Will hunters be able to continue hunting on Sundays? The vexed question, increasingly raised in public debate, is to be addressed on Monday (January 9) when the Secretary of State for Ecology is due to make a statement on the government's position.
However, hunting lobbyists are about to win their case as a move to ban hunting on Sundays has already had its wings clipped, according to Le Figaro.
"The president has warned the Secretary of State for Ecology (Berangère Couillard) that it is an absolute no no," a government adviser is reported to have said.
"This is not the time to make sparks fly with people who are likely to protest."
What is being proposed instead, say Le Figaro’s informants, is that the ecology ministry should push for the development of the government's Suricate App, whereby hunters would report their presence.
This would in turn enable walkers, cyclists and others to adapt their route to avoid shoots.
If this is correct there is likely to be protests as the issue is provoking strong feelings nationwide.
Hunting is one of France’s most popular and divisive activities. Opponents say hunters behave as though the countryside belongs to them and claim that they have killed, injured and terrified locals with impunity.
Hunters, for their part, accuse them of seeing rural France as a kind of Disneyland, where deer and wild boar roam free – damaging farmers’ crops and forests.
“In recent years, the divide has widened and hardened: anti-hunt activists – not all of them bourgeois urbanites – reject the view that innocent victims… are an inevitable corollary of rural tradition,” reports The Guardian.
French hunters have dug in to defend the centuries-old pursuit, pointing out that most of those killed or injured are hunters.
However, an Ifop poll (the French Institute of Public opinion - l'Institut français d'opinion publique) published Monday reveals that 78% of French people want hunting to be banned on Sundays.
Only 30% of citizens say they feel safe walking in the countryside. In July 2009 a similar poll showed that 46% of the population felt safe, the new survey points out.
‘A ban is not a taboo subject’
A ban on hunting on Sundays "is not a taboo subject", Ms Couillard declared last October. There have also been calls for the prohibition of hunting on Saturdays, bank holidays and during school vacations.
Since September, hunting has caused as many victims among non-hunters as among hunters.
The toll amongst the former stands at 18 injured and one dead. Among the hunting fraternity, there have been 17 injuries and two deaths, despite a significant decrease in the overall number of hunters and the recent publication of recommendations to make the sport safer, according to the LPO (France’s League for the protection of birds).
Ms Couillard has commented: “I see that there is an increase in accidents. There is also a very strong expectation for better relations (between the pro and anti-hunt lobbies).
“I believe that we must ask ourselves the right questions. Once again, this is not to avoid certain proposals. It is simply to say what is useful to promote the security of hunters and the protection of others.”
Jacky Desbrosse, president of the Marne hunting federation and also a regional councillor, said on Sunday: "There are many people who hunt and work.
“On Monday morning, they are at work. So if you prevent them from hunting on Sunday, you will clearly disrupt the system. I'm not telling you that it's totally impossible but it's certainly very disruptive."
Ms Couillard has also addressed the issue of alcohol consumption. "There is currently no framework regarding blood alcohol content in hunting, we want to change that.
“My objective is clear: I want to move towards zero accidents in the years to come and this will require better respect for the rules, more information for local residents and better sharing of space.”
Hunting’s deadly toll
In October 2021, Joël Viard, 67, was killed when a hunter’s stray bullet hit him in the neck as he drove along a motorway from Rennes to Nantes. The hunter is under investigation for manslaughter.
The death of Morgan Keane two years ago brought everything to a head. Mr Keane, 25, was hit in the chest as he was cutting wood outside his home in a village north of Toulouse, when Julien Féral, a hunter, “believing he was shooting at a boar”, shot him from a distance of 75 metres with a Remington pump-action rifle, a court was told.
Read more: Trial to begin over hunt accident death of 25-year-old in his garden
Read more: Six months’ jail demand for French hunter who shot man dead in garden
In February 2022, a hunter’s stray bullet killed Mélodie Cauffet, 25, who was walking with a friend on a forest path in Aveyron.
In October 2022, a British woman, 67, died after her partner, a hunter, allegedly shot her during a wild boar hunt. He was alleged to have been carrying his gun over his shoulder when it went off while she was walking behind. Her death is being investigated.
In October 2018, a stray bullet hit and killed Mark Sutton, 34, a restaurant owner from Wales, while he was riding a mountain bike in Haute-Savoie.
In November 2019, Franck Jarry, 77, was shot in the back and killed while picking mushrooms in Charente-Maritime.
Two years earlier, a 69-year-old woman was killed when a hunter shot through her garden hedge while on a wild boar hunt. The hunter was given a 12-month suspended sentence and banned from hunting for 10 years.
Hunter’s shot hits car full of people on main road in north France
‘Hunting in France has changed over the years – not for the better’