Char­lie Port­lock makes the real con­nec­tion with the food on our plates and where it comes from

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Char­lie sets out to ed­u­cate the masses on food - from field to plate, and ev­ery­thing be­tween

There’s a miss­ing link some­where and it’s not hard to find. In fact, the mod­ern food chain is chock full of them. I’m not al­ways fas­ci­nated by the an­swers chil­dren give when ques­tioned on the source of their food. For very young chil­dren I ac­cept that wa­ter comes from the ‘ tap’ and food comes from mummy. How­ever, for those over the age of eight or so there should be some con­cept of the jour­ney that all of our food takes to reach the kitchen. For those for­tu­nate enough to have a veg­etable gar­den or ac­cess to an al­lot­ment, these places can quickly ground and con­nect chil­dren with the process of grow­ing food and most chil­dren can tell you that milk comes from cows and eggs come from chick­ens (or vice versa ...). How­ever, many strug­gle to as­so­ci­ate meat with the cute lit­tle an­i­mals they read about in many chil­dren’s books.

Adults are of­ten no dif­fer­ent in this re­gard and I’ve re­cently had the plea­sure of in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to the process of game prepa­ra­tion on some of my cour­ses. For the ma­jor­ity of those who I’ve worked with so far, han­dling a dead an­i­mal is a bit daunt­ing, but I’m con­tin­u­ally re­minded of how pro­found an ex­pe­ri­ence it is for peo­ple; for all of us re­ally, but es­pe­cially for grown men and women who’ve eaten meat their whole lives, but never had the chance to han­dle a car­cass in fur or feather. Not ev­ery­body wants to dirty their hands, but peo­ple seem com­pelled and fas­ci­nated by the an­cient and hum­bling process of trans­form­ing an an­i­mal into the dressed and jointed prod­uct that even­tu­ally re­sem­bles the cel­lo­phane- clad of­fers seen on su­per­mar­ket shelves.

On course

I had six clients booked for the fol­low­ing day, there were no rab­bits at the lo­cal game dealer, and I needed to bag a cou­ple to en­sure that my vis­i­tors had the chance to field dress them and take them home for the freezer. It’s been a while since I’ve been out shoot­ing with a sense of ur­gency and I didn’t want to miss be­cause I’d be let­ting peo­ple down.

On a re­cent walk I spot­ted a very ac­tive war­ren be­neath and around the fence of a pheas­ant re­lease pen. There were plenty of fresh scrapes and signs so I made a note to re­visit the place with the ri­fle at a later date. I don’t like to over­shoot a war­ren. I’m not a pest con­troller or crop guardian, but a sim­ple pot hunter and as there are sel­dom more than 10 in­di­vid­u­als per ter­ri­tory, so tak­ing more than two at a time is un­nec­es­sary and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. I’d rather shoot else­where or eat some­thing else than an­ni­hi­late an en­tire com­mu­nity for the freezer.

With the preva­lence of air­gun gear it’s easy to head out a bit over­loaded with kit, so partly due to the clammy weather and partly out of a de­sire for simplicity, I set out with just the pel­let pouch, knife and ri­fle. I even left the face mask be­hind. This min­i­mal­ist ap­proach feels con­sid­er­ably more fluid and en­joy­able than tak­ing my usual 30-litre pack with head-torch, plas­tic bags, wa­ter can­teen med­i­cal kit etc, but as I was only go­ing out for a sim­ple sum­mer stalk I didn’t need any of these ex­tras. In ad­di­tion, I nearly al­ways take binoc­u­lars when shoot­ing rab­bits be­cause they’re in­valu­able in spot­ting an­i­mals in light cover and shadow along fence-lines and hedgerows. How­ever, in this in­stance my ri­fle scope, although more cum­ber­some to raise, was ad­e­quate in this role.

Sum­mer’s here

One of the many joys to be found in our elu­sive summers is when it be­comes light enough to step out into the cool­ing day for an evening’s shoot­ing. When the weather’s been fine and warm all af­ter­noon, the air hums slightly as it stills, and the birds pro­vide a gen­tle cho­rus to beckon a farflung dusk. There are many beau­ti­ful places in the world, but there’s noth­ing quite like the evening of an English sum­mer.

I left the house at around 7.30pm, and be­gan my walk down to some of the rolling park­land that makes up one of the more scenic por­tions of my per­mis­sion. Open park­land it­self might not be awash with war­rens, but it pro­vides the per­fect coun­ter­point to the wood­land and hedgerows where rab­bits nor­mally make their homes; the places be­tween habi­tats with plenty of graz­ing, cover and an open line of sight.

