Tuesday, December 7, 2010

La Chasse

Chiens de Chasse



Hunting in France is, at least in rural parts, an institution. I have been meaning to do a post about this since September, which was the official start of hunting season, or la chasse, here in France. Since the month of September, at least in the countryside, it has sounded as if rehersals were being held for WW3, and as a result, there has been a noticeable lack of birdsong. I've assumed all sensible or experienced birds fled at the sound of the first shot for somewhere safer like North Africa. Throughout these past fall and winter months I can honestly say that I've seen enough hunters, dogs and weaponry to wipe out the entire thrush and rabbit population of southern France.

I remember my first encounter with a red-blooded French hunter one early morning back in September. There is a small wooded area filled with trails, what most europeans would call a forest, between our house and the ocean where Rypien and I run every morning and walk every afternoon. We were about halfway through our usual morning run one sunny day when all of a sudden BANG! BANG! We both stopped dead in our tracks and stayed still for several seconds as it sounded like anything that moved would be at risk. We eventually decided to continued on, with infinite caution, and as we rounded the corner he appeared, the chasseur du sentier, or footpath hunter.

I would have assumed that any hunter worth his gun license would have moved well away from the friendly trails and into the tangled undergrowth deep in the forest or high up into the mountains. However, they hadn't gone up into the forest or the mountains; in fact, they had barely left the footpath! Do these stooges not want to get their boots dirty in a real forest? Or maybe they just like to sit around, smoke cigarettes and hope that birds will somehow fly into their buckshot.

For the most part, the chasseurs I've come across are dressed like commandos in full combat uniform with all the gear to match - guns, bullets, rifle slings, compasses and fearsome knives in case ammunition ran out and game had to be attacked with cold steel. They are equipped with everything a man might need for his confrontation with the untamed beasts of the forest footpaths except that indispensable accessory with four legs and a nose like radar, the hunting dog.

Each hunting dog, or chiens de chasse, seems to wear a thick collar with a small brass bell – the clochette – hanging from it. I've been told that this has a double purpose. It signals the dogs whereabouts so that the hunter can position himself for the game, but it also serves as the precaution for shooting at something in the bushes that sounded like a rabbit or boar and finding that you had shot your dog instead.

No responsible hunter, would ever shoot at something he couldn't see – but I have my doubts. A rustle in the bushes might be too much for an over eager hunter to resist, and the cause of the rustle might be human. In fact, it might be me. I've thought about wearing a bell, just to be on the safe side.

Apparently, they are usually after deer, game birds such as partridge or pheasant and sanglier (wild boar), not blonde girls from Canada with a cute dog. I should mention that I have never once laid eyes on any one of the above mentioned animals on any of my runs or walks.

The sangliers are a rather elusive animal, black and stout with whiskery faces and longer in the leg than the conventional pig. I love my rare glimpses of them, and wish the hunters would just leave them alone. Unfortunately, these poor creatures taste like venison (so I've been told) and are consequently chased from one end of France to the other. During my drive over to the Languedoc to start my wine course I saw one of these mysterious creatures running across a beautiful field, about two seconds later I saw a hunter with his gun aimed directly at it. Bang! I was mortified! The poor sanglier, he probably didn't stand much of a chance.