I remember vividly when my father told me it was time for me to start shooting. The excitement for a young boy who had grown up in the countryside was almost unbearable. The only condition prior ro starting shooting lessons was that I learned by heart 'A Father's Advice'. Despite always having rather discouraging reports from school, I learned this iconic poem on shooting safety in record time. Safety is rightly the most important lesson for anyone who takes up shooting. As those sobering last lines state, "All the pheasants ever bred, won't repay for one man dead."
When the time comes to teach my children the essentials of the shooting field, safety will still be the first lesson. But alongside the maxims that follow safety; on the wider countryside and the etiquette of a day in the field, there will be a new area: the responsible use of social media.
Social media and the internet play an ever-increasing part in country pursuits, epecially for the relatively young. A modern countryman's Facebook or Instagram feed is full of images of successful days in the field, whether they are stags from a Scottish valley, pigeons from a Wiltshire stubble or fish from far flung corners of the globe. If 'a picture paints a thousand words', we are in a golden age for field sports publishing!
What I love about social media in this context, is that every image is an opportunity to educate. Those that follow you are probably interested in your experiences and have given you permission to share them. The right image, and its accompanying caption, has the ability to convey that shooting provides you with high quality and healthy meat, that it is a part of the most significant efforts of conservation throughout Britian, that it supports fragile rural economies during the bleakest months of the year, and that a day in the field is restorative for the mind and soul. These myriad of benefits are all excellent and deserve as much sharing as possible. They are the tenets we must communicate effectively to ensure shooting has a future. Sadly, the wrong image has the ability to tear all of these noble aspects to shreds, and convince the onlooker - who has no idea of the context - that shooting in everything they deplore. Daily, I see examples of each as I scroll through my digitial feeds.
Over this Christmas and New Year, as you spend time in the field with gun or rod dogs, why not take a moment to post a photo of the habitat around you that was created or maintained because of your sport? Or at the end of the day, instead of simply stating the bag total, why not post a picture or description of the meal you had that evening, with a wild and healthy meat, ethically harvested, as the centre point? These are the points that we need to be broadcasting to the world. There are a million good reasons to participate in field sports - not least of which is the enjoyment and sense of well being that spending time outdoors and in nature provides. But conservation and food procurement are two key messages that those who haven't had the same chances as you to take part will clearly understand. It is so easy to be part of spreading the good news of country pursuits, and in the long term, will make a significant contribution to their survival.
Whether you are an avid user, or the mere term 'social media' makes your skin crawl, it is part of the modern world. The danger is that we put images into the public domain that are simply ammunition for those who oppose us. They are already digitally adept and won't look this gift-horse in the mouth. The great opportunity is that we all now have a public platform to be ambassadors for the way of life we love.