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How to get through France’s hunting season ‘without being shot’

How to get through France's hunting season 'without being shot'
Photo: AFP
The hunting season for 2021 opens this weekend in some areas, so people in rural areas need to be aware of the safety precautions needed when la chasse is active.

The opening date of the hunting season varies according to area, but for many parts of France is is Sunday, September 12th – you can find the full calendar here.

The hunting season lasts until February, and brings with it serious risks – over the years casualties have included 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.  

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. 

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'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.

France is divided into 94 hunting federations, and different federations have different start dates. Broadly, the season runs from September to February, with the first areas starting on Sunday, September 12th this year.

Find the full calendar HERE.

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. 

Also keep an eye out for signs saying la chasse – these are supposed to be prominently displayed when hunters are in the area, but in reality are often small and half hidden in hedges.

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 hunters, 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.

While you can complain to your local mayor or local officials about la chasse, it might be better first to find out if they are involved in hunting themselves. Hunting is a long-standing rural tradition in France that thousands of people take part in, and some people can be hostile to what they perceive as attacks on their traditions by outsiders.

If you can, it’s better to form cordial relations and simply ask where hunters are likely to be and where you should avoid.

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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.   

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 themselves.

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. 


Member comments

  1. We are very fortunate here that our local chasse is very well run, respectful and we have not had any issues with them (nor have our neighbours). If they were as well managed elsewhere I suspect a fair amount of the animosity directed at them would disappear.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. You can put up ‘chasse interdit’ signs – some will respect these, others tear them down. I believe you can add your property/name to a list for land hunters may not cross at the town hall (though I have no more detail on this, it is just heresay).

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