I wrote the following piece for the Daily Telegraph readers’ website in September 2009. It refers to an incident that took place in the early summer of the previous year, just before my twenty-second birthday. The title is inspired by George Orwell’s essay Shooting an Elephant. I’m publishing it here in the wake of a discussion on animal welfare on another multi-author site. It’s about hunting, and it’s about killing, so if these subjects repel you please do not read any further. I apologise in advance if you find this upsetting but I make no apology for what I am, a sportswoman and a hunter.
I mentioned on the Treating Animals with Respect post that I shot a hare last summer, an admission that attracted some comment. I thought I would say a little bit more about the experience and my love of hunting in general. And, no, I’m not cruel, few genuine hunters are, but I love blood sports which does not preclude a love of animals. Only a hunter can properly understand another hunter and the nature of the relationship one has with the animal kingdom as a whole. Riding to hounds was a passion I acquired at an early age and will always be my favourite mode of hunting; but shooting comes a close second.
So, yes, I shot a hare. It was in the Highlands of Scotland last summer. I was out for a spot of rough shooting with some friends, people who live close to my parent’s place in Easter Ross. The conditions were prefect, a nice summer day: not too hot and not too cold. We were expecting simply to bag a rabbit or two, nothing special. We took turns to shoot, agreeing beforehand on the order of fire.
When my turn came there was nothing for an age. And then it happened. The heather ahead moved, with a beautiful hare breaking free, still carrying traces of winter white, into a patch of open ground not too far ahead. It ran forward, leaping part of the way. My heart was leaping just as hard as I took aim. I’m a good shot with a reasonable amount of experience but I wanted to make absolutely sure that there was no wounding, that I killed as cleanly as I could.
The whole thing must have been over in moments, though at the time it seemed like an age. I’m really trying to avoid clichés and hackneyed phrases here but it really did seem as if everything was happening in a kind of slow motion. I fired; it fell, tumbling hind over head. It was dead, shot through the head, cleanly and quickly. It was my hare; it will always be my hare, the first and so far the only that I have ever shot.
That day was the best shoot I’ve ever had. I’ve bagged other things in the past, rabbits, some game birds and even crows. I can’t really describe properly how one feels, the exhilaration and the excitement. I do intend to progress to bigger game, though at the moment I’m more comfortable with low calibre rifles.
Yes, I like blood sports and that obviously makes me a ‘bad person’, at least in the eyes of some. But there is an immediacy, an authenticity, if you like, in this beyond a great many people. What I resent is the hypocrisy of a society where most people have no understanding of the country other than something fleetingly seen from car or train windows in journeys between here and there.
The animal rights crowd in particular repel me, the kind of people who raid mink farms to release the creatures into the surrounding area with not the least idea of the devastating impact this has on the local ecology. But the more general hypocrisy and misunderstanding is just as bad. Setting the vegans to one side, our food culture is based, in part, on killing. Oh, but we don’t think about that, do we, as we consume our way through tons of burgers and bacon. Killing is fine so long as it’s abstract, so long as someone else is responsible.
That day, the day I shot my hare, I was responsible, no-one else. It was a perfect moment.