Friday, 24 August 2007

Battue: French For Bushwacking.

Battue: Whacking (or battering) bushes to flush out game animals.

I’m back, the sojourn to southern France is over and I’ve a few tails to tell you about, some of them fishy and some of them boorish.

But first the bad news; bad news for the boars, the french boar-hunting season gets under way next week and there are more double express rifles heading into the woods than ever stalked the African plains. And it’s bad news for me. I’m a long way from the Languedoc. Bah!

Like most things french, hunting ‘french style’ is very different to the aristocratic traditions of their english neighbours. Airs and graces are unnecessary, as are bespoke red coats and pedigree horses. No one is wearing a necktie. Where (and whether) you went to school is of no consequence. This is hunting ‘come as you are’. In France la chasse (the chase) is a great leveller. It’s for the rich and the poor, its enthusiasts are from the town and the country. The doctor with his exquisite double rifle stands alongside the barman with his great granddaddies under and over. While people with American hunting experience will recognise the camo and the slug guns, the french attitude to health and safety during le Battue will leave you, if not shaken, certainly very glad you brought along that blaze orange vest.

For la chasse there is no need to hang a tree stand and get to it before dawn, in france the hogs and bucks come to you. Every Sunday during the season at 8am, you down a couple of stiff drinks in the village square, then a drive out to the forest. The hunting association for the area will have elected a captain, and he will nominate who takes up position in the line, where the guns stand and wait, usually about fifty yards apart on the edge of the forest, and who runs with the dogs in le Battue or the team of beaters.

The beaters follow the dogs, which like their masters vary in temperament from the highly trained pedigree terrier, to the farmyard mutt. Brambles and bushes must be whacked, spiralling french horns are used for calling and despatching the hounds, with more blasts to signal to the line. This is hunting for the cooking pot. All game is fair game so as boars, rabbits and stags break cover they are turned towards the guns. Some of the beaters are also armed to insure nothing gets away. Chaos reigns. As the beaters near the line, and hopefully no one on the line has been shot this week, the horn blasts to tell the beaters to stop shooting and the line to turn to follow the fleeing prey.
Then its back to the village restaurant for a massive lunch with anything upwards of four courses and lots of wines and spirits before the whole thing begins again.

The season lasts until February – There’s still time to get out there. Wish me luck.

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