Friday 30 October 2009

So where's the 'illegal persecution' of harriers?

The Countryside Alliance says that Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project, together with the RSPB, will confirm illegal persecution played no part in the breeding failure of hen harriers, and the RSPB’s Birdcrime report for 2008 also showed that last year there were again no confirmed incidents of persecution against the species.

Countryside Alliance Moorlands Policy Officer Adrian Blackmore said: “Although there were just six successful hen harrier nests in England in 2009, that number could have been higher. The RSPB has blamed natural predation for the death of two hen harrier chicks in Bowland in August, which highlights the importance of carrying out predator control, and for the third year running, the RSPB’s upland reserve at Geltsdale failed to have a successful breeding pair after a female deserted her nest.

“The populations of all but one of 15 species of British birds of prey are increasing, in some cases to the maximum that the habitat can support. There are 806 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom, a 41% increase between 1998 and 2004. They are a common sight in the spring and autumn as they migrate through the country."

The Alliance points out that the hen harrier is not a rare bird across Europe. Near the top of its food chain and with 167,000 nesting females, it is not threatened. The Hen harrier is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) – the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species - as of ‘least concern’. They say that hen harriers are regularly seen migrating over grouse moors along the Pennine Chain but they do not often settle to breed in England (10 pairs in 2008, and 12 attempts in 2009 of which 6 were successful). The latest estimate is that there are 806 pairs breeding in the UK, of which 57 are on the Isle of Man.

All of which leaves me wondering, why all the shouting about "illegal persecution", unless it's good for drumming up membership and donations?

Policing foxhunting

If ever there was proof that the Hunting Act is an ass, it's the ludicrous ACPO Investigators Manual. LACS have "welcomed" the impenetrable 67-page document, which for some reason doesn't appear on ACPO's own website but is available from the LACS here.

If I was LACS I wouldn't welcome it, I'd be hopping mad. Reading between the lines, the document seems to be telling police they have more important things to do, but they'd better feign interest in order to:
  • positively promote our impartiality
  • provide reassurance that we will police without prejudice
  • provide reassurance that we support and respect the right to both legitimate protest and to hunt lawfully
Far from untangling the legal minefield, the document adds layer upon layer of complication which should put off any police officer thinking of getting involved.

My favourite bit is the 'Risk Assessment' at the end of the document: "Officers to be made aware that horses may bite and kick...". Dealing with animal carcasses: "Gloves to be worn. Clothing to be treated as contaminated waste. Officers wash hands change clothing as soon as practicable."

I note that the antis' new tactics involve asking people in the street whether foxhunting should remain banned, and then trying to frighten politicians with the results. I think I shall have a poll to ask Joe Public: "What will influence the way you cast your vote at the next election?" If keeping the Hunting Act makes a tenth of one percent, I'll eat my hat.

Is your MP an anti, or just a mug?

Is your MP on this list? If so, it looks like they've been had by the antis' latest stunt, where David Taylor MP tabled an 'early day motion' - clearly spoonfed to him by Animal Aid and their chums - calling for the banning of game shooting. I first reported on this nonsense here, but some 67 MPs have signed up to it and now the LACS is crowing about it here. Just in case you're in any doubt about their intentions, they clearly state "We are working hard to demonstrate the cruelty inherent in the shooting industry and will not stop until this cruel sport is outlawed completely".

So, if shooting matters to you, and your MP is on the list below, you might want to email him/her and point out that this is no way to win your support at the forthcoming general election.

