Missing the mark

Shooting sports are having a tough time and ignorance is no excuse, argues Mat Manning.

The cancellation of the British Shooting Show in Liverpool shows the challenges that the firearms industry face

I really can’t recall a time when shooting faced so much opposition as it has over the past year. Most of the hostility towards our sport is based on prejudice and misinformation – the vast majority of it unfounded and much of it spread on social media by people who have little understanding of what they are talking about. 

There is no denying that most of the arguments against legitimate shooting pursuits are grossly wide of the mark, but I can’t help but feel that we could all be doing a lot more to defend our cause. I reckon the biggest problem is a serious lack of understanding and awareness on both sides of the fence.

The British Shooting Show has been treated despicably over recent months. This event does so much to promote shooting and conservation, yet its established show at the NEC came under fire earlier this year because of connections with businesses associated with trophy hunting.

More recently, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, who has publicly described all forms of live quarry shooting as “barbaric”, derailed show organisers’ plans to host an additional event at Liverpool Exhibition Centre next year. 

The city council, which is clearly way out of touch with country life, shooting and conservation, went on to pass a motion expressing its “complete opposition to any form of hunting live animals with hounds or shooting live game”.

The shockingly prejudiced motion was passed in spite of an informed presentation by the BASC’s Garry Doolan, in which he outlined the huge and undeniable economic, conservation, health and social benefits of shooting sports.

The ignorance of the stance taken by Liverpool City Council, which also made reference to the “deplorable practice of overseas trophy hunting”, really does beggar belief.

Many of the species targeted by trophy hunters would be lost to ruthless poachers or farmers trying to protect their meagre livelihoods were it not for the revenue generated by hunting tourism. 

Anyone who chooses to oppose all forms of live quarry shooting is surely taking a stance against what must be just about the highest level of animal welfare in meat production.

Game and pest birds shot for the table are free to roam the countryside, feed on a wild diet, aren’t crammed into trailers to queue up for slaughter and usually travel minimal food miles when dead. It’s the food standard we’re all told we should be aiming for, but you’d struggle to find it at your average supermarket or takeaway.

Surely these are the places where well-meaning animal rights protestors should be investing their time and energy if only they could see beyond their prejudices.

I personally struggle to see how anyone who buys farmed meat and dairy produce can have the ignorance and audacity to describe any form of live quarry shooting as barbaric.

General Outlook 

On the subject of threats to shooting, rooks and collared doves can no longer be shot under general licence in Wales following the introduction of their news GLs on 7 October.

While I would the first to admit that I don’t know the exact details relating to the conservation status of these species in Wales, I do know that both are abundant where I live in Somerset, which is not very far away. 

In fact, collared doves are more numerous and cause more damage around farmyards than feral pigeons in my part of the world. Also, rooks, jackdaws and crows cause as much, if not more, decimation to crops as woodpigeons on the ground where I am tasked with their control, yet too many people seem to be of the opinion that it’s only pigeons that are the problem.

It is also worth reminding shooters in England that the collared dove was, for reasons unknown to me, removed from our general licences when they were reinstated following their revocation back in the spring.

For those of us who shoot pest birds in England, there might be an opportunity to secure a better outcome, as Defra is currently conducting a consultation which will shape our new general licences when our current ones expire at the end of February next year.

Time is running out as the survey closes in early December but the importance of providing relevant and accurate information cannot be overstated.

It is quite a lengthy form to fill in but everyone who shoots pest birds in England will be affected by potential changes to the system, so please make your voice heard at www.gov.uk/government/consultations.

Collared doves were removed from the general licence earlier this year, but are they really more deserving of protection than the common woodpigeon? (© alexas fotos)

Despite relatively high-profile reporting of Liverpool City Council’s opposition to shooting sports and changes to the general licences, too many shooters seem to be blissfully unaware of the very real threat to our sport.

I work most closely with the airgun shooting community and the lack of understanding and awareness is concerning to say the least. I and the team at Airgun Shooter magazine and The Airgun Show have been doing our best to create awareness though our print and online platforms, and I would urge everyone who works in the industry to do the same.

Face To Face 

Retailers have an opportunity to meet and inform lots of shooters, so please remind your customers about what they should be doing to meet the terms of the current general licences, urge them to take part in the ongoing consultation, and make sure they keep flying the flag for our wonderful sport and the many benefits it brings.

I also think it is important to steer shooters towards our membership organisations. They have faced a lot of criticism over recent months but just because they don’t win every battle it doesn’t mean that they aren’t playing a valuable role in fighting our corner. And if nothing else, they help give us a united voice.

It really is vital that we all continue to make people aware of all the good that comes from shooting sports, because nobody is going to do it for us. The health and well-being gains of spending time out in the countryside with friends, the conservation wins through good shoot management and the control of corvids and grey squirrels, and the healthy, free-range, high-welfare meat that is so often harvested when out with the gun. 

These are the points we must keep putting to the armchair activists who oppose what we do simply because they dislike the fact that what we do is so unusual to their lives which have become tragically far removed from the countryside and the realities of nature conservation and food production.

Don’t forget to head online, to help inform the new general licences and put an end to the prejudice against shooting.

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