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The Air Rifle Around The Farm

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Working farmyards are busy places; full of people, moving machinery and livestock. Being offered permission to shoot freely around a yard is a great privilege and a huge responsibility. It’s certainly not an environment for the shotgun but much useful vermin control can be carried out with a legal limit air rifle; silent, accurate and unlikely to cause structural damage if used wisely. The soft, lead pellets used by airgunners rarely ricochet though if they do they can cause damage to equipment, building or beast.

The purpose of this piece is to make you think about how to eliminate any such risk. Personally, I find the sporting opportunities available around a working farmyard are superb. Grain stores, midden piles and livestock feed attract pigeons, doves, corvids and rats. All vermin are ‘spoilers’; either stealing food or contaminating it. A farmer will appreciate safe pest clearance (free of charge) at the right time, which means avoiding interfering with the farms productivity.

Safety Before Sport

The range of shooting opportunities that present themselves around a farmyard can be overwhelming. Birds landing on rooftops, on beams and gates. Rats scurrying between feeding points. Vermin feeding amongst livestock or near equipment. The golden rule must always be ‘safety first, sport second’. The capacity for losing shooting permission due to unsafe practice is high. Take the time to walk the yard, learn it intimately and build a mental picture of potential risks and hazards.

 

Timing Your Visits

Though not always possible (for instance during harvest) it makes sense to visit the farmyard when it is quiet. Sunday afternoons are often a good time. Or when the weather is poor enough to stop the farm working. The vermin will still come, more-so when the yard is quiet or food is hard to find (snowfall is a good example).

Family And Staff

Particularly when the farmhouse is close to the yard, you need to consider your hosts family and workers at all times. Children, granny, grandad et al may be used to wandering around the farm buildings. It pays to establish a ‘warning system’ (see below) so that folk know you are around. The most precious advice I can offer, though, is to always expect the unexpected. Never shoot at any quarry in a farmyard unless 100% sure that no-one can come between your muzzle and your target. At any hint of a voice or movement, stay your shot. Find a safe shot position.

Visibility

Your farmer and family will always be present somewhere nearby. Often the farm workers too. The best way to ensure that they all know you are present, shooting, is to agree a visible signal. This can be as simple as parking your vehicle (if you have one) in a prominent position that doesn’t interfere with farm traffic. They can’t miss mine, due to it’s registration plate, which includes the letters GUN. I use directional parking too. The front of the motor will point at the buildings I will be occupying to shoot. Simple.

Livestock And Poultry

Cattle sheds, pig pens and poultry compounds offer great shooting prospects for the vermin controller. Yet we need to ensure the safety of the stock at all times. Jackdaws and magpies will peck for beetles and larvae that live in the straw and dung of the pens. Rats, too, will scavenge among the litter. There are rich pickings to be had for vermin but you need to avoid shooting between the legs or around livestock. Not just to avoid accidental injury to stock (which will get you a definite red-card from the farmer) but also to avoid dead vermin being left in a livestock pen.

 

Care For Infrastructure

Your farmer won’t be at all impressed if you fail to treat his farms infrastructure with respect. Farm buildings will contain a variety of fabrics which can be damaged by a stray airgun pellet. Wood, glass, plastic, plasterboard, PVC or fibre roofing. Pick your backstops carefully, especially when clearing jackdaws or ferals. Peppering the roof with holes will soon lose you permission. Watch out for water pipes and electrical cables too. Lots to think about isn’t there!

 

Beware Of The Dog (Or Cat)

There are two creatures that have more authority with the confines of a farmyard than you ever will. They are the farmers dog and the farms ‘mousers’. There may be more than one of either species, of course. If you don’t befriend the dog, you won’t make much progress anyway. It will probably just follow you around growling or barking. Take a pocket full of training treats and ensure the dogs see you as a benefactor. The cats? Just make you sure you don’t accidentally injure them.

Existing Controls

Don’t interfere with pest control functions that are already in place around the farm. These might include rat bait boxes, electronic fencing around poultry pens, fox snares or Fenn traps for stoats and mink. Keep your eye out for all vermin, though. Many farmers will claim (particularly where rats are concerned) that their ground is ‘clean’. Take that with a pinch of salt. They have the bait and traps down for a reason!

 Elevated Shooting

Farmyard pest control involves two types of elevated shooting. Internal and external. If shooting inside, beware of ricochets if there are livestock below. This is rare if you’re an accurate shooter. Soft targets like ferals and jakes absorb the pellet on impact. Remember what I said about peppering the roof. Don’t! External elevations need great care. Birds on roof eaves can be common … and tempting You need to know, in the event of a ‘miss’, where the pellet may end up? Through the farmhouse kitchen window will not enhance your reputation.

