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 Gazette - - This Month - By John Clements.

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?

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