In a previous post I’ve written about the problems you might encounter with la chasse in France. The type of hunting I was referring to here is the local ACCA – the Association Comunale Chasse Agrééé. These are the hunters you are most likely to see around many hamlets and villages in rural areas, The huntsmen are likely to be your own neighbours in a convoy of 4x4s or the more traditional white Citroen vans, equipped with shotguns, baying hounds and brown plastic barrel of cheap wine.
Hunting on horseback
But there’s a whole other side of hunting, too – la vènerie or chasse à courre. This is the type of hunting British people may be familiar with (and which has been banned in the UK) – hunting foxes and deer with packs of dogs, on horseback or on foot. There are 387 equipés – hunting packs – in seventy departments across France. Half of these packs hunt on foot, mostly rabbits, foxes and hares. The remaining packs hunt on horseback, chasing deer and boar who meet an unpleasant, ritualised death at the hands of the huntsman before being given to the dogs as some kind of ‘reward’. [The full gory details are on the AVA website.] In appearance, these hunters are not dissimilar to their British counterparts with formal dress, including braided jackets in some cases.
The society of the vènerie – hunting with a pack of dogs – has a shameless website, replete with plenty of gory statistics and anti-vegan propaganda. It claims 10,000 practising hunters, 100,000 supporters and 400 teams, across 70 departments. Not really great numbers in a country with a population of just under 68 million (0.00147% in fact). Their justification is based upon tradition, with a history dating back 600 years. However, this argument is not going to hold any water for vegans or indeed any reasonable people; after all bear baiting used to be popular entertainment until the late eighteenth century. If the vèneurs’ nostalgia argument fails they fall back on claims that their practice is ecological.
As in many countries, hunting has a long history in France being a favourite pastime of royalty and nobles. In France, there were royal forests in Chantilly, north of Paris, and in the Loire surrounding the many chateaux. Despite their proprietors’ demise in the Revolution, surprisingly hunting on horseback continued to flourish. The Presidential Hunt was abolished by Sarkozy in 2010. However, in 2018 Emmanuel Macron, well-known for his support of hunting, called for it to be revived as part of French culture and diplomacy.
New law creates makes opposition an offence
A year after Macron’s suggestion that the forests of the Loire should once again echo to the sound of the presidential hunting horn, a new pro-hunting law was passed in the French Senate (second chamber). The new law was included in a raft of measures concerning biodiversity and ecology on 11 April 2019. It introduced a crime of opposing or interfering with “une acte de chasse” punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a €30,000 fine. There are numerous reports of cruelty and bad practice involved in this type of hunting, yet at a time when many other leading European countries have banned hunting with dogs, France has decided to go after the opponents of cruelty rather than investigate the allegations.
The anti-hunt movement
The good news is that there is a strong anti-hunt movement in France opposing the chasse à courre in particular. The AVA – Association Abolissons la Vénerie Aujourd’hui – campaigns for the abolition of hunting with dog packs. It organises disruption of hunt meets, town centre protests, petitions and publicity about the chasse à courre’s activities. This new law is obviously a serious concern for the AVA and its supporters. However, it would seem that public opinion is behind them. Following the news about this new law, a number of petitions calling for its withdrawal were launched, quickly reaching over 100,000 signatures. What’s more, in 2017 a survey carried out by IFOP/FBB found that 84% of French people were opposed to the practice of hunting on horseback with packs of hounds.
Unlike local hunting, which seems to be widespread and endemic throughout the country, chasse à courre is restricted to 70 out of 96 departments. If you’re contemplating a move to an area where this type of hunting proliferates then it may be worth considering whether your location may put you in the path of the vèneurs.