Group of game shooters
A moral maze

A moral maze

BASC’s deputy director of shooting and operations GARETH DOCKERTY considers how our sense of right and wrong, our individual moral compass, influences our views on a vast array of shooting-related topics.

As members of the shooting community, we have various laws and regulations we must follow, then a series of best practice guidelines. However, one of the strongest forms of guidance is our individual moral code – that sense of right and wrong we have about certain topics or behaviours. These morals can unite us or divide us.

A scroll through the many shooting-related posts and groups on social media and it becomes clear quite quickly that individual morality often sits at the centre of many debates and arguments. It influences views on a huge variety of topics – from whether Guns should wear a tie on a shoot day to what constitutes a sporting bird, and how much an individual should tip to the noise (if any) beaters should make while in the line.

A gut feeling

Last year, our deer advisor James wrote an article in which he considered the place of tactical-style rifles in the field. This has nothing to do with the law, it was not a debate about calibres or capabilities, yet it prompted hundreds of comments both for and against – mainly based on individual beliefs. These beliefs can be self-taught, based on personal research or just a strong gut feeling; or they can be instilled by a family member, friend, or mentor, with morals being passed down through the generations like an old piece of furniture. Of course, they might also be influenced by geography, culture, age, etc.

A more serious angle

The comments and opinions on many of these moral topics can keep you entertained over a brew for five minutes, but is there a more serious angle here?
A strong moral compass is essential for shooting; a personal drive to do the right thing without being watched or monitored will ensure that all shooting activities are defensible and ultimately serve as beneficial for communities and nature. A desire to do the right thing lifts us above the legal minimum requirement and ensures that sustainable shooting continues to evolve with our changing society. Most of the time we do the right thing, not through the fear of punishment but due to our moral code.
There is a downside to relying on this individual code – it can, in certain circumstances, create damaging rifts within our community that can be exploited by those against shooting.

Group of game shooters

A divided community

The petition by Wild Justice to limit the shooting season of woodcock (debated in Westminster in late February – see page 9) is a fine example. It plays just as much on our individual morals as it does the evidence base. I am aware of this causing a big argument within a local shoot, with several Guns calling for a voluntary ban on shooting woodcock due to their personal beliefs, and others adamant that shooting woodcock is sustainable. The only solution in these entrenched situations is to agree to disagree, which is often easier said than done. But those against shooting can poke at these rifts and create a divided community.

I have also seen other issues arise when individual morals become the only factor of the decision-making process, or are even given more credibility than the law. This results in a small minority of people willing to knowingly break the law and attempt to justify this to themselves or even others as the right thing to do. We do not have the luxury of picking which laws to follow depending on our individual beliefs; breaking the law as part of your shooting activity can result in serious consequences, not to mention the damage it does collectively to the reputation of shooting.

What is the solution?

I suppose it comes down to respecting the personal beliefs of others and trying to understand those who have different opinions, but drawing a line in the sand if these beliefs get out of hand. We may disagree about a style of gun, wearing a tie or even the voluntary decision not to shoot a certain species. Surely, though, it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about our own actions every so often and checking that our morals are a positive guide, and they are not causing unnecessary arguments and rifts?

It is obvious that we are stronger when united and not tearing ourselves apart internally. The tricky part is finding the right balance that respects our own individual moral code, allows others to have theirs, while remaining aware of the challenges and attacks shooting faces. It’s a difficult moral maze to navigate.

Know the law

As a member of the shooting community, you must ensure your actions never go against the law or best practice guidelines. You can find the information related to general licences here, and all the available codes of best practice can be read or downloaded here.