Fieldcraft

A Passage Of Ghosts

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It was late afternoon in the garden wood and I was indulging in my passion for roost shooting. For the uninitiated, that is culling woodpigeons as they head into the trees to settle and rest overnight. The birds float in, randomly, and sit amongst the bare winter branches before picking a niche amongst the ivy in which to shelter from the chill Arctic breeze. I had arrived an hour before sundown to select a spot on the woodland floor. A spot that would give me similar cover from that breeze, yet also allow me a reasonably open view of the ‘sitty’ trees on which the birds would first land. I was clothed in dark camouflage, with a peaked cap and face-net to hide my visage. It would be a while before the first pigeons arrived so, wrapped against the chill, I opened a flask of piping hot tomato soup (spiked with black pepper). A bit of internal heat would help me endure the wait. I knew, from years of experience, that the cold would gradually seep up through the thick soles of my hiking boots to nag at my arthritic toes and infiltrate my calves. I pulled a pair of powder heat pads from my bag, peeled off the wrappers and shook them vigorously to activate the chemicals. Then I tucked one into each of my boot socks. That would buy a bit more time when the action started.

My hands were covered with shooting mitts; the type where you pull back the mitts to reveal fingerless gloves. Invaluable to the winter hunter … and a warm, sensitive trigger finger is essential to accurate shooting. As I settled in to wait patiently, the magic of sunset started to weave its spell on the winter wood. The orange glow gradually infiltrating between bush and bole, casting a warm and deceitful hue throughout the tree-scape. In response, the evensong of the woodland birds came alive; a tribute to another harsh day survived. Robin-tune, trilling like the tinkle of piano keys. A cock blackbird heralding the setting sun with its evocative melody. The distant crow of the retiring pheasant. Overhead, the clamour of the rook flocks beating their way back to some distant communal roost. Then, the sound I was waiting for. The flutter of wide wings beating down onto branch and bough. I shrank into the gloomy evergreen cover of the wild box which had become my natural hide. Scouring the leafless canopy I could already see three or four birds silhouetted against the amber sky. Just as I was about to pick a target, I sensed movement to my left and froze. I slowly turned my head to see a face not six feet from my position, studying the box shrub intently. A young fallow doe, in her gunmetal grey winter coat. I closed my eyes, for experience has taught me that it is the eyes that can often betray the hunter. I heard movement and opened them again. She had withdrawn and was moving away, followed by another deer, then another. I was mesmerised, counting a total of seventeen deer pass within six feet of my position. Not a single adult fallow amongst them, not even a pricket. They disappeared, a long train of young sylvan ghosts, into the forest.

As is the way of the wild, while I was distracted by the deer, the pigeons had gathered in numbers. I had a fruitful session, with five pairs of delicious breast medallions to add to the freezer. Yet my mind and my memory when I left was, and always will be, fixed on the passing of those seventeen youthful grey ghosts into a cold midwinter twilight.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Jan 2017

A Gun For All Seasons

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I am often asked (not just by fellow shooters but also landowners) why I stick rigidly to air rifles as my preferred hunting option? The answer is carved through my books on air rifle hunting as vividly as a placename through a stick of rock. Yet, not everyone buys a book about air rifle hunting or fieldcraft … simply because they shoot rimfire / centrefire rifles or shotguns. Which is a pity, because the fieldcraft employed in hunting successfully with a low power rifle is something any shooter would do well to learn. In fact, the air rifle hunter has to get as close to quarry as a bow hunter … not that such sport is available in the UK these days.

But back to the question. As I enter my seventh decade I have had ample opportunity across the years to subscribe to all forms of shooting … and have tried all, even if (i.e. centrefire) only on a range. My answers (for there is no single reason) are very simple. I love the countryside and its fauna with a passion. Even those I am tasked to control. To me a hunting sortie is far, far more than a mission to cull species. It is a chance to absorb knowledge, record what I see and learn more about the natural world around me. A chance to observe and perhaps photograph flora and fauna.

I can sit at the edge of a wood or in a hide with a silenced, PCP (pre-charged pneumatic) air rifle and pick off rabbits, corvids, pigeons or squirrels with barely a whisper. In fact, often the most disturbing noise is that of a bird hitting the ground. Airgun shooting, using the right gun …  a silenced gun … is a completely unobtrusive and causes little stress to the surrounding wildlife or livestock. You just can’t say that for the shotgun! Learning to stalk up close to quarry with an airgun should be a part of every new shooters apprenticeship. It will make them appreciate the sensitivity and intelligence of their quarry … which will be a far cry from pointing two barrels at a driven bird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising driven shooting. That would be biting the hand that feeds me, for protection of game birds from vermin is one of the primary reasons I get permission on land (along with crop, songbird and feedstore protection).

