Chasse à la chasse

Hunting season has been open in France since September. On Sunday, a cyclist was killed not far from where we live in the Haute Savoie town of Montriond, near Morzine. It’s an area we know well enough. My husband’s cousin runs a hotel there and we often go skiing or to stroll around the lake.

The cyclist was a British man in his 30s, and in a stranger-than-fiction turn of fate, may not be mourned by all who knew him. But that doesn’t change the fact that each year, lives are lost to la chasse in France. And not just those of the prey.

It seems the hunter, a young fellow just starting out, mistook the cyclist for the target. They were hunting wild boar and so the bullets are big enough to kill instantly. Often, when it’s small game or birds, the rifles use buckshot. The fellow who fired the fatal shot has been hospitalized in a state of shock but an investigation is ongoing.

Sadly, it happens more often than you might think. One of my husband’s uncles was killed by a member of his own hunting party years ago in Normandy. Recently, though, the number of deaths from hunting accidents has been dropping each year. So does the popularity of the sport, which, along with fishing, remains one of the most popular in France.

Hunters are generally thought to be good citizens, who are careful and follow the rules. They must have a license to hunt. They are respectful of nature and only hunt the species and numbers allowed. Still, as I’ve posted before, running across men with guns while out for a walk on a Sunday is far from reassuring.

It’s not always very obvious that you are near a ‘réserve de chasse’ (hunting ground). There will be the odd sign but they are not necessarily visible if you come through a forest path. Sometimes main paths and small roads will be blocked off with a sign that says ‘Attention, tir à balles’, indicating that a big game shoot is happening.

I am not a fan of blood sport, but I do support the right of those who practice la chasse to pursue their hobby within the framework of the law. Should that law allow hunting to go on just steps from where people hike, ride bikes, walk their dogs? On a Sunday? Not in this blogger’s opinion. One very simple change that could save lives would be to set one day of the weekend for hunting and leave the other for the rest of us. Even better, allow hunting only during the week when most people are at work.

In the meantime, you are strongly advised to wear brightly coloured clothing, make a lot of noise and strap a bell on your dog when out walking during hunting season in France.

I’m game for that. And you?


  1. Colin Bisset · October 18, 2018

    I zero’d in on that story, too (although didn’t know that quite extraordinary follow-up – novelish or what!), as we’ve only just come back from a lovely time walking in the Alps. Happily bumbling along… and then you hear a shot and then another a bit closer. It’s always chilling and, as you say, not always obvious until it’s too late. Hence bright clothing and a tendency not to skulk in the bushes(!). And I think no shooting on Sundays is a very good idea (and probably easy to convince the religious, too).

    • MELewis · October 18, 2018

      I’ve been waiting to read your latest French adventures! Thankfully it sounds like you took the right approach. I’m all for the no-Sunday rule but I fear the hunting lobby will adamantly defend their ‘traditional’ rights. Just wonder how it’s handled in Australia? Presumably you have a big enough country that it’s not an issue…

      • Colin Bisset · October 18, 2018

        Exactly that – shooting happens far from where you’d want to walk, thankfully.

  2. davidprosser · October 18, 2018

    Having the hunting during the week when people are at work will only work if you’re in an area that visitors don’t frequent.. The only way to avoid problems is to have shooting on private estates where visitors cannot go or allow them to target shoot only and leave the wildlife intact.
    Huge Hugs Mel

    • MELewis · October 18, 2018

      David, I agree 100% that the two activities should be well separated but fear it will never fly in France. I get the feeling the hunt is traditionally more the wealthy man’s sport in the UK whereas in France it is considered ‘populaire’ and a right that even the modest farmer can enjoy. The problem is encroaching urban areas everywhere and the formerly remote woods are now filled with people enjoying the outdoors. Another example of where huge reform is needed but no politician will touch it. 😫 xo

  3. Yeah, Another Blogger · October 18, 2018

    Hello. I’ve looked at many of your stories, but haven’t commented in a good while.
    Man and guns — often a huge problem.

    See you.
    Neil S.

    • MELewis · October 18, 2018

      Thanks for checking in, Neil! It is a big problem but one I fear will not be solved any time soon. Better to at least be aware of the risk…

  4. Heide · October 18, 2018

    What a strange, awful story that is about the bicyclist who got shot. It seems there’s a similar incident at least once a year here in Minnesota, where the fall deer hunt is a generations-old ritual. But of all the possible solutions I’ve pondered (wearing bright orange, limiting the hunt to sparsely inhabited areas, allowing only bowhunting, etc.), it seems the most logical place to start is with the person who pulls the trigger. Perhaps it needs to be stressed more when the licenses are issued, especially to novice hunters: If you don’t have a clear line of sight and can’t positively identify your target, don’t shoot. Of course, that doesn’t address the bullets that travel farther than the eye can see … sigh.

