Hunting (or, as we call it, shooting) has been part of European culture for centuries. The rituals surrounding it, such as offering the shot animal respect and a ‘last bite’, are still normal practice on the Continent. We in the UK should also show respect for our quarry and not simply treat them as targets – next time you shoot a living creature, take a moment to reflect on and appreciate it.
Hunting traditions show non-shooters that we really do respect game. However, the most important tradition is celebrating the end product by eating the delicious, healthy meat. We must shout about that at every opportunity we get.
Visit any country in continental Europe and you will immediately see a sharp contrast between ‘hunting’ there and ‘shooting’ here. Even the way we use these terms can cause confusion. There, hunting covers all aspects of harvesting wild game and predator control – shooting is just how you do it! Here, when we say ‘hunting’, we generally mean mounted followers using hounds to hunt foxes.
Game is more widespread on the Continent; just watching from the road as you drive around will show you the abundance and variety of wildlife. Consequently, Europeans are more familiar with game and have easier access to it and so game meat is more popular. There, all shot game ends up on somebody’s table!
As in the UK, hunters struggle to educate people about what they do. They also face a much bigger threat from antis seeking to ban hunting altogether.
We could still learn a lot from Europe’s approach. When you walk into a restaurant in Germany, France, or most other Continental countries, you will almost certainly find at least one game dish on the menu.
Out of season, in the UK, it can be a struggle to find any game on the menu at all. If the product we are trying to promote to the general public isn’t readily available in our restaurants and shops, how can we hope to make anyone understand what shooting is all about?
The good news is that the popularity of game meat among ordinary consumers is growing steadily. Venison is by far the most popular but it doesn’t take much to encourage people to try other wild meats – witness the large crowds for our Taste of Game demonstrations at various shows throughout the year. What’s even better is that it is the more adventurous, younger age group (25 to 34-year-olds) that is giving game a go – good news for the future of our sport!
For many people, killing a living creature is a completely alien and frightening idea. The only rationale some will accept is food production. But farmed meat is facing increasing criticism on animal welfare and environmental grounds.
If we can get the message across that game meat is healthy, sustainable, treated with respect and tasty, more people will eventually support it. Shooters need to unite to promote game as food and get that message out to the wider populace.
Syndicates and individual shooters around the country can really help with this. We are all people who care passionately about our sport, our quarry and our local environment.
To get people in Britain to eat more game, we first need it to be more accessible and better-known. Not many will buy meat they never tasted before – especially if they don’t know how to cook it correctly. But it’s so easy to prepare delicious, basic game dishes and we have to make this more widely known. We need simple food people can feel confident cooking at home, not complicated recipes with hard-to-find ingredients.
Don’t be afraid to talk openly about your sport and how great game tastes. Everyone who decides to taste game meat or, better yet, try shooting too, gets us a step closer to normalising game and shooting.
So, go on, eat more game and promote it to anyone you come across. Explain the fundamental differences between wild and farmed meat. Tell them how delicious and healthy it is. Share your family recipes with friends and acquaintances, along with your favourite ingredients – a ready-to-cook brace should prove irresistible!
Don’t hesitate to point out how much good conservation and environmental work shooters do throughout the country.