Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Hunting Psychology: Doing Something

Sitting in the abandoned orchard this evening I poked my head round the side of a tree and saw a rabbit about fifteen yards away. I raised the rifle, but by the time I'd got the sights on its head - very large in the scope at this range - I was shaking so much I could barely keep the cross-hairs in place.

Sometimes it gets me like this. The first few times - six months ago - when I was on the point of pulling the trigger I'd often find myself trembling so much that I had to give up on taking the shot. Maybe this is my Vegetarian-Buddhist past reaching out and shaking me? Or maybe it's just that killing an animal is serious; this isn't fiction, it's real, it's happening; can I actually do this - can I take this animal's life?

Maybe, because I spend so much of my life thinking about doing things rather than actually doing them, when it comes to the point where I'm faced with an unequivocal action, like pulling the trigger, maybe things fall apart sometimes because of the shocking contrast between this and the rest of my blurry, procrastinating life? There's a lot of hanging about in hunting, but it's not all waiting and, when it's finally time to leave the familiar discomfort of the waiting room, I can get frightened.

Sometimes I think that shooting my dinner is the only real thing I ever do. This is a part of why hunting is important to me but I think it's also a part of the reason why I blow it so often; it's a big deal, this; it's not just another trivial, work-a-day thing I do; it's real; it matters.

So when the shot goes home - as it did tonight - and before I've had time to form even the least thought about it, I find that I've punched the air for joy.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Bright Lights of the West Midlands

I was sitting around this afternoon, gloomy, trying to think of something to do. I'd been reading about the judging of the 2006 Turner Prize and thinking about art, but I was fed up of this and restless. I thought about going into town - doing a few charity shops, having a coffee - but this made me feel miserable; it's a small, dull town and I sat around there yesterday. I thought about going out to the fields after a rabbit but I couldn't find a lot of enthusiasm; I've become a lazy, chain-smoking slob, my backside glued to a chair.

Town? No. Smoke another pipe? No.

Lying in a field, my head reeling from the snuff I'd had before leaving the house; a breezy day, fitful sunshine on the field; butterflies on the grass in front of me; a hawk slowly descends to a fencepost across the field. I wish I knew what kind of hawk; dirty great thing - majestic. It flies away - but I keep hearing a strange, hoarse, double shriek and I wonder if this is its cry. Time passes and a Heron coasts overhead towards the stream at the end of the field. I'm thinking about the artist Richard Long and his documented walks in the countryside; I'm wondering if lying motionless in a field with a gun is a work of art. I haven't been to art college, so the answer is probably 'no': it's not art unless you've been to an art college and you say 'This? This is art'.

No rabbits and I'm feeling no confidence in the place so I get up. The cows are safely corralled in another field. I make for the abandoned orchard in the middle of the land and sit beside a dead tree with my rifle propped on a old fence post. Nothing happens. I shift and, through a hole in the trunk of the tree, see a rabbit lying stretched out in the grass. I poke the rifle through the gap and try a shot: it misses - the rabbit runs away.

I go back to the fence-post and wait. A rabbit appears forty yards away - too far for a shot. It hops ten yards closer so I line up the sights on it - feeling no confidence that I'll hit - and I miss. The rabbit doesn't run away though, it waits - and then it hops even closer. I re-load and take another shot. This one hits: the rabbit jumps up and then falls back. I jump the fence and make for it - but it's still twitching, so I pick it up by the back legs and - quickly - break its neck. I look at the head but I can't see the entry point - there's no blood. There's no head wound at all: I've missed the head by an inch and shot it through the shoulder. A poor shot; perhaps I need to zero in the sights again? Maybe so.

I walk home much happier than I was on the way to the field. After I've sorted the rabbit out on the tree stump beside my flat, I chat with my neighbour and he shows me the race-tuned Ducati he has in his garage. It's a beautiful bike and I'm very happy to be talking with him about his racing career. I think about soaking the rabbit overnight - but I'm hungry and there's nothing to eat in the flat. It's a young rabbit so I decide to make a stew with what I've got in the fridge - onions, a sweet potato, some blotched and flexible carrots - and eat it tonight.

Over and out. (Piece ends.)

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Hunter/Blogger: How to Explain Hunting to a Supermarket Shopper?


Here's a picture of the artist Joseph Beuys in a performance piece entitled: How to Explain Paintings to a Dead Hare. I've wanted to post this image here for a long time but I couldn't think of a good reason for doing so.

Hunters would - I'd guess - probably not see themselves as having much in common with performance artists. These days, myself, it's getting harder for me to see the difference. I'm sure that Beuys thought of himself as having a duty with respect to the gaze of the public and to the political realities of the land in which he lived. Beuys was a long way from being a 'chocolate box' artist; he didn't set out to merely provide a succession of images that would please the eye.

