Nigel Henzell-Thomas has lived in France for 15 years and brought his guns with him from the UK under a European Firearms Pass. However, to hunt regularly (rather on various day passes), his only option was to pass the Practical and Theoretical exams for a French Permis de Chasse.
He took the test in Charente this year at the age of 70 and reveals his diary of what it involves – a heavy emphasis on security – and emphasises that hunting in France is for young and old, whether rich or poor.
First mandatory training session. Instruction on the safe use of a carabine .270 (rifle) and two 12g fusils (shotguns) - a semi-automatic and an over-and-under. We were a dissimilar group of young and old with much instructor banter about the “Englishman” who, while he understood French pretty well, his spoken French could be improved.
First - the carabine instruction, where the female instructor was very competent although with a formality that only the French can muster. Secure handling overrides any other consideration - unless you are preparing to shoot, a finger on the trigger guard (worse on the trigger) is unacceptable and warrants a formal warning during the Practical.
Do it again, you are homeward bound.
I was over-confident and it was suggested that I should relax and, preferably, not drop the cartridges. I improved on my second attempt.
Second - the dismantling and reassembling of an over-and-under 12g. Here the instructor obviously had relatives who had been killed at Agincourt and I was given a hard time.
Third - the safe manipulation of the over-and-under 12g when storing it in a case in a car. Simple, yes? No, not that simple. Check barrels clear within secure area; lower fusil; look left/ right to reconfirm area secure; place left hand on top of fusil; place on right shoulder; move to vehicle turning away from the instructor as you do so; open boot; return to secure area; fusil off shoulder; close; butt to hip; remove forearm - and so it went on. It is essential that you master these robotic motions. Not to do so means point deductions in your exam.
Finally - the semi-automatic 12g. As I had little experience of semi-automatics, mine was certainly in the “can do better” category, but as you could choose your 12g fusil of choice for the Practical, I was not overly concerned.
This training session lasted five hours!
The second mandatory session was the practice for the Practical. There were five fusil 12g exams (the safe climbing over a fence, two stands firing blanks at clays, the placing of a fusil 12g into its case in a car and one stand live firing at clays) and one carabine exam (a simulation of a sanglier boar hunt using live rounds). As examples, an orange clay represents a protected species… fire at it and you will be automatically eliminated. You will be deducted a point if you fire at a low clay or do not fire at a clay when you should have done so. You are only allowed to fire in a certain arc (30 degrees) and will be failed on the sanglier stand if you fire outside that arc of fire.
This session lasted four hours.
The Practical - I arrived to be met by a Federation des Chasseurs nspector. I opted for an over-and-under as my 12g fusil of choice.
A Frenchman before me was eliminated at his last, sanglier, stand for firing outside of his arc of fire and off his stand. He did not look happy!
No problems safely climbing over a fence, at the first two firing stands or with the storage in the car. A point deducted with live clay firing, perhaps a couple of points deducted at the sanglier stand (you are given a carabine .270). It was all quite stressful.
The inspector motioned me towards the building where I was to take the daunting Theoretical exam (I had been dreaming about duck identification for weeks!) You must not drop more than six points out of 31, 21 of which are allocated to the Practical with 10 to the Theoretical. As I had probably dropped three points during the Practical, more than three incorrect Theoretical questions would mean a fail.
There were 10 questions, randomly selected from 414 questions (with their correct answers) that had previously been supplied to me. They were in eight categories – the organisation of the hunt, arms and ammunition, security, methods of hunting, mammals, birds, ducks and protected species.
There is always one security question. Get that wrong and you fail. Tough going if you have got to this stage! I answered the first question incorrectly. The remaining nine I answered with confidence. No questions on ducks!
I had passed. It was an exhilarating moment.
What’s good about the French system?
Firstly, the concentration on secure and safe weapon manipulation – the onus of responsibility and skills being placed on the individual.
Second, the requirement to learn about the countryside, its animals and their habitats. You could not pass the Theoretical without this knowledge.
Finally, young and old are welcomed whether rich or poor. Shooting in France is not exclusive to the landed gentry. It brings together the people of the countryside.
Is this French procedure to qualify for a licence (with a yearly validation costing around €120, including insurance) better than anything that exists in the UK?
For me, there is much to commend the French system. I can but quote from a UK friend “Many shooters in the UK, apart from the farming community, do not have extensive knowledge (in some cases, none at all) of the countryside and animal habitats.
“It gets worse when you factor in their often poor level of behaviour on a shoot and a certain evasiveness regarding insurance.
“Having said that, while the French system is to be very much admired, it would not work in the UK because we just do not appreciate this level of formality and officialdom in our day-to-day lives”.