Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 22 May 2016
Having my coffee this morning in the kitchen, I heard the raucous squawk of a male Mallard chasing a female over the rooftops, and was reminded that ducks do not so much breed, as get raped, and violently raped at that. It is not a pretty business, with the male strangling the female from behind at the same time as half drowning her as he gets his wicked way.
When it's all over, he leaves her to fend for herself and the 6 or 10 chicks which may get picked-off by gulls, falcons, magpies and - from beneath - pike. I saw a little train of ducklings paddling along behind a mother once, then there was a quick splash as the tail-ender was swiftly dragged underneath by an unseen pike. The mother turned around to see what the noise was, but noticed nothing untoward, so carried on as normal. Ducks can't count.
The thing about nature is that this is just life as it has been since creation - red in tooth and claw, etc. - but for humans it is 'sport'. Not for me it isn't.
A few years ago, the E.U. banned the use of lead shot anywhere near water to protect water-fowl from lead-poisoning. Well, the quickest way of dying from lead poisoning is to be shot, I would have thought, and the pellets or bullets don't even have to be made of lead. I am not aware of any bird which has been observed to show any of the signature effects of lead poisoning, such as talking to itself, singing in public or any of the irrational things which would get any human sectioned very quickly. Actually - now I remember - I have, but I'm not sure it could be blamed on lead. I'm not even sure they live long enough to show the effects, whether they are shot or not.
Nevertheless, wild-fowlers - or indeed anyone who shoots clays near a puddle - has to use extremely expensive bismuth cartridges, or barrel-destroying steel shot. Those with antique, Damascus barrelled, £5000 guns would not dream of using steel.
For a couple of years, shooters over water always took one or two bismuth cartridges with them in case there was a spot-check by an environmental official, but carried on peppering the skies and waterways with old-fashioned lead. They sold their bag to a game-dealer butcher for an extremely small amount of money - it was a spin-off - and the dealer would dress it and pass it on to the public for a small profit.
The environmental officials began to notice that lead shot continued to pile up on the sides of their plates in restaurants, so began to make spot-checks on the butchers, imposing hefty fines if they found lead in a water bird. Up went the price of duck, but what is a duck's life worth? As much as you are prepared to pay for it in a restaurant. It is delicious.
A keen shooter friend of mine was invited to a duck-shoot a few years ago, along with a few other guns who were friends.
They gathered on the farm, having paid quite a lot of money for the experience, and were guided to a small pond on which about 50 mallards were swimming round and round, like the plastic ones at a fairground. They showed no signs of fear at the sight of a load of humans walking up to them with shotguns, so the farmer had to beat the water with a stick to get them to - reluctantly - take to the air.
When they did begin to fly, it was at very low level, round and round, trying to get back on the water to continue to paddle around in peace.
A few people took a few shots at them, but most of the group declined to shoot in disgust at the situation. It even made these sportsmen sick at the idea that this could be considered sport at all.
Ducks are very difficult creatures to kill with a gun. They have very thick skins (like I say, delicious) which are thickly covered in water-proof feathers, so you have to use a high-charge cartridge filled with large calibre pellets, otherwise the shot just bounces off. Steel shot is a lot lighter than lead or legal bismuth, making them even harder to kill.
I think that if you are a wild-fowler, you should get up before dawn and become freezing and soaked to the skin as you crawl through the marshes toward a flock to take one shot, which may or may not bring down a bird, now that punt-guns are illegal.