In a way, I'd say, hunters now find themselves facing the gaze of the public in a similar way; they face the a demand to keep providing acceptable images of how hunting can fit into the tidy world of appearances. But it really doesn't fit that well; there's life here: the reality of what it takes to put food on the plate and this does challenge people - they sometimes respond to this challenge with hostility.

It'd be a mistake to use the visceral nature of hunting as something to throw in peoples faces for shock value. But it's also a mistake, surely, to try and sanitise it - to try and make it look like a pursuit that's fit for the cover of a chocolate box?

Hunter/Blogger: Two Previously Suppressed Images of Gutted Rabbits

Here's another two pictures I decided not to post about a month ago. I thought I might write something about the process of gutting a rabbit and illustrate it with some pictures. Then I thought, no, that's a bad idea; someone who understands hunting to be a species of animal cruelty might see them and use them as ammunition with which to shoot hunters - so, I decided, I'd better not post them.

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Hunter/Blogger: Image too disturbing?

Here's a picture of a dead rabbit on the tree stump outside my flat that I've been using as a butcher's block. Rather than gather them up in my hands, after I've chopped the head, feet and tail off, I use the plastic bucket to carry these parts to the bin.

The meat cleaver is one I got from Ebay for about four quid. I've tried to make it sharp but have - by and large - failed.

At the time I thought, well, this is, again, just going to send the 'wrong message' - but this seems a little bit crazy to me now. It's just a part of what happen when you hunt rabbits, and pretending it doesn't - pretending that it's a tidy business a lot like going to the local supermarket, well - it just isn't. That's not to say that it's horrific and a fit activity for would-be psychopaths either - that would be to fall into the error of simply wishing to shock for the sake of it.

Soaking Rabbit Picture!

Here's a picture of a rabbit that I've shot, gutted, partially butchered and left to soak overnight in a tub of water that's had vinegar and salt added to it.

I didn't post it when I took it because I was worried that this might be too visceral an image; too strong or disturbing. Also, there's the sink, a bottle of bleach, the taps - it's all a bit too real...

Hunter/Blogger: Censorship

Rather than go out hunting in the evenings, I've spent much of the last week drunk. Earlier today, I poured the remainder of my wine - £1.99 for a 1.5 litre bottle of Sainsbury's cheapest - down the sink and I've spent the last hour of unusual sobriety thinking about art and hunting.

This has lead to me think about censorship and about what I don't write here. I've read a lot on air gun forums about how the hunting community needs to tidy up the face it presents to the world because the wider world is intolerant of hunting and, if we don't tidy up our image, then the axe of critical indignation will fall and hunters - as a group - will have their freedom (their already very limited freedom) restricted further.

And this seems to make some sense to me - on one level. On another level, however, I find it appalling and stifling and I want to refuse the demand to conform to an acceptable image - because I can't help but think that conforming to a 'good image' is a form of suicide for hunters: the 'good image' is only ever going to get more and more restrictive until the only good image of hunters is no hunters at all.

I suppose it occurs to me that another way to respond to this demand to appear acceptable is to try to highlight, instead, the fact of this demand and by doing so - hopefully, maybe to call it into question a little bit. One way - it occurs to me - I can do this myself is to make an effort to present, here, some of what I've elected to censor over the last few months of writing (and taking photographs). So that's the plan.

I may also do some more hunting. Who knows?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Hunting & Consumerism: But is it safe to eat?

This is still the closed season for all but still water fishing in the U.K, so I can't wander down to my local river and try to hoik one out with spinners and suchlike, but even so I found myself thinking about River Perch this morning - particularly the challenge of filleting them. They have the most extraordinary scales, Perch - there's no way to get them off with a scaling tool - and, for the first few I caught, I was quite at a loss about how to deal with them. I tried roasting them with their scales on but that didn't work so well - since the scales tended to pop off during the cooking you ended up with mouthfuls of fish garnished with - seemingly - burnt fingernails: not terribly pleasant!

When I was trying to figure out how to get around this I trawled through YouTube for help. Among them all, this is the one I found most helpful and I thought I'd post it here. It's a tremendously simple and easy way to skin a Perch and produce very tidy fillets. I've tried it myself and it works a treat:

I have a dim memory of reading somewhere that - what with the difficulties of off-shore fishing - there was a good deal of Perch eaten in the UK during WWII. And because of this, after the war, Perch were viewed as a reminder of austerity fare and were shunned. Maybe this is so, maybe not, but whatever the reason, Perch is certainly viewed over here as being an animal which resides outside the class of acceptable foodstuffs: Perch is not to be eaten. Having eaten a few of them myself I can certainly say they are indeed a perfectly pleasant thing to eat and - by quite a large margin - nicer than, for instance, the pale and dull tasting 'Vietnamese River Cobbler' that's on sale in Tesco's these days.

