the dan­ger of si­lence

Game shoot­ing faces un­prece­dented risks in the 21st cen­tury, so why isn’t our com­mu­nity more vo­cal in its de­fence of the sport at a time when it’s re­ally needed? John Cle­ments presents both prob­lems and so­lu­tions.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - Game shoot­ing is at its most vul­ner­a­ble when its sup­port­ers do not make a stand, and it hap­pens more than we re­alise. By John Cle­ments.

We all get them at some point; it might be in the pub, at a meet­ing, at a party or sit­ting down to lunch; the mood be­gins to get crispy around the edges, firmer un­der foot and the mer­cury in the ther­mome­ter be­gins to drop: “You go out and kill things for fun?”

The line is drawn, the die cast and the clock is tick­ing, a lone bun­dle of tum­ble­weed rolls by and chil­dren are hus­tled away to safety. This is the mo­ment when sim­i­lar­i­ties step noise­lessly aside leav­ing them and us stand­ing. These peo­ple have no clue about the coun­try­side. We, of course, are rot­ters: in­bred, over-priv­i­leged rich louts who go about killing ev­ery­thing that gets in the way of us killing ev­ery­thing else. Pub­lic school psy­chopaths, ar­ro­gant de­spoil­ers of wildlife with an at­ti­tude to mother na­ture that would stop any sel­f­re­spect­ing ram­pag­ing horde in its tracks and cause them, as one, to suck their teeth, wince painfully and mut­ter: “Steady on old chap…”

Ut­ter non­sense of course. We are, all of us, for this point, lumped to­gether on the grand spec­trum of ‘who likes shoot­ing?’ and no mat­ter how we po­si­tion our­selves on the in­fi­nite num­ber of other spec­tra; on this one we do not agree. Each will have their rea­sons and will have made de­ci­sions based on what they have heard, seen or had drummed into them at their mother’s (or fa­ther’s) knee.

And yet, there are mut­ter­ings in the shire, strange things are afoot in the North, where prize-win­ning and prof­itable con­ser­va­tion projects are be­ing shut down by peo­ple who don’t ap­prove. Pe­ti­tions are raised and de­bates had and a crush­ing point for our side. But it is not over; still the ar­gu­ment con­tin­ues. Hav­ing seen the power of sci­ence and ev­i­dence, and then seen what a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign can do to the sci­ence when opin­ions are in­volved, what then?

It has to be said, 0.09 per cent does not sound like very much; it is less than one in 1,000; it even makes my A-level chem­istry marks sound rea­son­able! So what is this em­bar­rass­ing score? This puny pro­por­tion? It is the num­ber of sub­mis­sions to the Driven Grouse De­bate as a per­cent­age of the num­ber of shot­gun cer­tifi­cates in the UK; and it is rounded up. It even in­cludes the sub­mis­sions in favour of the ban.

The thing is, 0.09 per cent is an im­prove­ment. A cou­ple of decades ago a Home Of­fice in­quiry into firearms amassed a to­tal of around 200 sub­mis­sions (there were 486 for the grouse de­bate). Again, there had been a push by all of the shoot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions to get peo­ple to con­trib­ute ev­i­dence and opin­ion, pretty much in the same way as for the grouse pe­ti­tion, but the fi­nal to­tal, in­clud­ing the anti sub­mis­sions, re­mained at around 200.

This ear­lier de­bate was when

I got se­ri­ously in­ter­ested; I hadn’t been shoot­ing very long, but I still thought that it might be worth chuck­ing my two pen­nies’ worth into the pot. When I dis­cov­ered the in­quiry’s turnout I was ap­palled and re­main so. It fired me up; not to join the an­gry mob, be­cause there wasn’t one, but to get in­volved and to keep an eye out for bias against shoot­ing. As a teacher in school and at meet­ings (I was very keen on en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion) I would en­gage with those who would freely criticise shoot­ing, and as I knew what I was talk­ing about, I would tend to do well in these dis­cus­sions. I was a hunter gar­dener, and as such was more in har­mony with those around the world who rely on their en­vi­ron­ment; they have to pro­tect it and live as part of it. In­stead of mak­ing dream catch­ers, my class would eat pi­geons, watch me draw pheas­ants and cook fish they had caught. Im­por­tantly, they would also learn to sit and watch the nat­u­ral world. Out­side class I did what I could. I wrote to mag­a­zines, the RSPB, the BBC, The Guardian, Wildlife Trusts, MPS, min­is­ters and so on with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess, and I learned about com­plaints de­part­ments. You have to keep at it with them; they have a pro­tec­tive layer of peo­ple who make re­sponses to your com­plaint. If you can by­pass them im­me­di­ately do so; from my ex­pe­ri­ence they are more keen to make you think you have com­plained. In my ex­pe­ri­ence they deal with the bits they want to and ig­nore the bits they don’t; you will be thanked for your com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Lib­erty and lib­er­ties