Substance Abuse

Farm buildings store all manner of chemicals, fuels and containers. Always shoot away from them, not towards them. There could be paints, solvents, oxidants, fertilisers, pesticides, timber preservers, lubricants and fuel. Any of these leaking onto surfaces or (worse still) finding their way into watercourses can cause serious environmental problems. Think about that shot!

 

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Oct 2018

Hunting Act Amendments 2015

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Am I the only one left thinking that next weeks Parliamentary debate and vote on amendments to the Hunting Act 2004 is a dangerous move for the pro-hunting lobby? Already we are reading that Labour may whip their Members to vote against the amendments and what the SNP will do (on an issue that doesn’t affect Scotland) is anyone’s guess? Let’s not forget that Scotland have just legislated to introduce airgun licensing. Surely it would have been in the interest of the broader rural agenda for a Government truly wanting repeal to have waited for the right opportunity to introduce a free vote on exactly that … repeal? Not ‘amendment’. I fear that a bad result next week will push the prospect of complete repeal back by years.

Despite what LACS and the RSPCA etc would have you believe, the Hunting Act has been an abomination. A complete waste of public money and legal time. Just think about it’s basis for a moment? The main point of the Act (if you disregard the very obvious and misguided attempt at class warfare … most hunters aren’t ‘upper class’) is to stop the pursuit and killing of wild mammals by dogs. One of the most natural inclinations of the domestic dog is to track, trail and (for many breeds) kill. That’s why domestic dogs exist in our homes, descendants of the wolf hybrids used by early man to put food on the table. Every single domestic dog breed holds the genes which relate them directly back to that mighty and beautiful hunter, the wolf. Unlike the fox. The fox has no genetic link to the wolf. How many of you knew that? Legislating to curb a dogs hunting instinct is as ridiculous as bringing in a law to stop babies crying or monkeys climbing.

The absurdity of the Act has never been just in its political intention. It has also been in its legal hypocrisy. Stalking and flushing vermin or game to the gun was exempted if only two dogs were used and they didn’t make the kill. The Act then went on to exempt the killing of rabbits and rats using dogs (thankfully) but hey! Hang on? Rabbits and rats are mammals … like hares, squirrels, foxes and deer. So what legal mastermind decided that the grey squirrel enjoys a higher status in ecology than the brown rat? Or that the brown hare has a different pain threshold to a rabbit? If the law is about common sense (I know, I know) then if it’s justifiable to kill a rabbit with a dog, it should also be justifiable to kill any wild mammal with a dog, on permitted land and for the same reasons as the rabbit? Which is why I believe next weeks proposed amendments don’t go far enough. We need to get back to a point where dogs are allowed to kill (not just flush) but with respect to the Wildlife Acts, close seasons and rare species protection. Pack hunting to flush out or bring down prey is older than mankind itself, so what right do we have to call it wrong? Mankind harnessed that efficiency when it domesticated the dog. Dogs should be allowed to hunt. It’s in their nature, just like wolves and tigers and lions.

And what about cats? The RSPB themselves state that in the UK alone, domestic cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. Why don’t the bunny-huggers want to legislate against allowing Puss out into the garden? Hey, now there’s an idea! If the amendment goes through I could become the first Master of the Norfolk Moggyhounds?

I was only joking … don’t waste your time with comments.

Personally, I feel let down by next weeks proposals. This isn’t what I voted for, a foppish concession to the Foxhunts which serves no purpose for the common or garden shooter / hunter.

Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015

The Misinformed (Part Two)

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A piece I put up on here earlier this week seemed to have provoked much interest and emotion (The Misinformed). Many people took it to be a defence of foxhunting (a passionate and divisive subject) and so launched into the usual diatribes about hounds ripping animals apart and a perceived hunting elite charging about in red coats? That was not the purpose of my post at all. If you read through liberal eyes and not an anti-hunting (the term hunting covers a plethora of activities) red mist then you will realise I was questioning how the future of our species will cope if ‘progress’ smothers the bushcraft and fieldcraft skills that we have developed across several millennia. Skills that dragged us from crawling on all fours to the highly developed species we are today. I must admit to being amazed at the few critics of my piece who said that now, in the 21st century, we have evolved beyond the need for hunting? And again I am taking that as a broad-brush statement meaning that these folk think that we have evolved beyond killing an animal for the table, to protect a crop or to protect a herd. For the benefit of the misinformed (I won’t apologise for the use of that term again) that is what ‘hunting’ is. One creature killing another for food, to feeds its dependents or to protect its territory. Unless I missed out on a biology lesson or two, homo sapiens are animals too

