Why do we go shooting? What motivates us to get up in all weathers and head out with dog and gun? In his latest blog, Gethin Jones considers what drives shooters to do what they do…
“In THIS weather?” is probably the most common phrase I hear from my wife when I sneak out of bed to go wildfowling on a cold, windy December morning, having already failed in my mission of not waking her. “You must be mad…” is likely the second most frequently uttered phrase.
She may have a point.
What indeed does make the wildfowler get out of bed at an unearthly hour to brave the elements for a winter’s morning on a cold and windy foreshore? Or, come to that, what pushes the deer stalker up onto the hill, the pigeon shooter into their bale hide, the rough shooter to walk for miles, or the game shooter to head to their peg in the driving rain?
Undoubtedly, we all derive a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment from our shooting sports else we wouldn’t do them.
As selective apex predators, shooters are surely closer in spirit to our hunter-gatherer ancestors than someone who sources their Sunday dinner from the aisles of Tesco. We are arguably as far removed from such a setting as is possible when seeking out our wild harvest over the hills, marshes and wilder parts of the land.
We enjoy venturing either alone or with likeminded companions. We tap into our innate hunting abilities, knowledge, experience, good dog work and marksmanship.
Drawing on all of this, and not without a good helping of luck, we bring home nature’s bounty. Such skills rank significantly over and above those required to push a shopping trolley.
Shooting for fun?
We’re often accused by our detractors of ‘shooting for fun’. Might they be right? I’ve certainly enjoyed, and have derived a great deal of fun from, all the shooting disciplines that I’ve been lucky enough to experience.
However, what I think the opposition is getting at is that we derive pleasure from the act of killing. This is where the antis’ catchphrase entirely misses the point.
Yes, it is possible to take a great deal of enjoyment, ‘fun’ if you like, from a day’s shooting.
But to ascribe the pleasure and satisfaction we shooters feel to the fleeting second when the trigger is pulled is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores all the other essential elements which combine to make a day out with gun and dog a memorable one.
Although our activities involve the death of living creatures, this certainly doesn’t mean that we have no regard for living things.
In taking the not inconsiderable decision to end the life of an animal, one becomes intrinsically linked to that animal and takes on a degree of responsibility.
We ensure that in death, it is treated with respect. If shot for food, we trigger an unwritten contract that it will be eaten and enjoyed and certainly not wasted.
Killing is an inalienable part of the hunting process, but it is not the be-all and end-all.
As a wildfowler and rough shooter, some of the most enjoyable days I’ve experienced on the foreshore or tramping the fields have been ones when my game bag has remained steadfastly empty. Instead, I have simply marvelled at my wonderful surroundings.
A sense of place
The places we find ourselves in when we go shooting are surely a motivating factor in themselves. Shooting destinations often take us to some of the wildest, most remote, and most beautiful parts of Britain.
On such a small and crowded island, we are fortunate indeed to be able to experience our sport in such glorious surroundings.
One of my favourite wildfowling spots is a seaweed-covered tree trunk, of indeterminate age, which sits half-buried in sand in the middle of a river channel on one of the foreshores I shoot over. This is where Chester and I invariably head in the pitch dark before a morning flight on that foreshore.
Provided we both sit still, we often find ourselves surrounded by crowds of low-flying waders and gulls, as well as the occasional party of wigeon, all of which seem oblivious to our presence. Such experiences certainly put the ‘wild’ in wildfowling.
Does age dampen our enthusiasm?
Advancing years can certainly make itself felt in many ways. I have known some older shooting friends who have given up shooting altogether. Despite being physically fit enough to go on, they feel they have come to their own conclusion that they have done enough.
I have nothing but respect for anyone who has made this decision and wouldn’t dream of trying to make them rethink.
One only has to think of no less keen a wildfowler than Sir Peter Scott, who went on to establish the Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), who came to this very same conclusion (although it is open to question as to precisely when he put his guns away for the last time). This is something each individual must decide.
For myself, the shooting disciplines that I enjoy most – wildfowling and rough shooting – are such overwhelming passions that I can’t ever imagine giving them up voluntarily. They’ll have to carry me off the shooting field on a stretcher!
The only significant difference I’ve noticed with age is that my enjoyment of the day depends far less on the weight of the game bag than it did when I was a teenager starting out.
I’m also perfectly happy to sleeve my gun after making a modest bag and then simply stay put to watch the spectacle of passing wildlife and the scenery I see around me.
Shooting in company
The camaraderie we enjoy when shooting in company is surely one of the main motivating factors. It is certainly something from which everyone who goes shooting with their friends derives great enjoyment.
Whether one shoots well or badly, one can always rely on one’s shooting pals to bring one down a peg or two or cheer one up, depending on how the day is going.
Certainly, one of the main things we are all looking forward to on the other side of lockdown is seeing our shooting friends once more and enjoying days out.
Reconnecting with the natural world
We’ve all heard a lot during the last year or so about people reconnecting with the natural world.
This can only be a good thing and people’s appreciation of the natural world is something which should be positively encouraged. As long as it is accompanied by a thorough understanding of how to behave in the countryside, of course.
However, with the possible exception of fishing, there is arguably no other sport which is as purely elemental as shooting.
In its undiluted form, shooting is a sport which enables you to leave behind the artificial world created by human beings and to observe the natural world as a mere spectator looking in.
We actually become a part of the landscape, to interact with it and the wild creatures which inhabit that other world in a deep and primordial way.
So, in answer to my wife’s original question, that is what gets me out of my warm bed on those cold and stormy December mornings.