Magazine article The Spectator

Arms and the Men

Magazine article The Spectator

Arms and the Men

Article excerpt

My mother-in-law learnt how to use a shotgun when she was a child in Peru although she was more likely to shoot peasants than pheasants. One terrible day, when she was only 13 years old, the field workers on the sugar estate got very drunk and went on the rampage. They murdered several people, including the farm manager, whom they castrated for good measure. The mob then descended on her father's house. Before he went out to face them, armed with a Cuban cigar, he handed her the gun she used to pot vultures and told her that if the field workers attacked she should shoot as many of them as she could. If they kept on coming, she was expected to turn the gun on her mother, then herself. Fortunately, the field workers were persuaded to turn home.

Unsurprisingly, my mother-in-law has not grown up particularly squeamish, but the same cannot be said for everyone who joins a British shooting party. Besides the guns, there are their spouses and would-be spouses, who come along to enjoy the social side of the day. Most enjoy the experience, but some find it rather traumatic. We are used to seeing our food wrapped in cellophane, or on a plate surrounded by vegetables. We are not often involved in the earliest stages of the process that gets it there.

Flighting duck can be particularly unsettling. Everyone likes ducks. We all remember the yellow plastic one we had in the bath as a baby and the real ones we fed in the park when we were that little bit older. Watching a duck being shot is not unlike watching someone murder a family pet.

Pheasants, on the other hand, are stupid and irritating-looking birds. The main thought that goes through my mind as one hurtles to the ground is, Thank God, I don't have to pluck it,' followed by, `Is that thing going to hit me?' Nevertheless, it is still upsetting if a bird is wounded rather than killed outright. A keeper told me that the most humane way to dispose of one is to put its head in your mouth and crack the skull with your teeth. …

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