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Food From the Fields, Not the Aisles.

Hunting is without doubt, an ancient and natural practice. In fact it is more than that. It is most definitely an art.

What one could term as the 'usual' or 'mainstream' Joe Blogs does not have to creep along hedgerows, crouch in a hide, nor brave the elements in order to procure the meat he enjoys each day. This fact could be seen as a measure of our species incredible intelligence and ability to mould our world around us. It could also be seen in a light of great sadness when one considers the wonders missed by so many and the price paid for such convenience, the true costs. I'm not necessarily talking about monetary cost. The ramifications of pumping broiler house chickens, among other livestock, full of chemical cocktails on our and their health and well being. Of the human cost in the drudgery and misery to be found in the production lines and slaughterhouses in not so far off countries. The paradoxical public opinion that hunting is cruel and bad and the lack of education such a view denotes.
My daughter has been schooled far beyond the standards of the state by the contents of my game bag. Her knowledge of their anatomy increased by her curious supervision of my butchery. An education once common place and widespread in Britain only a couple of decades or so ago, now noticeably absent.
Thankfully, I believe this is changing.

It is a delight to see more butchers reappearing on the high street stocking game and produce from local farms. Their successes founded on the superior quality of their stock. This quality, I believe, goes hand in hand with quality of life of the animals.

A hunter of any worth will always strive to dispatch his prey swiftly. The quarry will be going about its normal life, in its natural environment. John Lewis Stempel in his fascinating book 'The Wild Life' observed that the meat of rabbits caught in a net, and who struggled before their demise, tasted “metallic” due to the stress and fear. He never used nets again. Like Mr Lewis Stempel, as a rule, I eat what I kill. I also do my utmost to harvest as much of the animal as my skill and knowledge will allow. This means salting, brain tanning and smoking the hides.

The hunter inevitably gains intimate knowledge of his hunting grounds. What species are present. Animal, vegetable and mineral. What time of year they can be found. Their habits. He will also be one of the first to detect when change takes place. Not just “Oh look the leaves on the trees have turned brown”, which as ashamed as I am to admit it, used to be about as far as my seasonal awareness would extend.
He will also be one of his environments most avid guardians.

Humans are not as far removed from nature as many appear to think. It is my opinion that the longer society continues in this dangerous delusion the higher the price will be when reality finally shakes us out of it. So strong was my conviction on this (among other things) that I and my little family moved out of our rented house and into a caravan we bought for £150. It is now sited on a permitted site of disused parish council common land, once used for grazing but now a young woodland. This woodland and the surrounding countryside provides much of our basic household needs. Not just food.

In keeping my family well fed and ensuring we aren't ensnared by the corporate food outlets, there is a key rule to abide by. Take that which is abundant. Recently this has meant a few nights in a row of squirrel for dinner after a particularly successful outing. Squirrel is most certainly edible but it probably won't find itself served on the tables of Buckingham Palace. These animals, once butchered, resemble miniature rabbits and yet do not have a strong taste making them palatable to the majority. So why not do your local tree population a favour and hunt a few?
Luckily squirrels are also not particularly difficult to hunt, possibly due to overconfidence based on their prevalence. In my experience this can also be true of other species.

This nation is blessed with a myriad of abundant natural resources. A miracle when you consider our position on the map. Countries on our latitude generally have far more extreme climates and far less diversity. In the past it has been this blessing that was the motivation for this country's defence and its invasion. Yet , on this rock in the sea with its fertile land I hear of people starving and suffering from malnutrition and I cannot help but ask myself why?
During the Second World War there was a drive to achieve 'National Food Security'. Allotments and the 'Dig for Victory' campaign made a concerted effort to feed the population. What has happened recently is quite the opposite. Our island's ability to feed itself is not a government priority. Our venison comes from New Zealand whilst newspapers report the issues raised by an exploding and encroaching deer population. When the Icelandic volcano sent ash into our airspace, I was astounded when it came to light that food imports were interrupted enough that supermarkets struggled to resupply and restock their shelves. That is not a level of reliance I am happy with.

It would be very easy to simply throw up your arms and exclaim “I live in London! I can't just grab a shotgun and shoot my food!” Well, I concede that popping off pigeons in the local park might result in harassment... And no, not everyone can just walk out of their door and catch a meal and that's okay. I'm not saying everyone should, nor that everyone has to. Rather, I ask that those that do are supported ,be it through buying local game from the butchers. I also ask that those who have the ability to go hunting, give it serious thought. There are many worthy organisations and clubs such as BASC. There are also many farmers who are losing large quantities of crops to rabbits and other pests found on the general license. If you need further convincing, ask your wife if she'd like you to be stronger ,fitter and healthier from regular exercise and I tell you what boys, it definitely scores 'caveman' points to bring something home for the pot!

My advice to those wishing to get out there would be to find someone who already hunts. If they trust you to go out with them, observe them. Are they miserable? Is it a chore and a 'grind'?
If you're stuck for a method, choose one that speaks to you. Perhaps you have a dog, if so, train him up, make him earn his keep! I'm sure he won't say no!

Perhaps there are those reading this who already hunt but don't as yet eat their catch. Perhaps cannot eat all of their catch! To the former, I would request that you reconsider. To the latter, why not chuck an ad on freecycle/ take them to the local homeless shelter/even gift them to your local pub chef (get a few pints in credit?)

I'm no expert on hunting, but I do have a passion for it. To those hunters reading this, I'll see you in the fields.

Mike Jones.