Understanding the work that goes into maintaining an environment that supports wildlife, controls vermin, ensures poult protection and produces healthy birds for the seasons sport I feel (and I’m sure many will share this view) is often lost on the paying or invited gun. It is definitely lost on the anti-shooting lobby, who see nothing more than the bag … not the sub-structure of conservation, wildlife protection and land management that lie beneath it.

Crop, store and songbird protection is similar. The rimfire / centrefire shooters take care of the higher pest species (fox, deer and recently, badger). So who takes care of the small vermin? The rimfire fraternity can make their mark (particularly on rabbits). The airgun hunter can make a huge difference where rats, rabbits, corvids, feral pigeons and (with the right tactics) woodpigeon are a nuisance.

I love the 24/7 versitality of the air rifle and its prescribed quarry (see the current General Licenses). We can hunt by day or lamp at night. There are no close seasons placed on what we shoot. We can hunt all year round. Silently. Inconspicuously. That’s why I will always prefer my air rifles to any other hunting tool.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2017

A Christmas Ghost Story

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The Range Rover Evoque purred up to the huge iron gates and Megan Dale waited for the security system to recognise the vehicle and open them. It was nine o’ clock on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve. As the courtyard beyond the gates lit up, Megan took a deep breath. She hadn’t been back to Brynamman Lodge for over three years. Ever since her husbands death, the house had held memories that made her heart ache. The offer of a job abroad with a big-cat conservation charity had given Megan a new purpose in life and she had grabbed it both hands.  As the gates widened, she drove in and pulled up outside the huge oak entrance door with its black panther-head door knocker. Stepping out of the car, beneath the floodlights, Megan knew that nothing had changed inside. Molly Williams, her young stable girl, had been living here with her boyfriend Owen for the duration. Strangely, they had abandoned the house two weeks ago. Molly had said that they found it too big for the two of them and they had rented a small cottage nearby. They had taken Buster, the only one of Bobby’s GSP’s still surviving. Molly had been tending Megan’s horses daily, sticking to her contract. Sadly, the charity Megan was employed by had let her down badly … to the point where her life was threatened doing her job. Megan had quit. So coming back here for Christmas, to her and Bobby’s sanctuary, seemed the sensible thing to do.

Megan stepped out of the Evoque and started to dig the front door keys from her shoulder bag. It was cold and the belly of cloud above threatened snow. As she did so, she glanced up at the windows above the front porch, on the stairwell. Megan flinched at what appeared to be a watching face withdrawing from the glass pane. Then, suddenly, the outside floodlights went out. Megan had forgotten how dark Brynamman Lodge was in mid-winter. She couldn’t see her hands in front of her face. Knowing how the PIR light sensors worked, Megan walked around the courtyard expecting them to pick up her movement. Nothing. Megan picked her mobile phone from its cradle in the Evoque. The screen lit up and she found Molly’s number. Molly answered almost immediately. “Hi Megan! Are you back home?” Megan grinned and said that she had arrived. It was good to hear Molly’s bubbly voice and Welsh accent. She explained that the lights had gone out and asked if Molly had noticed any problems.? There was a long pause. “Megan … can you come by here before you go in? Please?” Megan was confused. “Why, Molly? I’m here now! I’ve just had a long drive and I really could do with my bed”. As Megan talked she was watching the windows. Through the curtained windows she noticed a flicker of light moving up the stairwell and across the upper floor. “Molly, that’s not funny!” Megan said. “What’s not funny, Megan?” Molly sounded genuine. “You’re in there! I can see you moving about! Is that a candle you’re carrying?” Megan heard a sharp intake of breath and could half hear whispering to Owen. “Megan, I swear, we’re in our cottage. The Lodge is empty. Please come to us first. Don’t go in there!”

Molly opened the cottage door to Megan and led her in. Owen sat at the table with an empty whisky glass in front of him. Buster, sensing Megan’s scent, came bounding up and placed his paws across her shoulders, lapping her face with his tongue. Megan was delighted that the dog still recognised her and made a big fuss of the old boy. “What’s going on?” Megan asked. “Have we got squatters?” Molly sat down at the kitchen table, her hands clenched between her thighs. Megan could sense the tension. She looked to Owen. “Molly, offer Megan a drink please”. Molly stood “Sorry Megan, you’ve had a long journey. Tea, coffee?”, Owen smiled “or something stronger?”. Megan declined. “I just need my bed, guys. Thanks for looking after the place, by the way. Now … why am I here? Please explain?”. Owen stood up and found the whisky bottle. He half-filled his glass and sat down again. Megan was staring at Molly, who looked apologetic. Megan had never seen Owen as a drinker. “Megan, please don’t go in there tonight”, Owen slurred. “Stay here and I’ll go in with you in the morning.” Megan was getting annoyed now. “Owen. I’m tired. I’ve flown and driven a long way to spend Christmas Eve in my own home. Tell me what the hell is going on, please?”

