I have a trip out to the fields planned for tomorrow afternoon and after last week’s difficulties with my 16 gauge – which may, it turns out, need a stock extension – the little Yildiz .410 will be in my gun slip, ready to bring down a pigeon or two if the opportunity presents itself.
Although that observation could have been made tomorrow, in retrospect, with a report on my success or failure, I’m afraid that circumstance has prompted me to write a few words prior to going out hunting.
Of course, “hunting” has a slightly different meaning to people in this country, compared to most of the rest of the (Western) world, but when I say hunting, I mean it in it’s oldest sense – to hunt and to kill animals and birds for the purposes of eating them – and not in the – nonetheless admirable and only-a-little-insane sport of chasing a barely edible mammal on horseback over twenty miles of countryside before letting a pack of dogs fail to eat it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ll defend to the death the red coats’ right to “hunt” in their way – not least as 40 baying hounds probably causes the thing to lose consciousness faster than, say, a misplaced rifle shot or a chunk of steak laced with potassium cyanide – but it isn’t my cup of tea.
Either way, however, people seem to forget that hunting of any kind involves effort and often a great deal of it. Follow me through a few apparently unrelated leaps of context, if you will…
Joining the dots
Readers may by now suspect that although I’m an enthusiastic shooter, shooting does not have any part in my day job, though I try to fill the rest of life with as much shooting-related stuff as I can! In fact, between 8am and 4pm, I’m a software engineer, which is the first “dot” in the picture I’m trying to draw.
The second dot is the “Chuck Norris facts” meme implied in the title, which is one of the oldest on the internet. In case you remain unaware of the nature of the aforementioned meme, in spite of its age, it is basically a collection of anecdotes predicated on the idea that Chuck Norris is invincible / infinitely talented / un-killable / possibly God himself.
Joining those two dots: the meme quite often pops up in programming as a means of generating textual data. There probably aren’t many web engineers who haven’t considered searching Google for Chuck Norris “facts” when they need to quickly create a list of short, pseudo-random bits of text to test this or that piece of computer code – and it’s always amusing to find a one-liner you haven’t heard before. Well – it is if you’re me, anyway.
One of my favorite “facts” goes like this:
Chuck Norris does not hunt, for “hunting” implies the possibility of failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.
Hold that thought.
The third dot and one of other the shooting-related things I do, other than authoring this blog, is to help my local field sports association manage their website and their land. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about the kinds of opportunities the association offers. It’s the end of the game season and people are starting to look for pigeon shooting to get them through the spring and summer, which happens at the end of January most years and isn’t unexpected.
What I’ve noticed in this year’s inquiries however, is that people seem to want some kind of guarantee that there will be birds to shoot, on demand. To give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps their minds are clouded by the recent memory of having laid out hundreds or thousands of pounds on a peg on a driven day (or ten), at which a team of obliging beaters drove 200 head of pheasant over them, for them to shoot at?
I’m all for driven shooting. Again, not my cup of tea and it still probably wouldn’t be if I could afford it, but someone should do it. It keeps friends of mine in a job and gives others of them their reason to keep getting up in the morning after 30 years in jobs they hate. It’s also the reason I get to eat pheasant during the season, which is infinitely preferably to what may be God’s most mundane invention, the chicken.
However. There is a reason that you pay hundreds of pounds for a driven day, but – after the cost of the obligatory BASC membership is deducted and reclaimed – about £40 for membership of the local field sports association. Unlike the driven shoot, we don’t guarantee you’ll see any birds.
What’s worrying, is that folk seem surprised by this. Imagine: you’re given permission to wander around thousands of acres of countryside (with what some people still rather unreasonably insist is a “weapon” and not simply a “tool” for obtaining food), with minimal inconvenience or interference from landowner or club officials, for the grand total of £40 per year and you still expect a virtual guarantee that you’ll shoot 100 wood pigeons on every outing!?
If I hadn’t three almost identical inquiries of this sort in the space of a week, I wouldn’t have bothered writing any of this, but apparently, it isn’t obvious.
Possibility of Failure Implied
When I go out tomorrow, the likelihood is that I’ll shoot between 1 and 2 birds, based on where I’m going and my current running averages with the .410. I won’t be very disappointed if I fail to shoot anything at all, unless I use another 9 cartridges doing it – and if that happens, it’ll be because I’ve shot incompetently rather than because there weren’t any birds I could have bagged.
However, it appears to be the case that some people in the shooting fraternity aren’t terribly interested in hunting, but do rather like the idea of shooting and killing. Each to their own – I’m not saying they shouldn’t do what they feel comfortable with or what entertains them – but I despair that they can’t tell or accept the difference between guided or driven shooting, where a minimum number of opportunities might reasonably be guaranteed and “access to land”, where it certainly can’t.
I also find it hard to understand people’s indignance when I say that I won’t supply them with association bag returns for the previous 12 months so that they can “decide whether it’s worth joining”. I’m reminded of those warnings one sees on financial products that say “previous performance does not guarantee future returns”. Apart from the faff of producing the data, what would it tell them? Nothing. That someone shot X number of birds on that farm one week doesn’t mean that anyone else will do so this week. Or next week. Or the week after that. Pigeons are wild birds and go where they please, for goodness sake!
It’s not that I’d really mind sharing the data per se, but what happens in 12 months when they come back and complain that they haven’t shot enough birds. Are they going to sue the club for damages? Demand their £40 refunded? I’m not opening that door, I’m afraid.
The short of it is that hunting takes work and successful pigeon hunting takes a lot of work, a lot of skill, a lot of time and a lot of patience. Lacking time and skill and having fixed work hours, I will never be able to do enough reconnaissance to shoot those 100-bird “red letter” days – that’s just the way life is right now. The guys who do shoot 3-figure bags regularly are the ones who don’t work much, can spend all week driving around to find where the birds are feeding and who have been pulling the trigger for long enough that they don’t miss many of the opportunities presented when they bother to set up at all. Even then, they have no guarantees that putting the decoys out will be worth their while.
I still, frankly, think it’s amazing that you can get shooting as cheaply as my local association offers it, but it’s not worth anything if people won’t make the effort. This modern generation does seem to expect everything handed to it on a plate. Millennials! Bah!