It's odd though - when I told people that I'd been, for months, catching and eating river Perch the most common reaction by far was 'Is it safe? Aren't the rivers polluted?'. The most common reaction after that was "Isn't it illegal? Aren't they a protected species or something?"

It seems to me that this is - at least here in the U.K - a symptom of a growing fear and distrust of food that hasn't been 'authorised' in some way. It's as if we think that, if something hasn't gone through the mill of the giant supermarket chains - if we haven't bought it from Tesco's, in other words, then the food must automatically be contaminated with something dangerous or that consuming it will make us criminals. "Is it safe?" "Isn't it illegal". It's very strange.

All over England you'll see apples rotting on trees in the Autumn. We don't pick them any more; kids don't go scrumping any more: if an apple doesn't come from Tesco's, we seem to think, then it's not a real apple at all.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Hubert's Poetry Corner: The Trees - Philip Larkin

After a few days of damp, cold and blustery weather the new Spring feels like it's really getting a grip on things here in the West Midlands. I was looking at the countryside through the window of a bus today and one marvellously bright tree, newly in leaf, reminded me of the closing words of a poem by Philip Larkin. It's not impossible that I'll go out hunting tonight but, right now, a session flat on my back with a Patrick O'Brian novel, my pipe and the odd glass of wine seems rather more likely.

The Trees - Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Fieldcraft: Shooting Positions

Fleeing cattle, the other day, I nipped into a little scrubby patch of wood at the intersection of four fields and, sticking my head round the side of a tree - expecting nothing - saw, through the bars of a fence, a rabbit sitting in a little depression alongside a hedge. Like a fool - with a great tree alongside me whose support I chose to ignore - I took a standing shot at it. I've barely fired the Weihrauch at all from a standing position - its great weight and my no less great feebleness have always dissuaded me from practising - and so it was no great surprise, despite my efforts to hold the rifle true, to see the rabbit - together with another one, even closer, that I'd not noticed at all - dash away unharmed.

I stood there for a while - thinking that there was at least another twenty minutes to wait before the chance of another shot from the same spot - and practised bracing myself against the tree with the gun. This was certainly better for steadying my aim but, even so, the sheer weight of the weapon defeated me after no more than half a minute in this position.

I picked up broken fence-post nearby and propped it against the tree. Sitting down, I found that I could use the post to both steady my arm and bear some of the weight - altogether a better position. I stayed for a while but, after all the noise I'd made dragging things around in the undergrowth, I decided that this was a spot that I'd be better off returning to another day than persevering in right then.

Hunting & Politics: I won't be voting 'Green'.

A stated aim of the Green Party Manifesto is:

"To amend the Firearms Act to prohibit the use and private ownership of firearms and lethal weapons, such as air rifles, crossbows, etc., except on registered premises."

That's admirably clear and helpful. Such clarity allows an immediate and equally clear response from my part: I shall be voting Green just as soon as hell freezes over.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Hopeful Green Stuff Woven

I took two great snorts of Wilsons of Sharrow Gold Label Snuff and headed out for the fields this afternoon. Padding - in a narcotic fug - across the green approaches to the area in which I can legitimately shoot, I became absorbed in the visual splendour of the luxurious new spring grasses underfoot. Whitman - that glorious, prophetic madman - was surely onto something in his hymn to the grass:

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white;

, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps;

And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers;

Darker than the colorless beards of old men;

Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;

And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

I lay down beside a fallen tree and, through the scope, watched a rabbit - oh, sixty, seventy yards away - too distant for a shot by far, hopping and peacefully nibbling. My silenced phone went off in my pocket: Buzzzz Buzzzz, Buzzzz Buzzzz - I left it alone and carried on watching the rabbit.

A flat expanse of grass lay between us - hopeless to crawl across. I considered the hopelessness of crawling across the grass and then commenced to crawl across the grass; slowly, very slowly; moving the rifle ahead of me and then inching forward with my toes, grabbing handfuls of the green stuff to drag myself along, inch by inch and all the time keeping an eye - squinting through my spec's - on the animal and trying to nudge forwards when it was looking away from me only; five yards; ten yards; fifteen yards.

My phone went off again: Buzzzz Buzzzz, Buzzzz Buzzzz; I pulled it out of my pocket and turned it off; the little animal kept on nibbling.

The rabbit ambled through the fence into the next field and disappeared from view; suddenly sleepy, I lay there in the spring sunshine - this Easter Day - put my head down on my arm and closed my eyes. Time passed.

I got up and walked towards the next field; great, shaggy, long-horned cattle in there, all giving me the serious eye; well, I thought, I shan't be making my way across there - remembering a herd of bullocks that had eye'd me similarly, a year before on a fishing trip, before they'd given chase and forced me to leap - terrified - over a barbed-wire fence into a dense and welcoming cloud of nettles.