I like the Voltaire/hall quote, ‘I may dis­agree with what you say, but I will de­fend to the death your right to say it,’ but does it ap­ply to ev­ery sit­u­a­tion when deal­ing with the anti-shoot­ing bias? Some an­tis are to­tally gen­uine and good peo­ple; they have done their read­ing, and they have come down with a view that op­poses shoot­ing; some will have seen it through and gone full ve­gan, and they will see that they have reached a dif­fer­ent view to you but many ap­pre­ci­ate that it does not give them the right to tell you not to shoot. For ex­am­ple, a Bud­dhist I used to know thought that ev­ery­one who ate meat should have killed and pre­pared at least one an­i­mal and eaten it. He also felt that at least by shoot­ing my food I was be­ing hon­est enough to kill it my­self.

“I would en­gage with those who would freely criticise shoot­ing, as I knew what I was talk­ing about.”

The ar­ray of an­tis is broad and I don’t need to de­scribe any in par­tic­u­lar, be­cause we see them on the tele­vi­sion and hear them on the ra­dio and read them in the press. Whether it’s a news item, an in­ter­view, an in­ci­dent in a soap opera or some throw­away line hav­ing a dig at shoot­ing or peo­ple who shoot. So­cial me­dia is more wor­ry­ing; the com­ments serve as in­di­ca­tors not just of al­leged emo­tion but also of the ex­trem­ist views of some of these peo­ple. The key thing with most of these ag­gres­sive out­bursts is that they are not to gen­er­ate dis­cus­sion and to reach a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing. They are more of the be­rat­ing tone of Ber­tie Wooster’s aunt. They seek to la­bel peo­ple as dif­fer­ent, to score points with each other and not for a cause. A tol­er­ant so­ci­ety seems to be less high on some peo­ple’s to-do lists than they might have you be­lieve.

In his sum­mary of the events that made up the pe­ti­tion to ban driven grouse shoot­ing, the GWCT’S An­drew Gil­ruth il­lus­trates that the pe­ti­tion gen­er­ated sup­port from only 0.25 per cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion, so do we ac­tu­ally have any­thing to worry about? Have you per­haps not no­ticed how shoot­ing celebri­ties have to keep a low pro­file? How can an­tis have such in­flu­ence? We need a shift in the shoot­ing cul­ture, we need to feel that the ex­cel­lent re­search and in­for­ma­tion put out by BASC, the GWCT, the NGO and Coun­try­side Al­liance is for us to hand on and to get into the na­tional con­scious­ness, to make it an in­gre­di­ent in the daily bread.

Can we jus­tify shoot­ing an­i­mals? Of course we can. We need to feel that we can do it. When we read, hear or see some rub­bish said about shoot­ing, we need to re­spond to it. We know that the an­tis choose their bat­tles care­fully, and that is how we should re­spond. We need to start putting those con­cerns about news and so­cial me­dia into words and ac­tion. How? Write, talk, share our ex­pe­ri­ences, re­spond, be proac­tive in prolonging the fu­ture of our sport. We should join the few fa­mous peo­ple who speak up for shoot­ing, how­ever mod­est our con­tri­bu­tion. My per­sonal thoughts are that if we knew oth­ers were do­ing it, more less-fa­mous folk might join in.

My idea is a mod­est badge with a sim­ple mes­sage ‘Speak Up For Shoot­ing’ and pos­si­bly a web­site flag­ging up is­sues with hints and links to the in­for­ma­tion that an­swers such is­sues. Imag­ine 56,000 let­ters ar­riv­ing at a tele­vi­sion com­pany com­plaints depart­ment or a coun­cil con­sid­er­ing a lease on a moor. That is only 10 per cent of shoot­ers; just over 33 per cent of BASC mem­bers.

Think of the ir­re­place­able, poignant, joy­ous mo­ments you have had out shoot­ing; would you deny them to the next gen­er­a­tion?

John’s small but pow­er­ful call to ac­tion, a pin badge with a sim­ple mes­sage.

Con­ver­sa­tion is never lack­ing on a shoot, and those within the com­mu­nity should never be afraid to speak up for their sport.

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