Six women are campaigning for changes to hunting laws after their friend was shot and killed as he chopped wood near his home.
Morgan Keane, 25, was shot by a hunter by accident, 100 metres from his house in a hamlet near Calvignac, Lot, in December.
The women, who were all friends of his, are now fighting in his name to make the countryside a safer place for everyone.
They have organised a march, asked for and collected witness accounts on their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Un jour un chasseur sites, and secured a 90-minute meeting with Environment Minister Bérangère Abba in Paris.
They were disappointed with the minister’s proposals – mainly related to communicating over hunt times – and say they are determined to continue campaigning. As a minimum, they want one day a week to be hunt-free.
The six are identified only by their first names – Peggy, Mila, Sara, Nadège, Zoé and Léa.
Family friend Lillian Bell, who had known Morgan, nicknamed Moggy, for a long time, said: “He was the most darling, gentle, loving, philosophical person. He cared about everybody else.”
Peggy, 28, is British. She came to France aged 10 and explains what changes the group are calling for.
'We do not aim to ban hunting but want to see stronger security measures and the introduction of hunt-free days'
“We are surprised by the huge number of stories on our social media sites and to read how bad some of the experiences have been.
“Many who responded have never dared press charges or, if they have, they have not been followed up.”
She said examples include near misses with bullets, hunters refusing to leave private property, bad driving from hunt members, shooting from cars across roads, and accidents where people have been badly hurt.
“We would like to see more training. A hunting permit lasts for life [but has to be routinely validated every year].
“The federation of hunters has said they will make sure a new law requiring a training session every 10 years will be implemented, but we feel that is inadequate.
“We think the age limit should be raised to 18 to get a licence [currently it is 16], and new hunters should have to shadow someone more experienced when they start.
“We also think there should be medical certificates when a hunter becomes older.”
France has the most hunters in Europe. More than 1.2million people hold a licence, either national or departmental, and it is the country’s third-most popular sport, after football and fishing. Most are men over 45 years old.
Hunt seasons differ from one department to another but usually run from September to the end of February or March for big game, such as wild boar and deer. In most places, it is legal every day. “Why not have set days when hunting is not allowed? For example, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“Another idea is to ban hunting after 14.00, as statistics show most accidents happen in the afternoon.
'Hunters are a minority of the population wanting to enjoy the countryside but their presence means the majority feel frightened to go out'
“Some of the rifles for big game can fire at a range of at least 2km and are more suited to war.
“Why aren’t hunters with guns tested for alcohol, just as anyone driving a car is?
“We also think hunters should not be allowed within at least 500m of people’s homes [currently the distance is set at 150 metres].”
Peggy said she felt their meeting with the minister showed the government does not understand the scale of the problem for many people living in the countryside.
“Her only proposal was to find better ways of communicating when hunts are on, perhaps on the internet or at the mairie.
“Our suggestion to ban hunting for just one day a week was clearly out of the question and, for us, one day is the absolute minimum.
“Afterwards, we visited other opposition party politicians, who were far more supportive. We do not want to make this a political issue but we will take any support where we can get it.
“Up until now, I used to assume that the hunters knew what they were doing and it was safe to go out in the country.
“Now that has all changed. We encourage anyone to send us any bad experiences they have had with hunters via our social media or to firstname.lastname@example.org – and you can write it in English.
“We are also looking for people who are prepared to make a video or be interviewed about their experiences. “We have an association you can join, by emailing email@example.com.
“The more of us there are, the more easily we can make our voice heard and ensure that the tragedy that happened to our friend cannot happen again.”
The Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs told Connexion that hunters do everything they can to lower the number of accidents, citing figures that show the number of deaths has decreased by 71% in 20 years.
President Willy Schraen says the federation is not against talking about improving safety but he opposes any discussion about introducing hunt-free days.
What are the hunting rules in France?
Hunting licences are available to anyone aged 16 and over who passes a theory test and four practical tests on handling a gun.
At least one obligatory practical lesson and one theory lesson are organised by the local hunting federation. In 2019, a new law introduced obligatory refresher training courses every 10 years.
A 15-year-old can pass the test but can hunt only under the guidance of a guardian.
The lifetime licence has to be validated for use for a defined period and geographical area each year. It costs €46 a year and is delivered by the Office Français de la Biodiversité.
To apply, a prospective hunter must have a certificat médical from their GP to prove they are physically and mentally fit to handle a gun. No eye tests are compulsory, said a spokesman for the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs.
Hunters must shoot at no more than an angle of 30° and must always be at least 150 metres away from houses. Guns must not be used on public roads, footpaths or railway lines, or fired in their direction.
When a group hunt is on, hunters must wear fluorescent clothing and put up signs on public paths and roads to warn passers-by.
Hunters may not fire in the direction of a stadium or a public meeting, or private homes including caravans, sheds and garden shelters, or airport buildings, and should always take into account their surroundings before shooting.
The loi Verdeille from 1964 allows hunting on any private land under 20 hectares. This was amended in 2000 to allow owners to opt out of having a hunt pass through their land.
There are two ways of doing this, depending on the type of local hunting group.
If it comes under the Société de chasse-loi 1901, you have to create a nature refuge by contacting either the Association pour la protection des animaux sauvages (Aspas) or the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) and put up a “no hunt on my land” signpost.
Otherwise, the Association Communale de Chasse Agréée (Acca) allows hunting everywhere in the area covered, other than land within a 150m radius of a home or where the owner has made a formal request to refuse the hunt on their property.
This request must be made by registered letter to your departmental president of the fédération des chasseurs, which then has four months to deliver a paper saying your land is no longer in the Acca hunting zone.