Molly started the story. They had been enjoying the tenure. Enjoying the space, as young lovers previously constrained by their parents homes, for nearly two years with no problems at all. But in recent months, strange things had started to happen around Brynamman Lodge. Strange lights, ornaments being toppled over, the dogs barking for no reason, the horses whinnying in the stables. They had rented the cottage and stopped living  in the lodge. Molly went there during daylight only, to clean and exercise the horses.  Megan asked if there had been anything unusual during daylight? “Sometimes”, the girl answered. “The place is just … spooky!”. Megan listened, intrigued and concerned, but she was a pragmatist. She and Bobby had never had any issues in the house. As Molly continued her tale, Megan stopped her. Rather than fearing entering Brynamman Lodge, Megan (always one for a challenge) addressed both Molly and Owen. She was still sitting, stroking Buster. “Guys. Thanks for the warning, but Brynamman Lodge is my home. I need to go back there. Tonight.” Owen stood up, slurring again. “Megan, we can’t stop you. But please, take Buster.” Megan was intrigued. “Why, Owen?”. Owen folded his arms, turned and stared into Megan’s eyes. His own eyes were dulled, clouded with an alcoholic fugue. “Because Buster has sensed something too … and he didn’t like it either!”.  Megan wasn’t keen on the idea. “Look, Owen. You’re a dog man. You know Buster needs to get used to me being around first. Bring him over tomorrow or Boxing Day.” Owen shrugged and the couple saw Megan to the door.

Megan drove back to the Lodge smiling. Those kids had no idea what she had just been through over the past year. Kidnapped in the Far East while trailing big-cat smugglers. Caged in a tiny cell. Rescued just before being sold into sex slavery, no thanks to her employer. Ghosts and ghouls at Brynamman Lodge? The only fear Megan had was of the human capacity for cruelty, not ‘things that go bump in the night’. The huge gates swung open and, strangely, the spotlights blazed to welcome her in. Clearly working again. Megan looked up at all the windows. Nothing. She turned the key in the lock and gently eased open the front door. Megan stepped into the portal and a rush of cool air greeted her, unexpectedly. It ruffled her blonde hair and brushed her cheeks like a lovers kiss. Megan stood, not frightened but exhilarated. She flicked the light switch and the hallway lit up with its sweeping, spiral stairway and polished wooden floor. Her own paintings lining the walls, for that’s what had brought her and Bobby together. Her art. Sweeping savannahs, horses, wild cats. Bobby had been a big-cat personal guide when they’d met in Johannesburg. That first meeting hadn’t gone smoothly. She painted cats. He shot them. She had soon learned that first impressions aren’t what they seem.

Megan stepped into the kitchen. As she hit the light switch she was met with two moon-like eyes staring through the glass of the patio doors at the far end of the room. They extinguished swiftly and something fled. Unidentifiable in the darkness outside. Fox? Megan smiled. Foxes stood no chance here in Bobby’s day. She stepped through to the lounge. This time she didn’t throw the light switch. In the middle of the floor, a pair of yellow eyes blazed back at her, reflecting the light from the kitchen. The wide jaws, with enormous gleaming fangs, were met with Megan’s own wide grin. She stepped into the darkness and swept up the leopardskin rug, hugging it tightly. She took one of the claws and stroked it lightly across her breast. The claw that had left her husband scarred for life. Deep, strafing scars. She imagined herself now, lying next to him, stroking the grey chest hairs that covered the old wounds. As Megan stood there, the breeze came again, swirling around her. It touched the back of her neck and her lips. Megan smiled widely again. Laying the rug back in place, she then set about clearing the car and bringing in her travel bags.

Thankfully, Megan had stopped on the way home to grab some provisions. She was famished and tired, so her priority was to eat, get some sleep and organise better the next day. Christmas Day. First, though, she needed to visit her horses. She turned on the electric oven, to warm up, then grabbed a torch from her car and walked behind the Lodge, out to the stable block. As she swung the powerful LED torch about she saw eyes again, watching in the darkness. Browsing rabbits; the round eyes of the fox. It would be stalking the rabbits. Just before she reached the stables Megan sensed something large moving in the copse to her left. She swung the  torch at the trees and two huge white eyes shone back. The loud bark made her jump, then the red deer turned and leapt away, crashing through the trees. This triggered the whinnying of her two horses, disturbed by the sound. Megan entered the stable block and flicked on the light, turning off the torch. She walked up to Byron first, her hunter. Bobby had bought the horse for her as a birthday present, just a year before he died. The horse nuzzled up to her as she stroked his nose, snorting approval. He shook his head and whinnied in excitement. The breeze came again. Much stronger this time. The lights flickered. The two horses reared up as the mini-maelstrom tangled Megan’s hair and tickled her ears and cheeks. Megan smelt something familiar in the gust and wrapped her arms around herself in a hug. She walked over to her mare, Bryony and stroked her too. Both horses nostrils were flaring in recognition. Megan had come home.

