April 15, 2014
My Shooting Passion
Truth be told, I will shoot anything. I don’t care if it runs, flies, crawls, slithers or hops. It doesn’t have to be food. It doesn’t need to be hard to track, the easier the better. It’s all fair game to me. Find, point, shoot. My weapon of choice for this relentless pursuit of the world’s wildlife is my well used and much loved Nikon D300 digital SLR camera and the worst it can do to a beast is make it sit up in fright or make a sudden exit when the big clunky mirror inside the camera makes that hideous sound as the shutter opens and closes. This is a real mechanical sound, unlike those daft tinny imitation shutter noises that today’s compact cameras make. I can’t turn it off although later models do have a quiet or “stealth” mode, ideal for avoiding alarming shy animals. Incidentally, the best compact cameras are now top class bits of kit and, even without all the tweaking and adjustments available on a top end SLR, they will give fantastic results especially in challenging light conditions – just don’t expect to be able to use the files for a major photo stock agency. Nikon have recently come under pressure from certain people, including Nikon–wielding wildlife photographers, because they have been promoting the use of their optics for the shooting and hunting fraternity. It’s a contentious area as Nikon have a foot in both camps.
I am just a digital trophy hunter. As for real bullet-in-the-lion’s-head sort of hunting, it’s just not for me. I just don’t get it. It’s not even as if I haven’t tried it – for a while in my youth I was a regular if not frequent (or even skilled) shootist. Some of my exploits in this field were not exactly in the Hemingway macho mode. Using my cousin’s dilapidated air rifle we annoyed rather than terrified the local squirrel population. It was more a lesson in ballistics than killing as the weakened power of the old gun meant the trajectory of the pellets traced a perfectly visible arc as they fell on, rather than penetrated, the fur.
My first experience of shooting came around the age of 12 when staying with relatives in the rabbit ridden Yorkshire Dales. As we set out in the evening, I wanted to carry the impressive looking 12 bore shotgun with the elaborate silver inlays but, quite rightly, I wasn’t allowed. The stalking was fun. It was the closest I was going to get to the Cowboy films I loved so much. Who was I kidding? The killing side of it worried me but in the event the sight of the first kill as the rabbit was knocked sideways and lay dead was lost in a haze when the blast of the gun anesthetized my brain. The smell of the powder and the proverbial silence followed. Worse was to come. Allowed to carry the catch home, I proudly swung the rabbits by the ears. My shooting mentors laughed as one of the rabbits emptied its bladder all over my rubber boots. They never told me I should carry them by the back legs or squeeze out the contents of the bladder first.
Back at the cottage I watched as the rabbits were skinned and cleaned. As the knife slid through the last one, we all froze a little as we realized that it was a pregnant doe carrying young. Even the experienced and supposedly hardened “hunters” were visibly affected. Next day, and every remaining day of the holiday we were out there again and I loved it but somehow the sight of those embryonic rabbits stayed in the back of my brain. In this hill country rabbits formed part of a normal diet. Hunting, shooting and fishing were just part of a traditional country life. I am not a vegetarian and so cannot justify a total anti-hunting stance. Nevertheless, today I would find it impossible to draw a bead on a live animal to kill for sport and, even less, justify the barbaric passion that some British have for allowing packs of hounds to chase down and tear apart a fox. I’ll stick with the Nikon thanks.
Image Credit: Thinkstock