One night in France, F, R, and I sat up until the wee hours talking about hunting and what it means. We’d just spent a day staghunting in France. R. is a long time English stag hunter, so he has memories of the old way. F. is new, all her experience has been under the two hound “flushing” system. So proper hunting as the French do it, with a full pack, was a revelation to her. She had a very good point.
F. said that when she’d gone out with the D&S , she’d had a good time but that it had always felt uncomfortable, false and wrong somehow. She had attributed that to being a beginner, or to not fully understanding what was going on. “But yesterday, here, that felt RIGHT. It was honest, it was fair and true to the game and the hounds. Back home, it’s like we are just pretending. It’s just murder, really, the way we have to do it.”
A couple of weeks later, I was at a breakfast for another English Staghound pack. I was talking with one of the senior members, and he was recalling times long ago, in the 1960s. He said that every so often, there would be enough difficulty with deer overpopulation that they would have what they called a “shootup”.
The farmers would station guns around the edges of a block, then a few hounds would be run through.
Whatever came out, blam.
The membership and masters didn’t like having shootups. They felt that it wasn’t fair to the game, had no evolutionary value, and it presented no sport.
One of the basic premises of hunting with hounds is that the individual quarry animal’s survival vel non is in large part dependent on its own actions. The healthier, stronger, wiser, braver, and otherwise better quality specimens have a better chance to survive and reproduce.
That’s why the quarry is given a chance to get away from covert. In the first minutes of the run, the animal is startled and disoriented. We want her or him to be able to settle down, decide on a survival strategy, and have a fair chance to put it into action. We hate to chop something, it’s just not what our hounds are there for.
And in proper hunting, the animal either escapes uninjured or dies. The inevitable wounding, escape, and horrible death of some deer upset everyone.
So we stopped the shootups. They were, to adopt the vocabulary of our enemies, too cruel and unfair for even the bloodthirsty evil hunting people to do. And we hunted properly.
So they stopped.
Shootups still happened, the farmers just did it themselves.
And now, the ban is in effect.
Under the new dispensation, what are we allowed to do? Just one thing- station guns around the edges of a block and run a few hounds through. Whatever comes out, blam.
But I keep running up against an unpleasant thought. Most of the monster persona that antis have sold the public about us is bloodthirstiness. Our enemies said we were brutes only interested in blood and slaughter.
And the law that they made has forced us into the mold they want us to fit.
What are we reduced to? A practice even WE decided was an unfair one.
Are we exactly what they said we were?
No. But are they making us into what they said we are?
You know, sort of like “Negroes are lazy, ignorant, and lack morals and ambition. So we will put them into terrible schools and concentrate them in reservations where no one works, we will pay their bills for them, and give them more money when they breed.”
(Wait a generation.)
“See? None of them work, they are shiftless, and look at all the fatherless babies! We told you!”
But we have done it. We are complicit in becoming what they said we were.
My thinking on this is even more conflicted than usual. I know that we hope for a political change and the return of proper hunting. I know that we live in hope. Nature doesn’t stand still. Those deer are going to breed whether we chase them or not, whether humans shoot them in herds or leave them alone.
I of course am a D&S loyalist. Though I live away from the moor so I am more connected to the hunting as such than to the personalities. I am sure that there is a great deal of sentimental connection though, both because of the way I was accepted by the D&S and because of past experiences. And something IS better than nothing, at least for many people.
So I can understand the shootups.
But a part of me wants to say no. A part of me wants to just not participate.
Years ago one of the television companies did a fictional series on the slaughter of the German Jews. Among the characters was a successful old couple, the man had won the Iron Cross First in 1870. When the oppressions became overt, he explained that he was a good, patriotic, conservative German, and that this wasn’t his country any more. Rather than be rejected by his homeland, or watch its descent, he dressed himself in his old uniform and he and his wife killed themselves.
It’s not a route I believe I’d choose, you can always take one with you. But I am not confronted with the situation, and I certainly understand his thinking.
A part of me wants to never go to Exmoor again, wants never to see what it is becoming.