A few minutes after Megan locked the front door, the spotlights in the courtyard turned off. She fired up the oven and soon had a lasagne warming through with some frozen peas simmering too. She looked at the huge pile of mail Molly had stacked on one of the worktops. Thankfully, Molly had removed all the junk mail. Lord knows what she would find amongst this lot? Some would be fan mail (her novel, Black Ghost, had been a huge success). Most would be reminders, bills, invites … Megan’s agent took care of all that. Megan picked the whole lot up and tried to move the pile in one go into the study. She failed, magnificently. As she was losing grip, the breeze returned and as she launched the letters onto what was Bobby’s old writing desk, one flew across the room to land near the dining room door. Megan returned to the kitchen to rescue her meal. She dished up and sat at the dining table, enjoying the luxury of a sit-up meal after the life of squalor she had endured recently. As she ate Megan glanced down and saw the envelope on the floor. She stooped and picked it up, laying it on the table in front of her. She took another fork-full of lasagne and stopped with the food at the end of her tongue. She recognised the handwriting on the letter. She checked the date stamp and was even more confused. The letter had been posted a year ago. Megan took a huge swig of wine. Scared now, more than ever in her life. Bobby had died three years ago. It was Bobby’s writing. As she went to pick it up, it moved away from her. Scared, she carried on eating. The letter moved closer. With every mouthful, the letter crept towards Megan. When the plate was empty, she picked it up.

“Hi Babe. Yes it’s me, Bobby. If you’re reading this it’s because our solicitors have been asked to send you this letter two years after my death. Don’t be upset by it. I just want you to know that I hope you are enjoying your life. Whatever you do, whomever you now love, you have my sanction. Please don’t sacrifice your life to a memory of me. You know, of course, that as a hunter, I will still find a way through the Tao to get as close to you, and protect you as much as I can, without disturbing you. I love you, for eternity. Bobby. xxx”

Megan sprawled across the table, her fists beating the oak surface. The tears welled up yet again. As she wept, the lights flickered. Megan sat up, just as the house plunged into darkness. She sat there, waiting for something more to happen. Nothing did, so Megan stood and stepped towards the light switch. The switch failed. She heard, more than felt, the swish of tail and the pad of paw. Suddenly, Megan Dale felt afraid. More so than ever in her life. Bobby had always preached ‘karma’. What goes around comes around. He had killed many big cats, or assisted in their killing. Always in a dignified, professional way. Megan, herself, had shot big cats. None more important than the renegade female jaguar linked to Bobby’s death. The press had called the jaguar ‘The Black Angel’. Sitting now in the dark, Megan gritted her teeth. “No fear allowed, when carrying a gun. Fear kills the threatened, not the threat. Become the threat”. That was what Bobby had preached so often. Megan used the torchlight on her mobile phone and went to the key safe, entered her code and pulled out her shotgun and two cartridges. She loaded both into the breech and headed for the study carrying an open gun. There, Megan opened a cabinet and took out an LED torch, wondering if the batteries would still carry power? The beam of light lifted Megans confidence. She swept the beam around and saw that outside, a light blanket of snow now covered the garden. Suddenly the beam caught the reflection of a pair of emerald eyes, outside, among the shrubs. They blinked and disappeared. “Ye Gods!” Megan muttered. A tremor went down her spine. “Are you here now, Bobby? To protect me?” The question was spoken out loud. A rush of air swept around her again and caressed her face. Megan smiled. Bobby’s ‘Qi’ was with her. She felt a rush of adrenalin coarse through her. It was time to face this new demon. As she snapped the gun barrels shut she whispered “I wonder if jaguars return as ghosts?”

Megan pulled on her boots and a fleece jacket. As she stood in the darkness, she saw a dull light moving between the trees like a will o’ the wisp. It was moving towards the generator shed so she followed it, the soft snow making her progress silent. As she picked up the creatures tracks in the snow, a penny dropped in Megans head. Approaching the shed she followed the tracks to a hole in the shiplap panels. A hole the size of a football. Megan crept around the shed, flicked on the torch and pulled the door open. The beam picked up the creature just as it seized its prey. The green eyes flashed in anger and it bolted back through the hole, carrying its quarry with it. Megan shone the torch around the small shed. She noticed the leaves and straw bulging from the fuse boxes on the walls. Prizing one open, Megan leapt back as half a dozen wood-mice fled the box and scuttled out into the snow. She opened another and the same thing happened. Megan giggled like a schoolgirl. The wiring was in a dreadful state, nibbled by the little lodgers. It was no wonder the Lodges electrics were playing up!

