[Article updated September 12 at 15:05 with further details on the hunt in France]
Hunting season has opened in many areas of France amid controversy as walkers express concerns and environmentalists claim that forests need a break after a summer of drought and fire.
For many hunters across France, the season opened yesterday (Sunday, September 11), and will last until late February.
One, Tristan Chanavat, in Saint-Didier-sous-Riverie (Rhône), told BFMTV: “We’ve had an overpopulation of rabbits for months now. And as my dad is a farmer, we know they can cause damage.”
Environmentalists say that forests have been ravaged by scorching temperatures and drought, that rivers and water sources are low, and that migrating birds have already left for the season.
Walkers have also said that they fear the hunting season, which they claim makes hiking and exploring the countryside risky. Some said they do not like the sound of gunshots.
One hiker said: “It upsets me a lot. It just means we don’t hike as much.”
Last year there were 90 accidents over the season, including eight that were fatal.
This was more than in 2020-21, but less than the 232 accidents reported in 1999-2000 and the 131 which occurred in 2009-10.
Earlier this year, 25-year-old Mélodie Cauffet, was accidentally killed on February 19 while hiking with her partner in Cassaniouze (Cantal).
She was walking on a marked path but was hit by a bullet shot during a wild boar hunt at around 15:00. She died at the scene, having been hit in the left side of her body. The shooter was charged with involuntary homicide.
Ms Cauffet’s death sparked renewed calls for hunt-free days and stricter rules for boar hunting. At least one mayor later took out decrees banning the use of guns and bullets in their commune in protest.
In response to the controversy, head of la Fédération nationale des chasseurs, Willy Shraen, said that people should wear high-vis jackets when walking, and added that hikers can simply “walk at home”.
He called for tolerance from hikers and said that “he would never give moral lessons to vegans to make them change”.
To see this hunting season’s dates consult the map here.
Hunting (la chasse) is the third favourite leisure activity of people in France, with five million people having obtained a permis de chasser hunting permit at some point. Of this number, there were around 1,173,000 'active' hunters in 2021, making France the European country with the highest number of hunters.
There are 91 species which can be hunted in France, with pigeons, pheasants and rabbits being the most popular prey.
From next February, hunters will no longer be allowed to use lead shot around wetlands. Currently, 8,000 tonnes of lead are dispersed into nature each year because of hunting, causing poisoning in humans and wildlife.
EU legislation is therefore aiming to cut down on the potential for lead exposure. The Fédération nationale de la chasse is asking the state to offer funding for the replacement of old lead shot guns.
Last November, the Senate debated the issue of hiking during the hunting season in response to a petition that called for stricter rules and ‘no-hunting’ days. It is set to reveal its conclusions on the topic next week.
Similarly, the Senate has examined a petition against badger hunting by digging, after more than 100,000 people signed the missive in less than six months. The petition denounced the action as “a violent and useless hunting practice”.
A spokesperson for wild animal association l’Association pour la protection des animaux sauvages said that the practice is “particularly shocking because it consists of removing badgers directly from their burrows".
This technique, called “underground rooting", is "violent, unnecessary, non-selective and incompatible with the recognition of animals as sentient beings", the petition’s signatories say.
The Senate considered the petition yesterday and could now call for more measures. These could include implementing more checks, adding a bill to a session, or calling for a public debate on the issue. The next Conférence des présidents meeting is set for September 21.
In contrast, the Senate has also debated a petition against anti-hunting activists, which asks questions about their alleged financial advantages and association donations. These conclusions are expected in early October.