Hunting with Fireworks

Deer © PhotoXpress

Last Sunday morning, we heard a lot of banging and crackling going on. Thinking that it was the children at the farm up the hill having a birthday party, the SF walked up to investigate. However, it wasn’t what we thought – and it would have been a bit odd letting off fireworks in broad daylight, anyway. On the opposite hillside, he saw flashes of light, followed by the crack of a flare and, a little later, the sound of gunshot further down.

Cultural attitudes to hunting

We concluded that this was a battue – an organised cull – since the hunting season here had finished at the end of February. These culls take place periodically to reduce the numbers of grand gibier, large animals like deer and wild boar. We had never seen it done with flares before – and didn’t know it was allowed. Normally, they use dogs to flush out the game. Perhaps it has been so dry that the dogs can’t get the scent so they had to resort to other means.

In France, hunting raises far fewer passions than it does in the UK. I wonder if this is partly because it is considered the pastime of the privileged few in the UK, whereas in France it’s the affirmation of a right won at the French Revolution. In addition, people in the UK more generally accept the concept of animal rights. I suspect that I will be pilloried by pro and anti-hunting supporters but will plough on regardless.

Some figures

I decided to do some research about la chasse and came across the website of La Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs. According to them, hunting in its various guises is the third most popular leisure activity in France, practiced by nearly 1.25 million people (what are the two more popular activities? They didn’t say. The mind boggles). If you go to sporting equipment stores like Intersport or Décathlon, whole aisles are taken up with hunting clothes and accessories.

According to a survey carried out in 2006, 98% of hunters are men – no surprise there – and two-thirds are aged 45+. There is, however, a separate national association for women hunters. The greater southwest is the most popular part of France for hunting: about 22% of hunters live down here.

Apparently, hunting is highly regulated and there are laws about the possession of firearms. To get a hunting permit you have to pass both a practical test and a theory exam. I had a look at the test paper, which consists of 750 multiple-choice questions. I would be surprised if everyone had to answer all of the questions, since they are specific to different types of game. I’d be interested to know what the pass mark is. You have to renew the permit annually via the local Fédération Départementale de Chasse. I wonder how easy this is to police. How many people hunt without a licence, c.f. people who drive without one?

The Préfet (government representative) in each département fixes the dates for the opening and closing of the overall hunting season. In Tarn-et-Garonne the latest season ran from 11th September 2011 to 29th February 2012. Within that, there are specific date bands for hunting different animals and game birds.     

For … and against

The official associations claim that hunting is about respecting the environment and protecting wildlife etc. I have always been ambivalent about la chasse. I must admit that I like eating game but am not sure about the blood lust that is often behind hunting it. I remember the feeling of revulsion as I watched a hunter in a field near our house pick up and brandish by the ears the hare he had just shot. On another occasion I applauded a wily hare who ran one way whilst the dogs and hunters went in the opposite direction.

Also, however many safety regulations you make, there are always people who get carried away and shoot each other or innocent bystanders by mistake. Hunters are not permitted to shoot within a certain radius of a dwelling but I know from experience that they jolly well do.

On the other hand, some animals such as wild boar cause a lot of damage to crops and their numbers need to be controlled – hence the official culls. A large area around our house was designated a réserve de chasse in 2009. This doesn’t mean it is reserved for hunting; rather, that it is an area where they are not allowed to hunt in order to enable the game to regenerate. We have noticed a definite increase in the number of deer, which graze with impunity in the fields and eat my roses. There are also unmistakable signs of wild boar, for example large stones overturned by their tusks in search of roots. We even saw a few gambolling in a neighbouring field one morning when we had to get up very early.

The réserve de chasse designation normally lasts for three years so we can expect the next game season to start with a bang in mid-September. I can’t say I’m greatly looking forward to it. 

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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17 Responses to Hunting with Fireworks

  1. Some associations of la chasse are well run…others far from it.
    I agree about the intimidation if you put your head above the parapet…but you can always contact the garde-chasse. Our local men were splendid in controlling excesses.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I think it depends very much on where you are. I don’t think they are overly difficult around here but I won’t put my head above the parapet anyway!

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  2. All very familiar to us on our hillside…especially the comments about hunters firing too close to houses. Our guardian gets crosser than we do. “Le dimanche c’est pire qu’Afghanistan!” was his pithy comment a few months ago!

