Talking to the animals
We will always show respect for our quarry, but how does that affect our relationships with other creatures that cross our path? The Back Gun considers the question.
In the Back Gun’s humble opinion, discussing politics and religion should be avoided as assiduously in the shooting field as around the dining table. But there was an occasion last season in the sun-dappled glade of a bosky Exmoor wood while enjoying the mid-morning comestibles and reviving drink when that guideline was temporarily passed. In this case it concerned the convolutions of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and one of the many votes thereon that sparked the conversation.
Politicians had apparently worked themselves up a lather about how animals were seen to be protected within the Lisbon Treaty and whether our laws should recognise animal sentience, that being their ability to perceive or feel things. Animals, that is, not politicians.
One of our better read
Guns quoted the 17th century philosopher René Descartes who apparently suggested that ‘animals are without feelings, physical or emotional and that if any mammal appears to be free of emotions, apart from cynicism, it would be the goat’. This prompted much debate, most notably led by those of a canine persuasion who posited that Descartes was barking and that modern science was in no doubt that Rover (or Purdey) has a distinct personality, can form attachments and display emotions.
Hands up those who have witnessed a labrador being bloodyminded, overtly amorous and emotionally unstable when separated from food. Now, men in white coats with sticky-out hair have been able to demonstrate that goats, too, become emotionally aroused in tests, both positive or negative. Mercifully, the concept of a positively aroused goat brought the discussion to an end and the team continued with their day, but it set the mind to racing.
Many seasons ago, on a Scottish hillside in winter, being shotblasted by sleet brought in by an easterly gale of wind strong enough to blow dogs off their chains, we were surprised to see the pickers-up delivering the avian harvest promptly and without ceremony into an enormous wicker laundry basket. More recently, after a sporting day in the Spanish countryside, on returning to the lodge the Guns were met with their entire day’s pleasure laid out in elegant display and saluted by everyone, though without the cacophony of brass beloved of French hunters.
In their different ways both were doing what they had always done and recognised their quarry as worthy, but attributing the possession of emotions was probably not on their radar.
There is a clear dichotomy about shooting. On the one hand, most right-thinking Guns and all the keepering fraternity have deep respect for the birds and beasts in their care. On the other, their aim,
“In Spain, the day’s bag was laid out in elegant display and saluted by everyone.”
and ours, is to return said birds and beasts to the human food chain in the most sporting and efficient way possible.
Here’s the thing. Believing that Bowser, Dobbin, Billy and even hamsters have emotions is one thing, but what about your fizzling partridge, lumbering pheasant or brown trout? Do they share those same emotional tropes so beloved of the animal rights activists and how should we recognise them?
The relationship between human and animal is often tenuous, frequently nuanced by economics and regularly hazardous. In recent weeks, we have read of a black bear that attacked a car full of visitors at a Bedfordshire safari park, described correctly by its operators as ‘not a petting zoo’, and a petting zoo in Cheshire that has embraced the concept of field to fork by counterpointing the furry friends on the hoof with an abattoir experience.
While it is interesting to see corvids enjoying their natural habitat, tell that to the Dorset farmers who have lost lambs to the attention of ravens, Alpine shepherds watching their flocks decimated by grey wolves and the protesting members of the RSPB who don’t understand the need to cull hooded crows to preserve the Eurasian curlew. It goes unrecorded if three ivory poachers in a South African game reserve believed in the sentience of the lions into whose pride they had inadvertently wandered, but the lions promptly ate them. Nature rebalancing the scales perhaps.
Though game is respected it is treated very differently to the gundog at its owner's feet.