What do you think
A shot pheasant in one of my flower beds

Pheasant shooting is a leisure activity. It is not agriculture, farming or husbandry, i.e. the rearing of livestock: it is a sport. A pheasant is a game bird. Game is defined as a species that provides sport. The verb sport comes from the Anglo-French disport, meaning pastime, recreation, pleasure.

A male pheasant is called a cock. This one is a young pheasant, known as a poult, standing on the garden fence just beneath my bedroom window

Ever since 1066 and the introduction of the Forest Laws,(1) the elite who find amusement in chasing and killing animals have created laws to protect their pleasures. The first Game Act of 1390(2) defined who was ‘qualified’ to pursue game – the aristocracy and landed gentry. This was updated in 1671(3) and rewritten in 1831.(4) During those 800 years, more laws were created to prevent other people pursuing and consuming specific wild creatures, the pheasant being one. These were selfish, vindictive laws that caused suffering and distress. Landowners were allowed to use man traps, and ‘poachers’ were punished by fines, imprisonment, transportation and even hanging.(5) Some of these laws were repealed by the 1831 Game Act, which made it legal for anyone to shoot or sell ‘game’ on the purchase of a licence(6) (if they could afford it). Late amendments(7) however, created constraints thereby retaining the elitism of chasing and killing a creature for fun. The 1831 Game Act still stands on our statute book.

Pheasants are ground birds, originally kept as table fowl or used in falconry. They were caught by net and trap.(8) Shooting pheasants in a battue(9) (driven shooting as it is known today) was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert,(10)(11) using the breech-loading shotgun,(12) which was displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Albert’s son Prince Edward, later King Edward VII, turned pheasant shooting into a fashionable high society pastime. Sandringham is renowned for the shooting of 3,144 pheasants in one day, 4th November 1896.(13)

The cachet of large ‘bags’ over a century ago has been replaced by ‘high birds’. The acme now lies in shooting a ‘difficult’ pheasant, a ‘testing shot’, rather than large quantities, although I suspect quantity still accounts for some.

  1. “The forest has its own laws, based ... not on the Common Law of the realm, but on the arbitrary legislation of the King". C. Johnson (ed. and trans.) De Necessariis Observantiis Scaccarii Dialogus qui vulgo dicitur Dialogus de Scaccario, Oxford, 1983, 59-60. http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/reference/essays/forest-law/
  2. 1390 Game Act - Frank Meisel and P. J. Cook (eds.) Property and Protection: Legal Rights and Restrictions, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2000 books.google.co.uk/books?id=2jtZjBaHhEC&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=Game+Act+of+1390&source=bl&ots=LQbuKVwHbA&sig=UvEo9wchgElOqjxGhEsP0qlcAgs&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Game%20Act%20of%201390&f=fals
  3. 1671 Game Act http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=47447 and http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oykOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA210&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. 1831 Game Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Will4/1-2/32/contents
  5. Harry Hopkins, The Long Affray, Papermac, 1986.
  6. The Game Licence was abolished in England and Wales in 2007 and in Scotland and Ireland in 2011. http://www.basc.org.uk/en/departments/game-and-gamekeeping/gamekeeping/game-licences.cfm
  7. Lords amendments to the Game Bill 30 September 1831 http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1831/sep/30/game-bill
  8. C. A. Johns, British Birds In Their Haunts, Sheldon Press, 6th ed., 1925.
  9. From French, feminine of battu beaten, from battre to beat. The beating and tapping of sticks on trees and cover, forcing game to flee in a particular direction.
  10. History, The Journal of the Historical Association. The abstract can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0018-2648.2004.00286.x/abstract
  11. Sport! Or, A Battue Made Easy, Punch viii, February 1845, 56. http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000C0fBOCqh2.Y
  12. Brian P. Martin, The Great Shoots, David and Charles, 1987, 79.
  13. Jonathan Ruffer, The Big Shots Edwardian Shooting Parties, Quiller Press, 1989, 150.


A female pheasant is called a hen. She was also standing on the fence just beneath my bedroom window.

A creature killed for sport is called game. The law that makes such killing lawful is Game Law.(1)

Game law specifies what creatures are deemed game.
Game law specifies when game cannot be killed.
Game law confers rights to killing and take game.
Game law invokes trespass to confine killing and taking game.(2)

I am not a professional, this is my personal conclusion from what I have read:

The Game Act was written by people who shoot, for people who shoot, to protect their private pleasure.
There is nothing in game law to protect other people's private pleasure, from people who shoot.
It is a one sided law, that confers no responsibility or accountability for the consequences of this particular private pleasure.
Shooting has been made into a property, killing for fun can be bought and sold.
Game law does not state where killing game cannot take place.

It is legal to shoot game where ever you wish on private property so long as you have the landowner's permission (3)

It was enacted in 1831, almost 200 years ago. Despite a few minor amendments, it belongs to a different time, different values and different attitudes to life, humans and animals.

  1. 1831 Game Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Will4/1-2/32/contents
  2. Poaching is not theft, you cannot steal something that is not owned. You cannot own something that is wild. Poaching is the “unlawful taking or killing of game” while trespassing. See Charlie Parker and John Thornley, Fair Game, Pelham Books, New Revised Edition May 1994, 19 and Tim Russ and Jamie Foster, Law of Field Sports, Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing, 2010, 89.
  3. Proximity to the public highway is covered by the Highways Act 1980, s 161(2)(b) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1980/66/section/161


Partridges too now. A 'mother' brought her chicks into the garden many times during the summer. They have an endearing quality. I presume they have been put in the meadow by the cottage for shooting at too.

Imagine the game was not shooting pheasants or partridges, but splatting cats.

A game which, like shooting, required special attire, not only utilitarian but with subtle nuances implying style and wealth. A game with rules and codes of conduct about the acceptable and unacceptable way of splatting. A game that needed the tools of splatting, including a splat of course, some exquisitely made with great craftsmanship, others commonly plain.

A game that needed a support crew to round up the wild cats, game cats, into the splatting areas, designed for some cats to escape, climb up high objects or simply to run as fast they could to make splatting more trying. A game that need a back-up crew too, to pick up the splattered bodies.

A game that had become so popular with the elite that millions of cats were bred and set free in towns and cities throughout the land, that required supplementary feeding of billions of mice. Imagine all the products, equipment, jobs and devices: a whole industry for splatting.

A game that was acceptable because it began as a royal game, with banquets and feasts and much merry-making. A game that had created laws to protect it first from everyone else, then for the chosen and then for the vote of the aspiring squire and yeoman. A game that made millions of cats, sitting on fences, under cars and behind dustbins, a normal everyday sight, seen in hundreds from every window and heard howling morning and night.

A game that made you think nothing of splatting a cat.

Could you splat a cat for fun?
Even if you hated cats, could you splat a cat for fun?
Even if you hated cats and loathed the noise they made, could you splat a cat for fun?
Even if you hated cats and loathed the noise they made, could you splat a cat for fun in front of another family's child?
Even if you hated cats and loathed the noise they made, could you splat a cat for fun in front of another family's child causing them to weep?

Could you?
Would you?