Abbott, Diane
Anderson, Janet
Austin, John
Bayley, Hugh
Berry, Roger
Breed, Colin
Burgon, Colin
Burt, Lorely
Campbell, Ronnie
Caton, Martin
Clapham, Michael
Cohen, Harry
Cook, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, David
Davies, Dai
Dismore, Andrew
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Featherstone, Lynne
Flynn, Paul
Francis, Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Godsiff, Roger
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Fabian
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Tom
Hood, Jim
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay
Iddon, Brian
Kaufman, Gerald
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
MacNeil, Angus
McDonnell, John
Meale, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Morgan, Julie
Mullin, Chris
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, John
Riordan, Linda
Robinson, Geoffrey
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela C (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Taylor, David
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Vis, Rudi
Walley, Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Widdecombe, Ann
Williams, Betty
Wood, Mike

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Ethical hunting

Organisations from the RSPB to the LACS are good at creating catchy slogans to support their campaigns. Shooters, on the other hand, are rather rubbish at it. We're guilty of sitting in the corner sulking 'it's not fair' and 'they don't understand us'. Well, it's not and they don't, but moping won't solve anything. Actually, it just makes it look like we might have something to hide.

So I propose a new campaign, working title "Ethical Hunters". We'll work up a statement of what an 'Ethical Hunter' is and what he/she stands for. Shooters can sign the pledge, wear the T-shirt, etc. Nothing compulsory, no testing or certification - it's just a statement of what we believe in. It'll stress the benefits of healthy outdoor activity, oneness with nature, upholding cultural traditions and values, respect for the quarry and for wildlife generally, responsible wildlife management, sustainable harvesting of natural resources.

And in the next phase, we'll ask other organisations to show their support. Once they've signed up, they can display the official logo "We support Ethical Hunting". We'll start with the obvious shooting organisations, manufacturers etc. And then we'll move on: RSPB perhaps, government bodies, local councils. Who knows, some of the anti organisations would find it hard to argue against signing up.

Right, that's the plan. And it's not a million miles from some of the programmes already running in the USA, where they tend to be well ahead of us on PR (eg Hunt Fair Chase). Now you can all bombard me with the pitfalls that I've overlooked!

UPDATE: It's up and running - see

Monday 26 October 2009

All I want for Christmas...

OK readers, I need your help. We're compiling our Christmas wish-list for the magazine. In the category of 'shooting related toys' what would you most desire?

Here are a few that I'd be happy to find in my stocking on Christmas Day, but what would you want?

Ideas and suggestions please - via the comments or email me direct at: editor[at]

Waterbomb Catapult
Nerf Havoc Fire Automatic Blaster

Fly Gun Bug Killer

Double Shot Dart Blaster

Rubber Band Gatling Gun

Sunday 25 October 2009

Battling pheasants

Driving to see my parents this afternoon, I stopped to let these two run across the lane in front of me. They never noticed the car - just carried on with their squabble until the winner sent his rival packing.

Walking round the place later, I was amazed by the number of berries on the holly trees. Some say it's a sign that a harsh winter is coming. Personally I think it's probably more to do with the summer we've had than the winter we're going to have.

Here's something else I noticed - several pigeon kills, probably by a sparrowhawk. This was the only one where the carcass remained, but I expect foxes etc took away the others. I do hope someone has explained the terms of the general licence to that sparrowhawk, and it's being careful only to kill pigeons that are damaging crops!

Saturday 24 October 2009

New ferret run

Yes, I know it's really a chicken coop, but it also happens to be ideal for the ferrets, and I got this on eBay cheaper than I could buy the timber and wire to make my own at B&Q.

I went to B&Q anyway, to get the paving slabs for the floor. One of the main problems with the old run was that the ferrets kept digging their way out, and then catching them up again was quite a chore. Whatever else happens, they won't be digging out of this one!

The other trouble with the old set-up was that the hutch was simply falling to bits. The timber was rotting away, and it was only a matter of time before the floor fell in, or the roof blew off.

So now the 4 jills are settled in their new home, busily exploring all the corners and climbing the wire mesh all the way to the roof, just for a look, before sliding back down again.

I've added upgraded bolts and latches, as the originals were designed to keep chickens in, and weren't up to holding back ferrets.

