Clarkson in The Times:
“As we are now in the season, it’s a good time to address the issue of game shooting. I enjoy it very much but I’m well aware that all of the nation’s vegetablists — and several enthusiastic meat eaters as well — think it’s disgusting that, in this day and age, a pack of usually drunk Hoorays are allowed to rampage around the countryside in tweed shorts and Range Rovers, killing God’s little creatures for fun.
I respect this point of view. Because if I reared puppies on my farm and then released them from their pens so my mates could try to shoot them as they ran for cover, I would be sent to prison, and rightly so. But the pheasants and partridges I do rear, and then release from their pens so that they can be shot, are not dogs. They barely qualify as creatures as they have the intelligence of an ironing board and the personality of a Liberal Democrat.
There’s more. If you are a carnivore you will accept that an animal should be dead before you break out the horseradish and brandish the knife and fork. Which means someone has to kill it. So what are you saying? That the person charged with this task must be unhappy about it? That he or she must share no jokes with their workmates at the abattoir? And that there should be no gentle flirting round the water cooler?
Of course not. So, if you are saying that a person can be happy as he goes about the business of turning a cow into a beef, then why can I not have fun while shooting my pheasants? Or to be precise, shooting at the bit of sky where, moments earlier, a pheasant had been. I’m not a good shot.
Although there are worse. There’s a story I once heard about a famous jockey who went on a pheasant shoot. I won’t say his name here, save to say it begins with a P and ends with an iggott. Anyway, when a bird walked out of the woods in front of him, he raised his gun and began to track it. His loader, standing next to him, thought he was doing this for a laugh and only began to worry as the bird approached the line of “guns” — they’re the people in the tweed shorts — because the one thing you never do, apart from shooting a bird on the ground, is point your gun at someone. Ever.
Eventually, as the gun swung towards the people, the ruddy-faced instructor was forced to intervene, asking what our nameless friend was doing exactly. And he got the reply: “I’m waiting for it to stand still.”
That’s the thing about pheasant shooting. It’s not supposed to be easy. The bird must be flying when you shoot at it, and even then not just cruising around at head height. Smoking a low hen is considered very poor form. It must be high, like Telstar, and flitting in and out of the clouds as it screams towards you doing 45mph.
This means you must not aim directly at it, because by the time you’ve decided to fire and you’ve pulled the trigger and the shot has covered the distance to the bird, it’ll be long gone. You need to shoot in front of it. A long way in front. I’ve been told that in the war anti-aircraft gunners had to shoot a mile in front of a Heinkel if they wanted to hit it. A mile!
Working out how far in front of a bird you need to be is tricky. Because you have to calculate the bird’s speed and the wind and consider the fact that over a distance of 70 yards your shot will drop by maybe 14 inches. And you’ve got to do that in a millionth of a second. Incredibly some people can, even with low-powered 20-bore shotguns. Some can even work out trajectory, knowing precisely where to shoot the bird so that it lands on a mate’s head. AA Gill used to try and do this to me all the time.
Luckily, he was also a useless shot. Because a pheasant crashing into your head at 45mph will kill you. A bird I once shot ended up on a chap’s Range Rover and afterwards it looked like someone had crash-landed a helicopter gunship on the bonnet. The damage was huge.
And now you’re feeling uncomfortable because you’re reading about the slaughter of birds in the name of japery. Hmm. Yes, there are shoots where the birds are bulldozed into the ground after the day’s drinking is over and that’s indefensible. But on my shoot all of the guests and all of the beaters go home with their supper. We really are shooting food. Except when I once got bored and shot a trout. That was pretty much inedible.
And it’s not food that was reared in a shed, in artificial light, up to its knees in its own faeces like the chicken you’re having for lunch today. A pheasant can fly away at any time, but it chooses to hang around because it’s fed and watered and given a home. It has a genuinely happy life.
Is there a better way of killing it than shooting it? Well, I suppose I could sneak up on it in a camo suit and strangle it, or beat it over the head with a stick, but would that be better? I’m not sure it would. Given the choice I’d definitely prefer to be shot.
And there’s more. When someone has a shoot, they manage the woodland in which the birds live more carefully than if they did not. They clear away what’s harmful and leave wild patches around the edges and all of this makes life better for insects and other birds too.
You watch what flies out of a game crop before the pheasants become airborne. Hundreds and hundreds of songbirds, birds that would have nothing to eat and nowhere to shelter were it not for Rupert, Rupert, Rupert and Nigel.
And from this year onwards the meat shoots produce won’t be so full of lead because lead shot is being phased out. We must use alternatives such as steel instead. Not sure why, as I can’t imagine the birds care either way. Crows do. They know exactly what gun you have and what shot you’re using and always fly just out of range. Generations of pheasants, on the other hand, keep coming at you, hoping that if they do the same thing over and over again the result might one day be different. Which it is if they fly over me, because I usually miss.
I get that Chris Packham wants pheasant shooting banned but I think he’s wrong. I think that if there were no shooting, landowners would be less bothered about looking after their land. I think a great many countrymen who earn a living on shoots would lose their jobs.
I think woods would be bulldozed to make way for something profitable, and I think we’d not only have less choice of what to eat, but also that what we were offered would somehow be less wholesome.
So, sure, campaign to end shooting by all means, but know this. What you’re actually doing is waging a class war. You’re not trying to make a pheasant’s life better, because it’s already very good and frankly you don’t really care either way.
What you’re actually doing is trying to make a Rupert’s life worse and that, to me, seems a bit petty.”