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How to get through France's hunting season 'without being shot'

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How to get through France's hunting season 'without being shot'
Photo: AFP
11:00 CEST+02:00
The hunting season is underway so this is recommended reading for anyone living in rural France.
Among the casualties of last year's hunting season in France were a 13-year-old boy who was shot dead by his own grandfather, a Frenchwoman who was killed in her own garden after a hunter fired a shot through her hedge and a hunter who was shot dead during a wild boar hunt
Some accidents are bizarre and completely random, such as the death of a driver killed by a bullet that rebounded off a boar, but many simply involve hunters shooting at people they have mistaken for game.  
And with the 2018/2019 season kicking off around most of France in September, more tragic tales will no doubt start emerging from the French countryside. 
So, whether you're a keen rambler, a nature lover or you just happen to live in a rural area of France and enjoy walking your dog on a Sunday morning, here are some tips to help you get safely through the hunting season. 

'It's like the Wild West': Tales of life in rural France during the hunting seasonPhoto: AFP

Know the hunting calendar
Hunting is more popular in France than anywhere else in Europe, with over one million people (not all of them licensed) taking part in the controversial pastime so it certainly helps to know exactly when the hunting season begins in your department and which days people are allowed to hunt.
For this, there is the website of France's National Office of Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) which provides not only a comprehensive map detailing when the season begins in each department but -- if you click on the name of the department -- you'll also find more details about which days of the week days are off limits for the hunting community in your area during the 2018/2019 period and when the season ends. 
The map below from the ONCFS shows when the hunting season officially begins in all the French departments. 
For those coloured orange, the season begins on September 2nd, those coloured blue will see the season begin on September 9th, purple on September 16th, green on September 23rd, light purple on September 30th. 
Hunting season began in the departments coloured yellow (Moselle, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin) on August 23rd. 
But knowing the calendar is one thing...
The real challenge is to know where exactly the hunters are going to be on a certain day and for this there is no one website to visit or person to call.
French walking associations recommend contacting the local Town Hall although they might not have been informed, as well as local hunting associations and walking groups whose members might be in the know.
This will at least give you an idea of the places in your area you might want to avoid going for a walk in because they are regularly the scene for hunts.
And also try to find out what kind of hunt is taking place in the area so you know what to expect. It could be a hunt with dogs and it could be a group of hunters or just individuals. 
Stay on marked pathways (and avoid venturing into unmarked areas)
While it's definitely useful to know exactly when the hunters are likely to be out and about, there are some who don't stick to the rules which means it's also a good idea to do your best to steer clear of the areas they'll be hunting altogether. 
That means staying on proper paths when out walking which should minimise your chances to running into a hunt and you are much more likely to be spotted on marked paths especially well-known ones where hunters are likely to have seen people before. 
France set for controversial reforms to hunting laws
Photo: AFP
Wear bright clothing 
If you are out walking the dog then make it easier for the hunters to spot you by wearing a high visibility vest and even hat. And get one for your mutt too.
This is what hunters wear themselves so they are used to looking out for it. Ramblers associations also recommend avoiding white and neutral colours because they can be easily confused with the natural colouring of the animals that are being hunted.
What to do if you hear a gun being fired?
If you realise there is a hunt going on around you and hear gunshots, try to make your presence known to the hunters as efficiently as possible (without shouting).
Ramblers associations say one of the ways you can do this is by moving to a clearing. Avoid hiding at all costs because your movements could look like an animal darting for cover. 
Some people say to avoid shouting in this situation as this may disturb the hunt and irritate the hunters however others say to sing, shout and do whatever you need to do to be noticed. 
If you get a chance to speak to people hunting in the area, do it 
This will give you a chance to find out some details which could help you steer clear of the hunt when out walking. 
One ramblers association recommends that you ask where the hunt is supposed to be taking place, if there are particular areas to avoid, whether there are any areas that will definitely be safe, how many hunters there are and how long the hunt will last.
Photo: AFP
What to do if you come across a sign indicating an ongoing hunt
In some places, signs are used to indicate that a hunt is in progress. This is often the case on trails that cross the hunting area which is another reason to stay on a marked path in areas where you might be at risk.  
If you see one of these signs, take heed and don't go any further.
While this might be frustrating, especially since it is sometimes difficult to predict, remember that it is your safety which is at stake. If possible, find a hunter who is willing to chat to you and ask him for more information (see above).
If not, turn around or try to find an alternative path.
Photo: AFP
What does the Association for the Protection of Wild Animals have to say?
Marc Giraud, the Vice President of ASPAS (Association for the Protection of Wild Animals) who has written a book called "How to walk in the woods without being shot" (hence the quote in the title of this article) told The Local France: "Hunters are armed and passionate -- to put it politely.
"It's important to know your rights. Hunters are not always open people and they have a staggering level of rights themselves which are very complicated to understand. 
"My general advice is to be prudent around people who choose to spend some of their time being violent. And of course, you needn't spend the whole of the hunting season avoiding the woods."
In his book Giraud goes into detail into the complex laws surrounding hunting, looking at how hunters can be on the right side of the law even if they end up shooting you in your garden, how in some cases it's fine to hunt on the beach in the middle of August and how it is currently impossible to punish drunk hunters -- something some blame for the high number of fatal incidents.  
Photo: AFP
And what about those living in the countryside?
"I grew up learning how not to go outdoors during hunting season, making sure to wear brightly coloured clothes and pretty much being terrified of getting shot during those times because it's something that sadly happens very regularly," Julia Kornig who grew up in the Vaucluse tells The Local.
And some fearful residents in rural France say they are forced to adjust their daily routines and miss out on beloved leisure activities.
Kene Ovenshire, a veteran of the US Airforce, who now lives in the Landes department of south west France told The Local: "My experience here in south west France during hunting season is that this is more of the Wild West than anywhere I've ever lived or visited in the US.
"I have a small 11 hectare farm, my home sits right in the middle of my property. My wife and I have eight horses and we enjoy riding on the paths that surround our home.
"But during hunting season we do not ever go out for walks, hikes, or bike rides. The hunters in our area are constantly coming within more than 150 meters of our home, on our property, and cracking off shots at the game they are hunting - pigeons, sanglier, deer, whatever."
The statistics
On average there are around 20 deaths as a result of hunting in France each year. 
But, while it's important to be cautious when you're in the countryside during hunting season, the vast majority of people who are injured or killed are hunters.
According to France's National Office of Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS), the number of accidents reported from June 1st 2016 May 31st 2017 stood at 143 in total, which showed a drop on the previous year's figures.  
However this isn't the whole story. While the total number of accidents did fall, the number of deaths rose by 80 percent, from 10 to 18. 
So, while it's true that it's unlikely you'll fall prey to a fatal hunting injury if you're out and about during France's hunting season, there's no doubt that you need to stay alert to the danger. 
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None - 09 Sep 2018 05:52
Can private property be posted with signs that say "private property, no trespassing or hunting allowed" as we do in the USA? If on your property, one could play music really loudly to scare game and hunters away.
Laura - 10 Oct 2018 17:51
I bike on marked paths in the Vexin and hunters seem to be more numerous on Sunday afternoons, compared to Saturdays. I wear bright flashy colors but honestly a lot of these hunters seem drunk and I think accidents are definitely inevitable.
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