Marc Cocker of the guardian.co.uk‘s Country Diary [above] finds modern day pheasant hunting most disagreeable. “The perpetual fusillade of guns from across the other side of the Yare sounded like the Somme. One wonders if that audible violence, which is surely peculiar to the killing inflicted by industrial societies, also measures our alienation from the natural landscape? One thinks, by contrast, of the silence and stealth that must always have surrounded hunters from the Paleolithic until the middle ages.” One forgets the fact that much of the hunting in human history involved driving animals over cliffs or into pits, which was probably not what you’d call quiet either. Anyway, Marc’s not one to trifle over facts. For example, he believes the development of the modern shotguns led to the massacre at Columbine . . .
The innovation that unleashed this form of arithmetical ritual was the 1847 invention of the breech-loading shotgun. One is tempted to speculate that there is a psychological continuum that stretches from that moment to the high slaughter of modern video games and even perhaps unto Columbine: a view of killing as entertainment with numbers. Yet in real hunting should the hunter not savour death sparingly, ringfencing it with meaning and significance so that there is a genuine transaction between predator and prey.
Is that a trick question? Marc’s nostalgia for the Paleolithic era indicates that his antipathy towards blood sports is a matter of style rather than ethics. One of his commentators sums it up very nicely indeed.
For many of the participants, the shoot is a façade. The guns are there to show off; the cars, the antique shotguns, the ill gotten lucre…many a deal is wrapped up over lunch. The newly recruited beaters, women, dressed immaculately in the appropriate attire and their children, like miniature keepers, waistcoat and plus fours. Lurking underneath this showy exterior however, the terrier boys, the baiters, for whom the killing is the key, a year round addiction to slaughter just to give the pheasant free reign. The bullying, the threats, illegal firearms and poaching, all underpin this excuse for sport practiced by the vulgar nouveau riche.
Someday the English will not see the world through the lens of class warfare. Meanwhile, thank God we’re not them.