For those of us who shoot and for the many people who enjoy a life that relies on shooting, the sport is such an integral part of our lives that we seldom take a step back to ask ourselves why we enjoy it.
It’s a question that someone outside the sport is far more likely to ask. There is a common misconception out there that the pleasure in our sport is derived purely from killing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
As captain of a walk/stand shoot where we rely on volunteers to help with beating and picking-up, it is also a question I have been asked on numerous occasions when friends and family of the syndicate members have volunteered to join us for a day.
I wasn’t introduced to shooting until my late 20s. Before that I had ill-informed views on what game shooting involved. I started through an invitation to join a beating line and progressed from there. As such, my grounding and understanding started from zero. Since then I have introduced many people to the sport, most of whom have gone on to become friends and none of whom have concluded that shooting is an experience they would condemn. But what is it about shooting that enables it to very quickly become integral to our way of life?
All game shooters share a love of the countryside, of great scenery and of wildlife. We are interested in the flora and fauna that live in the fields and woods; we love the seasons and the vagaries of the weather. We love the feel of the sun on our faces, the sound of new snow crushed under foot and the warmth of the open fire as we return from a foray in the cold and wet. Put simply, we love the outdoors.
The reasons people take up shooting are numerous and varied. For many, the start comes with clay shooting, which has seen an exponential growth in recent years and is now an Olympic sport. There was a time when the shooting of artificial targets was a means to practise before the game shooting season opened. Now, the motivation for such shooting is the challenge of taking on difficult targets and the pleasure of improving skill to the point where levels of success improve.
Pulling the trigger is one of the thrills of shoot day, but joy also comes from relaxing in beautiful surroundings in the company of close friends.
For some, game shooting has become a spin-off from the shooting of artificial targets, and so the roles of the two sports have, to some extent, reversed. Clay shooting offers exciting sport, but it can be repetitive and predictable. Miss a solitary high pheasant that passes right over your peg and you cannot call to the beaters to “try another one like that”. The emergence of your quarry is also unpredictable; you cannot shout ‘pull’ and make ready to shoot. The quarry appears when it is ready, not before. That very uncertainty adds to the enjoyment of the day and to the pleasure in the opportunity to shoot when it presents itself.
It’s not about winning
Game shooting, in general, does not welcome a spirit of competitiveness in the field. Whilst ‘wiping the eye’ of your friend and neighbouring gun may produce a wry smile, game shooters are not in the business of scoring their kills or assessing their comparative performances on their hit ratios. For this reason, game shooting attracts people who wish to leave competition in their lives to one side and to simply take pleasure in a sport by partaking.
For most, game shooting is about relaxing – a means to unwind and enjoy the company of friends. I say for most because the day can indeed be stressful for shoot owners, keepers and organisers, although it may well be said such people often thrive by rising to the challenge of producing a good day for friends and acquaintances.
Clay shooting has been responsible for introducing people from a non-shooting background into the sport. Young men and women brought up to experience ferreting, beating and rough shooting with the family gun are now fewer in number. Interest in shooting is much more likely, nowadays, to be through a parent who is involved, or a friend who might invite you to try your hand at shooting clays.
I know many clay shooters who have joined us for a day in the field. With only one exception – a chap who really didn’t like rain, muddy fields and hills – they have all taken to the sport. Ask them what they enjoy most and the answers tend to be rather similar: good company and the great outdoors!
Shooting is also open to be enjoyed within a wide range of budgets. Nobody would disagree that driven grouse shooting is beyond the reach of most pockets, but it is perfectly possible to enjoy excellent pheasant and partridge shooting on a modest budget by becoming involved in self-keepered syndicates where we guns do all the work ourselves.
Satisfying a natural hunting instinct
The desire to fire a gun is, I believe, such a natural instinct for young men that it may be ascribed to some ancient genetically inherited predisposition to hunt for food and to use tools and weapons to do so.
It should not come as too much of a surprise, therefore, to find that the majority of people who enjoy both game and clay shooting are male. To hunt inevitably means to partake in a sport that will result in a kill, but the act of killing is not what motivates the vast majority of shooters.
How can you enjoy killing? It’s a crucial question many who do not understand why people enjoy shooting will ask; it is also a question based on the presumption that to enjoy shooting means to enjoy killing, which could not be further from the truth.
I have encountered very few people who seem to get pleasure out of simply killing anything, high or low, slow moving or fast. For the vast majority of shots the act of shooting is a challenge and the satisfaction arises from pitting your skills against a quarry, creating the opportunity for a shot and successfully engaging difficult and unpredictable targets that cannot be simulated by artificial means.
I know of very few people who have taken up shooting and then left the sport, save for health and financial reasons. Most who enter the field with an open mind become hooked for a life, and for a variety of reasons.
Shooting grants a privileged opportunity to access places that are often hidden from public view and to enjoy undisturbed habitat boasting a range of wildlife that does not appear in areas where the public-at-large can go.
Looking after habitat to create an environment where game birds flourish has huge spill-over benefits for both flora and fauna. Effective woodland management, controlled crop spraying, set-aside headlands in fields and all manner of other actions help to ensure that many song birds and mammals flourish in a way that does not happen when such places are regularly
disturbed by humans.
A traditional shooting scene so many guns hold dear, especially when it comes to picking-up the master’s contribution to the bag.
Shooters, therefore, have access to areas where they can view wildlife in its natural environment in a way the ill-informed will not appreciate. This hooks the sort of participant who enjoys time away from our urban conurbations, loves the lure of the countryside and relishes the opportunity such admission grants.
Game cooking and consumption of game meat is no longer the preserve of the wealthy and privileged. A browse along the meat section in most supermarkets will reveal neatly packaged pheasant, partridge, duck and even rabbit. Most of the shots I have met enjoy either cooking game or having it prepared for them by those with better culinary skills. By the time the shooting season draws to an end, my freezer is full to the brim with pheasant, partridge and duck, all waiting to be treated to methods of preparation outlined in various cookery books.
Shooting must be the only sport that puts food on your plate and provides the shot with such a delicious reward for his endeavours. At the end of a day, out in the cold, tired and hungry, there is little more enjoyable than game pie accompanied by a pint of ale.
Long-lasting friendships and shared experiences
The final, and perhaps the most persuasive motivation to continue shooting, is the chance to spend time in the company of interesting, like-minded people. Shooting game, possibly thanks to the exclusion of competitiveness, is a sport unique in its ability to foster friendships that often become deep and long-lasting.
Shooting is also a sport that brings together people in circumstances where they are able to make professional contacts. Our sport has been promoting social networking since well before the internet existed. Were we to give up shooting, we would no longer meet with so many people who have become friends. I believe the same can be said by all who enjoy our sport. Just watch, for a moment, the groups of friends who meet up at game fairs and the strangers who also gather at such events only to find their shared love of shooting allows them to chat as if they were pals of long standing. Not many sports offer such a wide range of opportunity for enjoyment. Perhaps that is why we love it so very much?
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