I sat on the stile that led out of the field and - looking across at the cattle grazing in the sun - listened to my phone messages. Then I called it a day and walked home.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Saturday before Easter

I was mentally writing my blog as I walked home today: 'How fitting it is, on this Holy Saturday', I opined, inwardly, 'that is to say, on the day of desolation and emptiness after Christ's Crucifixion, that I should find myself, miserable, empty-handed and forlorn...', and so on and so forth.

There's a gap in a fence that I climb through, sometimes, to get to the fields; I went there today only to find that it'd been blocked up. Fair enough, there are cows in the fields and the farmer who owns the land doesn't want them to escape; of course he's going to block up gaps in the fence. This is the rational thing to think; I didn't much bother this rational chain of thought today, however, I chased down mental pathways of a different kind: I found myself worrying about being in good favour with the man on whose land I hunt. I only have one 'permission' to hunt on anyone's land and losing it would be, as they say, a major bummer, since I'd have to trawl round the local landowners again, cap in hand, and, in truth, it's not something I much fancy doing. I was worrying about whether my using this way into to his field constituted a form of disrespect to his property and, in a way, I decided, I does: it's a slightly cheeky short cut, not using a gate or a stile and, if I was habitually more inclined towards doing things in an upright fashion - which, sadly, I have to admit that I'm not - I wouldn't have dreamt of using in the first place. So I was worrying about this - feeling a bit shame-faced - at the same time as trying to hunt for rabbits.

I crouched and crawled my way to within twenty-odd yards of one fairly quickly, took careful aim - not wanting to snatch at the shot - and royally missed it: it bounded away and I watched as the message spread to its sunbathing brethren along the line of the fence who all, one by one, returned to their burrows. I reloaded and lay there for ages, hoping for forgetfulness on the part of the animals - but none came: stillness reigned.

I got up and plodded on. I glimpsed another rabbit and started, in a fairly morose and uncommitted fashion, to crawl closer: it spotted me and fled. I repeated this cycle - spot a rabbit, stalk badly, watch it scarper, slump - twice more. Then I lay prostrate by a motionless burrow for another seemingly endless span of time.

Soused with gloom by then, I gave up and trudged home. After putting the kettle on and watching it boil I decided that - more than tea - cheap wine, strong pipe tobacco and some blogging was what was called for.

Tomorrow - after the emptiness and waiting without hope that is Holy Saturday - is Easter Sunday. I wish all the blessings of the Easter Season - as well as good spirits and good hunting - upon all those who chance across this page.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Guardian Readers Repeal Fox Hunting Bill!

Yep, it's official: Guardian readers (of which I, not without some grumbling, mind, am one) have decided that the Fox Hunting Bill should be repealed.

This seems to make some sense to me. Possibly the only way the UK will ever make any money again is by setting up a score of Brideshead Revisited/Fox Hunting theme parks so that the folk from countries who still have some sort of manufacturing economy can come and toss us a few pennies as we all parade around in faux-Victorian costumes declaiming about the 127 wives of Henry the Eighteenth.

Though, while they're at it, since we'll all be foraging for food between stints in costume, it would make more sense if it was not utterly, death-penalty illegal - as it is at the moment - for us commoners to use much beyond harsh language on the wild game in the fields - so let's loosen some of the legislation on air guns a tad while we're at it, shall we?

Or repeal the Act of Enclosures and give us back the land? Whatever - just sort it out, will you?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Hit and Miss - PCP versus Springers

There's a discussion over on the Airgunbbs forum (here) at the moment about PCP's versus Springers - and, as is often the case, it's a very interesting one: pro's and con's all over the place. My ha'penneth worth amounts to little beyond, 'Well, I've got a springer and I've not got a PCP, nor, for that matter, the readies to buy one with'; so while all this is interesting, for me it's a little academic. If Bill Gates were to browse this blog and, overcome with philanthropy perhaps, he decided to deposit a large sum via the Paypal button to the left, then that might well change: I'd buy myself a Daystate Airwolf quicker than you could say "Daystate Airwolf". At the moment though, I'm still lugging the mighty HW80k around and, while I'm certainly managing to miss things with it, I'm definitely developing my upper body strength (since it weighs a ton).

Today I went back to the same part of the field where, the day before yesterday, I'd had such unexpected luck. I camped down in the grass at exactly the spot where I'd got the last rabbit and waited. A mere ten minutes later one popped out and, after taking careful aim, I missed it completely. Remarkably, the rabbit didn't leg it (this may well be a testimony to the efficacy of the Weihrauch moderator I've got stuck on the end of the rifle: this does increase the length of the gun to the extent where I may be mistaken for a pole-vaulter when making for the fields but it does, also, seem to do a good job in reducing the crack from the shot). I broke the barrel to put another pellet in, however, and this did manage to frighten off the rabbit.