After years of keeping ferrets, nothing surprises me when it comes to their ability to escape or get into mischief in the most unlikely ways. But so far, so good!

Friday 23 October 2009

Gyrocopter hunt death update

This case does seem to be taking an extraordinarily long time. From the Birmingham Post:

Warwickshire man pleads not guilty in gyrocopter hunt death

Oct 5 2009

A 54-year-old north Warwickshire man pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of a hunt supporter who was killed by the rotor blades of a gyrocopter.

Bryan Griffiths, who spoke only to enter his plea at Birmingham Crown Court, will now stand trial next year accused of killing Trevor Morse.

The defendant, of Wiltshire Close, Bedworth, is alleged to have killed Mr Morse unlawfully at Long Marston airfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon, on March 9.

Mr Morse, a committee member with the Warwickshire Hunt, was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident after suffering severe head injuries.

Griffiths is expected to return to court for trial on March 1 next year at a venue to be fixed.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The RSPB should go and...

Yes, I can guess how some readers would complete that headline. 'Boil their heids' would be one of the more polite answers.

But it's a serious question. I was talking to the RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery - he's the one who appears at the CLA Game Fair each year, taking the inevitable flak from shooters and keepers. During the conversation, he asked me "What exactly do you want the RSPB to do?"

I was stumped, and promised to get back to him on that one. Which is why I'm asking readers of this blog to help me out.

So what do we want the RSPB to do? Realistically.

They're not going to go away. They will continue to direct their appeals at well intentioned but ill informed members of the public. And let's face it, they're not all bad by a long way. Much of their work is well directed and hugely beneficial to wildlife and the countryside.

My initial 'wish list' contains more negatives than positives: Stop using shooters and keepers as bogeymen in your fundraising and publicity; stop focusing on 'iconic' birds of prey as if nothing else matters; etc.

On its own reserves, the RSPB can run things how it likes. But in the 'real' world outside that bubble, birds must take second place to food production, commerce, transport, and the rest. The British Isles could be filled with hen harriers and all sorts of wonderful wildlife if we just cleared off all the humans, bulldozed the houses, and turned the whole place into a huge nature reserve.

Of course that won't happen, but there's much more we can do to reduce our impact on the natural world, and live alongside wildlife. And paradoxically, shooters do much better in this area than 99% of the population. I suppose what I really want is for the RSPB to acknowledge that, and stop portraying us as the enemy. Longer term, I'd like them to embrace 'harvesting nature's bounty' as an intrinsic part of conservation.

So, starting with that as a strategic objective, what do I tell Mr Avery?

Can individual shoots work more closely with RSPB officers, for the benefit of wildlife generally? (And would keepers trust them enough to allow them on the place?)

Perhaps we'd like a 'good keeper scheme' where the RSPB acknowledges the work done by individuals to improve the wildlife generally on their shoot. Heaven forbid, though, that they should see this as some sort of 'licensing' system by the back door, where they 'inspect' shoots to see that they conform to some standard.

Or do we just want them to clear off and mind their own business? Trouble with that one is, if it's got wings and a beak, they reckon it is their business.

Over to you... comments and ideas please.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

We need more coppers like this!

Received from a reader who notes: "I wish to remain anonymous - or I'll be sacked!":

Dear Editor,

I’m at my wits end! So I apologise in advance for this ‘rant’.

I have become increasingly frustrated by repeated , embarrassing stories of over reaction by my fellow colleagues within the police ‘service’ (or Force as it used to be called!), when dealing with lawful and law abiding firearms users. I hasten to add though this is not entirely their fault, rather than stemming from what is now the ‘scared sh*tless’ mentality of the management.

I am both a policeman (20+ years service) and a shooter. I am passionate about the job and the countryside. I live right in the ‘sticks’ and undertake various shooting pursuits; pigeon, driven, rough shooting and lamping. I look forward to working with my cocker picking up this season and on the beating line with him on my friend’s local shoot.