Megan left the shed and followed the tracks of the fleeing predator. They led her to a vent in the garage wall. Megan quietly opened the small side door into the garage and stepped into the darkness. She was greeted with a viscious hiss and flicked on the torches beam. This time, not one pair but six pairs of emerald green eyes stared back at her. The sleek black fur of the mother cat had been replicated in her kittens. Megan stepped forward, delighted. “Oh, you little beauties!” she whispered. “You must be frozen!” The mother allowed Megan to approach, her collar blinking weakly … the batteries almost dead. Megan slipped off her fleece and lifted the five tiny kittens into it, wrapping them tenderly. “Come on, Mum. Let’s get these beauties into the warm”. As she crossed the snowy yard, the mother cat brushed against Megans legs. The breeze came again and wrapped itself around Megans head. She stopped to enjoy the moment. “Thank you, Bobby!” Megan whispered. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present!”

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2016

     Jaguar Image by Brent Norbury

For more reading about Bobby’s death and Megan’s revenge read Jaguar: The Black Angel by Ian Barnett www.wildscribbler.com/books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Stoat

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I was stunned today when one of the magazines I write for forwarded this reader letter for me to respond to.

Reading your December issue I was upset and angry that your expert, Ian Barnett, shot a beautiful stoat – the birds of prey take more game birds than one poor stoat. I hope he felt guilty shooting it. After all the years I have been shooting, no farmers have ever asked my mate or me to shoot stoats or weasels – only woodies, crows, magpies, rabbits, etc. So come on, Ian, have a change of heart and please turn the other cheek when you come across a stoat again, please. They are part of the countryside, after all.”

My response was pretty curt, I can assure you. The hypocrisy was astounding (They are part of the countryside, after all!) So are “woodies, crows, magpies, rabbits, etc” How does an individual develop a mind-set (particularly a fellow shooter) that discriminates between the beauty of any creature and its place on the ‘most wanted’ list? Rabbits and grey squirrels are ‘beautiful’ creatures too. I admire the intelligence of the crow and its stark handsomeness, yet I still shoot it for the benefit of songbird and gamebird. I love to watch the jink and soar of the woodpigeon, an aerial master, yet I still shoot it because of its inclination to crop raiding. I respect the rabbit for its place in our ecology. A staple food for so many creatures. Look into a rabbits eyes through a scope and your heart could break at tickling the trigger in the sight of such stark vulnerability. Yet rabbits cost the farmer millions of pounds in lost revenue each year. As a regular observer of magpie predation along the spring hedgerow. I will always shoot magpies on sight, no quarter given. Yet I totally respect the bird for its capacity to observe, hunt and kill.

My upset reader stated that the birds of prey take more game birds than one poor stoat”. He or she obviously hasn’t watched a stoat raiding a pheasants nest or rolling a partridge poult with its teeth buried in its neck. The stoat won’t appear so ‘beautiful’ then!

If we decide to discriminate about what we shoot and why due to its ‘appearance’, then we might as well let the Disney Corporation decide what is fair game, decide the open and closed seasons and organize our General Licenses.

I still can’t believe this letter came from a shooter. Ye Gods! … what the hell is happening in the countryside if people like this are walking it with a gun and calling themselves vermin controllers!

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2016

A Year In Eden: The Fauna And Flora Of A Norfolk Estate

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My latest book, A Year In Eden, is a diversion from my usual shooting titles and sees the completion of a project I long ago promised myself I would complete. I love wildlife watching and get to visit some of Norfolk’s ‘forgotten corners’ while shooting. I always carry a quality camera with me; either a DSLR or a pro-compact. Due to this, I have amassed a huge library of wildlife photographs. Many of these can be viewed here.

My great writing hero has always been the late Denys Watkins-Pitchford, whose pen name was ‘BB’. His books included a rich infusion of natural history and illustrations. While I could have printed every picture in this book as a full colour Jpeg, I felt it would detract from the secrecy and mystery of Eden. Instead I chose to re-edit each picture into a sketch using photo-enhancement software.

I was introduced to ‘Eden’ about six years ago. An ‘old money’ Norfolk estate with tenant farmers, forestry and a grand hall. The permission came about in a strange way when I agreed to share one of my shooting permissions on another farm with a deer-stalker. In return of the favour, David introduced me to the Lady, who was looking for someone to control the plague of grey squirrels in the woods. David walked me around the perimeters of the estate on that first day and I just knew I was going to love the place, simply because of its richly diverse topography.

Thus this book was born, which is rarely about shooting; deliberately. It is much more a celebration of the birds, beasts, insects, trees and flowers that share Eden with me. About their struggles, their survival, their wild antics and their beauty.

The paperback book is available on Amazon here.

The e-book is available here.

For my other books, please click here.

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, November 2016

 

Wildscribblers ‘State Of Nature’ Report 2016

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Now the pheasants are out in the coverts ducking the guns, I thought it would be worthwhile to follow the excellent example of the RSPB and its cohorts … sorry, allies … let everyone know the ‘State Of Nature’ in this little corner of Norfolk. Particularly because it seems to paint a different picture to theirs? I can only guess, ‘cos I don’t read propaganda. Old Seth, my mentor and poacher par-excellence, tells me he read a bit before wiping his arse with it. I keep telling him that its bad for his piles but he just won’t listen.

