Henry Mance

A vegan’s defence of field sports

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In modern Britain, the quickest way to prove that you’re a good person is to show that you love animals. People share cat videos and pose with dogs in pictures for dating websites. Anyone who is seen to hurt animals — like the Danish zoo that culled a giraffe or the lawyer who clubbed a fox — is sent to a special circle of social media hell.

Those who participate in field sports reside in this inferno: the men and women who shoot, stalk or hunt. They are killers in a society that doesn’t like to see death. When polled, around 85 per cent of the British public are in favour of keeping New Labour’s hunting ban, and a majority want to extend the ban to shooting and stalking.

I consider myself an animal lover. I am vegan because I find modern farming cruel and inefficient. But I can’t join in the activists’ all-out war on field sports. I oppose hunting — in the proper English definition of hounds chasing a live quarry, usually a fox — but I support shooting and stalking under certain circumstances. Put bluntly, it’s less cruel to kill a free-living deer than a confined pig; it may even be necessary.

What matters is how animals live, and if they have space to do so. I am more affronted by chickens and cows being industrially reared, kept indoors and then slaughtered than I am by deer living wild before being killed instantly. (Good stalkers shoot only when confident of a clean kill.) Modern livestock farming takes up a third of the world’s habitable land. In contrast, field sports can protect the natural world.

‘I’ve missed having a nice cold beer.’

Animal rights activists don’t like to hear it, but stalking can play an important role in population management.

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