Although I’m an awful shot at times with the 12 bore, I’m still learning and enjoy all aspects of shooting and feel privileged to be able to partake in this way of life. The shooting and field sport community are a very welcoming bunch far from being law breakers!

I genuinely fear for the career I joined at 19 years of age, I almost don’t recognise it. The time has come I believe for a complete ‘Back to Basics’ overhaul to policing and a return to good old fashion ‘coppering’.

To start with I would like to see all political and management buzzwords (or boll*cks as I call it) removed from all police vocabulary immediately. Phrases such as ‘Anti Social Behaviour’, ’Engage with...’, ‘Dynamic Risk...’should be replaced by my favoured tried and tested old fashion terms, such as ‘Oi pack it in or else!’, ‘Speak to/have a word with (to tell them to pack it in all else)!’ and ‘What? Lets ‘ave ‘em!’ It’s simple, the bobby should be seen, villains should be nicked and the public should be served, no more complicated than that.

The public are tired of fancy meetings in damp village halls where the poor local officer has to prepare days in advance to defend his/herself on their inadequacies in policing a patch the size of Ethiopia. From a personal perspective ‘the travelling community’ are getting away with murder, they run amuck, thieving, poaching, taking people’s dogs and garden equipment daily! They are practically unpoliced. I have heard accounts where even young police officers are too scared to enter their sites due to institutional ‘namby pambyism!’ I want to scream at them,”Hang on, look behind you, the Army are rather tied up in Afghanistan, there’s no one else, the public pay you to do that, now get your stick out and get in there for God sake!”

I don’t feel I’m generalising too much common sense has for the time being disappeared from our Police Service. I sincerely hope for a return to the village bobby only having a ‘village’ to police not half a county, where Risk Assessing is put more into perspective with a touch of common sense added so incidents of pigeon cullers being nicked at gunpoint don’t occur, and when you leave your firearms in a locked secured vehicle and they are stolen, you are treated like a victim of theft and not the suspect of a murder!

If we as a police service alienate any more of our community we will never salvage anything of the relationship we have had with the public in times gone by.

Somebody, please bring back some sense!!

Thursday 15 October 2009

How to hunt rabbits

Hubert Hubert writes an excellent blog about his exploits here. His post 'How to Hunt Rabbits...' is a really valuable guide - a distillation of everything he's found out in his first year of learning to hunt. If you're taking up airgun hunting, read it and save yourself a year of discovering all this the hard way!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Just because you're paranoid...

Using email, the web, mobile phones and the like, you sometimes wonder just how much the military/security services can eavesdrop. And I suspect that the answer is, they can see and hear exactly what they damn well please. But it's rare to get confirmation.

Today, however, there's something spooky in my site stats. A visitor from the domain (The US Navy Information Center) looked at my write-up on the new Beretta semi-auto. Nothing unusual there. But the 'out click' was on an image called, which links to an editing screen so you can edit a 'widget' on the blog layout.

You don't even see that image, let alone get to go to that edit screen, unless you're logged in as me. The truth is out there...

Is this a new police policy?

In the previous post, I referred to a farmer whose guns were confiscated by police, not after something he'd done but after something happened to him. It all sounds a bit like the Precrime department in Minority Report. You're under a lot of stress, dear, let's put the nasty scissors away shall we.

Now in a news story, I read that ACPO and the British Medical Association are colluding over a system that would allow your doctor to dob you in, if you went to him feeling a bit down. And then what would they do? The only possible reason is so they can come round and take your guns away - for your own good, and for the safety of those around you.

On the one hand, it sounds like a sensible precaution, but it all depends on how it's applied. And why focus on guns? If the authorities deem you a risk, there are many ways of harming yourself and others. Surely they should be emptying the kitchen knife drawer, confiscating garden tools, belts, shoelaces, and as for the car...

If this is a new police policy, I think we should be told about it. And it should be properly debated before being sneaked in through the back door. If it's not an official policy, then we should stand up to it, rather then let it be enforced by default.

