Letter from Prague
I have never killed an animal. Perhaps I'm being too dismissive there of a fly on the wall that I may have splatted, or ant that I have accidentally trodden on. I seem to have lived with arachnophobes my entire life, and have always felt twangs of guilt when following the instruction to flush that little creepy-crawly down the toilet. I certainly don't like insects... in fact moths that smash themselves against the glass late at night... actually repulse me. I cannot sleep knowing that there is one perhaps clinging underneath a table or the back of a chair.
However, all in all, I suppose that I must simply prefer to preserve life than destroy it. All the more of a shock to the system to be invited on a wild boar hunt here in the Czech Republic last weekend. I was doing a radio piece about the status of the hunter in this country, particular in light of the high accident rate among men with shotguns here.
In January, the only animal that can be legally hunted and killed in the Czech Republic is the wild boar. This is obviously very frustrating for the hunters, judging by the grimace that appeared on their faces every time a deer ran in front or beside them. I'd traveled to the woods just north of Melnik with the owner of a local game restaurant and a couple of his friends. One of the old chaps was well over 70 and could hardly walk let alone hold a gun.
He was a jovial old man but I must say that I was pleased when I learnt later that I would be allocated to a different group of hunters. I was staggered by the number of hunters who met up that frosty Saturday morning in a converted old theatre. There must have been going on 70, ages ranging from fresh-faced teenager to embattled 92-year old warhorse. All of them with their traditional green, not quite army kaki attire.. all with their trousers rolled inside their green socks and all wearing much sturdier looking boots than mine.
And their guns of course, whether single barrel (better for shooting bears I was told) or double-barrel shot (perfect they said for shooting birds). I found this rather confusing since were there only to hunt wild boar. I will also never look at a cocker spaniel in the same way again. Well known as cute, silly, rather neurotic pets - less known as the perfect boar tracking dog. A cocker spaniel's naturally affinity to charge around smelling every bush and shrub - as well as barking a heck of a lot - makes them invaluable to the hunting. When trained properly, the dog sniffs out a boar and proceeds to run round and round the unfortunate beast barking incessantly. The hunters hear and boom - some more game to sell at the local market.
I wasn't carrying a gun of course, only a microphone. As I joined the purely male group creeping their way through the woods, it was clear that the hunter still has a sound future in this country. A country so small with a population of 10 million people, should not really have 140,000 registered hunters. From what I saw, group hunting at least appeared to be very organized and to as much as it can be, safe. I never felt threatened myself personally during the whole day. Although in principle I disagree with the killing of animals for sport, I began to admire the hunters' guile and technique and the whole ethos of man against beast. Now that the groups communicate via mobile, however, you could say that the beast doesn't really stand much of a chance.
There's was one thing I really didn't admire, though. Call me an old fuddy-duddy but I don't really believe than people about to go and fire off rounds in the forest should be downing a few rounds of Gambrinus in the pub before.