In days of yore I had the dubious fortune to manage a busy magazine department in a now defunct book chain. There were many worthy publications fighting for a place of esteem. Among the more memorable of the less well known were Bowhunter magazine and its diminutive counterpart Junior Bowhunter. In prime English fox hunting land, these American interlopers were seriously out of place. The overfed white folk of middle America were on parade, with their ripping yarns about bows and arrows. Stag hunting, which to your average Englishman sounds like the search for a pre-wedding pub crawl, was pictorially laid out in all its gory glory, with all kinds of wonderful opportunities to blood your own young. One notable prize competition offered some seriously pointy hardware for the best kill by the under twelves. Photographic proof required.
I must say it was all very gung ho: more Rambo than Horse and Hound, and about as far removed from the manly ethos of hunting as it could be. Where is the sport in a bow with a laser sight? Robin Hood would have been an entirely different proposition had he been so armed. How strange that the country that gave us Bambi, and all the Disneyfied sentimentalism that comes with it, has a hunting culture that does not have a meaningful connection to the animal. Hunting is steeped in historical, cultural and ritual justifications that might be employed to counteract the crass activism of those animated by doe-eyed cartoons, but I can’t see it here. If it is really just point and shoot then what is the point in shooting?
Shooting with guns begs the same question. There will no doubt be objections raised here, but frankly I refuse to acknowledge anybody who goes about with a gun as a gentleman, unless he happens to be duelling, conducting a just war, or engaging in fair play. Hunting in America may be alive and kicking, but bungling about shooting at anything that moves while sporting combat camouflage simply won’t cut the mustard. The battue was decried even in its heyday, and the chaps who partook of that at least had the good grace to wear tweed. Why was it decried? Because it was not fair. Manly men do not stack the deck, load the dice, inject steroids, or kneecap ice skaters. If you are insistent on killing animals, then venery – a term I use because hunting and sexual gratification have always been linked – should offer a sporting chance to the quarry. Hunting, where it is thought worthy, is the pitting of wits: the reasonable against the sly. A hunter struggles for his advantage in a terrain better suited to his target. His success, if he is successful, is the reward for his prowess, not the result of his superior weaponry. Perhaps a sensible reconnection with the hunting ethos, for all those who proclaim their right to bear arms, would be to roll up their sleeves and chase their lunch with their bare arms.
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