Shooting terminology: should we change it?

A gamekeeper walking down a field margin with a bucket of feed

Gamekeeper? Or "game and conservation officer"? The latter would certainly help highlight the conservation side of gamekeeping. - Credit: Archant

Tim Weston of the NGO debates whether changing some of our terminology might improve understanding of those outside the shooting world, and highlight the many benefits of what we do.

The words we use seem to be increasingly important these days, especially in a media-driven society that bleeds petrol stations dry because a local BBC channel reported that a couple of BP garages were running low on fuel. Trophy hunting, for example, seems to evoke so much emotion from the public (not helped by celebrities such as Ricky Gervais who spout utter nonsense about it), but when essentially the same job is called ‘culling’ it seems that not an eyelid is battered.  

The Woodland Trust are currently undertaking a programme to reduce the deer within the woodlands that they own, and have even employed someone to oversee it (in a scientific manner of course). They also quite rightly have utilised the experience of non-professional stalkers who are in place to do a job that the landowner requires in a professional manner. These stalkers are clearly culling deer to reduce numbers in accordance with the owners of the land management plan, meaning that this is a cull. However, if one of those very same stalkers shoots a muntjac buck in one of these woodlands and has it scored by BASC or the CIC, would he become a trophy hunter? To my mind, he wouldn’t, as this is a byproduct of the task in hand, but that is not how it would be reported in the press. Would it help if we changed the name from ‘trophy hunting’ to something else? 

Another seemingly contentious issue is the use of snares, and in fact the Welsh government is considering banning the use of these in Wales. This is despite all the evidence that shows that using snares with the right hardware and proper breakaways set in the right places is as humane as any live catch trap. But the word ‘snare’ conjures up all manner of things from illegally set elephant snares in Africa to the old-fashioned locking snare of yesteryear. Does snaring need a name change? Would this help with public and government opinion? Calling a snare a ‘live wire holding restraint’, for example, might make people more open to the idea of allowing the use of the device. It is after all one of the most useful conservation tools we have in terms of predator control in hard to get to areas such as moorland, mountainous regions or wet boggy ground. If we lost the use of the snare in Wales, it would certainly have a detrimental effect on the curlew population, not to mention hill farmers’ lambs. 

Lastly, should a gamekeeper still be called such – or should we imagine a new name for them? What does the word ‘gamekeeper’ bring to peoples’ minds? Is it the hard-working conservation-minded group that we know and respect, or is it something else altogether? We all know that the modern gamekeeper’s role is far wider these days than looking after the game; in fact, it is usually far more conservation-focused with the creation of habitat, conserving rare species that live on the estate or farm and generally building a better countryside. Is all of that encompassed in the word ‘gamekeeper’? It is if you know and understand what they do, but probably not if you are on the outside. 
Many upland estates have already changed the name of their gamekeepers in their employment contracts to include the word ‘conservation’ – such as a game and conservation officer or a conservation, habitat and game warden. Gamekeepers will always be gamekeepers, and they will carry on doing the job that they do, so is there really any point in changing the name? And what difference will it make to the general public? 

Now I personally don’t have any really strong views on changing names. A humane wire holding restraint is the same device doing the same job, a deer manager is still a deer stalker and a conservation and wildlife officer is still a gamekeeper. What I do have strong views on is how we present ourselves. As shooters, gamekeepers, shoot owners and those that are involved around the sector, we must present the conservation-minded group that we are. We need to expel the myth that the shooting sector is a bunch of posh people shooting pheasants out of trees. The message should be – and is – one about conservation and all the good that shooting sports brings to the countryside. We need to talk about the mental health benefits that people get from the social interaction of a shoot day, many of these people come from fairly remote communities and it is their chance to mix with likeminded people and get some exercise.  

The NGO has created a number of films that are for the wider audience and are available on their channel on YouTube for you all to share to your non-shooting friends. They tell the story of conservation, of wellbeing and of all the benefits that we as a group have to offer wider society.

It would be really interesting to hear your thoughts on the changing of names to help improve public perception – does it work and is it worth it?