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I don?t know about you, but I don?t like shooting in the vicinity of homes of members of the public. I don?t want to disturb anybody, nor do I want to be scrutinised when I am meant to be relaxing.

Of course, there needs to be a balance here ? we have nothing to hide and it would be wrong to appear furtive. One of the problems that beset fox hunting was the way in which it lost its connection to the wider community after meets stopped being publicised due to the threats of animal rights activists. We shouldn?t repeat the mistake that allowed hunting to be unfairly portrayed as a weird, secretive activity. Nonetheless, there are circumstances where it might be best to be discreet.

I recall once being invited to shoot Canada geese in Oxfordshire. We arrived before dawn and were put into position in bale hides on a stubble field. As it became lighter, I found that we were only a few hundred metres away from a housing estate. Now, this being the start of the season, dawn was pretty early. Even though we weren?t being overlooked by the houses, I was deeply concerned that our shooting would wake folk at what they would consider to be an ungodly hour. I really couldn?t enjoy myself for worrying. I have often wondered whether shooting would be more acceptable in the crowded countryside of south-east England if there was a really practical sound moderator available for full-bore shotguns.

No escaping the public

Not that the sound of a shotgun is the only issue. I used to shoot with a syndicate over some National Trust land that was criss-crossed with a network of public rights of way and permissive paths. I used to feel awkward when standing at my peg near a path, whenever a gaggle of goggling folk walked past. Naturally, I did my best to explain and put them at ease and in the main they were perfectly pleasant. But I found the situation very off-putting.

On one occasion, as we were beating a wood, we found that a nearby caravan site, which was normally closed by the time the shooting season came about, was still open. Some children had left the site to play in the wood (where they were not supposed to be). When one of the mothers saw a bunch of armed strangers heading in their direction, you can imagine her consternation.

The point is that, even in localities where there is no formal public access, you would be wise to work on the basis that errant members of the public might be anywhere. Some people will walk ? even camp ? in the most unlikely spots. Having spotted a car parked on his land, a friend of mine followed foot tracks in the dew-laden grass and found a dark green tent carefully sited in a little hollow. The occupants were cordial, but unapologetic. He gave them permission to stay one night, but specifically asked them not to wander about (he had somebody lamping nearby that night). Despite his request, his unwanted guests were later found sitting on a rock drinking beer in the very area that was to be lamped.

The occasional rifle shot causes little disturbance, and in many cases the stalker is hidden from public view. Years ago I used to have a Forestry Commission stalking lease. The public had full access to the woodland in question. It was astonishing how people would walk right past me, within a few metres, without noticing, provided that I kept still against a tree.

Stalking on the open hill can be a different story. Once, after shooting some hinds on a famous mountain in Sutherland, we dragged the beasts down through the snow and mist for perhaps half a mile. As we reached the bottom, the mist suddenly cleared. We looked back to see, to our horror, a number of bright red streaks scored down the white mountainside. It must have looked like there had been a serious climbing accident. Oops.

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