Chad Love: Populist Poachers?

For years American hunters have held up Great Britain as an example of what our future might be if hunting traditions continue to die and our political power wanes. I've never really bought into that argument because of fundamental differences in the two nations' hunting traditions and wildlife management models, differences that can be summed up thusly: they have the King's deer, we have the people's deer. Class and title have for centuries shaped the English hunting tradition. And while it makes for a cracking good time if you're part of the landed gentry, it's not such a good way to perpetuate the sport when all those peasants you've been repressing for centuries suddenly have a vote and a grudge. Hunting? That's a cruel, antiquated upper-class tradition. Ban it.

But it seems that hunting is making something of a comeback in Merry Olde England. At least the kind of hunting that not that long ago could get your neck stretched if you were caught doing it.

From the story:

_Once, the poacher was a man with big pockets in his raincoat sneaking on to an aristocrat's land to steal game for his family pot. Now he is likely to be part of a gang from town, in it for hard cash, rampaging through the countryside with guns, crossbows or snares.

Police in rural areas across Britain are reporting a dramatic increase in poaching, as the rise in food prices and the reality of recession increases the temptation to deal in stolen venison, salmon, or rarer meat and fish.

Organised and sometimes armed gangs of poachers are accused of behaving dangerously, intimidating residents, causing damage to crops or to gates and fences. Squads have also been out in the countryside "lamping", poachers using lights to transfix animals._

Here's the question that popped into my mind when I read this story: Is a poacher just a damn criminal wherever he happens to be or is there a certain level of poetic justice in the resurgence of poaching in Great Britain, sort of a populist backlash for not democratizing the sport as it was in the United States? Is it worse to steal game that belongs to a person or game that belongs to everyone? The stark contrast between those models was driven home to me this summer as I walked through the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace during a trip to England. Henry VIII was by all accounts a fanatical hunter, and as I walked through the palace I gazed in awe at the dozens of magnificent stags lining the walls. I thought to myself "I could hang with 'ol Henry, he was my kind of guy." Except of course, that he wasn't. He was part of the nobility, while I and my ancestors have always been thick-ankled dull-witted peasants. And had I been caught hunting one of those stags on the wall I would have been summarily executed.

As romantic and classy as the English hunting tradition is, seeing those ancient mounts made me glad I was an American. Our hunting traditions may be dying, but at least we have them to try and save.