Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Glad to Be an American

I don't normally rip off other bloggers (especially professional ones), but sometimes, their posts are so good that I really think they need to be read by more people.

A good example is the post embedded below from the "Field Notes" blog at Field and Stream, which is in my Google Reader (and maybe should be in yours too):

Populist Poachers?

For years American hunters have held up Great Britain as an example of what our future might be if hunting traditions continue to die and our political power wanes. I've never really bought into that argument because of fundamental differences in the two nations' hunting traditions and wildlife management models, differences that can be summed up thusly: they have the King's deer, we have the people's deer. Class and title have for centuries shaped the English hunting tradition. And while it makes for a cracking good time if you're part of the landed gentry, it's not such a good way to perpetuate the sport when all those peasants you've been repressing for centuries suddenly have a vote and a grudge. Hunting? That's a cruel, antiquated upper-class tradition. Ban it.

But it seems that hunting is making something of a comeback in Merry Olde England. At least the kind of hunting that not that long ago could get your neck stretched if you were caught doing it.

From the story:

Once, the poacher was a man with big pockets in his raincoat sneaking on to an aristocrat's land to steal game for his family pot. Now he is likely to be part of a gang from town, in it for hard cash, rampaging through the countryside with guns, crossbows or snares.

Police in rural areas across Britain are reporting a dramatic increase in poaching, as the rise in food prices and the reality of recession increases the temptation to deal in stolen venison, salmon, or rarer meat and fish.

Organised and sometimes armed gangs of poachers are accused of behaving dangerously, intimidating residents, causing damage to crops or to gates and fences. Squads have also been out in the countryside "lamping", poachers using lights to transfix animals.

Here's the question that popped into my mind when I read this story: Is a poacher just a damn criminal wherever he happens to be or is there a certain level of poetic justice in the resurgence of poaching in Great Britain, sort of a populist backlash for not democratizing the sport as it was in the United States? Is it worse to steal game that belongs to a person or game that belongs to everyone? The stark contrast between those models was driven home to me this summer as I walked through the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace during a trip to England. Henry VIII was by all accounts a fanatical hunter, and as I walked through the palace I gazed in awe at the dozens of magnificent stags lining the walls. I thought to myself "I could hang with 'ol Henry, he was my kind of guy." Except of course, that he wasn't. He was part of the nobility, while I and my ancestors have always been thick-ankled dull-witted peasants. And had I been caught hunting one of those stags on the wall I would have been summarily executed.

As romantic and classy as the English hunting tradition is, seeing those ancient mounts made me glad I was an American. Our hunting traditions may be dying, but at least we have them to try and save.

Anyone interested in the history of hunting in the UK, and how it got variously entangled with the enclosure movement, population growth, Malthus, Darwin, the Kennel Club, animal right, Francis Galton, genetic defect, and the hunting ban should pick up a copy of American Working Terrier in which that story is told in Chapter I.

Chapter II is the American version of the story, which is both quite a bit different and very much the same!


Anonymous said...

The whole class issue is why poachers in England should NEVER be judged along with poachers in America or Africa. Too bad that even this division is changing for the worse--I rather enjoy(O.K. I LOVE) to read about the old-time poacher exploits in merry old Englande--I highly recommend Ian Niall's classic "Poacher's Handbook", which is guaranteed to make you want to spend the day in the field with some dogs--whether you are actually poaching or not! Great old woodcut illustrations in the copy I have. Also, "Tales Of The Old Poachers" and "More Tales Of The Old Poachers" are worth the purchase prices for the art work alone! An outrageous and audacious book on the subject in America is "Ragnar Benson's" "Survival Poaching"--a must-read for any outdoor enthusiast, whether or not you agree with the practices portrayed between the covers!...L.B.

PBurns said...

Agree on all points (I have all but the last book), but I would also toss in an audio collection which used to be sold in casette called "Tales of the Old Gamekeekpers" with the name Brian P. Martin attached to it which shows the pure game of it.


Anonymous said...

There is a "Tales Of The Old Gamekeepers" book by the same author(with the same type of artwork, too, I believe)as wrote the Poacher Tales books, but any copies I've seen for sale have been outrageously expensive(for me, anyway), but I hope to get it one day! Ragnar Benson's book(I think he wrote a sequel too--he used a nom-de-plume for obvious reasons) is amazing in what can go on under peoples' very noses, and they have NO idea....L.B.