And here's a thought. I wonder if by worrying about all this I'm appearing a bit paranoid. Hang on, there's a knock at the door. Back soon...

Monday 12 October 2009

Welsh big cat on the prowl again

My informant from Wales has called to say that his local big cat is active again - three sheep killed last week, and another this morning. (Previous post on this subject here)

Locals have heard 'screaming' at night, and the sheep have all been killed in a distinctive manner, quite unlike the work of rogue dogs etc. Some of the sheep have been so thoroughly eaten that only a fleece and stomach contents remain in the morning - it takes some creature to do that in a night!

The farmer whose sheep were taken made the mistake of telling the police about it. So what did they do? They confiscated his guns!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

UPDATE 14/10/09: I asked one of our experts to comment on the details of this case, as reported to me. Here's what he said:

Big cats tend to drag their prey up into a tree, whenever possible; clearly this isn't happening here. They also favour woodland, however sparse, for their lair; is there somewhere in the vicinity that could provide such cover? If so, a series of 'sandpits' dug where the animal would have to exit might provide a clue.

One big cat (however big) couldn't possibly eat a whole sheep on three consecutive days (Thu, Fri, Sat) and why would it kill again on Sunday, but not eat the carcass? Maybe 'it' was disturbed, but the clue is in my putting 'it' into inverted commas ie is 'it' in fact 'them'? A mother with kittens perhaps. The fact that the ears have been chewed could indicate kittens hanging onto the ears trying to emulate their mother during the attack, or chewing on them prior to being given permission to feed off the main carcass. This is becoming a might fanciful, though.

Another thing about eating raw flesh is that it takes 48 hours to go through the system as opposed to 24 hours with cooked flesh; ask the kennel huntsman of any pack of hounds. So eating raw flesh on consecutive days doesn't make sense.

Why did it leave the stomach contents? Most carnivores value greatly the partially digested herbage found in their victims' stomachs. It helps to provide necessary roughage without the need to graze actual blades of grass for which their teeth are poorly suited.

Blood in the ears and frothy blood in the mouth might suggest death by strangulation (or lung damage) a vet would be able to tell you better than I, so almost anything could be responsible for that, even a mink might manage it.

Pugmarks are particularly difficult to find unless sand or mud has been crossed. Even then, it takes an experienced eye to identify them positively. If there are any, it might be helpful to note that cats can withdraw their claws when walking (and extend them when attacking) so the lack of claw marks could be an indicator, but by no means foolproof.

I once tracked a cattle-eating leopard in Namibia for four hours along a dried up river bed and never once saw any sign of its claws in the soft sand. On another occasion on the Botswana/South Africa border I followed the pugmarks of a leopard along the muddy bank of the Limpopo for an hour and a half; this leopard's claws were evident all along the way. For reasons too long to go into here, I didn't shoot either of those cats, but I watched them often through my binoculars, so I do know what animal made those pugmarks.

Beretta A400 Xplor Unico - specifications

For all posts on this gun, click here.

OK, following my previous post on the A400 Xplor Unico, I've clarified what I can tell you about the gun. So here (above) is the full technical spec sheet as issued at the press launch (click the photo for a larger, more legible version).

In a nutshell, it's a brand new semi-automatic shotgun from Beretta, with some very interesting new technical developments and striking new design - including an anodised green coloured receiver.

For me, the feature that really stood out was the ability to fire any 12-bore load, up to 3 1/2in and from 24g to 64g, without any adjustment. And I know it really does cope with those weights and anything in-between, because I've fired them (well, up to 63g anyway).

The fact that I am still standing up and have no broken bones is testament to another big feature of the Xplor - its recoil reduction system. This takes the established Kick-Off butt pad system and adds a third shock absorber in the stock bolt, giving up to 70% recoil reduction.

