French Potshots

A late December Sunday, 'bang' in the middle of hunting and Christmas/New Year holiday drinking season in France. Between dawn and dusk multitudes of camouflaged French males sporting rifles and shotguns stalk the French countryside. Close to 1.5 million are registered to hunt around the Hexagon, and the majority do so with a passion that adds up to an average 250 million shots being fired off annually. Despite the Sunday afternoon alcoholic haze, a fair few reach their target, which means that in order to supply the hunter with something to shoot at, some 8,000 commercial reserves breed game in huge quantities to be released into the wild, including 14 million pheasants, 5 million partridges, 1 million ducks, hundreds of thousands of hares, rabbits, deer...

I suppose that given those figures, 30 fatalities out of a total of some 200 accidents each year is hardly surprising. But just a single death from carelessness or stupidity is one too many. Only last month a thirteen year old goalie training with his soccer team on their village ground stopped the wrong kind of shot, and was lucky to escape with a knee smashed to smithereens.

Especially after lunch, given the number of inebriated sharpshooters with somewhat blunted faculties staggering around the hills, it's a good idea to keep your head down. There are laws limiting alcohol intake, but they're rarely if ever enforced. Anyone sufficiently courageous to take a Sunday afternoon stroll with the dog should do so sticking to marked paths, making plenty of noise, and whistling loudly (preferably the Marseillaise rather than the Star Spangled Banner). It may be the festive season, but the wearing of reindeer headgear is definitely not advisable. Unless the recession has been getting you down and you are looking for a quick way out...

Those with a mutt large enough to be mistaken for a small deer should definitely keep it on a lead. Only a few years since a French friend, bringing winter feed to his Shetland ponies on his own land, saw one shot dead right beside him. The hunter "mistook the animals for a family of wild boar". No criminal charges were brought, no compensation paid. The hunters are a powerful lobby in France.

Nina the English MastiffFor years the French refused to accept European legislation which restricted hunters from the right to hunt on private land. The existing law (Verdeille), covering many French departments, allowing les chasseurs to hunt anywhere more than 100 metres from a property, irrespective of the wishes of the owner. In 2000 the European Court finally forced the French to back down, and the new rural code means that theoretically you can stop hunting from taking place chez toi by withdrawing consent as a 'conscientious objector' (so by definition you can't hunt on your own land either). Do many go to the (compulsory) trouble of writing to the Prefet to inform them of their objections? Put up signs around their land indicating that hunting is banned? Far fewer than might wish to do so, especially in remote areas of the countryside. There is the national legislation... and there is the reality of living in a small, remote village. Signs, no matter how firmly fixed in place, have a habit of falling down, getting smashed. Spent shotgun pellets fired from a distance occasionally patter through the leaves of trees as you walk around your garden. Those expats wishing for more than a reclusive life, hoping to become an active part of a rural community, should think twice about alienating many of their neighbours.

There's an art to life as an expat in France, away from large concentrations of immigrants attempting to reconstruct a little corner of England in a more clement climate. It demands a more flexible, conciliatory approach than we might be accustomed to back home. Wherever we are in the world, we remain guests on a permanent basis, and have to adapt to our environment rather than expect the environment to mould itself to our needs. It's a way of life that has its advantages... but it doesn't suit everyone!


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8 comments:

Frances said...

I've seen a fair few hunters lately, but had wondered what the rules were when we saw a hunter cross our land that our horses live on a couple of months ago. Thanks for the legal info. I'm glad the law's on our side, but like you say it's important to tread carefully in such a small community. Hope you had a good Christmas!

The FrogBlogger said...

Not all departments were subject to the Verdeille law, and the rules for registering your land as 'out-of-bounds' are slightly different as a result, but at least it can be done if you are brave enough!

Thanks Frances, and a Happy New Year to you...

Boris said...

I recommend wearing your spare Father Christmas hat when out and about walking.
In most communes around here the hunters give 'food parcels' (rabbit, venison etc) to the owners of the land where they hunt, by way of thanks. But hunters in our commune have decided to keep it all for themselves. Grrrr.

Anonymous said...

Pete. Happy New Year from LOS.

Mike said...

oops 1 to many Singha! The happy New Year was from me!

The FrogBlogger said...

Kronenbourg for me Mike, but it's a bit early in the day! Happy New Year - I shall be having a drink at 7pm, 12pm and 1am in honour of the Thai, French and UK celebrations of course ;-)

By the way, can't comment on your blog at the moment with the laptop I am using, the word recognition window refuses to open after I click on submit... nothing happens (problem with my parametres I'm sure)

Camille Lemmens said...

Just a few more hours to go here!

Happy New Year to you!

Susan said...

Where we are, near the important wetland area of the Brenne, the hunters and the conservationist have come to a pragmatic and a seemingly fairly amicable and workable agreement. Much of the land is privately owned, often by wealthy Parisiens or consortiums, but given over to various conservation organisations to manage in an ecologically wholistic way, in return for hunting rights. So far I watch with interest and an open mind.