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.
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.
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