Hunting Italian style

Thrushes are very tasty on the barbecue. Italy has a very strange way of doing hunting. Armed hunters in camouflage on your doorstep? Shooting your pet cat, as a warning to other cats? That's just the start of it

Hunting in Italy is a blast
Tim Hedges
On 16 October 2014 08:17

For most people who come to live in the Italian countryside, the aspect of life which most surprises and distresses them is hunting. Of course, to the British the word means chasing after foxes on horseback but in Italy it means going after anything wild: mushrooms, wild asparagus in spring and, most particularly, birds and other game.

Anyone is allowed on to your land to take anything you haven’t actually planted and it is not uncommon to see armed men in paramilitary uniforms outside your home. Italians love dressing up in the correct costume and camouflage is de rigueur in the season.

This being Italy, the activity is circumscribed by hundreds of laws, some conflicting, some arcane, almost all ignored.

You can fence your property but they will climb over it or dig under it. You can beg them to observe the distance limits (it is illegal to shoot within 150 metres of a house or a road) but they won’t understand. ‘I am not really a man of the law’ one of them said to me when I caught him setting up his vantage point near my front door.

There are also strict laws as to what they can kill. Every year one or two people are prosecuted for shooting songbirds but one has the feeling that is for show: it goes on routinely and thrushes are very tasty on the barbecue.

The hunters have dogs to chase their prey on to the guns but out of the hunting season these dogs are kept locked up. Hunters will then go through the woodland dropping poisoned meatballs to remove anything which might also hunt their game. The victims are mainly cats and dogs owned by foreigners.

One friend found his pet cat shot and hung up on a fence as a warning to other cats – or possibly to cat owners.

Migrating birds are shot from hides or, in places, netted. They are cooked over the fire that evening. But it is hard to know what happens to most of the produce. I once found the local butcher, attired in balaclava and military jacket and asked what he was doing. ‘Hunting hares’, he said.

The next time I went into his shop I asked for hare and he reacted with horror, as if I had asked for drugs. Indeed it is rather like buying drugs. Once when I wanted some cinghiale (wild boar) I asked in the local bar. A man came to my house late at night, his hat pulled low over his eyes and delivered a haunch (which was excellent, I must say).

You have to register when you kill a boar or hare and have the liver tested in case it has been eating anything it shouldn’t, and this is so costly and time consuming that the trade takes place under the counter.

Then there is the human cost. So far this season, just in the period between 21st September and 8th October there have been three deaths, all of them hunters, and five people injured, including two women and a twelve year old boy. There will be plenty more before the end of the season.

Christiane Koschier was on the start line for a cycle race in the Veneto region when she toppled from her bike. ‘Help, they’ve shot me’ she cried melodramatically, but indeed they had: she was hit in the leg and the side by a shotgun blast. The perpetrator, despite her black and white lycra and the presence of more than a hundred others, thought she was a hare.

Many hunters are old men with failing eyesight but their powerful political lobby prevents the activity from being policed or effectively regulated.  Over the years there have been several attempts to give landowners the right to decide whether to allow hunting on their land or not. They have somehow been sidelined in parliament and disappeared without trace.

And the deaths? Well, it’s not that many.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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