Chasse aux sangliers

Cute, aren’t they? Not so much when they take over your home, farm field or vacation spot.

Wild boars have become the bane of many regions and towns in France. Not only do they present a risk of road accidents but encroaching urbanization means they are now a common sight around people’s homes. And they are proliferating like never before.

Canada’s cities have their raccoons and, increasingly, bears. Australia has its marsupials. Skunks, possums, foxes…increasingly it seems that wild animals are finding their way into our cities and towns. Or is it that our towns are expanding into their habitats?

One man in France recently returned home to find his house occupied by a terrified sanglier and the hunters who had followed him into the hall to track him down. The homeowner got them to leave and called the police. The gendarmes came and were able to get the animal outside with tasers, where it was let go.

Hunters are not allowed to pursue their prey any closer than 150 metres from a home or residential area, at least in theory. But there are those who demand measures to stop the scourge of the sanglier in France.

Crops are devastated when troops of wild boars take over the fields. They are especially attracted to the increasingly prevalent corn fields, grown for animal feed and bio-fuel. They rip up the grass in public gardens and golf courses in search of insects. And they even visit beaches looking for naïve tourists to share their picnics.

This video news report (in French) profiles an invasion of wild boars in Germany a couple of years ago, but it depicts an all-too-common scene in France today.

Every year thousands of these animals are hunted, trapped and otherwise chased away from human habitations. It seems unfair. Weren’t they there first? Shouldn’t they have the right to root about in the wild, nest in the bush, live their lives?

The problem is that human activities are not compatible with wildlife. We like to encourage migrating birds, but wild boars are something else. They bring a risk of swine fever for one thing. And they are outright dangerous to people. Sangliers are known to charge fences, knock down doors, pedestrians and cyclists. They have a powerful head butt that can do a lot of damage.

And if you run into one on the road at night, it’s not sure who will sustain the worst damage.

Hunting season is open in France and soon there will be ‘chasse’ on the menu of local restaurants. I’m no fan of guns or game but at least it will help reduce the nuisance population of wild boars and not go to waste.

Do you have to deal with any animal pests?

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?

Gun shy

Reserve_de_chasseIt’s that time of year again: ‘La Chasse’ as it’s called around here. Hunting season. Leash your pets and beware of stray bullets if you go off the beaten path for a walk in the woods in France.

This time last year I posted about the perils of living in a culture of guns (which generated quite the lively debate in the comments!). I still believe that hunting is a better use of weapons than war or holdups, but still – Je me sens toute petite – I feel completely powerless in the presence of men with guns. Because hunting is, at least in these parts, an almost exclusively male pursuit.

It’s hard to argue with a centuries-old tradition that still puts food on the table. Le gibier (game) is considered a delicacy by many French people, and enjoyed as part of the autumnal menu. But every year there are accidents, some tragic. In my husband’s family, an uncle was killed some years ago by (un)friendly fire from one of his own hunting party in Normandy.

So, if you see signs like this one, beware. A hunting they will go, quite possibly just steps from where you’re walking the dog.

I must admit that while I do eat meat I am not a huge fan of le gibier, which is rather strong tasting. What about you? Are you game for game?

Men with guns

Educ'alcool 01I was out for a run one crisp fall morning when a loud crack pierced the air. I felt the hair stand up on my arms and immediately picked up the pace. Hunting season.

Say what you like about Americans and their far-west approach to gun control: while in the U.S. I have never actually seen anybody sporting a gun in public. In France, on the other hand, I regularly meet men with guns.

Each year in early September, you’ll see them strolling casually through the fields, by the edge of the woods or even along the road, not far from the neighbouring houses. Rifle slung over shoulder, sporting an orange day-glo vest or traditional camouflage gear. Most times they’re accompanied by a trusty hound or two, which somehow restores my confidence. Surely if they’re hunting with a dog, they’ll be careful where they aim?

As a woman alone on a country road, to encounter a man with a firearm is to know what it is to feel fear. Assuming he is not a rapist or a serial killer disguised as a hunter, just the idea of being so close to someone with the visible means to kill you is terrifying. “Bonjour,” I’ll say, pretending to act normal while preparing to do the 100-yard dash.

Then there is the risk of ‘la balle perdue’ – the stray bullet. Every year in the news you will hear of an accidental death, usually among a hunting party that has lost one of its own. Such accidents are generally put down to the inexperience of a neophyte hunter, or to alcohol. They do not seem to alarm anyone but me.

Serious outdoorsmen will defend the hunter as a nature lover, one who is respectful of the laws and understands the importance of not combining alcohol with la chasse. Still, most every village in France has a watering hole called ‘Bar aux Chasseurs’. The men (and indeed, the clientele in such places is almost uniquely masculine) are in there on Sunday mornings with their verre de blanc while most of us are still having our first coffee.

La chasse is dear to the hearts of the French. It’s part of a longstanding tradition of being close to the land, hunting and eating le gibier (game) when the season opens from September to January.

Far be it from me to argue with that, though a-hunting I will not go. I just run a little faster in hunting season. Along with the pheasants and hares and other small and large game. Unlike them, I can stick to the main roads to stay out of harm’s way.

Oddly, another place you often see men with guns is on trains, especially in Switzerland*. Soldiers in full army regalia will pass through the cars looking for a seat, service rifle in plain sight. Sometimes they’re very young and holding a large can of beer. This also makes me want to scream and jump off. Usually I discreetly change cars.

*It’s ironic that the peace-loving Swiss have a proportionately bigger army for their population than any other country and recently voted to maintain conscription – obligatory military service for adult men. Read more about the vote here.