Whether you are for or against it, hunting is a pastime enjoyed by many and Italy has one of the highest percentages of hunters per capita and the sound of gunfire can often be heard in many areas in the Italian countryside. The hunting season officially begins on the first Sunday in September and ends on the last day of February.
Italian hunters fall into three groups: bird hunters, basic hunters and the specialised group.
Bird hunters build blinds (trenches at ground level that enable them to remain hidden) or hide disguised in the woodland areas. Some use caged singing birds to attract the wild birds within shot. This practice is dying out quicker than the other two hunting types with very few younger people taking it up.
Basic hunters are those that with their dogs can be heard taking game birds like pheasant, grouse, hares and rabbits. In the areas where the wild populations have been decimated, the hunters will often release breeding pairs in the Spring in readiness for September. This may seem an easy option, but statistically not all the offspring are taken in the hunting season and the wild populations are slowly being reintroduced.
The specialised hunter deals with deer and boar culls. Wild boar breed prolifically and cause untold damage to farmland and vineyards so their numbers need to be controlled; the same goes for deer that can cause considerable damage to agricultural land, crops and particularly grape vines. The decline of the native wolf allowed the numbers of these large beasts to increase and, in some areas, they are almost out of control as the wilderness cannot produce enough food to sustain them, so they often enter private gardens to forage, effectively putting the public at risk.
With the backing of firearm manufacturers like Brescia-based Beretta, the hunting fraternity have become a powerful political force and small town councils have to take them into account when deciding issues that will affect the practice.
This said though, it’s not just a case of buying a gun and going off into the olive groves to shoot at whatever moves, although at times it may seem this way. Hunters must be registered and have an up-to-date licence. Before they can get the permit they must undertake a lengthy course that deals with the correct use of weaponry, conservation and emergency procedures. Only a registered hunter can buy bullets, rifles and handguns legally in Italy, and only after their licence details have been recorded against the sale.
As I said at the start, whether you’re for or against hunting, and it is an emotive subject that can divide friends and families, it is seen more as a way of life in Italy rather than a pastime. The continuation of the practice is dwindling, with fewer young people taking it up, many cite the reason for this being the wider availability of meat products, but others feel the younger generations are becoming more ecologically aware. The Italian government have introduced reductive legislation, which includes the ban on hunting certain migratory birds; this however is an impossible statute to police. But changes seem afoot with the proposal to reduce the season by one month in future.