We are told, over and over again, by those who would abolish fieldsports, that the sportsman’s care of and interest in those creations which he is accustomed to slay can arise only from the basest of motives. A good, healthy breeding stock is, they say, the only goal of his desire — so that he may have even more birds and animals to slay when the proper season again comes round. This, at first glance, would appear to be the most logical and likely explanation for his attitude; yet, like so many arguments which are founded either upon personal bias or purely theoretical knowledge, it does not fit the facts.

Those who are familiar with the character of the countryman and with the nature of his pursuits know that his interest in those forms of life which, in due course, he wil1 attempt to destroy, is founded upon something far deeper and more complex. What this something is presents a facet of the human character which few laymen would have the temerity to try to explain in words. All I know is that the obvious explanation for our interest in game is more wrong than right; and that we do indeed love the thing we kill…

What does the fox-hunter, watching a litter of cubs playing with their vixen in the last light of a summer evening, think about? Not one in 100 sits licking his lips, picturing the days to come when all these pretty creatures may meet death at his hands. Rather does he watch their gambols with an intense sympathy and interest; and, if the thought of hunting does cross his mind, it is to hope that that big, sturdy cub will acquit himself nobly when the time comes for him to pit his strength and his cunning against man and hound.

When that day does arrive, and the fox, stout-hearted and skilful, finally defeats all the best efforts of his pursuers, it is the most knowledgeable and the most relentless from among his enemies who take a real joy in his triumph. Hacking home, bespattered and happy, over the sodden, yellowed pastures, do the hunters grind their teeth with baffled lust of destruction? More likely you will hear them say, “That fox is a real good ’un — may he live long in the land.”

Again, sitting beside the nest of a partridge at hatching time, watching that charming domestic scene in which both cock and hen birds participate, is our principal thought that here we have 13 more birds to be killed next autumn?
When that time comes, and the covey bursts over the russet October hedgerow, will the shooting man mind if he misses them? Yes; he will curse himself for that lack of speed or judgement which prevented his accounting for at least one of the covey. He is sorry that he missed; not at all sorry that the birds are still alive. This is, perhaps, a fine distinction but a true one.

It can at least be said that we know some strange, inexplicable bond of affection exists, in the hearts of all true hunters, for the objects of their pursuit; and this is particularly the case when the latter have been closely studied for very many years — as have the stag, the fox and the partridge. Moreover, curiously enough, an understanding far less complete or sympathetic is often to be found amid the ranks of the more violent opponents of fieldsports. This may be because the latter are so often tempted to base their ideas upon cold, but not impartial, theorising. So many, armed with the highest moral intentions, have no practical knowledge either of the hunters or of their victims. Nor will they often stoop to learn.

Of those other opponents of fieldsports, who use a simulated tenderness for animals as a base political weapon, nothing is worth saying. They are even more utterly contemptible than is the modern sham sportsman, who kills coldly, ignorantly and for the sheer love of slaughter or of gain…

This is an extract from Leaves From The Country by Esmond Lynn-Allen, which was published by The Batchworth Press in 1953.