The president of France’s national hunting federation has said that people who are afraid of hunting “do not understand us” and that if hunting could be explained to them they would no longer be opposed.
In a new interview, Willy Schraen of la Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs (FNC) said that hunters “would not need to defend themselves” if people truly understood what they did.
“We have kept ourselves hidden thinking that people would just leave us alone but with [current] public opinion, the gap has widened [between hunters and non-hunters].”
Mr Schraen, who has been in his role since 2016, is currently completing his annual tour of France, which is partly a bid to improve the general opinion of hunting. He said that in France, he is sorry that people do not recognise what he calls hunters’ true value, especially when it comes to regulating wildlife populations, such as wild boar.
He compared the country to Spain. There, he said: “When hunters arrive to do a hunt, they’re not spit or shouted at, but applauded. The guys are coming to fix a problem.”
Mr Schraen also said that the public in France forgets that hunters are lovers of nature. He said that modern society “uses and abuses nature due to our permanent presence”.
He said hunters need to “better explain [and] work on coexistence and shared spaces with non-hunters...But people must be careful not to go too far and discourage hunters,” he said. “We will end up not having enough hunters and this will cause issues with environmental policy and biodiversity.”
Hunting has become more controversial in recent months after a number of deaths and near-misses from errant bullets have hit headlines (although the number of accidents and deaths has actually decreased in the past 20 years).
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It is particularly targeted by animal welfare and vegan activists. The high level of opposition has seen a growing number of challenges to hunting practices in court, petitions, open letters, and inquiries into hunting in recent years.
Several high-profile campaigners such as journalists Aymeric Caron and Hugo Clément have also joined the ranks of opponents.
Pierre de Boisguilbert, an expert on the relationship between humans and animals, told Le Figaro that the opposition movement had started in Anglo-Saxon countries like England and the US, and strengthened in feeling against Western hunting practices, especially those using dogs.
Some opponents are more militant and connect hunting with meat-eating and the alleged destruction of nature, while others are simply rural residents who feel threatened by the presence (and noise) of hunters in their local hiking areas.
Partly in response to the movement, at the start of January this year the government – namely junior biodiversity minister Bérangère Couillard – presented a plan of 14 measures aimed at reducing hunting accidents. The proposals, which could come into force in October, include calls to better demarcate hunting areas, and impose stricter limits on hunt times.
They also call for greater enforcement of existing safety rules, including limiting shooting to 30 degrees either side of the hunter’s view, and the wearing of yellow high-visibility safety jackets at all times. The imbibing of drugs and alcohol while hunting has also been formally banned.
Hunters are also expected to have better training in safety procedures before they head out to a shoot.
But while some anti-hunting campaigners had called for hunt-free days and no Sunday shoots, these have not been maintained.
The Alliance des sports et loisirs de nature (ASLN) welcomed the measures. The alliance brings together horse-riding federation la Fédération française d’équitation (FFE), the mountain and climbing group la montagne et de l’escalade (FFME) and the fishing and hunting federations (FNP and FNC).
The ASNL welcomed the move as "the first constructive step towards intelligent cohabitation between users of nature".
However, other campaigners remain opposed.
Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, president of bird protection society la Ligue pour la protection des (LPO), and animal welfare campaigner Brigitte Bardot, denounced what they have called the "ridiculous and useless measures" and said they showed "an unacceptable contempt for the 80% of French people who are waiting for a ceasefire".
Over 980,000 hunters
In France, the latest figures from 2022 show that there were 981,000 hunters in the country, with an average age of 55. This marks a significant decline in the past 50 years; in 1975 there were an estimated 2.2 million hunters. However, the FFC has stated that more young people, especially women, are gaining their licence and discovering the activity.