Larysa Switlyk posted a picture of herself with a dead feral goat and the world went mad.
They had been softened up by the stories earlier that week: there was the Woburn trophy hunting story in The Times of London and the video of the American shooting the elephant on South African TV station News24.
From a media point of view, Larysa looked like an easy one for the antis. They only had to bang the gong marked ‘animals are cute’. On the pro-hunting side, we had a more difficult situation. We had.to do three things in the same answer.
- We had to remind the world about ‘management’ – that, in the absence of large predators, UK animals need to be controlled, or we get what the League Against Cruel Sports created at its West Country deer sanctuary, when animals died of disease because LACS refused to control them. Here is our film on the subject:
- We had to inform the world that trophy hunting is just ‘management’, but you get a few extra £€$s to spend on a new truck, binos, chainsaw or other conservation tools. And in that answer, we had to tell the world that trophy shots are safe and humane or the guide risks losing their Firearm Certificate.
- And we had to put a bit of blue water between the British image of hunting and what Larysa was projecting. But that’s easy – and it is a point I was able to make in the relatively civilised surroundings of a BBC World Service interview, that antis have achieved a global consensus. Among antis, all animals are cute. But hunters – apart from the single binding issue that they hunt – are different from country to country. Not many people trophy hunt in the UK. It is very big in German and Denmark, and Americans go to Africa to decorate their houses.
The good news is that I think that the antis overplayed their hand with Larysa. It extended the hunting story on the news agendas from a coupe of days to a whole week, and it allowed the pro-hunting side to get its arguments together. In the battle of logic versus emotion, emotion wins in the studio, but logic wins in the end. And that’s why we back Larysa.
Nearly 20% of our audience is in the USA so, although we broadcast from what you might call a British cultural platform, we acknowledge other hunting cultures.
I spoke to Larysa by Messenger last week. She said the furore could not have happened at a worse time, as she was getting on a bush plane and off for two weeks beyond mobile signal.
And like many of the shooting organisations, I did quite a lot of media last week.
One thing that came out of the debate is that when a TV personality calls hunting ‘murder’, as Eamonn Holmes did last week, it gives his viewers a free pass to issue death threats to hunters, and dozens of them did. Thanks Eamonn. As we know from running Fieldsports Channel for ten years, they don’t carry them out. It seems that it takes a proper American wacko to put a pipe bomb in the post.
My appearance on ITV’s This Morning landed me in the Daily Mirror under the headline This Morning viewers ‘disgusted’ by guest attempting to defend ‘trophy hunting’ on British shores – quite proud about that.
Here is the clip from ITV:
I did the Larysa debate for BBC News and several radio. Stations including BBC Scotland. That was nice and comfortable, done in the BBC studio in Taunton in front of a green screen. They only have urban images, so they put me in front of a video on a loop of Taunton Castle. I have asked them to film a non-specific three minutes of Exmoor for the next time I do this.
Then I moved to the car park for an interview on TV News and to debate on Sky against badger campaigner Dominic Dyer of the Born Free Foundation, who doesn’t like Larysa
You can see how he had to move the debate wider to include grouse shooting, as he started to lose his grip on the goats issue. However, Skype in a Taunton car park is not an easy way to get your message across, and I got some funny looks from passers-by.
One notable moment: a BBC radio presenter said he would not go deerstalking when I offered. I said I thought he was therefore emotionally stunted. He can only look at an animal and go ‘oo’. I can look at animals and go ‘oo’ (I admit I find the trailer to 101 Dalmatians too stressful to watch), but I can also go ‘wow’ and ‘yum’ – and the BBC presenter can’t. One of the production staff from that station rang me up afterwards, laughing, to thank me. Not sure if it advances the argument but it was a great pleasure.
So where does this leave us? Well, we are filming with Blaser in Ardnamurchan, one of the places where Larysa went to stalk deer, and I am lobbying hard for them to allow us to do a feral goat-stalking film.
I had one viewer contact me and ask if we should consider removing Larysa from our videos until goatgate died down. I say no. We have to be loud and proud about what we do. If we don’t, we certainly will be banned. We have to win this argument.
In addition, we are looking at organising a trophy hunting conference in February, where we will invite antis to put forward alternatives to trophy hunting (I don’t think there are any) and – I hope – we will have Larysa as a special guest speaker. That should be fun.
Organisations active on the media throughout ‘goatgate’
The organisations were split over Larysa. BASC and SAC blamed her. The SGA and the CA defended her. Here is what they said:
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association came out fighting. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, chairman Alex Hogg pointed out the anomalies in the anti-hunting argument. ‘Last year, in Scotland, 112, 500 deer were killed and Michael Russell – the [Scottish] Brexit Minister who responded angrily to the picture of Larysa Switlyk posing with a dead goat on Islay – has personally campaigned for more culling to promote Scottish Government’s forestry expansion target and to bring more protected sites into favourable condition.’
Click here for the full post.
The Countryside Alliance is more sympathetic to Larysa. In a post titled ‘Countryside Alliance chief springs to defence of the goat hunter, chief executive Tim Bonner says: ‘Her approach is jarring by more reserved British standards, but the extraordinary reaction to her hunting holiday photographs is still difficult to explain in logical terms.’
He adds ruefully: ‘We must always remember that logic, evidence and principle are largely irrelevant in debates about wild animals. Perception and prejudice trump them every time.’
Click here for the full statement.
BASC talks about the ‘dangers of social media’ BASC’s Garry Doolan juxtaposes Larysa in her camo with ‘a fresh winter’s day’. For the general public: ‘let them sit on a beaters’ bus being hauled through country lanes by a knackered old Land Rover, let them hear the frantic whistles as proud and determined men, women and children try to reign in excited spaniels, let them witness the amazing precision of a well-trained Labrador delivering a beautiful partridge or pheasant to hand.’
He also reproduces the part of BASC’s social media policy devoted to photographs
Click here for the full blog.
The Scottish Association for Country Sports warns against ‘irresponsible use of social media’. Advises those who post to: ‘explain what you are doing in a management context and refrain from using stupid and emotive language such as ‘sniper mode’, ‘gold medal trophy’ and boasting about quite normal shooting distances as if they were some kind of extra long range effort.’
‘Opponents of fieldsports capitalise on public ignorance,’ says SACS’ Alex Stoddart. ‘In essence this is a complete non-story; however, the stupid manner in which it was communicated could only have given antis ammunition against us. Meanwhile, this particular hunting celebrity has jetted away on another trophy hunt elsewhere in the world, leaving us, an extraordinarily hard-working shooting and fieldsports advocacy body, to deal with the political shit-storm she has left behind.’
Click here for the full press release.