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  3. Gosh, you have stirred up some comments here! Not surprising, I suppose. My view is not mainstream, as usual. If we were to go out and tackle wildlife we consider damaging to our way of life, unarmed, as do the animals when they fight over territory, mates etc. then fair enough. I wonder what the ‘handicaps’ would be the way it is. I find the notion that hunting is the third most popular leisure activity, utterly repellent. Our species seems to think we own the planet with all its flora and fauna. I think we’re in for a very nasty shock. Luckily there are more and more groups popping up who are working towards a more caring world where we work together with nature not against it.

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    • nessafrance says:

      As you say, this topic rarely leaves people indifferent! It would be interesting to see into the future – maybe a cleverer predator than us will evolve and prey on us. Apparently, in prehistoric times – I don’t know when and would have to research it to make sure of my facts – there was a species of large cat whose canines were specially adapted to bore into the human cranium. We also have been stalked…

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  4. I’ve noticed in the 19 years that we’ve been here that the hunters, certainly around here in the Gironde, are getting better mannered and more considerate. Or maybe it’s that I’m better at standing up to them! For instance at our last house a hunter persistantly shot too close to our house – oak woods are very desirable hunting spots – which was noisy and made the dogs bark consistantly so I let them out to bark at him, then said I was sorry they’d go on barking until he moved further away. Since they were driving away all the wildlife he did, eventually.

    I have no compunction about shouting at hunters who came too close, learnt that off a redoubtable French neighbour. However I make sure the hunters know I treat them with respect, I keep away from where I know they are, I attach bells to the dogs so they know someone’s there and I listen to their stories!

    We are overrun with deer and wild boar around here, frankly I wouldn’t mind a few more battues.

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    • nessafrance says:

      They are getting better around here, too, although we’ve been a réserve for the past 3 seasons so it has been nice and peaceful. They have done a lot of battues over the winter – a sign of the number of grand gibier that need controlling.

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  5. Coming from the Devonshire village of my youth where the Boxing Day hunt was very much part of the countryside tradition, and where the devastation of the fox was an annual struggle; and having witnessed the city-folk up in their droves to impede the process, whilst never having witnessed or lived with the issues suffered by the local farmers, I have to support the need for culling as a measured process. I am not for the wild bloodlust, but also rarely have come upon such an individual. Wild animals, especially the boar and deer breed quickly unculled and caused great damage. When I think of the lack of citizen rights on inner city housing estates where individuals are marked out as targets to violent groups – yet all the banner wavers are in a small country village on the South Downs protecting an individual fox – i generally conclude that the UK has failed to understand what they are really trying to protect, the french thankfully have a more down to earth view.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I also agree that culling is a necessity. We have seen the damage caused around here by deer and wild boar, whose numbers quickly get out of control if left to themselves. One has to take a measured view of the issue, as I have tried to do in the post, although the antics of some hunters who don’t follow the rules need to be condemned, e.g. shooting too close to houses, loosing off at the slightest rustle in the bushes, driving dangerously on narrow lanes etc. A sense of proportion, as you indicate, is no bad thing.

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  6. I want to comment on an earlier post of yours. I bought my house here in 1990, obtained my carte de sejour three years later, and for fifteen years or so years only summered here for about four months a year. One needs a long duration visa and then carte de sejour to spend more than three months here as an American. In 2005 I sold my apartment in New York but continued to go back twice a year for extended stays for work. After reading a post of yours, I realised that I needed to trade in my NY driver’s license for a French one as I spend most of my time here. The woman at the Préfecture threw my license back at me at and told me it wasn’t recognised in France. New York State and France have never bothered to mutually recognise each other licenses, only 15 states have. I asked my mayor for advice. He was told that I could trade in my South African license for a French one, so again I made the trek to Cahors. The woman now asked me for a “certificate d’authenticité” for it. After three months, I got a letter from the South African Embassy in Paris, stating that my license was authentic but no longer valid (as the new government had reissued driver’s licenses. It is however too late for me to trade mine in for a new one.) So I went to Cahors for a third time to find out how to apply for a French license from scratch. I was told to apply through a driver’s education school. These sharks wanted over 600 euros to enroll me! I spoke to the Préfecture in Cahors again, and was told that I could apply for a license as a “candidate liberal”. I would have to be examined by a special doctor in Figeac, pass the Code de la Route exam, have one one-hour driving lesson and then take the practical exam. But the people at the Driver’s Education school practically rubbed their hands in glee and grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat when I approached them for my one hour lesson. Oh no, they said. They have to bill me for registering me, creating a new file, taking the tests, and need to give me at least five hours of practical driving bringing the bill up to over 300 euros. So, just be glad you’re a Brit. Meanwhile I think I will just have to trade my NY license in for a Connecticut one (which is recognised in France) next time I am in the States and, sigh, drive down to Cahors for the fifth time to try and trade that one in for a French license.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Oh dear, what a performance. I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties, especially since they arose after you had read one of my posts (the one about driving licences, I presume. Comments aren’t closed on that yet so you could have left the comment there but perhaps you wanted to make sure people saw it). I’m astonished to hear that there isn’t an agreement between all the US states and France on this issue. Hopefully, registering in Connecticut will sort it out. Yes, being an EU citizen does make life easier!

