I was again made to think, how we should talk about what we do. What should we say to the newcomer? This topic arose on an instructors’ course; the topic was the addressing of the complete newcomer, the terms of a successful shot, and the question is: do we kill a clay? More importantly do we say we kill a clay? It is hardly alive to kick off with “disintegration isn’t a loss of life”, is it? Well, we kill other things; time, for example. The digital age may have silenced its pulse and browsing and social media means that it may even fly before it is killed. Equally, conversations are killed and atmospheres too, and while they may be lively, their abrupt end is not medical. No longer viable, they exist in memory only. So do we actually kill a clay? After all, once dusted (to dust?), no amount of first aid is going to bring it back to life; unlike time
“How would that dead-in-the-air pheasant compare with chickens suffocated in crates, for example?”
and conversation they have no other function for us really, so perhaps there is no need to say we kill them. And to the newcomer; does it make a difference if they hear that the clay is simply broken? Do we need to call them clay pigeons? They are targets. So for clarity and logic, probably not. We break clays.
However, clarity and logic is not the reasoning here; the reason is that we don’t want to upset anyone with the word “kill”. This is the point where the curtains are flung open, the orchestra that has been waiting for months under the stairs leaps out to give its polished “Dandan-daaaah!” and by the Aga, in a fit of pique and outrage, a labrador – working type, obviously – fully aware, even though it is not dinner time or walkies, that something is afoot, lifts its tail rhythmically at least three times, possibly four.
Crossing the line
Strong stuff. Has the line been crossed? Is the bell tolling? Is this just the sort of thing that mother warned us about? Possibly.
What of the club? What of the journey? The why we are here in the first place? What of the history? More to the point, what do we think of killing? This seems to be a question that we need to consider. I have heard it said that a day’s sport is not about the killing; it is the day, the camaraderie, the communal sharing of the great outdoors, the celebration of the keeper’s work, the history and the spectacle and, of course, the sheer joy of a day off. So why the birds then? Can’t we just have a quiet wander around a conservation area for a while, feel warm and fuzzy about the fact that we are supporting this work by paying for the opportunity, have a nice lunch, enjoy a natter with friends and then go and shoot some clays? That ticks all the boxes, doesn’t it? Do we have to shoot driven game? Why can’t we just shoot on simulated days? This is the reasoning of a lot of people who don’t see why we want to go out and kill what they will think of as innocent creatures. While they are at it, they might point out the innocent creatures to be “slaughtered” or “blasted from the sky” are put out in unnaturally high numbers. Would they be wrong to say that? Do we shooters not know that they actually have a point?
The views held by those who don’t understand why we shoot lacks depth. I enjoy shooting game a lot more than I like shooting clays – I like it more than I like doing practically anything else. It is one of the few things that will get me out of bed to drive 100 miles or so before the crack of dawn. I really would like to see if I can get bored of it, but I am not that lucky. To hunt is a natural instinct. True, many people get by with various substitutions, but not all of us do. Is it the summation of so many actions and thoughts? The teamwork, the realisation and reward of effort and patience, the apprenticeships served, the engaging of the subconscious to join up hand, eye and reflex in that brief moment when we see that change in flight frozen before the fall: the kill.
We participate in something that others would see as archaic; they might want it lost to the pages of history. Is it time to listen to the dissenters and consign our tweeds to the dressing-up box? Once people believe that all killing is bad, it is easy; it needs no more thought. But all food requires that something dies. The naïve and judgemental who would call us cruel and our sport barbaric – what perspective do they have? What if those photographs in shops had, alongside serving suggestions, an illustration of how the animal met its end? How would people judge shooting then? How would that dead-in-the-air pheasant compare with chickens suffocated in crates, for example? Because killing is what we do and because we do it, we know that death has a spectrum; we make the decision to face and perform the killing and to work for a good death following a good life. And while we set out to kill efficiently, we provide for that life indulgently with habitats and conditions that mean that no fence is needed to hold the birds. That is an achievement, and we know that the benefits go well beyond our quarry. So, is “kill” a bad word? No – it is the route to our history and the root of our sport; it is integral to our language and we should, as individuals, know what it means to us, and if we do it, we should use it.
So what was it that caused the school email security to block the email? Well take your pick; the venue was Cock Shoot Wood.
The unique terminology of shooting is as old as the sport itself.
Cartridges, shells, ammo – what are these called, and does it really matter?