Forgive me for analysing this a bit further and attempting to follow their reasoning? If mankind can’t have a mandate to hunt, then it is denied the right to an alpha species status. So, logically, we shouldn’t farm either. If we can’t hunt then we shouldn’t round up and selectively breed animals for food or fibre. It took a hell of a long time to evolve from hunter to herder and for both to compliment each other. Thousands of years. So I will happily ignore claims that a hundred years of urbanisation have negated the need for the hunter / gatherer / farmer to exist.

One constant companion of the hunter has been the dog. It has been genetically proven that every dog species today has a common genetic link to the wolf. A relationship with the wolf and its subsequent hybrids developed over those millennia which added an advantage to our pursuit of meat for the table. A relationship which benefited both species (incidentally, the fox has a genetic missing link to wolf and dog). The hybrids, the first hounds, added speed, scent awareness and hearing advantage to the hunters toolbox. If that relationship hadn’t been forged, none of you would have a pet dog today. Fido would be extinct. The wolf or wolf/dog would have been simply another food source. We, mankind, developed an ability to synchronise with another species and develop that relationship into a beneficial, symbiotic partnership. Dogs were evolved to hunt for food and to protect crops (ironically usually from their genetic predecessor, the wolf).

Every day millions of folk turn on their TV sets to watch the wonders of the wild in their living room and exalt the magnificence of the prowling lion or sprinting cheetah pulling down a wildebeest or impala. Full-on hunting action complete with blood and guts, in glorious HD format, brought into the home via superb technology and filming while the viewer is stuffing their sanitised cardboard beef burger down their throat. Everyone says ‘Wow!’ TV awards are dished out for the superb, raw educational content of the documentary series. And I applaud that too. But hey? Chasing down a rabbit or hare for the table? Where’s the difference? That’s where greyhound racing was founded. Oh, I remember. It’s because, according to my recent ‘protagonists’ the reason we don’t need to hunt is because meat is readily available in the supermarket. Because we have ‘evolved’ and it’s the ‘21st century’. Really? So how did the meat get there? That’s where you ‘hunting critics’ really need to focus your attention. Wild meat like venison, gamebird and rabbit … meat drawn from the field using gun, trap, net (or bow in the USA) … is pure, untainted and hard won.

Culling vermin to protect crops and herds is legitimate. It helps spring lambs and poultry to live a free-range life with reduced threat of predation. The most vulnerable time for crops is while breaking ground as shoots. Depending on the crop itself, vermin control will save valuable acreage. Of course, these are arable crops … so how can a vegetarian contest this? A woodpigeon can devour up to 150 peas in one sitting, storing them in their crop. I could put up a photo to prove this but I don’t need to and you really wouldn’t want to see it. Just pull a pack of Bird’s Eyes peas out of the freezer and count them. Divide the contents of the bag by 150. Work out the cost of the cost of the bag per 150 peas. Multiply that by the estimated two million woodies in the UK right now. Then realise that I’ve just talked about one feeding session. Don’t ever try to tell me that hunting, crop control and vermin control is non-essential in the 21st century. There is almost a case for a national industry in woodpigeon control alone.

The one thing I abhor above all things is hypocrisy. If you eat meat, it came from a dead animal, which didn’t commit suicide. If you are vegetarian, your food was protected from predation and contamination, the latter probably by chemical intervention. The former by pest control by people like me. Get used to it. Accept it.

I could get into a serious rant here about the ‘The Misinformed’ but I’ll cut it short with a few simple questions. Where does your dog and cat food come from? How many creatures does your cat kill when let out? Is TB in cattle acceptable? How many of you have had your hen house trashed by a fox? Does a beef ‘finisher’ herd die of old age? What bird lays sausages? Did you have turkey for Xmas? How many trees were cut down to print Fifty Shades Of Grey? How would you deal with hitting a deer on a country lane and it didn’t die but lay there kicking?

One of my critics this week called me ‘condescending’. You’d better bloody believe it. Because I live in the real world. Not a pampered, Disneyfied, shallow landscape where wildlife and conservation are comfortably squeezed between Eastenders and the News At Ten and distorted for political agendas.

Before you brand me as ‘angry’. I’m not really. I love the countryside, what I see in it and what I achieve in it. But I actually spend a lot of time there. Hunters do. If you are anti hunting, can you say that of yourselves?

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015