Beretta are making much of the action's speed - the Xplor is now, apparently, the world's fastest semi-automatic. In practice, I've never found a modern semi-auto that cycles too slowly for a second or third, aimed shot, so I haven't felt the need for more speed, but I suppose it can't be a bad thing.

More observations and info to follow later...

Sunday 11 October 2009

BBC Autumnwatch

Now that the awful Bill Oddie is gone, I'm enjoying BBC Autumnwatch. Perhaps my favourite scenes so far have been the stags rutting on Rhum, although some of my stalking chums are crying out for the one-antlered killer stag Atilla to be culled.

Most viewers fail to spot the biggest clash of all, however - the one in the studio between the two main presenters.

In the blue corner, we have the fluffy anthropomorphic Kate Humble, recently appointed president of the RSPB, who goes all gooey at the sight of anything young and cute.

And in the red corner we have gritty realist Chris Packham, who takes a Darwinian/Dawkinsian view of nature and recently got himself into trouble for suggesting we should leave the pointless giant panda to die out naturally.

Most of the time Humble and Packham manage to avoid their differences, concentrating on points of agreement such as how 'staggering' it is that a tiny goldcrest can fly across the English Channel.

But every now and then, we get a glimpse of their true nature. In the latest programme, there was a brief mention of eating grey squirrels. Kate Humble's face took on a look that said 'Eeuww, how could you' while the glint in Packham's eye spoke volumes.

Packham is no fool, and knows which side his bread is buttered. But I wonder if he can last the series without giving Humble a metaphorical slap. I'm on the edge of my seat...

Saturday 10 October 2009

I appear to have turned into Victor Meldrew

The local council just seems to have that effect on me...

Dog Control Orders Questionnaire

Do you have any comments on the proposed implementation of Dog Control Orders for dog fouling?
I agree with voluntary controls in areas such as footpaths, car parks and recreation grounds, where steaming piles of faeces are clearly offensive and potentially hazardous. And there are undoubtedly some ignorant selfish people about who will ignore any efforts to persuade them to behave decently. But I am strongly opposed to the growing level of interfering busybodying dogooding nannying and general bossing about, which is reducing this once proud nation into a gaggle of squealing infants who are incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives. The day you install cctv to watch me clear up my dog's mess, I shall emigrate. This is not what I pay my council tax for. Actually I sometimes wonder why I do...

Do you have any comments on the proposed implementation of Dog Control Orders for keeping dogs on leads?
Yes, it's a disgrace. You'll be introducing an order to make me eat my greens and wash behind my ears next. I don't pay council tax so you can employ some irritating twerp to lecture me about how to look after my dog. I thought there was a recession on. What on earth are you doing spending money on Stalinist nonsense like this? Responsible dog owners are responsible and should be left alone. Irresponsible ones will ignore your efforts. And I'll foot the bill. If you've got (my) money to throw around, employ a poo picker upper and make life nicer for all of us.

Do you have any comments on the proposed implementation of Dog Control Orders regarding dog exclusion?
A nice sign 'No dogs please' would be entirely appropriate. You could even explain why: 'Nightjars nesting', or whatever. While you're at it, perhaps you could teach the foxes not to crap on the recreation grounds and in my garden. Or is their poo ok because they're wildlife? It doesn't smell ok.

Do you have any comments on the proposed implementation of Dog Control Orders regarding the number of dogs that any one person is permitted to walk at any one time?
Why? What is it with the wanting to ban things? Would it suit you better if we all just stayed inside and watched tv, taking time out now and again to sort our rubbish into different bins? Remind me, do you work for me, or is it the other way round?

Other comments on the introduction of Dog Control Orders in Elmbridge
What's really sad is that you will get huge numbers of people supporting this disgraceful attack on liberty. Boudicea would have known how to deal with it.

