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Why the future of shooting is in safe hands

It is all too easy to form rather stereotypical views of young people today. Harry Enfield?s television character Kevin the Teenager strikes a chord with many of us middle-aged fogeys. There are few things as comforting as a good moan about the state of modern youth. The image of a slovenly youngster, with his or her iPod plugged into their head, who allegedly spends his waking hours (and his parents? money) studying something useless at an institution that calls itself a university is one many of us recognise and bemoan.

And there is, of course, some truth in this dismal vision. But it is not the whole truth ? not by a long shot. Just occasionally, you find youngsters who are committed and diligent, and you realise that it is never wise to make casual assumptions or generalisations.

I say this after spending a very enjoyable day shooting partridges at Newton Rigg, near Penrith, part of the University of Cumbria. The shoot is run largely by the students undertaking gamekeeping and wildlife management courses, under the supervision of a team of highly competent lecturers.

Now, we all know that partridges can be difficult to drive. On the day I was at Newton Rigg, however, the students were adept at bringing in the various drives, and even had the nous to alter plans to take account of a last-minute change in the wind strength and direction. Everything worked as though it was being handled by seasoned professionals.

The Newton Rigg students I met were bright, polite and keen. They managed to portray a sense of quiet confi dence without being at all cocky. Most of them were better dressed than I was (though that is no great achievement, admittedly). In short, they not only looked the part, but also it was clear that they knew what they were doing. They were a credit to their lecturers and they have restored my faith in the next generation. I wish them long and fulfilling careers in their chosen profession.

A rifle as a sales incentive

When it comes to shooting, firearms and fieldsports, it is refreshing to find that certain of the UK?s politically correct attitudes are not necessarily shared in other countries. I was reminded of this when listening to BBC Radio Four while driving to Cumbria. There was a report on US politics,including an interview with a Mid-West car salesman, who was giving away free assault rifles with every new car. I admit, even I thought using an automatic rifle as a sales incentive was a tad over the top. I was intrigued to learn that the weapon on offer was a Kalashnikov; isn?t it unpatriotic for an American to wield a pinko-manufactured AK-47, I thought? What?s wrong with a home-grown M16, or whatever? But then, the Cold War is over, and we must all move with the times, eh? No room for narrow-mindedness, and all that.

American redneckery isn?t confined to the western states, where gun-racks are a standard accessory in pick-ups and you might have the number for a taxidermist on speed-dial. I recall driving around rural New Hampshire, a quiet state in the East, and being startled by the state motto inscribed on car licence plates: Live Free or Die. You can?t imagine that sort of slogan being proclaimed by, say, the London Borough of Croydon.

It turns out that there are no restrictions on gun ownership in New Hampshire. Oh ? and it has one the lowest homicide rates in the US. Not that I am advocating anything similar over here. Canada, meanwhile, is less right-wing than the US, but far more connected with the outdoors than anything we are used to in highly urbanised Britain. I once landed at an airport in Newfoundland and carried my gun case up to a uniformed woman at a check-in. ?Are those guns in there?? she asked, sternly. ?Here we go,? I thought, as I confirmed that she was correct. ?Hey, I got my moose last season,? she chirped, smiling broadly.