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Shooting is not just for sociopaths

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 5:36 pm    Post subject: Shooting is not just for sociopaths Reply with quote

Shooting is not just for sociopaths

My left-wing credentials have gone to pot. Literally. Last week, I ventured out on my first shoot in rural Scotland. Yup, I was tramping around the moors behind men with big guns. Shotguns went off, stuff got killed. Not usually my sort of thing.

But let me explain. I may be a meat eater, but as a born-and-bred city dweller with a wellies-are-for-weirdos attitude, I’ve always had strong opinions about blood sports. I can’t even begin to understand why people would go blasting innocent creatures into oblivion in the name of sport.

But then I’m happy to eat anything that’s been killed by someone else. Just make sure I’m utterly removed from its origins. Meat, in my experience, comes in little cling-filmed trays, neatly trimmed and leaving me happily oblivious of its fate.

My boyfriend finds my attitude horrifying. He’s of the tougher, more rural school of thinking that you ought to be confronted with what you’re eating. “If you can’t kill it, you shouldn’t eat it,” he’s said haughtily on more than one occasion. Hmph.

So after a Christmassy argument which launched on the cruelty of killing turkeys (me), crescendoed into whether people should rear and wring their own (him), and ended on the ethics of blood sports, I was set a challenge. I should experience them for myself.

As I spluttered eloquently into my Christmas pudding, the boyfriend put it to me that, if it’s for food (as, in the UK, it apparently usually is), then why are blood sports wrong?

I’ve accompanied Masai tracking game with spears, followed San trapping rabbits and watched Brazilians fish for piranhas, said the boyfriend. Why should the UK be any different?

Loath as I am to admit it, he had a point. So on December 27, I was summoned to the Scottish borders. I was to watch people “shoot for the pot”, and then I could make up my mind.

The area is beautiful – in a wind-blasted, isolated sort of way. The road from Edinburgh winds precariously through swooping, mist-shrouded valleys, and the home we stayed at was a beautifully rambling stone house with views over fields stubbly with bleached grass.

The location may have been gorgeous, but I wasn’t looking forward to the act itself. The clothes were scary enough. My lovely new Lee jeans and red cashmere wrap wouldn’t do, apparently, so I opted for sensible black layers and, after a brief struggle, was cajoled into wellies, a Barbour and waterproof gaters. I felt ridiculous.

The guns (I thought they were called marksmen, but never mind) were gathered outside, all in sensible muddy browns and greens. They carried enormous shotguns in the crooks of their arms and greeted me warmly.

This was to be a “casual shoot”, I was assured, and given an old walking stick. I was to be a beater – one those who shouts and hits bushes, scaring the poor old pheasants and woodcock from their hiding places.

So off we went, trudging in a straggling line across vast marshy fields. The going was tough, with undulating, scrubby ground, hidden streams and patches of bog.

I copied the other beater and whacked the bushes around me, expecting clouds of birds to rise up around us. But all was quiet. I settled into a rhythm, hypnotised by the quiet trudge-trudging and the whooshing of my stick.

And then, a shot. Incredibly loud, I felt my bones shudder with the blast and then, following the sound, I saw our first pheasant cart-wheeling out of the sky, dead before it hit the ground. One of the (incredibly well-trained) dogs brought its limp body over in its mouth, and I briefly admired its beautiful greenish-black feathers. It was still warm.

On we went. Just five birds were shot (the boyfriend assured me that on formal shoots, the death toll can run into the hundreds), but we spent most of the three hour shoot quietly trekking across the moors. It was, basically, a pleasant, slightly weird, country walk.

I won’t pretend I was happy about those feathery souls that died in the process. But, oddly, the process felt surprisingly matter of fact.

While it was far removed from watching the San (who really are dependent on wild game, and definitely don’t have plumy voices), the group I was with would later be hanging and plucking the birds before cooking them. They weren’t, I was a little startled to discover, blood-lusting sociopaths out on a rampage.

And the birds had surely had far happier, freer lives than the chickens I buy in Sainsbury's.

But would I shoot myself? Most definitely not. I’ll stick to my cling-filmed little trays, thanks very much.

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