Why respect is a vital part of being a hunter

PUBLISHED: 16:54 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 16:54 14 September 2017

Grey squirrels seem to be public enemy number one these days

Grey squirrels seem to be public enemy number one these days

Archant

“I accept responsibility for every time I pull the trigger when aiming at my quarry, and I must do everything in my power to achieve a clean, one-shot kill”

Vermin, pests, and worse names still, are all negative terms I’ve heard used to describe the animals and birds we airgunners hunt, and I have to say right now that it troubles me. You see, I believe that all living things have their place in our ecosystem and are deserving of respect. Because of this I will only kill something if I believe that there’s a dammed good reason. If I have a moth in my house, I chase it out of a window. If there’s a spider, I capture it alive and take it outside so that it doesn’t upset my wife. There’s no need to kill those creatures, so I don’t.

Conversely, when the rabbits are decimating the crops around the farm, I’ll shoot every one I see and use any technology to make me more efficient in that job. Shooting with a partner from a 4x4, we’ve killed more than 150 in a night and done that many exhausting nights in a row. However, in recent years their numbers have been very low and the damage they cause insignificant, so I’ve hardly shot any. The ones I have shot were causing specific damage around the main house, undoing all the gardener’s hard work.

I see the woodpigeon as a magnificent game birdI see the woodpigeon as a magnificent game bird

Describing your enemy in disparaging terms is a political technique that has been used by mankind ever since mass communication has existed. One side of a war will describe the other as being sub-human and tell stories of the appalling crimes they have committed. This then makes killing them seem more acceptable to the general public. The Nazis used the same technique against the Jews in WW2 in an effort to make their plans for extermination seem less insane.

I’d like to challenge you all to think about why you’re targeting a species when you’re out hunting. Of course, harvesting free organic meat for the table is a good reason to shoot pigeons and rabbits if your land holds a sizable surplus, but shooting a jay, just because it’s a legal quarry item needs to be questioned. They’re not popular on one estate I shoot on because they eat feed put out for the pheasants, and they also take game bird eggs. The gamekeeper has a problem with them, so I’ll shoot them if the opportunity presents. On the other farms, I leave them alone. In these enlightened times, killing just because you can is unacceptable.

Are jays really a problem on your permission?Are jays really a problem on your permission?

There are many good and valid reasons to hunt birds and animals with an airgun, including reducing the damage to farm crops and eliminating unwanted visitors from bringing disease into buildings, such a rats and feral pigeons. A well-delivered pellet is much better for the environment than widely scattered poisons, and many of us provide a valuable service to landowners in these roles.

Saying that a creature is ‘vermin’ suggests that we need not respect it, and that’s an opinion held by all too many shooters. They say, “It’s just a rat. Who cares if it dies quickly?” I’ll tell you who cares: I do. Those same people would be appalled if a deer was shot and wounded and I believe that both animals deserve respect. This means that I accept responsibility for every time I pull the trigger when aiming at my quarry, and I must do everything in my power to achieve a clean, one-shot kill. I need to know the range, the vital area of the brain that will allow my pellet to dispatch the animal instantly, and all the other factors that combine to stop the creature with a single shot. Just aiming at ‘the middle of the brown thing’ cannot be right.

Airguns kill with accuracy: that’s an undeniable fact. Different calibres and pellet designs are irrelevant, in most respects, if the pellet arrives in the correct place. The ability to shoot accurately is the most important skill that any airgun hunter can possess, topped only by one other attribute, which is to lower your rifle when you aren’t confident of making the kill. Is the creature too far away? Is there an obstacle in the pellet’s flight path, like leaves or twigs? Is your position too unstable for you to shoot accurately? Is the creature moving? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then lower your rifle and make a new plan.

Clearing damaging creatures from around the farm yard is a job that needs to be doneClearing damaging creatures from around the farm yard is a job that needs to be done

I believe that we must respect our quarry if the general public is to respect the sport of airgun hunting. If we are gung ho, taking long or chancy shots in the hope that we might luck into a kill, our critics would be right in calling us irresponsible. We all have our part to play in the public relations exercise that goes on every day. If you can hold your head high as a responsible and ethical airgun hunter, then you are my friend, and an important part in the future of our sport.

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