Where do you draw the line when it comes to hunting?
Good people can, and will argue, as I have noted in the past.
That said, a Tweet from Tim Bonner at the Countryside Alliance took me to this video where chicks are cranked out on an assembly line for "the shoots" in the U.K.
This is a long way from the thick-tongued gamekeeper with his loyal dog and well-worn wellies, who patrols the hedges for poachers and puts out pheasant and partridge chicks he has carefully shielded from the fox with netting, and from the cold with a coal lamp.
What we see, above, is industrial poultry production -- a visual which strengthens the argument that this is not hunting in any way, shape, or form. This is a "chicken shoot" and indeed "a shoot" is exactly what it's called, as there really is no hunting to it.
As I noted a decade ago, in a post entitled "Hunting and Fishing Like Adults":
At some point, you are not "hunting," you are just killing chickens.
The issue here is not "animal rights." The issue is fakery and debasement of a true set of skills. Shooting brain-addled pen-raised birds under the umbrella of "hunting" debases the art of true hunting. When we snap-trap a few mice in the garage, we do not talk about a "holocaust of mice" -- to do so would be to cheapen the horror of the Holocaust while dramatically inflating the status of rodents and denigrating the lives of millions of once-vital human beings.
And so it is with guaranteed bird shoots and pay-pond fishing. Angling is an art, and hunting assumes an element of field craft not evident when birds are purchased as units like Chicken McNuggets.
Hunting is about the experience over the day, not the number of fish boated or birds bagged.
But, as noted earlier, not everything is quite so simple, is it?
What are we to make of the 3,000-acre scrub farm were 1,000 pheasants and quail at a time are released into the wild three times a year?
At this population density, and at this bird-release interval, there is a fair chance that more than a few birds will die of natural causes, and some birds may even die of old age.
On a “natural" farm that is “wild-stocked,” the land may be kept not only free of development, but also free of pesticides and herbicides. Brush rows and mottes may be planted and maintained, enhancing the survivability not only of planted game birds, but also of rabbits, deer, and native songbirds.
Surely, such a bird shoot farm is morally and environmentally superiour to a "Roundup Ready" corn field or cow pasture?
More birds are shot on such a farm than are being naturally replaced, of course, but if the bags are low and a "successful" hunt still requires both a skilled dog and a skilled shot, is it really so bad a thing?
Low-stock shoots of field-acclimated birds is a bit different from a driven bird shoot where 400 to 1,000 pheasants are being stocked per acre-year. It's not entirely natural, no, but it's not entirely awful either.
Of course, some may disagree.
Let us leave bird hunting, for a moment, and now think about "big game".
On one extreme we have lions and tigers and other large and rare exotic animals that are released into 10-acre enclosures to be shot by "sportsmen."
It's easy to be outraged by this kind of activity, and no one I know thinks this is actually hunting.
That said, it's worth noting that canned big game shoots of exotic animals are a natural outgrowth of the public's fascination with "zoo babies".
Zoos routinely over-breed animals because tiger cubs and baby zebras boost attendance and generate profits. Cute baby animals quickly grow up, however, and that's a problem. It turns out that the world has more caged lions, tigers and zebras than it knows what to do with.
What to do? Answer: canned shooting preserves in Texas. It's not an accident that at one point nine board members of the San Antonio Zoo owned hunt preserves.
Not all exotic animals used in canned hunts come from large zoos. Many come from small zoos and private breeders of large exotic animals. If you have a checkbook in this country, you can buy anything from a lion to a bear, and from a bobcat to a gemsbok.
And if you have ever bought a wildife magazine with amazing shots of baby cougars, lynx, red fox, black bear and wolf, you are a small part of the problem. Most of those pictures were taken in private "photography zoos," and at least some of those baby animals were later sold, as adults, to canned hunts.
So am I saying British bird shoots have devolved to canned hunting?
Well, look at the video, above, and tell me what you think. I know what I think, but that's hardly the point. What do I matter? You are the world's expert on your own opinion, and it counts.
All I am doing here is raising the issue, as it seems to me that we slip closer and closer to the edge and we should be aware that there is an edge.
At some point we are not hunting; we are engaged in a very expensive and pretentious chicken-shoot of factory-raised birds that is so far from where we started that it becomes a parody of what we admire. Are we there yet with the British bird shoots? With at least some of them?