With Peter Goonery
Whether you’re for or against the hunt, its presence is inescapable in the P-O.
Armed men (and women) in fluorescent orange gilets can pop up anywhere on our Sunday strolls; baying and belled bassets, beagles and griffons leap through the undergrowth to flush out the game.
Many of us are not happy about the killing of animals for sport, but it’s clear that the ever-increasing wild boar population must be controlled. Unchecked, they wouldn’t just upset the natural balance, but would continue to spread into urban and agricultural areas, resulting in more damage to land, safety issues for children and pets, and more collisions on roads.
Peter Goonery chatted with Pascal Mas, senior member of the Equipe de Chasseurs de Sanglier de Céret
Q. How long has the hunt existed in Ceret?
A. For as long as anyone can remember, hundreds of years
Q.How old were you when you started?
A. I was 10 years old when I first went along to watch my father and grandfather hunt. Of course I didn’t have a gun then. I first hunted with a gun when I was 16.
Q.Do you have to have a permit to hunt?
A. Yes you need a Permis de Chasse granted by the Marie. To get this you are tested on your knowledge of the country and how to look after it, and on the local animals. There is no test for competence with a gun.
Q.What do you enjoy about hunting?
A. The main thing is being in the forest close to nature, I love the countryside.
Tracking the boar is a huge challenge as they are very intelligent animals, excellent at evading pursuer, but I also enjoy the camaraderie of working in a team to achieve a successful hunt.
I sometimes hunt with a bow and arrow, more challenging as you have to be very skillful and quiet to get that close to the boar.
I work in the forest in the summer months when we don’t hunt, keeping the paths clear and generally managing the land
Q. How many hunters are there on a hunt?
A. About 25-30 on average. Women are welcome to join the hunt but few do. Also incomers to the region often come on the hunt to watch what happens and they are welcome to join once they have passed the exam and have the Permis de Chasse. We currently have an Englishman who hunts with us regularly. People from all walks of life hunt, rich and poor, old and young.
Q. How do decide where to hunt?
A. We meet up in one of our hunt areas and do an initial reconnaissance on foot, looking for tracks and signs of activity. We then reconvene for breakfast and agree on the best area to hunt based on what we have seen.
Q. How many boar do you kill each year and do you kill anything else?
On average we kill about 130 boar, 20 chevreuils (deer) and 20 moufflons.
If we did not hunt the population, especially near the towns would increase dramatically resulting in widespread damage to crops and domestic gardens. The roads would also become much more dangerous at night when the boar are active. The hunting season is basically the winter months but we are often asked by the Maries to conduct a hunt to remove a nuisance boar in the summer months.
Q. Do the dogs attack the boar?
A. No never. Our dogs are bred for their ability to follow a scent, they are chien de pied. They would lose a fight with a boar every time.
It takes 3 years to train dog and they keep on learning. Most of them are mixed breeds but we also have Griffon de Gascogne, Ariégeois, Vendeens, Brunos de Jura.
On each hunt there are between 2 and 8 dogs.
Q. What happens to the meat from the boar?
A. We butcher the boar at our facility outside Ceret and share the meat amongst ourselves. This meat is then given to friends and family. It cannot be sold.
Q. Is hunting dangerous to people?
A. Hunting can never be zero risk but we do all we can to minimize the danger.
Before every hunt our security rules are read out to remind everyone on the hunt of best practice.
We put up signs all round the area where we are hunting to warn the public that we are there