The pheasant shooting season is in full swing now.
The grousey clique and the partridge-only poss have emptied a few belts, so its time for we lesser mortals to show our astonishing hand-eye co-ordination.
But up and down the nation, behind every hedge, in every spinney, alongside every maize strip, an intense debate rages.
A controversial question is dogging every drive and spoiling every sloe gin stop.
It’s not “How, in this year of all years, can Flindt have failed to finish autumn sowing by mid-November?” Although it has to be said that is a fair question.
The topic that is causing heated debate not seen since the first new-fangled over-and-under was spotted in the field is game licences.
And the most commonly heard question is: “Why on earth should I buy a game licence?”
Now, as I thought we all knew, to kill game, one needs a game licence.
It’s the law.
It’s a tiny matter of popping down to see Martin in the Post Office and handing over the magnificent sum of 6.
He fills the form in, stamps it, hands it over, and you pop it in your wallet, where it will lie completely undisturbed for a year.
Once that is done, you can get on with the more taxing preparations of the season, like cleaning the inside of the Range Rover.
What’s curious is that a very high proportion of the shooting fraternity has never bothered to get one.
Some have never heard of it, and have gone for years without one.
Others have heard of them and just not bothered; after all, has anyone ever met anyone who has been asked to show one?
Others have heard of them, but refuse to get one, almost on principle.
They ask, with some justification, how can a law passed 175 years ago apply nowadays?
That fee of 6 was designed to deter the riffraff from taking game – the modern equivalent is 1600.
That sure makes me riffraff.
There are other good reasons for not getting a game licence.
It costs more to administer than it raises in fees.
And even if there were a net gain to be made from them, nothing would go towards the sport; compare and contrast with the Duck Stamp scheme in America.
And anyway, those nice people at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation say the game licence should be abolished.
And there’s the rub, as they say.
The game licence hasn’t been abolished – yet.
It is still the law.
Choosing which ones apply to us is the prerogative of Labour cabinet ministers, not we mere voters.
In the event of trouble with shoot saboteurs, it would seem hypocritical to tut-tut at brazen law breaking if there was no game licence lurking in the back of the gun case.
Perish the thought that an anti-shooting policeman, now that he has been called to your shoot, might perchance enquire politely about everyone’s licence, just to check that everything is in order, Sir.
I wonder if the lack of a game licence might just possibly become relevant when you re-apply for your shotgun certificate.
What BASC actually says – and I know because I’ve just checked – is that the Game Licence should be abolished, but until then it is of paramount importance that everyone gets one.
One of the key pro-bloodsports arguments is that those who take part are responsible, law-abiding types.
Shooting game without a game licence is fundamentally against the law.
How difficult is that?
A second point raised by the excellent BASC is this: The Animal Rights lobby which, let’s remember, pays an awful lot of the Labour Party’s bills, will at some stage point to the number of game licences sold.
“Look,” it’ll say.
“Why are you worried about curtailing the activities of only 30,000 people?”
Our mission in the shooting fraternity is to replace the 30,000 with 300,000 – somewhere nearer to the numbers that support fishing – and make sure that the anti-bloodsport argument is rendered irrelevant.
So don’t bother cleaning out the Range Rover; if you’re shooting with other farmers they won’t care.
If you’re shooting with city types, it’s good for their supermodel girlfriends to get proper dirty.
Pop down the Post Office instead, and get your game licence.