We’ve had some mixed results on the estate this year in re-introducing species and restoring the balance of our fragile eco-system. Having had a bit too much success on the conies, we were getting a bit short of legal things to shoot so Seth and his boy, Luke, went over to Hickling Broad one night and came back with a couple of mink. Good plan, I thought, but we still haven’t seen the little buggers. Lot’s of discarded fish heads, but no mink! Seth’s been telling the Guvnor’ that otters are taking his trout from the lake. “Shoot ‘em!” he ordered. Seth told him that would be ‘illegal’. First time I’ve ever heard him use the ‘I’ word.

The buzzards have been a problem with the poults as always. Love to see ‘em soaring above the woods but one day Seth said they’d look better if they had a bit of competition on their tail. I haven’t got a clue where he got the golden eagle but he told me he put the tracker in his niece Jodie’s suitcase before she left for Ibiza. The eagle seemed like a good idea but the buzzards recognised its accent and weren’t fooled by the outward display of aggression. It took a bit of a barracking, followed by a swift flight back north. Norwich City fans are used to dealing with this too.

We thought about bringing in wolves and lynx to control the deer but Dave the Deerstalker got a bit pissed off. On balance, he’s the cheaper option and wolves or lynx are unlikely to throw us a spare haunch now and again, are they? Seth thought that crocodiles might be a legal way to tackle the otter problem but I reminded him that (a) crocodiles in the river would grab a cow or two and (b) crocs aren’t a displaced UK species.

The biggest problem we have here is the decline in hen harriers on the estate. Because there have never been any here. We’re feeling quite left out and thinking of designing a grouse moor so that we can be accused of flooding Great Yarmouth (and who wouldn’t want to flood Great Yarmouth?). Seth’s already planting heather and building grouse butts on the escarpment. I’m not sure that cut off IBC tanks buried in the loam count as butts? Fair play to Seth, though. When I asked where we were getting the grouse from, he just tapped his nose as always and told me that after Avery and co’s attack on DGS, there were hundreds of battery farms trying to shift grouse poults, cheap as chips. What do I know?

Skylarks? Dozens of breeding pairs here thanks to Olly and Lawrence (the farmers) maintaining hay meadows until after fledging. Me and Seth keep an eye on the ground predation. I do the small vermin and he does the foxes. Have I mentioned badgers? Oh, sorry. We have some of the biggest badger setts in Norfolk here. Seth wants to set up a night-time ‘Badger Safari’ but I’ve advised against it for Health & Safety reasons. Firstly, there would be more badgers than humans (and badgers eat anything!). Secondly, the weight of a Safari vehicle packed with punters might finally collapse the whole estate into badger Valhalla. I also advised that on a night-time safari, the punters would expect to see hedgehogs? Norfolk n’ chance here! Our lovely furze-pig is a badgers Friday night doner-kebab.

We have the usual abundance of creatures here that the bunny-huggers would have us wrap in cotton wool and call harmless. Magpies, crows, jays, woodies, rats. Rats! Packham says they should be loved! Might change his mind when either Itchy or Scratch get leptospirosis? Did I say abundance of creatures? Apologies for the exaggeration, because at any given chance me and Old Seth shoot the feckers. It’s what we do in the interest of real, controlled conservation management. Observe always, intervene only when needed. Or, as in Seth’s case, when definitely vermin … ‘shoot the feckers!’

Anyway, time to move on. Seth and Luke have a badger on the spit. Nice open BBQ tonight. Nothing like a bit of wild boar on a Friday night. If we’re unlucky we’ll hear the howl of the wild. Will it be the lynx attacking a sheep … or the wolf attacking a human? No, not yet. It will be the screech owl and I hope I never see the day when the barn owl can’t be heard. Why can’t the ‘bunny-huggers’ and ‘feather-strokers’ concentrate on an iconic species like this instead of attacking the shooting community. Old Seth, of course, has a simple theory about this. He always does. “If you han’t seen nuthin’, yer can’t know it!”

The badger tasted a bit strong. The ‘afters’ were sweeter. The ‘skylark sorbet’ was lush. Oh hell, did I say “lush”. Now there’s a whole other open wound.

I’ve digressed. State of nature here? Absolutely fine. Where the vulnerable need help, we deal with it. Where there is over-population, we deal with it. Where re-introduction is needed, we deal with it. And you don’t need to a put a penny in a charity box.

Me, Old Seth, young Luke? Our farmers and landowners? The GWCT, BASC, NGO, CA? We do more for the countryside every day than any wildlife ‘charity’ or self opinionated media numpty will ever achieve. And we do it with a passion and a sense of humour.

Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2016.

Conservation Consternation

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As always, the lead up to the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ brought forth the usual pincer attacks from both those opposed to shooting on ethical grounds (the genuinely concerned) and those determined to make a name for themselves by opposing shooting (the opportunists). If you are going to make a stand against any institution … and the shooting world is a strong institution … it pays to get your facts right. Unfortunately our shooting opponents, including the ‘big guns’ (excuse the pun), rarely research facts before hammering social media sites with their biased rhetoric. It works, of course, this blatant barrage of misinformation. It works because the target audience doesn’t doubt, for one moment, the spurious data being tweeted and posted and blogged to them. They sit on their sofas in front of a widescreen, HD television watching a completely distorted picture of rural life and nature while scrolling through posts by Packham, Avery and others. So our armchair ecologists and urban environmentalists suck up the twisted propaganda because they want to believe that they live in a world that fits their comfort zone. A world where animals and birds only ever die of old age. A world where the cat sitting on their lap as they view Autumnwatch is exonerated of songbird slaughter. A world where badgers only eat beetles, not hedgehogs. A world where hen-harrier nests are circumnavigated by foxes. A world where every dead or missing raptor has (usually allegedly, seldom proven) been shot maliciously.

Strange as it may seem to these non-shooting folk, we (shooters) actually love and understand wildlife more than the average Joe. We work hard to maintain real wild habitat (farmland and woodland … not sanitised nature reserves). We work hard to protect land and vulnerable species from the effects of vermin. Define vermin, I hear you ask? Vermin are over-populous species that have a detrimental impact on the environment through their feeding or behaviour. The cute bushy-tailed squirrel enjoyed in the local park is a voracious egg and chick thief in the rural wood. Magpies, working in pairs, will devastate a hedgerow full of songbird nests in hours. Rabbits, left unchecked, will decimate growing crops. Corvids and woodpigeons can strip seed and shoots from fields in hours. Facts like these are conveniently denied or ignored by our celebrity wildlife ‘champions’ who see the shooting of every single creature as ‘threatening’ that species. Their duplicity is perplexing to a rational mind like mine. Why are they so vehemently and very publically opposed, for instance, to the management and harvesting of game-birds yet totally ignore the outrage that is Halal slaughter? The same dichotomy is prevalent with hunt saboteurs. I’ll tell you why. Because they are cowardly hypocrites, that’s why. To attack a religious tradition on social media would incur legal challenge, whereas attacking the shooting community doesn’t.

How many of you have young children who may never see that quintessential British mammal, the hedgehog? “What’s a hedgehog, Dad?” “Oh … a hedgehog is a small, prickly mammal that does no harm other than to hoover up snails, slugs, beetles and earthworms”. To badgers, that vastly over-protected and destructive mustelid, the hedgehog is a doner kebab wrapped in a spikey pitta bread. Control badgers and hedgehogs re-populate areas. A proven fact. Moves to cull badgers (please note, cull … not eradicate) met with a passionate campaign from our celebrity bunny-huggers too. The hedgehogs apparently didn’t matter. The TB infected cattle being slaughtered and destroying livelihoods didn’t matter. Not killing badgers was all that mattered. Totally unscientific.

I mentioned the G-word earlier. The tweet-drummers of the bird charities cannot possibly deny the success of grouse moor management in restoring wildlife balance and encouraging the survival of curlew and other ground nesting birds along with the grouse. I’m not going to mention hen harriers as they clearly aren’t important to the RSPB. They can’t be, because the RSPB walked away from involvement with the DEFRA Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Not the behaviour you would expect from a leading national bird charity. Interestingly, I was up in North Yorkshire for some walking earlier this year and was impressed at the numbers of curlews I saw up amongst the heather. It was nesting time and the birds were highly protective, buzzing us and calling with that distinctive, plaintive cry. These were keepered, shooting moors and were alive with stonechats, rock pipits and meadow larks. Incidentally, if you are looking for a walking base in North Yorkshire, I can recommend The Barn Tea Rooms & Guest House in Hutton-le-Hole.

All that matters to these half-baked naturalists is that they champion one species over all others and just keep moving their objective. Conservation should never be about protecting one species to the exclusion of all others. Nor should it be about creating an environment which favours one species above all others. Wrapping a fence around a tract of land and declaring it a protected area for wildlife is not ‘conservation’. It is ‘isolation’. Conservation should always be about balance. If it takes a trap, a net, a rod or a gun to help maintain that balance … then so be it.