I lay there for another twenty minutes and got bored enough to check my emails via my phone (all the time thinking, 'Ye Gods, this is a ridiculous thing to be doing while lying in a field'). I saw a rabbit emerge at the end of the field, about forty-five yards away, but it quickly scarpered. I decided to crawl up the field a way so I'd be handy if it reappeared and I'd just settled down there when two rabbits came running out of the bushes - they sat for a moment at forty yards and then set off to run again. I thought that they would run away from me, but no, they ran straight towards me and then stopped at about twenty-five yards. I took a shot at the nearest one and it went down at once without so much as a twitch.

Taking a look at it, I noticed that I'd managed - more by luck than design - an almost textbook-perfect head shot. I've tended to think that shots of this kind are the preserve of supremely clinical pre-charged pneumatics only; in truth, I do tend to think that much of the talk on forums about hair-splitting accuracy tends to come from people that are able to shell out for a PCP and this can, I think, give those who can't afford one of these things a misleading view of what to expect from their humble springer. But this shot - forgive my immodesty - was, I think, a pretty good one.

Acting on a - for me - most unusual charitable impulse, I gave the rabbit to a neighbour. They were chuffed - and I was chuffed meself at how chuffed they were.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Fieldcraft: Doing the Crawl.

I went out yesterday afternoon to find that the farmer on whose land I hunt was grazing his cattle on the fields in which I most often look for rabbits. Seeing this, I set off away from the herd, towards a part of his land where I've not hunted before. I didn't do this in the expectation that I'd have any luck; there's a pleasing novelty at finding one's self in terrain that's less well known, but, since so much in hunting seems to depend upon a detailed knowledge of the land, fresh fields seem like a real challenge.

I climbed a fences and then - after using the trunk of a fallen willow as a bridge over a brook - started to walk cautiously up into the field. I've become more aware, recently, of the runs that rabbits create in the grass around their burrows - the indented highways they make by running over the same paths in the fields; and so, when I noticed, up ahead, a convergence of runs towards a burrow under a fence, I decided that here might be as good a place as any to lie in wait a while. I lay down on the ground, downwind of the burrow and used the roll of my camouflage gun slip as both a prop for the rifle and a partial screen to hide myself behind.

Hunting in mid-afternoon still feels like a strange thing to be doing; despite having had a good deal of luck at this time, of late, I still can't seem to fully convinced myself that it's not a complete waste of time to lie in a field in broad daylight. Thirty minutes of lying still and seeing nothing later, I was again beginning to think that this was folly. To relieve the tedium, I sat up and cast my eyes around. Over on the far side of the field I noticed a wooden fence running up a rise in the ground and, in a dark area between two clumps of grass, saw a little reddish-grey lump that raised my attention. I swung the rifle round and peered through the scope to find that - about a hundred and twenty yards away - there was indeed a rabbit sitting there, placidly looking out at the field.

The ground was completely flat between myself and the rabbit and I was in plain view - so attempting to move closer for a shot was hopeless. I decided I'd get up, double back and then cross the field to the bottom of the fence line and try and work my way up towards it. When I got up, of course, it vanished straight away; I was hoping that, after it had recovered from the shock of seeing me, it might venture outside again after I'd moved myself to within shooting range. Once I'd got there, however, I realised at once that there was no good place to lie; twenty five yards downwind from that burrow was a muddy area in a gully from which I would be able to see almost nothing up ahead of me. Giving up on this spot - and close to giving up all together - I started to walk up the rise towards the corner of the upper part of the field.

As I started to walk I noticed, up the field ahead of me, the flash of a white tail hopping away. I crouched and looked through the scope and saw that this rabbit had come rest just beyond the brow of the rising ground. I realised that its position would work in my favour if I crawled up the hill towards it since, by staying close to the ground, I could stay below the level that the rabbit could see. I dropped my bag, lay down flat on the ground and, cradling the rifle across my arms, set off up the hill by moving my elbows and knees to propel me.

I've not done much crawling in fields; the weather up till now has meant that the ground has been too muddy to do this without getting covered in mud and cow dung. But yesterday the ground was fine - keeping away from young stinging nettles was the only real problem. As I've not done much stalking on all fours with a gun, I'd not really figured out how to do it all that well, but yesterday, after about thirty yards, I found that I was learning how to get a good rhythm going and cover the ground at a decent rate. I stopped now and then to check through the scope that the rabbit hadn't moved and also to try and figure out, using the distance-guide reticule in the scope, how close to it I'd got.