If you want to join the Leisure and Cultural Services mailing list and keep up to date with local countryside events & news, children's activities, walking, healthy lifestyles or art and cultural activities in Elmbridge, please give your details below. Your details will not be passed onto third parties.
Hah! no thanks. If you start lecturing me about a healthy lifestyle, I will be forced to kill myself. Right-o, I'm off to have a whisky and a fag.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Beretta A400 Xplor Unico

For all posts on this gun, click here.

Today (8 Oct) I'm in Italy for the unveiling of Beretta's 'green monster' - the next thing in semi-automatics. Except I'm not allowed to show you a photo of the gun itself, or they'll feed me to the velociraptor...

UPDATE 9 Oct: OK, so I've shot the new A400 Xplor Unico, and it's very interesting. Beretta are determined to keep the details under wraps until the official unveiling on 1 November. They invited around 100 journalists from around the world for the pre-launch briefing in Brescia, and a chance to try the gun, and swore us all to secrecy. It'll be a real test of the sporting press's integrity - will anyone dare to break the embargo?

Actually it's not at all clear just how much info we are allowed to release. At the Q&A session at the end of the briefing, no-one thought to ask. We were all busy asking technical stuff like 'how much will it cost' and 'when will it reach the shops' and 'how does that bit work'.

But they did issue two high-speed photos with the instruction 'you are allowed to use only these photos before 30.10.2009'. So I guess it's ok to publish them here. If this blog disappears in a puff of smoke, you'll know I got it wrong!

UPDATE: Specification sheet now available here.

From the photos you'll notice that the shooter has managed to fire four shots remarkably fast - three shells in the air at once, and the next shot already exiting the muzzle. So, as an informed reader of this blog, you might infer that the A400 Xplor Unico has a very fast cycle. It won't have escaped your notice that the chap pictured is dressed more for hunting than clay competition, and you'll be drawing your own conclusions from that. And knowing Beretta's reputation for technical innovation you'll be guessing that they wouldn't have made the quantum leap in nomenclature from the A300 series to A400 without some fundamental changes to the mechanics.

And that's as far as I dare go at this stage. More info - and photos - as soon as I can.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Saturday 3 October 2009

Mark Avery and the dead parrot

I do enjoy following the blog of RSPB conservation director Mark Avery. It's a real insight into the RSPB mind-set - and I'm constantly bemused by the knots these guys tie themselves in with their this-bird-is-better-than-that-bird approach to the environment.

The latest muddle is over "the lovely ring-necked parakeet" being added to the list of birds that can be killed under General Licence. Birding types don't know which way to jump. It's non-native, and a threat to our native wildlife, so perhaps it should be wiped out like the mink (they seem to have no problem with the idea of exterminating mink with extreme prejudice: two legs good, four legs bad). But parakeets are birds, so perhaps they should be protected at all costs? Erk! It's a conundrum worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

When it comes to birds of prey, all logic flies out of the window, along with any chance of the birders comprehending the concept of wildlife management. Shooters get sterotyped as bloodthirsty killers, and the clamour for 'tighter regulation' drowns out all sensible discussion.

Just look at the RSPB's latest Birdcrime report, and see the huge fuss about "raptor persecution" (for which the numbers are actually down). There's hardly a whisper about the 746 incidents (62% of the total) which relate to non birds of prey. Are some birds more equal than others? It would appear so. Simon Hart of the Countryside Alliance has some good points to make on the subject - read them here.

As an aside, I'm amazed at how little we hear of the illegal trade in songbirds like goldfinches and linnets. Huge numbers of these lovely little birds are trapped and sold on the black market, and yet how often do we hear the RSPB campaigning about it? It doesn't appear on any of the lists of 'wildlife crime priorities'. I'm keen to follow this up in the magazine - any info on the trade, and the methods used by the illegal trappers, would be gratefully received, anonymity respected if you request it.

Anyway, back to the point: The General Licence system is a nonsense, made necessary by the nonsense that is the EU-driven bird protection legislation.

