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Going Green in the Vineyards of Southern France

November 19th, 2016 · No Comments · France, Languedoc


Hunting season in France seems to last forever. Which I would not have a particular problem with … if hunters were not beating the bushes for animals only a few hundred yards from villages, here in the Languedoc.

When we first arrived in the south of France, early this year, I noticed that many people working outside the towns wore fluorescent vests. Road workers. People in vineyards. Farmers.

They wear green, orange, red. Eye-grabbing stuff. Garish. Bright.

The sort of colors that can be seen from a distance by hunters. The kind of colors not associated with wild animals.

But after most of a year living here, it has become clear that hunters are out there on any given day, often alarmingly close to town, and we know that is so because we can both see them and hear their shots.

Which led to me putting on, for the first time, a florescent-green vest while going for a walk on the edge of town.

I was influenced by the tableau just over the hill from where we live.

There, in a broad valley bisected by the only road from this village to the next, were stationed a half-dozen hunters in bright red outfits, spread out over most of a mile and apparently in contact with walkie-talkies.

They were on the north side of the road, looking up toward a copse of trees, where they hoped game would emerge — because other hunters and dogs were driving animals in the direction of the men on the road.

Many hunters look for game birds, like pheasant, quail and grouse, but others are interested in bigger targets — deer and, especially, wild boar.

Boar are destructive as well as dangerous and are almost universally reviled by French farmers. The population of boars in France is thought to be in the hundreds of thousands — and growing.

The number of hunters in France is believed to be declining, down to 1 million from twice that number a generation ago. But they seem unlikely to disappear.

Many French like eating game.

Also, a segment of the population sees the right to hunt as a key link to the French Revolution, in the 1790s. Before that, hunting by non-royals was illegal. Gaining the right to hunt was an enormous social change, and some still celebrate it with an almost religious solemnity.

But that makes for guys with guns on the edges of town, ready to shoot. Which creeps out many of the rest of us who may be interesting in walking or cycling in areas where hunters are looking for game.

This story a year ago in a France-based English-language website recounts some of the accidents involving hunters. To be sure, most seem to be hunters accidentally shot by other hunters.

But it doesn’t quell the fears, especially when you can open a window in your village home and hear the “pop pop pop” of guns being fired.

So, today, after seeing the line of men with guns on the main road leading west … I fetched from the car the day-glo lime-green vest originally intended for safety while dealing with mechanical trouble at night and wore it as I walked around one of the familiar paths — all of it on paved roads — around the town.

I also took my walk in the early afternoon, when common wisdom suggests hunters are taking a break for lunch.

It turns out, I was not being silly. When I got back into the village, an old building on the north side of town, where I once saw a wild boar hanging by its back legs, was again a busy place.

As I walked past I saw two small deer and one very large boar, dead, and men appearing to butcher their kills.

I am not opposed to the concept of hunting, in France. It is their country, not mine, and I grasp that it has a strong historical and cultural component.

I would prefer, however, that hunters take their activities further away from populated areas. I shouldn’t be able to see hunters on the edge of the road, and hear them firing their guns at noon on a Sunday. That is too close for comfort. Close enough that accidents could happen.

In the meantime, going forward I’m wearing the vest whenever I walk out of town during hunting season. Hard to mistake something in florescent green for a legal target. Or so I hope.


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