Shoot to kill? Nothing sporting about such rules of engagement
TIPPING POINT: Perusing the shelves in a newsagent’s recently, it dawned that there were a good half-dozen magazines on offer about shooting. And not clay pigeon stuff either. No, staring out from the massed titles were pictures of Springer Spaniels gazing adoringly at their armed owners, tongues lolling stupidly, or jaws clamped firmly around dead birds. And if it wasn’t dogs, it was guns.
Tantalising headlines about what calibre of ammunition best takes down a pigeon mixed with competitions for exotic weekend getaways to Scotland. There were strident opinion pieces about bores. And everything was glossy. Presentationwise, they fitted in perfectly. The headlines could have been about what your rifle really wants – but isn’t telling you; or 10 tips to becoming a better shot; maybe even how to hit that elusive bullseye.
But it was all on the sports shelves, which provokes an obvious question about whether shooting is or is not a sport. Not target shooting – that’s in the Olympics. The competitors get grants. And if golf qualifies as an Olympic sport, then why not potting a piece of plastic? No, I’m talking about battalions of Barbour-bods blasting at birds, deer, foxes, even stuff constituted as vermin. Does that constitute sport?
Clearly, a query about the demarcation of newsagent shelf space isn’t going to keep anyone up nights. But still, it is curious. The magazines have no doubt. Shooting is a field sport, shooting game is a countryside sport. One contributor referred to himself frequently as a sportsman. And I guess if firing a dart at a board qualifies as an athletic pursuit, then it’s hard to quibble about firing a bullet.
Apparently shooting has become something of a zeitgeist activity in Ireland right now. There are reportedly almost 900 gun clubs in the country with a membership of nearly 23,000.
Apart from that, streams of tourists come to Ireland to join shooting parties at exclusive estates, spending copiously in the process; it’s worth millions. There are parts of the country where the pervasive echo of damp penury is interrupted only by the sound of gunshots.
But if there is one economic success story its propagators like to keep under the radar, it’s shooting. Because if there’s one thing huntin’ and shootin’ types do not like, it is sneery meeja yobbos filling space at their expense. And there is a stereotype about those who hunt animals that’s easy to draw.
It’s just a bit too simple though, a bit like blasting a bullock with a howitzer from two yards away. Anyone prepared to dress up like an 18th century squire and advertise how wannabe they really are by chasing a howling pack of dogs on horseback is really ripping the pee out of themselves before they rip anything else. But with shooting, the dressing up is relatively understated, much less important than equipment.