      BTW, I have tried leaving comments on your own blog but it won’t let me.

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  7. Eugene Garvin says:

    First of all I need to remind anyone who is unfamiliar with certain conditions (which vary considerably from region to region or, as to Paris, from quarter to quarter) France has always been a heavily rural population. As the only historically centralized nation in all of Western Europe, the political power has been focused in Paris. Once one leaves Paris one is faced with the local authorities. The landscape changes abrubtly and divergently. The farmer, whose family has become decimated because of modern requirements in the practice of agriculture, still demands his traditional French rights to hunt; and many of his offspring, though having wandered into larger towns, will make periodic visits to the old homestead to practice their hobby of massacre of all living nature. As they say, “it’s in the blood.” The French Revolution Rights, so many of us admire became politically sacred because it encouraged that illusionary religion called Democracy. Aristotle and Plato criticised that partcular dream already in those Classical days long past.
    The power and attitudes French hunters and villagers wield within their country areas would shock any Brit long ago educated to have respect and particular fondness for all countryside conditions and creatures!

    The esteemed Nobility — well do they truly consider anyone but themselves. May I suggest you delve into the most enchanting history of Europe’s Hapsberg Dynasty, which provided nearly 700 years of stability and gradual progress and education to a remarkably diversified and extensive empire, while, at the same time, keeping in check the advancement of the Ottoman Empire and thus defendiing the Judaic-Christian interpretation and comportment of Morality. Today, where our Hebrew-Christian Civilization is challenged by savage heathenry – drugs,alcoholism, greed, political corruption, and just plain physical and mental decadence – the reader will become awed by the parallels drawn by a good history of this fore-mentioned Hapsberg period!

    As for the hunting business: please beware of the dangers you will be facing if you make yourself public. Reprisels, already so common in Corsica and Sardenia, Sicily, or more recently in the Islamic world, can be just as harsh on this mainland. Our village of Castellar can boast of at least one assassination-style murder brought about by the similar intrusion of a shepherd. I personally have attracted the quiet threats here because of my intolerance for private all night, drug-centered discos held in the central neighborhood area, and the barbaric behaviour of the young, plus ignorant not-so-young. Take care, unless you are a real fighter. And watch your back in public!! Rogues respect no laws or moralities. Take care and may the gods bless you!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your comment and for the historical references, which I will certainly follow up. Thanks also for the warning, but I don’t think I will be exposed to any particular danger here since I haven’t actually said anything inflammatory about hunting and I’m always careful to be polite to local hunters!

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  8. Steph says:

    Yes, hunters do shoot far too close to houses sometimes! We’ve had to bellow at some in the past.
    There are a lot more deer around here too, we’ve noticed, since we moved here five years ago, and plenty of signs of boar, and that’s despite a fair amount of hunting going on during the season. However, I wonder if Creuse has a declining number of hunters since the vast majority of the ones we’ve met are very old, and maybe not as observant or with as quick reflexes as they used to be!
    I prefer it when we’re out out of hunting season but I’m not anti hunting. As you say, it’s a hard won right and I enjoy eating venison and wild boar as the next person. Also, if it wasn’t for the hunting, there would be no wild animals at all or wooded areas left. Farmers would have seen to that. Hunting is as much part of France as cheese and the Eiffel Tower.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Most of the hunters around here are of a certain age, although there are a few younger ones as well. As with most things, there are pros and cons to hunting. It’s interesting how different attitudes are between France and the UK. As you say, it’s part of the landscape here.

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