    • MELewis · October 19, 2018

      Isn’t is awful? Who would have imagined that he was accused of raping his sister and reviled by his own mother? I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the follow-up pieces to the original story, which struck me as a horrible injustice of fate. Wrong time, wrong place… At the same time, I believe there is a code like you describe of eye contact before you shoot. But each year we here stories of someone who was nervous and pulled the trigger too soon, or the ‘histoire de la balle perdue’ that struck someone other than its intended target. *Sigh* indeed! 😡

  5. weggieboy · October 19, 2018

    I used to bird in places where habitat also supported game animals, then noticed a deer crossing sign shot full of holes. If they can’t tell the difference between hunting and shooting a sign on a major highway…! Well, I made a point of observing hunting seasons by staying out of the field.

    There was an instance in my state of a fellow following his father in a second car who was accidentally shot by someone who never was found. When the father noticed his son’s car wasn’t behind him, he turned around and drove till he found his son dead at the steering wheel of his car, a bloody wound to his neck.

    • MELewis · October 22, 2018

      How awful! As you say, if they even miss road signs… On a lighter note, I find it interesting that you share a passion along with your boys — birds! 😀

      • weggieboy · October 22, 2018

        The birds came first. Till 2009, when I adopted my first two cats , I was more a dog person, but liked cats in the abstract. That year I learned I really like cats, too!

  6. Garfield Hug · October 19, 2018

    How sad to be mistaken as a target during hunting season. I thought they would zone hunting grounds and cyclists or pedestrians be kept out. Sad when such needless accidents happen. You and your family must steer clear away from those areas

    • MELewis · October 22, 2018

      I would have thought that, too…until moving to France. You can be just walking down a road not far from a town centre and see a hunter a few steps away with a gun. It is incredibly unnerving. As for steering clear, I do my best but cannot convince the rest of the family to stay off the hiking trails! 😢

      • Garfield Hug · October 22, 2018

        Stay safe and I hope your family will share your same thinking of staying away from hunting grounds and fringe sites.

  7. francetaste · October 24, 2018

    Living out in France profonde, I routinely am awakened by gunshots. The hunters come very close to houses, too. We have a big wall, but some neighbors have property that extends to the garrigue, and the hunters (and their dogs) come right into their yards–next to the swimming pool and the childrens’ swingset! When the neighbors tell the hunters to go away, they are told they have the right to be there because the neighbors are “foreigners”–one family is from Lille and the other from Tarbes (though anybody with fewer than three generations in the village itself–being from the village 1km away doesn’t count–is considered a “foreigner.”)
    I don’t have a good impression of them at all–a bunch of guys who gather for an alcoholic breakfast before going out and shooting guns, and who claim the right to follow a sanglier wherever it might run, including private yards (and I don’t think the boar actually was in the yard, either). I’ve been told not to even drive down certain roads, especially on weekend mornings, because you never know where a stray bullet might fly.
    Did you see the politician who suggested banning biking during hunting season?

    • MELewis · October 24, 2018

      I did see that. Hub’s cousin, a hunter, shared it. I did not enter into the fray — it seems to be a useless pursuit. But I thought: yes, and let’s ban people out jogging, walking their dogs and why not children playing? All so a ‘tradition’ that is outmoded and dangerous is able to be continued by a bunch of — dare I say it — rednecks. But hey, what would I know? A mere foreigner. 😛

    • MELewis · October 24, 2018

      Forgot to add: how awful to live with the threat right in your backyard…you and your neighbours must have nerves of steel or perhaps PTSD?

  8. nessafrance · October 27, 2018

    When we first moved here 21 years ago, you took your life in your hands walking in the woods at the weekend. Once, I was working in our small piece of woodland. On the other side of the thicket, which I had left intact as a refuge for birds and animals, I heard voices. “There’s something in there!” said an excited French voice. “Yes, it’s me!” I shouted quickly, in case they loosed off a few rounds in my direction. Nowadays, you see fewer hunters around here, but I am always careful.

    BTW, I think “réserve de chasse” is actually a zone where hunting is temporarily designated as prohibited. “Une réserve de chasse est une zone où, dans l’intérêt de la conservation générale du gibier et de la faune, la chasse est interdite.” The area around us benefited in this way for several blissful years.

    • MELewis · October 31, 2018

      Thanks for sharing that tip about ‘réserve de chasse’. Although it goes against my natural (often wrong) understanding, it seems you’re right! However, the article I read on Wikipedia also mentions that sometimes it can actually mean just the opposite.🤔 Confusing to say the least! I’m glad you’ve been able to benefit lately from a bit more peace and quiet enjoyment of nature.

      • nessafrance · October 31, 2018

        Like you, I once thought it meant “reserved FOR la chasse”, until they started putting up notices around here and explained what it meant. It is confusing…

  9. fatdormouse · November 10, 2018

    I’m not sure I agree with your statement about “Hunters are generally thought to be good citizens, who are careful and follow the rules. ” – the amount of alcohol that appears to be consumed before they depart on their hunting outings makes me fear for anyone or anything that gets in their way!

    • MELewis · November 11, 2018

      I’m just repeating a sentiment I’ve often heard expressed by members of my French entourage who know hunters. Clearly there are still far too many toxic combinations of hunting and alcohol!

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