The Guardian decides to explain deer stalking to its readers. It sounds sympathetic. It even manages to get some of it right. Real Tories don't need anyone to explain. They already know. They have been blooded unlike the Grauniad wallah. The Graun is going for it because it is part of the Simple life fantasy that the Lunatic Fringe enjoy. They want to be Locavores, which is one of the Environmental movement's ideas. Some background is at Tracking albeit with a military emphasis.
Who's Stalking Now?
Who's stalking now?
When the first deer appears, seemingly from nowhere, I swing the rifle round too quickly and it spots the movement, vanishing without a sound. We wait a few frozen minutes up in the high seat, until the stalker decides it isn't coming back, and whispers that we should hunt from the ground. Once I'm halfway down the ladder, the muntjac skitters past almost in mockery.
There are probably more deer living wild in the UK than ever. No one knows how many; they are secretive, wide-roaming animals, and populations fluctuate each year. But they breed quickly, lack predators apart from humans, and are superbly adapted to life in the British countryside. These islands' six free-living species total well over 1m animals, who thrive even though 350,000 are shot and 74,000 are involved in car accidents every year.
Anti-hunting, pro-animal charities and much of the general public question the ethics of stalking. "It's a bloodsport, a branch of the entertainment rather than the food industry," says Alistair Currie, policy adviser for Peta. "Many of the animals are not killed instantly, and the killing of individual animals by hunters leads to changes in the local deer population which lead to other stresses." What of farmers whose crops are damaged or destroyed by deer? "As ever with human dealings with animals," says Currie, "the solution is a lethal one. Fences keep deer out." (People involved in deer management claim that putting up costly fences and letting nature control deer numbers condemns many deer to starvation, and many more to acute hunger.) A spokeswoman from the League Against Cruel Sports tells me it's "crazy" that "untrained people are allowed to go out and shoot deer. At the absolute least, we think there should be a minimum competency of gun use before people are allowed to stalk them."
With Darren "Phiz" Phizacklea, a professional stalker, and Andy McLeish, executive chef at the Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant in Farnborough, Kent, I went to investigate. We visited an estate in southern England that didn't want to be named for fear of activists and poachers. Once we had a deer, the plan was to hang it, butcher it and cook it in the Chapter One kitchen.
Phiz won't let people stalk until they can hit three shots on a circular target, and then a "kill" shot on the paper silhouette of a deer at 100 yards. I'd never fired a rifle before, but guns are so accurate these days that I managed these immediately. You draw an imaginary line up the front leg and aim a little way above it. A shot will blast straight through the animal there – lung, heart – hit a deer in that spot and it might rear up or canter a few paces, but it's finished. You never shoot a wild deer in the head, which might rip off part of its jaw; without a trained dog to find it, it would be left to starve.
The need to ensure a clean kill was strictly enforced. Having a deer in your sights is not enough to take a shot. You always shoot broadside. Phiz's dog, a beautiful creature called Red, is trained to find and hold wounded deer: Phiz then catches up and makes sure the second shot is true. I ask how many times a year Red gets to to do his party trick. "Two or three." And how many deer do you shoot every year? "A few hundred."
Andy slinks off on his own while Phiz and I creep through the forest, me in borrowed green overalls and the wrong hat. Odd noises break the silence: a squirrel scuttling up a tree, a crow's caw, the crack of a twig. I stand close behind Phiz, the loaded rifle swinging from his shoulder, its barrel pointing towards my face. Then he stops.
Two fallow deer stand above us up a hill. It's too far to shoot, so we stalk them, keeping as low as possible, using trees and ferns for cover. At last we're close enough. Roots web the ground, and there's no flat earth on which to rest the gun. I find them in the sights with my arms beginning to ache. One deer is standing in front of the other. I can't take a shot: a bullet could go through the first one and wound the one behind. The deer can smell us: they stay frozen, reading the forest. The one in front takes a wary step forward. Phiz whispers: "One more step and you can fire." I flick the safety catch off, close my finger round the trigger. Through the sight I make out the pelt of the creature's fur, the glint of its right eye. I wait, barely breathing, for it to take the final step. Finally, it turns round and lumbers calmly back into the forest. My hands are shaking when I stand up.