On the one hand we have the humble rabbit, which has been chased, shot, caught and eaten by man for thousands of years. Until recently the law placed an obligation on landowners to control rabbits, to reduce the damage to agriculture. Are rabbits remotely threatened? Of course not. And do we need some twisted law that says 'all rabbits are protected, except when we say they're not'? Of course we don't

And on the other hand we have the humble woodpigeon, which has been chased, shot, caught, etc etc just the same. Is it remotely threatened? Of course not. And yet each year we sit and chew our fingernails, wondering what ridiculous nonsense the government will have dreamt up. Will we even be allowed to shoot pigeons any more? Will we have to fill out a form in triplicate, proving that we tried offering the pigeons counselling, serving them with ASBOs, and still they won't stop eating the crops, so reluctantly we'll just have to shoot them?

It's a complete nonsense, a product of the confused protectionism that says four legs are bad, two legs are good, and two legs with talons are right up there with God.

Stalking high up on a Perthshire hillside last week, I was privileged to see a sea eagle (swooping after a pair of grouse we'd disturbed from the heather). We stood and watched through the binoculars, in awe of the magnificent bird.

Funny, I remarked to the stalker, that 'they' are busy introducing one deadly killer into the Highlands, while doing their utmost to exterminate another, the mink. 'Aye' he said, and shook his head. He's used to being dictated to by do-gooders who think they know his hill better than him - folk who won't let him burn a small patch of heather to stop the heather beetle because of rules to protect the very environment that the heather beetle is going to devastate.

In days gone by we managed the countryside like an allotment, encouraging nature to produce a surplus which we then harvested. Nowadays we treat it like a municipal garden, selecting our 'favoured' species for the flower beds according to their popular appeal. Everyone loves a raptor. Keep off the grass, don't pick the raptors. What's that non-native weed species doing there, get rid of it, it doesn't fit the plan.

Local people whose fathers and grandfathers created the countryside are no longer trusted to look after it; they're tied up with red tape, rules, regulations and certificates to ensure they've been brainwashed into accepting the 'approved' way of thinking. Independent spirits, eccentrics and characters are not tolerated.

Maybe that's why I find myself increasingly drawn to the wild places (and the wild people) where the dead hand of modern countryside management hasn't yet reached. Hopefully the tide will turn before it does, because we're in danger of losing something we don't even know we've got.

RSPB switching to 'non toxic' ammo

The RSPB's Mark Avery has announced that his organisation is switching to non-toxic (ie non-lead) ammunition on its reserves. His approach is set out in a blog post here, illustrated with an x-ray of a roe shot at their Abernethy nature reserve, speckled with white dots which he says are lead particles (although I suspect at least some will be fragments of the copper jacket).

Avery grudgingly admits that foxes and deer are shot on RSPB reserves, and goes on to say that the RSPB feels that moving to non-toxic ammo is "a responsible and precautionary move for the good of people and wildlife".

Remarkably he states categorically that "there are perfectly good non-lead alternatives to most ammunition which we have tested or are testing on our sites". I'd be interested to see that data.

And he drops the hint again about "representative shooting bodies with whom we have had detailed and frequent discussions on this subject over the last 14 months or so".

The 'phasing out' of lead shot has been a growing theme on this blog - click here to see all the related posts. From my own discussions with individuals at organisations like BASC it's clear they believe that lead shot and bullets are on borrowed time.

I'm still unconvinced by the science behind it all, but in the end I don't think it will make the slightest difference. Lead is going, and we'll just have to get used to it.

I've used non-toxic shotgun ammo, and found it either inferior or considerably more expensive or both - but it still works. As for non-lead rifle bullets, I've no personal experience but I know that some US hunters are having to use them. I think it's time I started taking more of an interest in how well (or not) they work. After all, I'm thinking about buying a new centrefire rifle, and I'd kick myself if I got something that proved to be unsuitable with non-lead ammo.