I managed, eventually - and all the time feeling quite astounded that I'd not scared the animal away - to close the distance to thirty yards. Sensing something perhaps, it hopped a little further up the field away from me and I raised the rifle to judge its distance again. Just then, another rabbit hopped out from under the fence straight ahead of me, about twenty yards away. I took a shot at it at once - rather hurriedly - which didn't quite do the job, so I got another one off, and quickly, which thankfully did.

I gutted the rabbit and thought for a while about staying on to try and get another one from this - as it had turned out - very promising new field, but I decided against it and started for home.

I'm out of work at the moment and, looking at the local job market, there's little to feel enthused about; it's easy - for me at least - to become rather gloomy about this. So what a welcome and happy tonic it was to walk home from the fields with dirt on my elbows and knees and a rabbit for dinner; with the feeling that today, in this endeavour at least, I'd achieved something.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Hunting & Consumerism: Inorganic Rabbits?

I'm grumpy today and the weather is blustery so I don't think I'm going to go out hunting. Well, that's perhaps a lie, the weather's not so bad really - I'm mainly feeling out of sorts and lazy (this is connected, no doubt, with my having - after several months of clean living - returned to smoking a pipe: I'm stoned on strong tobacco and I can't be bothered to stir my lazy, narcotised bottom and get out into the fields. Besides, I'd probably reek too much of Irish Flake to stand a chance getting near any rabbit with a functioning sense of smell).

Overcome with nicotine-induced lassitude then, and, moping around Tesco's with a mind to get something to eat tonight, I bought - from the Past its Sell By Date reduced shelf - a pack of 'Finest' Organic Stewing Steak which, combined with some Tesco Value (which is to say Grade 2) vegetables and a splash of highly economical (again, Grade 2) red wine, will go to make my dinner. Unless it's on the reduced shelves I never normally buy organic stuff for myself and looking at the packet - replete with all its wholesome credentials - as I chopped up the vegetables brought me to thinking a little about the idea of 'Organic Food'.

In itself, it seems to be a good idea: who'd willingly want to scoff a lot of - so we are encouraged to think - pesticide-ridden food if they could easily buy and eat provisions that didn't come with a sprinkling of noxious chemical as an added extra? If it's put like that, then the answer is a straightforward one: well, no, not me, count me out - I'll take the good stuff, thanks!

But I fear that it isn't quite such a simple choice because, at the risk of stating the obvious, organic foods are also expensive foods - are in fact, a form of luxury goods. It's slightly difficult to see a bunch of muddy carrots - in a wicker basket at our local wholefood co-op or stacked alongside less exalted fare at Tesco's - as 'luxury goods'; this tends bring to mind a Patek Phillipe watch or a Bentley convertible more than it does, say, a cabbage or a cauliflower - but, given that an organic lamb chop stands in the same relation to an 'ordinary' lamb chop as a Patek Phillipe does to a Timex, the comparison is a fair one: they are goods of a notionally higher quality and of a definitely higher price.

How does it justify its higher price? In effect, I'd say, it does so by saying - saying rather quietly, perhaps, but saying none the less - the products of Big Farma (which is a phrase I suspect I've just made up to designate large-scale agricultural production in the era of globalised capitalism) are not fit for human consumption; organic foods, on the other hand, are - they come from fields that are treated in much the same way as they might have been in pre-capitalist feudal times: soil, sun, rain and honest human toil are the sole, wholesome ingredients: eat and be well. Or rather: Eat and be well - if you are well off.

But who is 'well off'? At the moment, almost no-one: In the U.K the cost of the food that's available in supermarkets to the majority of the citizens of the land - i.e., those who live in the towns and cities and whose economic means put them at or around the so-called 'poverty threshold' - is reaching a crisis point (highlighted by this recent BBC news article here). Many people in the UK struggle to afford even the most basic forms of produce - the high price organic foods are as far beyond their means as a Bentley or a Patek Phillipe. This makes 'organic foods' not merely an irrelevance, but something closer to an insult: this is the food for the real people, the wealthy people, not for the likes of you, you slum-dwelling non-entity.

So is a rabbit that I shoot in a field (I'm talking hypothetically here of course, mostly I miss them) an Organic Rabbit? I'd say no, no it's not. Because if I were to say that, I'd be tacitly supporting the - in effect - class division of food produce; which is to say I'd be supporting the idea that good quality food is - by divine right, almost - the preserve of the rich and bad quality food is the rightful fodder of the poor - it's all that they deserve.

To my mind to perpetuate this sort of class division is to perpetuate a falsehood since no one deserves better food than anyone else: swallowing falsehoods will poison us more surely than will pesticides.

