How long is a long shot, when it comes to rifle shooting? When I am stalking on the open hill, I prefer to get to 150 yards — certainly, within 200 yards. I reckon 250 yards is a long shot for me. I don’t think I would willingly shoot at an unwounded beast much beyond that. As far as I am concerned, the sport is in the stalk. I regard telescopic sights as an aid to humane shot placement at normal ranges.

But there are other people who have different ideas. If you want to see some truly extreme range rifle shooting, then check out some of the footage of TrackingPoint (www.tracking-point.com) — a technology outfit based in Austin, Texas. The company has just launched what it calls a Precision Guided Weapon system for hunters.

According to the blurb, this entails applying the sort of “lock-and-launch” technology used in fighter jets to a highly sophisticated aiming system mounted on a bolt-action rifle built around a calibre such as .338 Lapua.

The sighting system allows you to input every conceivable fixed and variable factor, including atmospheric conditions. You then “tag” the target through a high-powered scope. A red dot appears as a heads-up display in the scope. Then, after you have loaded the gun, the guided trigger will fire when your sight dot overlays the tag. The makers claim this allows the hunter to
kill quarry cleanly at ranges up to 1,200 yards.

I first stumbled upon footage of this system being used on African plains game when looking at the website of a hunting outfitter called eZulu, in South Africa. A five-minute video shows some truly astonishing shots, including a springbok (an antelope the size of a roebuck) downed at 1,099 yards. But, is this hunting?

The shots in the video are all clean and humane (but then, they would be, wouldn’t they?) I am not questioning the animal welfare aspect. And the technology really is amazing (so is the price tag, at about £20,000). The scenery is fabulous. But, again, I ask — is this hunting? Or is it simply long-range target shooting, akin to a computer game, but using a live animal as the target?

Some of the antelope are barely visible to the naked eye at the ranges at which they are felled. The overall impression is of a military sniping team in action, rather than a fair-chase hunt. I don’t suppose it matters a jot to the animals. But should it matter to us, as hunters? Have a look at www.ezulugamereserve.com/ blog. I shall be interested in your views.

Doing what comes naturally

It is usually dangerous to attribute human characteristics to animals. Unjustified anthropomorphism is used by animal rights activists to stoke up sentimental, ill-informed attitudes to the natural way we use animals humanely for our benefit. Some activists, for example, decry the use of animals as domestic pets, saying cats and dogs become slaves.

Accepting that anthropomorphism is often inappropriate, however, doesn’t stop us observing the similarities between animal and human behaviour. I was struck by this thought when I read that Edinburgh Zoo’s two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, might be on track to produce a little panda.

Apparently, the male, Yang Guang (Sunshine), has been observed doing handstands and scent-marking in unusual places. Meanwhile the female, Tian Tian (Sweetie) has been shaking her backside and making bleating noises.

According to experts, the behaviour of Sunshine and Sweetie indicates that they may be getting ready to mate. Well, I could have told you that. This sort of behaviour is pretty routine among humans in Newcastle’s Bigg Market every Friday night.

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