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Shooting & Fishing

The Scotsman
Sat 19 Mar 2005

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One for sorrow, two for joy


Alastair Robertson

Methinks Mr Charles Jacoby is destined for a greater role in the field sports debate which trundles along in fits and starts through the public prints of this land. Hunting was the last fit. Shooting will be the next start. Jacoby is what is called a contributing editor at the monthly magazine Sporting Shooter - the sort of title I thought they only had at Harpers and Queen.

Jacoby is clearly a man of parts. Recently he produced cut-out-and-keep plans for a home-made foam rubber decoy pigeon. I won’t begin to explain how it works, but it promised hours of fun. The instructions ended with a special section headed: "I can’t be arsed, where can I buy one?" and a list of decoy suppliers.

It is not, I think, for his dexterity with the foam rubber hot knife or tin of grey paint spray that Jacoby will come increasingly to public attention but for his willingness to raise a metaphorical two fingers at countryside agencies and silly rules. He has now twice within two weeks made it into national newspapers without trying, once for demonstrating the lunacies of the latest pest control edict from Brussels (you have to give a pigeon a warning before you shoot it) and on a second occasion for launching a competition to see who in Britain can shoot the greatest number of magpies over the next five months.

Whether Jacoby can, or even wants to be the plain speaking champion of shooting in all its varied forms is another matter, but he shows all the right signs. The magpie business for a start. Jacoby and his magazine have put in print what keepers, gardeners and songbird enthusiasts have been saying for years - that magpies are pretty nasty birds. They go for songbirds and their eggs and while magpie numbers have soared, songbird numbers have declined. The RSPB disagrees, saying there is not a shred of evidence for the thesis and that the competition to kill magpies is "totally inappropriate".

Jacoby says, appropriately or otherwise, that all the evidence at grass roots level is that magpies need dealing with and he expects a competition bag of possibly more than 1,000 out of a UK population of 1.2million. "We aren’t expecting to cause extinction but we would like to put a hole in the population," he says.

This sort of talk, some might call it gung-ho, causes palpitations in the shooting fraternity. It is considered dangerous and counter-productive to describe shooting in anything other than almost apologetic terms and it is constantly emphasised that it is all in the name of conservation and rural employment. What you must not say is that you enjoy shooting for shooting’s sake, because it is fun. Language like "putting a hole in the population" is fine ’twixt friends but not to be uttered in public in case it is seized upon as evidence of irresponsibility and blood lust.

"We got this idea [for the magpie competition] because we are a bit tired of being bossed around by the Government," explains Jacoby. Now that is a sentiment to which everyone can relate, even if they have never picked up a gun in their lives. There is, as Jacoby says, a real annoyance with being bossed about in the country, not because all these agencies are necessarily wrong but because they are so damned pious and right, armed with their graphs and statistics and directives and mission statements and finger wagging that must prove they know best. And sadly we live in a world where the opinion of a gamekeeper seems to count for very little. Only mounds of scientific evidence are allowed to matter. All else is treated with suspicion. Which is why we need the likes of Jacoby to stamp his foot from time to time and make mock. Apart from anything else a good public mock is great sport for the rest of us.

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