Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Big Bang

Late August isn't a good time for birds, hares, rabbits and sundry other wildlife in Greece. It's the official start of the hunting season and we've been made well aware of this by the sound of shotguns being discharged in the countryside around our home here in Kiotari in the days since, often at the kind of early morning hour when no decent folk ought to be at large.

Following the fires of 2008 we were sort of lulled into a false sense of security on the "big-bang" front. There was a three-year hunting ban imposed in the area to give the local wild fauna a chance to recover and it was only last year when this was lifted, but precious few hunters appeared in their military fatigues around the hills near us last season. This year though it appears to be a return to business as usual. At the sound of the first shot we were reminded of our very first visit to the site on which the house has since been constructed.

It was a warm day in early October of 2004. There stood the four of us, John, Wendy, Yvonne-Maria and I, imagining the yet-to-be-built house on the bare patch of ground on which we then stood, when over the hill stalked this bloke with a cracked shotgun under his arm, a couple of dogs mooching around in his near vicinity. Just when we thought that we'd be appearing in the upcoming newspapers under the heading: "Four British Tourists Shot in Mystery Killing on Rhodean Hillside - No Motive Say Local Police", the man spotted us and broke into a wide grin, then shouted a genial "KALI SPERA!!". It was late afternoon at the time. We'd never been used to being in such close proximity to blokes carrying huge guns and so still eyed him with suspicion as we all returned his greeting. We all wondered silently, though, whether he'd have been as friendly had he known that a slice of his hunting ground was soon to be cordoned off and a clutch of villas built there.

So it was that, on our very first visit to what would eventually become our home, we were introduced to the fact that a rural Greek goes hunting. It's tradition. Stroll through any local village after August 20th and before February 28th and you'll spot men standing around lovingly dusting off their guns with a rag, encouraging their dogs to climb into the air-holed plywood boxes in which they transport them behind a 4x4 to the hunting ground, or sitting a-la "Kentucky dad waiting for his 16-year old girl to return from the village hop, hopefully still not pregnant", with the gun slung across the knees threateningly.

Hunting is very much a tradition here and one has to get used to it. At least they do only hunt for food. It's never simply for sport, but vegetarians don't generally feel comfortable with this anyway, do they? It's becoming a subject for hot debate nowadays though. Even here in Greece there is a growing number of anti-hunt and ecological lobbyists who want to see it banned. It's estimated that a third of a million Greeks hold hunting licences, so that's a lot of birds and bunnies which are going to disappear from the Maquis between now and March next year isn't it.

Walking along the lanes and among the olive groves in this area one can't fail to see that the hunters have been about. If you don't actually see some huge 4x4 parked under a tree, or see a couple of men standing on the tops of two adjacent hills calling to either eachother or their dogs, you'll almost certainly see the tell-tale spent cartridges lying in the dust in the middle of the lane, some with blue, some with red plastic cases, still attached to their brass heads, now minus their content of shot of course. By the time next February arrives it'll be quite possible to fill a respectable-sized plastic bag with the things when out for a walk in the hills.

When we first arrived here we asked someone what they actually shoot. "Anything that moves," was the reply. In fact, it's not unusual for a hunter to hit his friend in the posterior - they're that trigger happy! During our first winter here we walked nervously in the countryside, fully expecting to be fired at. Now though, we've got used to it. Not that we particularly enjoy hearing the sound of shotguns and the sight of a strapping bloke in army fatigues sporting a loaded rifle isn't one that excites me all that much. Sometimes they're uncomfortably close to the house here when they shoot and that gives us a bit of a shock.

A much more enjoyable sound is the "twirl, twirl" call of the European Bee-eaters, which are now circling above us every evening, often alighting on the nearby wires or treetops for a rest, as they feed to build themselves up for their imminent flight South to Africa for the winter. At least they hunt in relative silence and don't leave litter behind as evidence of their pursuits.


  1. We too prefer the bee eaters to the hunters and hope they haven't left by the time we return in October. However, as another vegetarian, I would disagree that we non meat-eaters aren't happy about people hunting for food. If one has to eat animals I would much rather people killed (preferably, raised and killed) their own than bought vast quantities of 'factory'- produced meat. What a shame the hunting ban wasn't in force for a few more years!

  2. A contentious subject at any time John, and one that applies world wide and is almost as old as man himself. I have a theory that eventually the age profile of hunters will be such that hunting will die a natural death (forgive the pun) or in the very least be severely diminished as the younger digitally enhanced youth do not take it up for all sorts of reasons. And thats from someone who has lived in the countryside all his life and hunted for a good part of that.

    It is important to understand the distinction between a rifle and a shotgun as well. Both can be lethal in the wrong hands but a rifle is far more indiscriminate than a shotgun at much longer ranges. And without wishing to start a debate, due to the understanadable emotion about the rights and wrongs of hunting, given the choice I would rather be a pheasant than a battery chicken any day.

    As usual an interesting post John that for me painted a familiar picture, expertly written as always and one that I am sure will raise comment. Thanks for that.