Af­ter, tak­ing a pos­si­bly over­cau­tious de­tour to avoid some pro­tec­tive cows and young calves, I emerged at the top of a 50-foot bank sweat­ing and out of breath – I still haven’t found any light­weight, sum­mer stalk­ing gear that I like. I’ve been charged twice be­fore, and once had to re- en­act With­nail and I in or­der to re­pel a herd on the North Downs Way. Not my proud­est mo­ment and I’m still wary.

The front re­lease pen faced west over the park and as I ap­proached from the di­rec­tion of the set­ting sun, I needed to be vig­i­lant that my long shadow did not move too quickly across the open ground in front of the war­ren. I kept low and made use of the many trees to ab­sorb it, paus­ing to scan the fence-line as I reached each one. Af­ter I’d spot­ted two rab­bits feed­ing at about ten yards from the fence, I was able to move quite quickly, keep­ing the tree trunks be­tween me and my quarry.

As I came to within about 50 yards I ran out of trees to use for cover and I knew that I’d have to hug the earth in or­der to come within range. Ly­ing on your belly com­pletely changes the land­scape and as I came to earth, my tar­get an­i­mal dis­ap­peared be­hind a gen­tly un­du­lat­ing piece of ground. The grass was lush, but dry and leaf strewn, and although I felt con­fi­dent that I could stalk in un­ob­served, it would be more chal­leng­ing to do so un­heard. With this in mind, I be­gan to wish for the rangefinder that I’d left at home, but by us­ing the two-yard fence posts as mark­ers, I ranged the first an­i­mal at 55 yards and belly- crawled the slow 20 over open ground to take a solid head­shot from prone.

The sec­ond an­i­mal moved a few yards closer to the war­ren, but was un­sure of the di­rec­tion of the dan­ger and froze, so I paused for a few min­utes to see if it would con­tinue feed­ing. When it re­mained alert and mo­tion­less, I reloaded – never easy ly­ing face down with a springer – and closed the range to 30 yards. At this point I al­most edged closer, but was wor­ried that the buck would bolt at some rustling twig, so I took my shot and then stood up to re­trieve my

two kills. The first an­i­mal, a young doe, had been com­pletely un­aware of any threat and had died with grass in her mouth. The sec­ond was highly alert and took a long time to cease post-mortem move­ment. I’ve heard it said that this phe­nom­e­non is more com­mon in young rab­bits, but this was an old buck, large with yel­low teeth, and it was just as en­er­getic as any I’ve seen. The du­ra­tion and in­ten­sity of this dis­play is more likely a re­flec­tion of the an­i­mal’s state of alert than its age be­cause its ner­vous sys­tem at­tempts to carry out its flight re­sponse. An in­ter­est­ing, if some­what macabre topic for fu­ture study.

A gen­tle re­minder?

For many of us in the air­gun­ning com­mu­nity, paunch­ing, hock­ing and field dress­ing a rab­bit is a part of life, but it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing how un­usual this is; as hunters we’re priv­i­leged to be able to wit­ness the full cir­cle of life, but our so­ci­ety doesn’t like to speak about death in any con­text and would seem­ingly like to ig­nore its ex­is­tence. Whether you think it’s right to shield chil­dren from the mor­bid truths of re­al­ity, or not, it can’t be de­nied that even­tu­ally, chil­dren grow up and if so­ci­ety won’t teach them, then who will? For life to flour­ish any­where there must be death, de­cay and re­gen­er­a­tion. So many peo­ple are un­aware of this, par­tic­u­larly within the con­text of the food chain and as hunters we have the chance to re­mind them. This may be the gift­ing of a rab­bit to some­body at the lo­cal pub; it could be invit­ing a non-shoot­ing friend out for an evening with the ri­fle, or it might be tak­ing your son or daugh­ter along with you for the very first time. We should re­mem­ber that there are very few of us now who are for­tu­nate enough to wit­ness and fa­cil­i­tate this process, and so many peo­ple have for­got­ten how to do it. Per­haps this sum­mer will pro­vide us with a chance to re­mind them. Best of luck on the field. Char­lie.

The trees were use­ful when con­ceal­ing my ap­proach

I lay down to move in closer as there was cover to hide me Two for some­body else’s’ pot Peo­ple have been fas­ci­nated by game prep (photo by Paul Blake­more) Main Im­age: These fence posts were two yards apart so a use­ful mea­sure A sat­is­fy­ing re­sult and...

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