HELD next to Perth racecourse, the Scottish Game Fair is a not to be missed event for all those with a hunting/shooting/fishing bent.
You can wander down the rows of trade stalls with their hundreds of fishing rods on display and down gunmakers row where an equal number of shotguns sit, chained securely to metal frames. To someone who has an extremely healthy respect for guns of any type, the sight of such huge numbers with their cold, gunmetal coloured barrels, brings out a slight feeling of unease in me.
That quickly disperses when you see that the people all around you are not psychopaths with a Rambo-like desire to blitz everything in sight, but are instead a whole cross-section of society from what would traditionally have been called the “working class” through to the most toffee-nosed “toffs” imaginable. There is probably no other event where you would find such a diverse group of people mixing so freely with each other and in such ease.
The whole atmosphere of the three-day event is one of friendliness, with everyone out to have a good day without impinging on the enjoyment of others. There’s plenty of opportunity for drink but I didn’t see one person who looked even vaguely drunk and the only annoying noise was the constant crash of 12-bores from the clay pigeon range.
It makes me wonder why anyone would want to alienate such a lawabiding section of the community who manage to find amusement and pleasure at their own expense and with minimal requirements (if any) for policing.
I suspect that not much gun or knife crime is perpetrated by those I saw around me during my visit, and the most evidence of law breaking I saw were a number of people whose dogs sported collars emblazoned with the slogan “F*** the ban”. To which I might add, “My sentiments exactly.”
One of the great pleasures for me of visiting this sort of event is to simply observe all the working-type dogs that are on view. The Working Terrier clubs always have a whole range of “hardbitten” Jack Russell types on display, rough and smooth alike and invariably with a scar or two on their noses that speak of underground encounters with foxes.
You don’t have to agree with what it is they’re used for to appreciate the courage and tenacity that years of selective breeding has instilled in these dogs. Selective breeding that has been influenced purely by a dog’s actions and robustness with nothing whatsoever to do with looks or arbitary “type”. A salutary lesson perhaps for Kennel Club breed standards and the vagaries of dog shows.
It was refreshing too that 95% or more of the dogs I saw walking round actually looked to be of a fit and healthy type and conformation. Sure I spotted the odd Shih Tzu and something that looked to me suspiciously like a Fila Brasileiro but which would probably have been described as a Staffie cross had I plucked up the courage to ask its owner! But for the most part it was fit, slim, labradors, retrievers, springers, the occasional cocker or field spaniel, plus Jack Russells, Patterdales, and the increasingly popular border terrier, no specimen of which looked like it had just come out of a Mayfair hairdressing salon. And plenty of lurchers of all shapes and sizes thrown in.
In fact, there was very little there that looked like it had been made at the whim of man to satisfy a phenotypical “ideal” and it reminded me of why working dogs were developed in the way they were at the very start. To do a job of work!
Frankly I’m fed up with seeing the likes of German Shepherds that are so deformed in their hind ends that they look like a cross between a dog and a rabbit as they scuttle round the ring. And fox terriers that are so carefully clipped and manicured that they look as though they should be mounted on four wheels with a metal handle to push them around with.
Of course I’ve no doubt that many of the terriers and hounds on show have something of a tough life compared to the pampered existence of your average pet dog. But for many of them it will be a very interesting and exciting life and they have, for the most part, the character that will thrive on this type of lifestyle. Shrinking Violets need not apply!
There is too so much more of interest in seeing Labradors and spaniels being put through their paces at finding and retrieving “shot” dummies than simply watching them trot around the show ring with anxious, overdressed owners desperate for them to hold their tail in a particular position. (It’s quite ludicrous when you really think about it, isn’t it?).
At the Game Fair you get the opportunity to watch a dog’s mind and body working in unison as it hunts backwards and forwards through the grass, jumps the post and rail fence, and returns, tail (docked or otherwise) wagging furiously with a stuffed, cylindrically-shaped object in its mouth.
The fact that the dogs involved enjoy doing it is obvious from their body language, and the hours of training that have gone into bringing them to this level are a labour of love for certain.
Which is why I still feel resentful about what I can only describe as the persecution of those that partake in field sports, largely by those who have no knowledge of what goes on and with even less inclination to find out.
It seems entirely pointless to me to criminalise a largely law-abiding community when society has many more pressing social and violent problems that need resolving so urgently. Probably if more young people had the opportunity to own some ferrets and a lurcher they would have far less inclination to go out and stab someone on a Saturday night.
And that’s a thought that might just be worth someone bringing up at the next focus group meeting on the matter.