Fieldcraft: Elmer Fudd

Yesterday, after I'd been lying flat on my belly in a field for something like forty-five minutes, I was fully engulfed in the dilemma of the air-rifle rabbit hunter: Do I get up and move on to somewhere where there might be some damn rabbits, or do I stay here and capitalise on the fact of my recent immobility and the potential that this has for lulling rabbits - in theory at least, nearby rabbits - into the conclusion that all is placidly calm beyond the burrow and thus the ideal condition for some outdoors sunbathing and feeding? I was lying right next to a wire fence that had posts at eight-yard intervals and this was handy place to be since it gave me a fine way of reckoning the shooting range of any rabbit that did appear - but none had appeared and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable (as well as more and more aware of the pint of tea I'd drunk before setting out).

Just then a rabbit popped into view, on the other side of the fence to me, at a startlingly close eight yards - certainly the closest I'd ever been to a wild rabbit. The tricky thing, I soon realised, was that, what with me lying so close to one side of the fence and the rabbit sitting equally close to the other side, looking almost straight down the line of the thick wire mesh as I was meant that there appeared to be an all-but-impenetrable metal sieve between myself and the peacefully nibbling animal.

With all the stealth I could muster, I managed to shift the weight of the gun and bring the scope to my eye (moving so heavy a gun with my right arm at full stretch in front of me when I was lying flat on my stomach was in itself, quite difficult, but holding its eleven-pound weight up off the ground with one hand, when I'd done this, was enough to bring me out in a sweat). I'd left the scope focused at about 25 yards - this was the distance to the burrow that I thought, when I'd lain down, would be the most likely one for a rabbit to appear from - looking through it at a target eight yards away, however, I could only just manage, wrongly adjusted as it was, to wrench my eye so that it could focus on the the gaps in the wire and rabbit's head beyond. It looked like it might just be possible to get a shot through, but if I was to do this I'd need to turn the parallax adjustment ring so that I could focus on the rabbit and, so as to get the pellet cleanly through the wires, see the aiming reticule as well - since, as it was, I couldn't see the cross-hairs at all.

Shifting my grip on the gun to hold it by the scope, I tried to turn the adjustment ring with one hand; these rings on Hawke scopes are quite notoriously stiff and my scope is a good example of this - with one hand I just couldn't budge it at all. I lay the gun down on the grass again - all the time trying to make these movements minutely slow so as to not startle the rabbit - and shifted, ever so gently, so that I could bring two hands to bear on the recalcitrant ring. This time, I could just manage to make it turn.

But when it turned, because a couple of weeks ago I'd managed to get a few grains of sand between the ring and the barrel of the scope, it made the tiniest scratching noise - and that was it, the rabbit was gone.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hunting Ethics & Politics: A Reader Writes

Reading this entry I can't help wondering, where do the stray shots go? What if this blog catches on and we're all at it, stumbling around the fields, missing rabbits and shooting one another! [...]

Wishing you and the next rabbit well, JB.

Thank you, JB, all comments are much appreciated - that anyone takes time out of their lives to read this stuff at all is a tremendous compliment and one for which I'm very grateful.

Where do the stray shots go?

Well, since this is a 12ftlb air rifle we're talking about, generally, those stray shots - at rabbits, anyway - end up burying themselves in the turf about ten foot behind the animal that has just been missed. That's one of the - on the one hand - limitations, and - on the other hand - strengths of the 12ftlb air rifle: the pellets do not go a long way before they run out of puff. If I was taking pot-shots at rabbits - or indeed, at anything else - with, say, a rim-fire rifle the story would be very different: rim-fire bullets can go on for as much as a mile before they give up the ghost and fall earthwards. I'm not likely to be given the opportunity to threaten the local wildlife with a rim-fire any time soon; for one thing, a stringent assessment from local police firearms officers is obligatory before any of us citizens can - in search of their dinner -legally wield one of those.

What if this blog catches on and we're all at it, stumbling around the fields, missing rabbits and shooting one another!

Rabbits - along with Wood Pigeons and Rats - are classed as vermin, not least because of the tremendous damage they do to crops every year. Farmers, up until very recently, had an obligation to take extensive measures in the attempt to rid their land of infestation by these creatures. If shooting rabbits became more popular - and I'd be delighted if it did - then arable farming in the UK would benefit greatly.

Air rifles - although much less powerful than powder-driven rifles - are certainly not toys: people can get injured or indeed, on very rare occasions, killed by them - if they are mishandled. Last night when I was out shooting I took a shot at a wood pigeon - which missed, of course - but it was only after I'd taken the shot that I realised that someone, a hundred or so yards away from me to my left, was walking their dog in the next field. I was mortified and ashamed that I'd been so foolish as to take a shot when there was anyone remotely nearby, even if only - and this was the greatest risk that they faced, I'd say - because the sound of the shot might have alarmed them. I learned something about good practise in shooting last night and it's something I take seriously - I hope that I'll never become complacent as far as safety is concerned.