We jump at the sound of a shot. Andy is upset: he took a shot, but can't find the kill. There's no fur on the ground, no blood. In darkness now, Phiz and I trudge back to the Land Rover to pick up Red. The dog finds a scent immediately and leads us to the deer just 50 feet away, hidden in bushes. A fallow buck, a yearling, shot through the heart. The fur is spikier than you expect. As we drag the warm dead weight to the boot, Red laps at the dripping wound in a kind of ecstasy.
You have to gralloch deer quickly – within half an hour in summer – or the beast will start to stink [ That is tosh - Editor ]. Back at the euphemistically named larder, a tiled room with a drain in the middle, Andy removes the feet, hangs the deer upside down, cuts away pizzle and rectum with a mechanical frankness. The blind eyes stare as he slices the throat, and the head jerks repeatedly, as if in protest, as blood and viscera splatter on to the floor. Phiz checks the lymph nodes and liver for signs of disease. Eventually the windpipe peels from the neck like a garden hose, then Andy cuts the head from the body, still attached to guts and pluck. The smell is like dank vegetation; rank apples, ferrous and unforgettable. [ It is quite nice in fact - Editor ]
I visit Chapter One a week later for the butchery and cooking. Andy shows me how to place little nicks round tendons, cut round bones, yank away the skin with its strange ripping sound. One shoulder, matted with hair and dried, bloody grass, is mangled and useless, but the two legs, saddle and the other shoulder will make good cooking. Andy joints the animal, then separates each muscle from the leg, removing the sinewy silverskin that lies between them with a butcher's skill. His resulting recipes – bresaola and venison wellington with chestnuts and sprouts – are here.
Stephen Pinker, in his fascinating new book The Better Angels of Our Nature notes that while killing animals for meat is "part of the human condition", hunting is declining in popularity. The number of US households that hunt dropped from 30% to 20% between 1975 and 2005, while money spent on hunting fell by 15% (rising by the same amount for wildlife watching). Pinker see this as part of an ongoing trend against cruelty and sadism in the human species.
"It remains to be seen," he adds, "whether the decline [in hunting] will be reversed by the locavore craze, in which young urban professionals have taken up hunting to reduce their food miles and harvest their own free-range, grass-fed, sustainable, humanely slaughtered meat." The tone may be ironic, but he's right. That deer, free to forage for its food and live wild, enjoyed a better existence than a farmed chicken or pig. Its end was swift. And the desire to kill an animal for meat is not of itself sadistic: by necessity it implies a starker appreciation of the origin of food.
But if there is something bloodthirsty in stalking, insofar as I – with zero kills to my name – experienced it, it is not the infliction of suffering but the willingness to kill a sentient creature for the satisfaction of finding one's own food. To many meat-eaters, that pleasure may be curious and conflicted, but it is not cruel.
The deer population is huge and to a large extent parasitic. They go to our crops. So they live round us, near us.
A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. The locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned as interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness became more prevalent.
The word "locavore" was the word of the year for 2007 in the Oxford American Dictionary. This word was the creation of Jessica Prentice of the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of World Environment Day, 2005. It is usually rendered "localvore" by some, depending on regional differences.
The food may be grown in home gardens or grown by local commercial groups interested in keeping the environment as clean as possible and selling food close to where it is grown. One often cited, but not universal, definition of "local" food is food grown within 100 miles of its point of purchase or consumption.
Farmers' markets play a role in efforts to eat what is local. Preserving food for those seasons when it is not available fresh from a local source is one approach some locavores include in their strategies. Living in a mild climate can make eating locally grown products very different from living where the winter is severe or where no rain falls during certain parts of the year. Those in the movement generally seek to keep use of fossil fuels to a minimum, thereby releasing less carbon dioxide into the air and preventing greater global warming. Keeping energy use down and using food grown in heated greenhouses locally would be in conflict with each other, so there are decisions to be made by those seeking to follow this lifestyle. Many approaches can be developed, and they vary by locale. Such foods as spices, chocolate, or coffee pose a challenge for some, so there are a variety of ways of adhering to the locavore ethic.
A related movement is the 'underground supper club' phenomenon, in which organizers use sustainable ingredients and use a Website to inform a waiting list of those who donate a given sum to pay for the food used.
It is fun perhaps, an entertainment. Eating local meat for most people means rabbit at best. Gutting them is a messy, smelly business.
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Updated on 10/12/2012 16:39