 

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2016

Airgun Fieldcraft: A Definitive Hunter’s Guide

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Back in 2012 I wrote a book called Airgun Fieldcraft, on spec, for a shooting magazine publisher. Many of my readers / followers have a copy of that book. Following the liquidation of the publisher, the publishing rights reverted back to me, the author. Having self-published several books since 2012 I decided that this was the ideal opportunity to update, re-title and increase the content of the original book. One door shuts, another one opens. I make no apologies for the repetition of content from the original title, which was received well in many quarters. I have now added a further six years experience into the mix. In a self-published, print-on-demand format I can’t possibly replicate the quality of that first hard-copy print run. What I can do, however, is offer ‘more for less’. New edition is 85000+ words, 144 colour photo’s and is packed with additional information to assist both novice and experienced air rifle hunters. At a sensible, affordable price. New topics, new photographs and a new lay-out. I hope it meets my readers expectations.

The book covers, in depth, all the major UK quarry species: natural history, food, predators, habits, habitat, hunting methods, tips & tricks. It also includes shooting safety, gaining permission, nature & shooting craft, food preparation and recipes.

This book isn’t just for the air rifle hunter. It is for anyone who roams the countryside attending to vermin in the interest of crop protection and conservation. It is for the boy with the catapult (for that’s where I started) and for the mature adult stepping onto the hunting trail late in life. It doesn’t matter what tool you carry … the fieldcraft needed is the same. But if I convince you, by the time you reach the end of this book, that the air rifle is a wonderful gun and capable of many tasks … then it’s been well worth writing. Come take a walk with me around the woods and fields of Britain. I will show you what, where and how to hunt with that most versatile of tools … the air rifle.

This book, and all my books, are available for purchase in either e-book or hard-copy format via Amazon / Kindle. Links to purchase are here.

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2016

Oh … Airgun law? Lest I should forget!

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The air rifle is a hugely maligned tool where the press and general public are concerned … and quite wrongly so. There are a reputed four million airgun owners in the UK. In the past it was a relatively unregulated gun so no-one really knows how many are out there, buried in attics or garden sheds. A handful of incidents each year by ne’er-do-goods, irresponsible morons or (tragically) youngsters who have stumbled on an unsecured rifle (and misused it) have given rise to calls in many quarters to either ban or license this superb and efficient pest control tool. As I update this book (2016), Scotland has just introduced licensing for airguns. This, against advice from the senior representation of Scotland’s policing. In the face of reduced spending on policing, there is now a huge administrative burden dumped upon Scotland’s ‘finest’ by a crass and undemocratic decision. A decision based on misinformation and political bias, not common sense and statistics. If you’re reading this and live in Scotland, just bear one thing in mind. It could have been worse. Many of your folk wanted an outright ban on airguns, as do many misinformed folk across the UK.

I firmly believe that this needs to be put into perspective. Personally, I would rather an 18 year old boy asked for an air rifle than a motorbike. His chances of survival to the age of 25 would multiply a thousand fold … and those of people around him. Analyse the illegal or tragic incidents surrounding air rifles and you will find two common factors. The transgressors are usually urban, not rural, individuals. They are usually not youths but idiotic (often drunk) adults. Deaths are usually due to children accessing airguns which should have been secured (and there was already adequate legislation for that. The shift in law to raise the legal age of ownership from 17 to 18 years of age, typically knee-jerk politics, ignored that latter fact. Licensing would be un-policeable, as Scotland will now find … especially regarding all those ‘hidden’ guns. Many readers will appreciate that shotguns have long been licensed. Events over recent years have proved that licensing is worthless in the face of individual, psychological behaviour … which changes with personal circumstance. In my own area, over the past year, two well respected and apparently sane men have shot first their partner, then themselves, with their shotguns following financial or relationship problems. Does that mean no-one should own a gun? That would be ridiculous. Misuse is true of not just guns but also motor vehicles. Yet, strangely, I’ve never heard a call for a ban on cars because some idiot decided to get drunk and kill someone while driving?

Despite all my comments above, I find some of the recent legislation completely sensible. The need for an airgun retailer to register an address. The need to sell ‘face to face’ via a registered firearm dealer (RFD) rather than through mail-order. It all helps to prevent future nonsense and misuse. Some of the current laws (which apply to all form of shooting) are derived from common sense. Such as not being allowed to shoot across the boundary of your permission or having to carry your gun in a slip, with no ammunition in it, while passing through a public place. Simple safety-based rules. The addition of home gun security rules shouldn’t have effected most responsible air gun users … I’ve always lock mine away securely in a gun-safe. I hope you do too?

At risk of over simplifying the law, I’m not going to write a list of current legal requirements for ownership of an airgun. I am simply going to refer you back to the advice I gave in my Safety section earlier … check for legal compliance with BASC. Whenever you read this book … from the date of first issue or in thirty years time, the BASC will have all the relevant data on current legal requirements. It is important that you learn these as non-compliance can cost you financially and also risk a term at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

If you happen to be reading this in ten years time (2026), I just hope that all the lobbying and hard work that BASC, CLA and the airgun press do on your behalf has paid off and you can, under the right conditions, still walk into a gun shop and buy an air rifle to control vermin.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, 2016