In January I wrote an article called ‘Season End in Sight’ where I reflected that the 2019/20 season had been unforgettable for me. I had a ‘big’ birthday shoot with my best friends and travelled the length and breadth of the country shooting in amazing places, meeting amazing people and spending an amazing amount of money! Thinking back, and reading the article again, 2 sentences jump out at me.
“The largest bag on any of these days was 211 birds, most were around 150 bird days, with a couple of 60 bird days”.
“So, next season I will be cutting down on my shooting, spending and travelling”.
Of course, I had barely heard of Coronavirus when I penned that piece. If I had, it was something that was affecting a few people in a part of China I had never heard of; it would not affect me! My long dead gran believed in ‘fate’, she would always mutter phrases about “what man plans, God un-plans”. I sometimes wonder what she would have made of this recent world stopping pandemic. The exploded image of the virus looks more like a kid’s toy than a world stopping virus!
Someone once said it is good to keep one eye in the past to stop us making the same mistakes in the future, I am not sure we have learnt that particular lesson. In the past 100 years both Spanish Flu and Hong Kong Flu warned us that we need to prepare for a global pandemic. Global exercises have even taken place to try and determine the scale of impact of such an event yet we appear to have learned nothing and prepared even less. Maybe this time we will take it seriously and do some real planning for the future.
Closer to home at national level, the Government are trying to deal with hundreds of issues with a backdrop of a restless population who are tired of being in lockdown. The next shooting season is quite rightly hardly viewed as critical by the majority, unless of course your livelihood depends on it. As mentioned, I do not plan to do anywhere as much travelling as I did last season, which is fortunate for me as nobody knows if we will be able to have a shooting season this year. There are so many unknowns.
I think there is an important question to ask regarding any shoot days that go ahead. can it really be enjoyable while complying with the new ‘norms’ of social distancing? A shoot day after all isn’t all about the shooting. It’s so much more. The social interaction, the craic, the food and drink all play such an important part for what delivers a truly successful day. These are all potential casualties this season, and a shoot day without these isn’t really a shoot day to me.
Another aspect to consider is travel. Living in Northern Ireland exacerbates this further so I always try and get 2 days shooting in Cornwall with friends whom I only see during these visits. I received a call from one of these shoots this week asking if I would pay a deposit which is something I have never done before with these guys. The keeper explained that the vast majority of guns who visit this modest but beautiful shoot are local. The day I take is the odd one out as 3 or 4 of us are from Northern Ireland and make up half the team. If we cannot travel he will be left with 150 pheasants that he has reared, fed and watered with nil return. I understand therefore he needs a degree of security about payment. Unfortunately, this then puts the onus on the guns to decide whether they want to take the risk of paying a deposit for a shoot that might not happen! Insurance is great but experience so far during this pandemic has shown it finds a way to absolve itself of responsibility – just look at my inbox of correspondence with airlines, hotels and associated travel organisations!
Elderly are particularly vulnerable and I shoot with several friends (myself included) whom may be viewed as ‘elderly’ by being over 60. Are they going to sign up to shoot this coming season with so many unknowns?
Sadly, the media have ensured that the majority of reporting on this subject is negative with predictions of a ‘second wave’ which could be worse than the first unless we continue to stay in lockdown. The evidence for this simply isn’t detailed enough or has not been yet or gathered over a significant period of time to give accurate predictions. Common sense tells us that as long as people are sensible and continue to observe good hygiene practices and social distancing they will reduce the chance of exposure.
It’s important to identify positives from these unknowns. There could be an opportunity to refocus to ensure all of the birds shot on the day being processed for the benefit of the local community, the BGA is forward leaning in this department. Lots of shooting estates are already doing this which can only be good for the sport. Let’s all focus on enjoying this sport that we love, in moderation and work with local communities to providelocal, seasonal, ethical and sustainable game.
The confusion surrounding the current situation changes on a weekly, often daily basis, this virus like those before, will run its course. We still have nearly 5 months until the start of the season and the country has to get back to work. I am optimistic that we will have a shooting season this year, it might be smaller than previous years but that is no bad thing. We will apply an amount of good old fashioned British common sense alongside sound professional advice to make this happen.
Who knows, this virus might be the reality check that brings the game shooting fraternity back to its senses. It’s not about the shooting in isolation, but the presence of your best friends, the challenge of that really memorable bird, the beautiful game food it provides and last, but not least, enjoying our wonderful countryside.