Shooting in Scotland with Keith Calder

The leaves are turning. The sun is losing its warmth. And the mozzies have gone to bed. I love this time of year. I’m a huge fan of autumnal colours and few things can better a cold, crisp, sunny day. Invigorating. For many, this will be a time when they turn to their books. Long evenings in front of a fire paging through their latest adventure. I read year round. Voraciously. I’m currently immersed in Gerald Hammond’s Keith Calder series. On Book 12, I’m only about half-way through. The characters have become very real and though a little dated (the first published in 1979 and the last in 1997) so much of what he has Keith say is relevant today. Apart from learning way more than I’ll ever need to know about guns, I’m fascinated by the debate that takes place between shooters and conservationists. This conversation was between Calder and his mate trying to explain their point of view to a non-shooting solicitor friend when he suggested that banning shooting would be doing birds a favour.

“‘Of course not,’ Keith said. ‘The shooting man has more incentive for positive action than anybody else. He needs a rich wildlife scene.’
‘He attends to the habitat,’ Winter said, ‘and feeds the woods when the feeding’s scarce.’
‘And keeps the predators in check,’ said the general. ‘And poachers,’

mmmm – compare the idea of pheasants and the like being fed and watered before being shot to the life of a battery chicken. And what about the hunting vs building debate?

“Keith said. ‘Try to understand. The ecology of this country descends from a thousand years of the interaction between farming and hunting. Some species may have been hunted out, but very few. Far more have died out because their habitat changed.Others have been imported for their sporting potential, and survive because they suit the new conditions and because they are cossetted.

And how do commercial shoots help?

That cossetting – the feeding, the preserving of cover – spins off into the rest of wildlife. A lot of responsible naturalists know that, but this new breed, they have a dreamy vision of going back to an idyllic balance of nature –’ ‘Wi’ sabre-toothed tigers and hairy elephants,’ Winter put in contemptuously. ‘– but, in fact, if the economic pressure from shooting stopped, the habitat would suffer as the farmers started cropping the marginal corners of the land. Feeding would stop. So would the harvesting of surplus wildlife. A hell of a lot would starve to death in a bad winter. But they don’t want to know about that.’

‘The pheasant would virtually die out in a few years,’ the general said. ‘The partridge might last a bittie longer,’ Winter said. ‘But the crows’d begin to dominate the landscape, an’ the songbird’d tak’ a beating. D’ye ken, I’ve seen a magpie tak’ eight fledglings in a day, from other birds’ nests, to feed its own. He took nothing the next day, because I shot the bugger. But who’d dae that if the land wasna’ keepered?’ He glared at Mr Enterkin. ‘I only asked,’ the solicitor said plaintively. ‘There’s no need to read me a lecture.’ ‘There’s every need,’ Keith said. ‘Pigeon and rabbit would have to be poisoned, or subjected to germ-warfare. Do you think they’d like that?’” (from “Fair Game (Keith Calder Book 4)” by Gerald Hammond)

A report on grouse shooting in Scotland published in 2019 makes interesting reading. Raptors are not included in Hammond’s conversation but they are being knocked off at an alarming rate to prevent them for killing grouse.

It’s a nuanced debate with both sides equally committed to their beliefs. I see benefits of responsible keepering but what of shooting rabbits? With a sizeable legacy at stake if Ms Wyper can’t get her head around shooting, skinning, and curing enough pelts to make herself a coat, Calder tries to show her the logic of his reasoning.

“‘Rabbits have to be controlled. Working here, you must have seen how much damage they can do. If you were a rabbit, would you rather be controlled by being snared, or gassed, or subjected to myxomatosis, or chased out of your burrow by a ferret? Wouldn’t you rather be shot?’

‘But it’s a sport!’

‘It wouldn’t be a sport if you didn’t enjoy it. There’s an old story about a couple being married on a Saturday. The bridegroom explained to the minister that they wouldn’t be reaching their honeymoon hotel until after midnight. Would they be forgiven, he asked, if they consummated their marriage on the Lord’s Day? The minister thought it over and said, “It’ll be all right as long as you don’t enjoy it!”’” (from “Fair Game (Keith Calder Book 4)” by Gerald Hammond)

Why hasn’t anyone made these books into a TV series?

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