Clear and pheasant danger

Greetings from October! In case you can’t remember this far back, we’re deep inside the MPs’ sex scandal, Brexit is still a shambles and the thing that people are most upset about is Prue Leith accidentally tweeting the winner of Great British Bake-Off before the final was aired. Ah, Britain.

For the shooting industry, things are a little rosier (no one’s yet leaked the results of the Purdey Awards, for a start). There are some positive articles doing the rounds about charity clay shoots raising oodles of money – not to mention a lovely little video of Mike Tindall bashing clays – and Sir Ian Botham’s comments about the RSPB being dishonest, originally made to the Shooting Gazette, have been picked up and positively reported by the some (admittedly more right-leaning) parts of the national media. The best thing about the Telegraph’s coverage of the story, I thought, was their vintage photo of Botham shooting. In the picture the cricketing legend is sporting a Tom Selleck-esque hairstyle that’s – and I’m being charitable here – not been fashionable this side of the millennium. It’s a fun and timely counterpoint to the photographs of Downton-esque people out in the field.

Anyway, because you lot are now deep in the festive season – one that inevitably began in September, as it does every year – the Gun Trade News team have asked if I can use this month’s column to focus on Christmassy media coverage of shooting sports.

By December, everyone in retail will be programmed to react to images like this one with an oxymoronic blend of weariness and rage

This poses a problem: the only coverage really present at the moment is the sort of ‘things you might like to buy for Christmas’ lifestyle rubbish, and I think you could probably live without me dissecting the semantics of editorial decisions like putting ‘keep a record of your slaughter’ above a £250 Smythson game book in the latest Tatler. (If you couldn’t, seek help. Immediately.)

Being the helpful sort, however, I thought I’d try to fabricate some news. So much that we read is, allegedly, fake news anyway that I’m probably just getting ahead of the curve. So, here is my prediction for the Christmas news coverage, at least as far as shooting sports are concerned – some suspension of disbelief may be required…

T’was the night before Christmas and all through Newspaper House, not a creature was stirring… except three world-weary sub-editors, two under-paid journalists and a hungover editor looking despairingly at his own newspaper’s website.

“Why is there no bloody news?” he screams at the screen, looking around for someone to blame.

His eyes alight upon one of the journalists, who has chosen that unfortunate moment to check his Facebook page. The editor storms over.

“What the hell are you doing?” He pauses as the image on the screen slowly sinks in. “What are you doing looking at pictures of people with guns?” But then he perks up. “Oh, have you got a story? Going to go undercover to get the bastards, are you?”

The unfortunate journalist, who’s only been at the paper for a few months and whose enthusiasm at having finally secured a job on the nationals has been entirely quashed by the realities of writing pointless clickbait articles for 12 hours a day, turns a very festive shade of red.

“Actually,” he stammers, “it’s my local clay ground. We have an annual Christmas competition and they’ve just put up the photos. Sorry, I shouldn’t have been looking at it at work. It’s just…

“Just what?” says the editor in a forbidding voice.

“Well, there’s absolutely no news… I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing.”

After – quite loudly – firing the young journalist, not only for pursuing hobbies incompatible with the mores of a left-leaning newspaper but also for having a face he didn’t like, the editor returns to his desk with a smile. He reaches for the phone and dials.

“Mr Montbiased. Put the nut roast down, I’ve got a job for you.”

The following day, a sensational piece appears on the newspaper’s website, referring to as-yet-unpublished research which reveals that pheasants are capable of deep thought and have actually developed a complex system of democracy that entirely eclipses anything humans have ever invented.

The author is unavailable for contact for the next week. This is, incidentally, because the publication has sent him and his family to a remote tropical island – it takes peace, quiet and industrial-strength cocktails to fake a whole research report, don’t you know.

‘Game Bird’ is considered an insensitive term. You should call them ‘Ludic Avian Persons’

A lack of actual evidence doesn’t stop the media going crazy, of course. The story is picked up everywhere, with Chris Pecker drafted in to present a long segment on the mechanics of pheasant democracy. The tour of the ‘pheasant parliament’ – in reality a clearing in the woods on Pecker’s estate, the use of which he can write off for tax purposes – will go down in history as one of the most idiotic pieces of footage ever aired, yet it provokes a social media storm that rages on for days, at one point crashing Twitter for several hours.

On New Year’s Day, London’s parade is hijacked by a pro-pheasant protest, headlined by Jeremy Corblimey, who speaks movingly about the need to stop shooting and make provision for state subsidies that allow the pheasants to continue their practices unhindered. There are about 17 people at this protest in total, but somehow this gets reported as 17,000 in most of the newspapers.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, a petition is started demanding that the pheasants are granted their own separate state, potentially in the bit between the Watford Gap and the Lake District – i.e. the bits of the country that no one in London has ever heard of.

The only thing that stops this ‘phexit’ idea being debated in the Commons, following the petition’s receipt of more than 1 million signatures, is shooting organisations, who are forced to spend members’ money on debunking the ridiculous research.

After this, life more or less returns to normal. The editor gets a bigger Christmas bonus, an enterprising student is left out of pocket after failing to sell the 10,000 ‘Pheasant Phreedom’ t-shirts he commissioned, but in general people keep shooting, the perpetrators keep their jobs and in a couple of weeks the public have by and large forgotten that pheasants even exist. Peace on earth and goodwill to all shooters and antis reigns – until the next ‘scandal’, of course.

Of course, the media could never report anything as ridiculous as this in the real world… right?

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