But even if I were to become an obsessional loon about safety, I couldn't eradicate the element of risk - to others, to myself - entirely. There's a school of thought that says that, in situations where it's judged to be the case that it's not possible to completely remove the possibility of risk, then that activity should be banned forthwith. I'm not a member of that school. Ultimately, I'd say, the only state in which humans can pose no risk whatsoever to each other is the health-and-safety nirvana of being safely dead and buried. Where there's life, there's risk - which is to say, the risk of life itself!

So I'm going to carry on examining the ways in which I need to adapt my practise in order to keep becoming a better, safer shot - but I'm still going to go out after rabbits because, as well as being a blight upon crops, rabbits are, and I can testify to this, very good eating!

Hunting Politics & Psychology: A Ramble on Dangerous Pathways

I read an article this morning (here) about the perceived dangers of the countryside: parents, on the one hand, wish their children to enjoy the same experiences of playing outdoors in the countryside that they themselves did when they were young, but the fears that they now have regarding the supposed dangers inherent in this activity mean that they cannot now, on the other hand, tolerate the anxiety that's generated for them by allowing the same freedom to their own kids. (Although I suppose it may be my own spin on this to understand the question less as one of the unacceptable risk of one's children encountering real dangers so much as the difficulty that parents have of tolerating mental anxiety and the restrictions - the inhibitions, if you like - that parents then place on their children's activity so as to prevent themselves from having to have an encounter with an anxiety that they cannot bear: I stop little Johnny playing outdoors not because I am afraid that he might be hurt but because I have no way of treating my own anxiety that he might be hurt.)

I wonder if it is simply a condition of - what we like to refer to as - civilisation, that the sphere of what is deemed an acceptable activity, a safe occupation, is one that inescapably narrows as time passes? Or is is perhaps that there are deals to be struck within any society at a given time which can decree where the boundaries lie between the world - which is to say the set of activities - deemed safe and the world outside that which is understood to be not only beyond this protected domain but which might also - and to varying degrees - be in some sense understood to threaten it?

But if the question is put within the realm of tolerating anxiety then it changes somewhat; it's not so much that the world, once wrongly understood as benign, has now been correctly seen to be a hostile place but that the growing levels of anxiety within the tidily regulated spaces of society mean that the areas outside of the safely mapped spaces a) grow and b) are viewed with a mounting fear as they grow.

I used to play a lot of computer games; these days, though I still feel an attraction to them, whenever I have anything to do with them I find that I am utterly repelled by the sense that there is no pathway that one can take within the field of the game that is not a pathway that has been pre-ordained as, exactly, a possible pathway with consequences that are equally pre-ordained; these days, I find this suffocating. That being said I know myself that when I set out to go hunting and I realise that, unlike yesterday when the wind was blowing from the North, today, the wind is blowing from the South - and so the path I took yesterday, while it is still available to me, is now one which I must accept will yield no rabbits whatsoever; when I acknowledge this to be the case and understand that I have, today, to go in a direction that I did not go in yesterday, I feel a slight but real amount of anxiety: I have to step outside the mapped domain a little bit - and this worries me somewhat; not enough to stop me doing it - hopefully - but it is there.

If I think about moving house, moving to a different town, giving up the life I lead at the moment and encountering who knows what in a new location, I feel more anxiety. Can I tolerate it enough to make the move? It's a real question for me. If the answer is 'no', then I have to stay here until I can tolerate it - or until I die, whichever is sooner.

An inhibition - so far as I understand it, then - is a real restriction of activity in response to anxiety: if daffodils give me the willies and it is now Spring, I must therefore not leave the house until it is high Summer and the evil reign of the daffodils is safely over.

If it is possible for one person to shoot another with an air rifle then air rifles must be banned.

If it is possible for one person to stab another with a fork then forks must be universally made of plastic. (I have worked in secure institutions for violent offenders where the forks, were, indeed, all made of plastic. It's interesting that the conditions which could be found only within institutions for, in effect, the criminally insane, now look as if they are spreading out into the wider world. I was listening to a conversation about knitting needles in a Charity Shop a few days ago: someone was asking if the shop had any and the person who worked there said that the local police force had decreed that, since they were located in the town centre and a knitting needle was something which could conceivably be used to separate someone from their life then the shop selling knitting needles therefore constituted a risk that was completely unacceptable. Knitting needles have - for this town and this police force - moved, permanently perhaps, from the category 'safe' to the category 'unsafe'.

Conceivably the day is hastening - unless of course we collectively decide that this is not the kind of world we wish to live in - when those wishing to fashion their own socks and jumpers will need first to have a police-approved lockable cupboard in which to store the fearful implements of this potentially life-threatening craft.