Hunting is set to begin again in France, as the seasons typically lasts from September to February. But why is hunting so widespread, and what is hunted? We answer key questions.
Each of the 94 departmental hunting federations sets its own start and end dates for its season. Five million people have a hunting licence and one million of these are active hunters, along with 500,000 regular volunteers, who must have preliminary hunting permits.
They see the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs as the guardian of France’s natural spaces, and protector of the country’s third favourite pastime.
However, despite the popularity of hunting among many, there is also considerable opposition in the country, including from influential and highly vocal animal rights groups such as the Fondation Brigitte Bardot and ASPAS.
The various opposition groups are quick to seize on the failures of the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs, such as the number of hunting accidents, and have contributed to the stringent regulations that govern hunting in France (although some say that these still do not go far enough).
Yet, the number of fatal hunting accidents has decreased significantly in the past 20 years, from 29 in 2003, to eight in 2023.
Why is hunting so widespread in France?
The Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs considers hunters to be fundamental in maintaining the environmental balance in France.
Despite the reintroduction of wolves and bears, there are still few natural predators in France. This means that many consider culls to be necessary to prevent certain animals from spreading too widely. Wild boar is a typical example.
According to Raphaël Mathevet from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, the CNRS, the number of wild boar has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. There are more than a million present in France today.
Where in 1970, hunters killed 35,000 boar; by 2021, they killed 800,000. Today, wild boar are responsible for 30,000 car accidents each year and an estimated €35m of damage to farmland.
“The elimination of predators such as wolves and lynxes in the first half of the 20th century is only part of the reason [for wild boar’s increase],” Mr Mathevet told France 3. “Farmers also stopped using land that was less fertile or inaccessible, meaning it was reclaimed by forests, which are the hideouts and food sources for boars.”
Hunters are also tasked with eliminating many species that are not indigenous to France, to prevent them from spreading. This includes the coypu, or American mink.
French hunters are often of a different profile than hunters in the UK, as France is considered to be a predominantly rural country with vast natural spaces. Indeed, in the French national consciousness, the hunter is seen as something of an everyman.
Can hunters go on private land?
In theory, nobody has the right to hunt on land without the consent of the owner.
In practice, however, hunters generally presume that they can enter large plots of land, particularly in rural areas, where there is no fence or no line of sight to houses.
If you want to prevent hunters from crossing on your land, you should first call your mairie to ask whether the local rules about hunting are set by the local club or by an ACCA (association communale de chasse agréée).
Next, you make an official request to the club or ACCA for hunters not to come onto your land.
Then consult our guide on how to write a letter to the ACCA, to request that they avoid coming on your land.
When it comes to public land, the hunters themselves decide where and when to hunt based on a myriad of factors. The best way to find out if a hunt is on in a given area is to contact the local mairie in advance.
What animals do they hunt in France?
The animals vary from small furry creatures to larger game.
According to the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs, the list includes:
Badgers, weasels, martens, ferrets, deer (red, fallow, sika), harts (male red deer), Pyrenean chamois, racoon dogs, stoats, rabbits, hares, marmots, mouflons (wild sheep), skunks, coypus, muskrats, racoons, foxes, boars, mink and more.
What weapons can hunters use?
The use of firearms is subject to stringent regulations in France.
Anyone who wishes to hunt must first acquire a hunting licence, which is then to be renewed each year. The exam includes a theory test and a practical exam involving a simulated hunt.
Hunters must also have valid insurance, and are typically restricted to hunting in one region.
The firearm used must be a shoulder weapon greater than 80cm, with a barrel length between 45 and 60cm. The weapon can be either smoothbore or rifled, so this includes both rifles and shotguns.
The firing mechanism can be either a manual with a capacity of no more than 11 rounds (10 plus one in the chamber) or a fixed barrel semi-automatic of no more than 3 rounds (two with one in the chamber).
Hunting without a valid licence is punishable by up to two years of prison and a fine of €30,000 according to article 441-6 of the penal code. However, some departmental federations do authorise people to accompany hunters from the age of 15 on condition that they have made an official request and have passed the initial training.
When can they hunt?
During the hunting season from September to February, each hunting Federation will set its own hunting days along with days when hunting is not permitted.
Successive French governments have been under pressure from the animal rights lobby to ban hunting on Sundays, Wednesdays and during the school holidays. These efforts have so far made limited success.
In many regions, hunting is forbidden on Sunday afternoons in state forests, however a vote in the national assembly to make this rule national failed in March.
When hunts are underway, hunters are obliged to display a sign indicating Battue en cours, (‘hunt underway’) on any footpaths leading to the area. However, in practice this is not always done.
Hunters must also wear high visibility jackets.