Why I’ll never like hunting – despite tucking into a dinner of roast pheasant!
Back in the late 1960s the local hunt came to the Suffolk village I lived in one weekend and formed up at the bottom of our road. I remember everyone turning out to see the huntsmen and women immaculately turned out in their finery.
On the Monday morning I was talking about this – and saying how exciting it was (I must have been nine or 10 at the time) – to a classmate at school, the son of a local farmer. His father had been on the hunt and he had followed it with his mother in their Land Rover. He gave me a detailed description of how the hunt had finished with a fox being tracked down, and gave a very gory account of it being pulled apart and blood going everywhere.
Now I know boys will be boys, and I’m sure most adult hunt enthusiasts have never gloried in slaughter to that extent. I was always a rather squeamish child (and I still don’t like horror films), and what he said appalled me. I checked with my mother, who confirmed that the aim of a hunt was to track down a fox and kill it ... and I’ve hated the idea of hunting ever since.
So I was delighted when hunting with wild animals was banned in 2004 – although there’s a little voice in the back of my head that makes me wonder how huntsmen and women can ensure that a pack of hounds doesn’t attack a fox or whatever other wildlife they come across during a canter across the countryside.
I know people who did – and continue – to enjoy hunting. Some I consider as friends. But I remain totally bewildered by how such civilised and reasonable people can still hanker after the days when their hunt ended with the horrible death of a wild animal.
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I’m sorry but I don’t really see the rural fox population as a problem for the countryside, and even if it was there would be a much more humane and efficient way of keeping down the numbers rather than setting a pack of baying dogs on to them. For all of those reasons I dislike hunts and all the baggage that comes with them.
I know that for many people seeing off the Boxing Day hunt is part of the Christmas festivities. I’m afraid I do – and will always – regard it as a totally eccentric sideshow that really has nothing to do with Britain in the 21st century.
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Hunting really isn’t a cornerstone of country life. It’s a pastime that has been enjoyed by a tiny minority.
Another tradition we see around Christmas time is the Boxing Day shoot when people, many of whom have paid a king’s ransom, go out and blast pheasants and any other game birds they come across out of the skies.
I’m not a vegetarian and I must admit I rather like the taste of pheasant – even though many people seem to feel the manner of their death is cruel.
I have no wish to take an active role in the death of an animal, even though I am prepared to eat the meat that comes off it – and as such I really don’t have a problem with buying a brace of pheasants from the local butcher (as long as someone else has plucked and dressed them first).
The difference between shooting and hunting is, to me, clear. At the end of the hunt there is no final product. You don’t take a fox’s carcass home to cook.
At least at the end of a shoot there is something for the pot. And let’s face it, most of the pheasants have been reared to be shot like this. They aren’t native birds to the UK after all – originating from Asia before being introduced to Europe by the Romans.
But is there any difference between raising a pheasant to be shot and raising cattle, sheep or pigs to be taken to the slaughterhouse and turned into meat for the butcher?
I fully respect people who have taken on a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and I can certainly see the moral justification for such a move – but I really cannot understand the moral difference between eating pork, beef, venison, or pheasant.
There is, I accept, a moral difficulty with people getting a sense of pleasure from shooting a bird – but I’m not at all sure that should mean no one should be able to eat what has been killed with a clear conscience.
So while I quietly feel disdain about those who long for the days when they could end up with a dead fox, I’ll quite happily tuck into a pheasant – so long as there’s some decent bread sauce with it!