It’s that time of the year when shooters defend with guns blazing their right to have a bit of rural fun against those who condemn the breeding and shooting of millions of birds as cruel and wasteful. I am one of the latter and I make no bones about my stance against the shooting of feathered targets in the name of sport, so permit me the opportunity in National Anti-Shooting Week to shoot down a few myths.
Despite being brought up in the country, I am often accused of being ignorant of the ways of country folk. Shooters would like me to think that they are nature-loving do-gooders. They insist the birds lead a natural life roaming freely on our wild landscapes. Farmers and gamekeepers who shoot game predators, like foxes and stoats, claim this serves as a vital form of pest control and the means by which our beautiful countryside is conserved. Besides, shooting is far more humane than the way farm animals are raised and killed, isn’t it?
Name calling aside, these attempts to legitimise blood sports don’t stack up against the evidence which paints a very different picture. The Game Conservancy Trust estimates around 35 million game birds are reared each year specifically for shooting. Some put this figure as high as 50 million.
Shooting estates which are among the most intensively managed in our country. Apart from encouraging game overpopulation, their land management techniques wreak conservation havoc. Clearing woodlands and burning heather moorland, for example, are at huge cost to the local ecology and biodiversity.
The birds are mass bred in tiny metal boxes, no different from battery cages, and lead a life every bit as grim as battery hens. They suffer emaciation, feather loss and back and head wounds from the overcrowded and oppressive conditions. When they are finally released they struggle to survive and around half die from exposure, starvation, disease and predation or under the wheels of vehicles. Of those that are gunned down, countless birds are left to die a lingering death in agony, lying crippled and unfound by the gun dogs. Call this humane?
The other inhumane tricks widely employed to uphold ‘better sport’ include drastic measures to control game predators and eliminate competition for food to ensure the game thrive. Farmers deliberately and indiscriminately kill and maim millions of wild animals using snares, traps and poison or shooting under the guise of ‘pest control’. This can even extend tothe illegal killing of birds of prey and their accidental killing by the illegal use of poison baits intended for crows and foxes.
As with all profit-driven commercial enterprises animal welfare features low on the list and commercial shoots depend heavily on cheaply importing more developed chicks in order to ensure shoots can start at the beginning of the season and to maximize the number of shooting days. These day-old poults have to endure long transportation times in horrendously cramped and inadequate conditions.
Shoppers, who buy a cellophane wrapped bird that has been reared, killed and butchered by someone else, are motivated by food. But food has nothing to do with why shooters kill - thousands of surplus game are disposed of in burial pits every year. No, for shooters it’s the buzz they get from enacting their violent and macabre tendencies and the deliberate and intentional taking of a vulnerable life that is the underlying motive.
And that to me, is the biggest inhumanity that these myths are covering up - the simple truth that shooters are motivated by their desire to kill. They are not called ‘blood junkies’ for nothing. Violence and wanton killing is what really underlies this ‘sport’. The rest is nothing more than myth.
Game shooters and I may never reconcile our differences over the shooting of birds but surely the disposition shooting encourages in people puts the wider public at risk. For this reason alone join me in calling for a ban on game shooting for sport.