Editor-in-chief Pete Carr introduces his granddaughter to stalking and says that, for the future of our sport, all hunters should make time for interested youngsters
The youngsters of today will, of course, be the future of our sport tomorrow. Our heritage will hopefully – indeed, will have to – live on through them, and never before has this been more important. Modern thinking and the associated biased schooling that goes with it makes stalking, and other live quarry shooting, sound very uncool to many of today’s youngsters. Plus the readily available myriad of alternatives to fieldsports will certainly tempt many away, towards other, more ‘politically correct’ pastimes.
But what can we do? We cannot force our children into what we follow as a way of life. We can guide them as best we see fit, but ultimately it will be their choice to take up fieldsports or not. The negativity towards fieldsports in modern schooling is a formidable thought. At private schools it is less so, but even then there is often significant prejudice against fieldsports. In recent years the RSPB even stooped low enough to target young, impressionable children with an online game called Raptor Mountain, which despicably depicts gamekeepers as poisoning persecutors of our country’s birds of prey.
Thankfully the so-called charity took the game down after the uproar it caused. But this doesn’t stop them from shamelessly impressing on any who will listen that the gamekeeping profession is made up of criminals. The answer is to set aside the time to explain the rights and dispel the wrongs that almost every child will have to deal with at some point in their formative years, and encourage wherever possible any interest shown in following family tradition into the field. The continuation of our sport depends on it, and all of us should take time out from our busy schedules to encourage and guide any interest displayed by our children, or indeed other youngsters, willing to take part.
I was asked by a landowner of one of the estates where I manage the deer to take his daughter out stalking, as she was currently studying estate management and wanted some practical stalking experience. Henrietta was delightful company, and she thoroughly enjoyed two outings on her father’s estate. She experienced a stalk into a roe doe to observe her at close quarters for quite some time before she skipped away, and later saw a successful conclusion and gralloch after an opportune shot by me on a suitable cull buck.
What was very interesting was the open mind that Henrietta displayed at all times, and the relevant questions she asked throughout. Although this young lady had been brought up in a large estate environment, she still very much considered the morality of shooting deer and the justification of doing so. And despite having a good grasp of woodland management, she clearly wanted to understand all angles. Thankfully, I think I pointed out the ethical validation of culling deer in a rational way, and I left her with a couple of good books to help with her studies. The experience was a real privilege for me to get the right message across, and I have no doubt that Henrietta will go on to successfully manage her estate, or indeed someone else’s in the future, and possibly even take up stalking herself.
I feel that all of us inherently harbour something of the hunter-gatherer spirit from our forefathers. I remember well my grandfather taking me out waterhen’s egging as a small child, harvesting the first clutch and leaving the second to hatch off. It was the same with lapwings’ eggs, or ‘turfits’ as they were then known locally. He showed me how to snare conies, and safely steered me in the proficient use of his old Belgian-made .410 shotgun.
I used to listen wide-eyed to the old sergeant major’s stories of his exploits hunting leopard in the Sudan or fighting the Fuzzy Wuzzies with fixed bayonets. His brother was a local gamekeeper who fell in the first war, and his father, my great grandfather, was a vermin catcher, who made his living as a warrener. After surviving the same war that had claimed two of his other sons, he was cruelly killed when out rabbiting as the spade he was using to dig out a stuck ferret was struck by lightning.
The point is a simple one: the hunting seed had already been sown long before in my DNA, it had been nurtured in my formative years and steadily grew to fruition as I reached adulthood (which took quite some time in my parents’ and teachers’ eyes). My twin brother certainly has it, though to a lesser degree, and my sister had it too as she used to ride to hounds and occasionally still stalks. But even without such a suitable upbringing into fieldsports, the hunting gene is still there in all of us.
My granddaughter has shown a natural interest in following me into the field. Two years ago she enjoyed a number of successful evenings observing me duck flighting, and even accompanied me and gamekeeping scribe Tony Megson out on the Humber Estuary wildfowling. Mindful that early experiences are seared into a child’s memory, I ensured a hot water bottle inserted into the front of her jacket and a couple of pocket handwarmers would keep the bitter cold at bay. After shooting a number of duck on the creek, we stopped shooting and watched the whistling duck come in. At one point there must have been a dozen cock wigeon just yards away from the hide, their ‘weow’ whistles echoing out hauntingly across the moonlit marsh. This was an experience that will live with her for a lifetime.
Last year I felt it right to take her out stalking, and so it was on the opening morning of the buck season 2013 we headed off into the wind with high hopes of grassing a buck. Sienna is always keen to do her bit and be involved, so I consciously passed her the stalking sticks to carry, and made her very much part of the team effort.
Stopping often, deliberately glassing the hedges and pointing out likely-looking areas, I made everything as interesting as possible – not that there was any need, going by the regular tugs on my jacket and the subsequent barrage of whispered questions fired at me. It’s worth noting that a suitable pair of quality binoculars are a good investment for encouraging a child’s interest in stalking.
It wasn’t long before we spotted a suitable cull buck and a mature doe feeding at one of the pheasant hoppers. Ghosting to the floor, I indicated a long belly crawl forward into some dead ground containing a pond where we would hopefully get into a suitable shooting position. The seven-year-old kept flat to the ground and belly crawled better than most clients I have guided. Her only black mark was when I stopped and carefully rose to a knee to glass the deer and make sure they were still where they should be. Sienna, frustrated by her lack of height, stood up behind me to employ her own binoculars. Glancing back to make sure she had kept up, I was horrified to see her standing in the open. A firm, corrective nudge and a glare got her to conform admirably after that.
Eventually we reached the pond and, after ensuring she had her ear protectors in place, I rose carefully on the shooting sticks and drew a bead on the buck’s vitals. The shot ran true, and after a short rush the beast collapsed dead. Giving him a few minutes to be absolutely sure he had expired, I answered the next set of questions from my charge. Explaining why he had run forward a few yards after a perfect heart shot, bullet expansion, the difference between shotgun and rifle cartridges, and why we had to wait for the confused doe to move away before we approached our quarry, took some time – but her queries eventually answered, it was time to carefully inspect the fallen beast.
Approaching from behind, I tested the buck’s eye response with the sticks to be absolutely sure he had left this world. I then let Sienna take it all in and examine him before I bled the beast and set about the gralloch. I could see her brain working overtime, and she soon came out with some interesting comments: “I kinda feel sorry for him, but I do understand why we shot him, and it was fun too.” That’ll do for me, I mused as I began the knife work.
The gralloch turned out to be an in-depth autopsy, with Sienna showing intense interest in the different organs and without showing any signs of distaste. On arrival home she was babbling away excitedly to the war office (the wife and nan respectively), reliving her first stalking experience scene by scene, after pointing out the blood on her wellies, which she considered as something of a badge of courage. The force is strong with this one, I thought, as I locked away the rifle.
If the interest is there, it just needs nurturing. Sienna has accompanied me many weekends since then, and I’m sure she will make a future stalker. If we want our sport to continue, it will be totally down to our efforts to educate and encourage the next generation. That’s a grave responsibility for each and every one of us. Live for today but never lose sight of tomorrow.