Among the myriad hunting techniques, there is one that, in our view, is truly redolent of freedom and – we’ll just come right out and say it – rare authenticity. The advantage of this technique that has been adopted by modern-day wildlife photographers (unaware of its origins) and which inspired a famous work of literature by Henri Vincenot, is that it wraps its practitioners in a sweet uncertainty, requiring that they place themselves in the hands of chance in more ways than one.
What is “la billebaude”
Inextricably linked as it is with the charm of the chance encounter, of surprise in the full sense of the word, to hunters, informal rough shooting is the art of being caught by surprise by a furred or feathered presence as we reach a bend on a woodland path, step out from behind a hedge or come across a hitherto unseen hare’s form.
Informal rough shooting with or without a dog, because no helper is required (I personally prefer the company of a fox terrier), is about exploring (or re-exploring) a territory without a plan in mind and making full use of an attribute that is vital to life: hope. It’s a roll of the dice, really.
Dominique Venner, in his magnificent Dictionnaire amoureux de la Chasse (Plon, 2000) defined the French term for this pursuit, Billebaude, as “walking, attacking or hunting as the chance arises, at random. This delectable word, kept alive through hunting, comes from the medieval word ‘baude’, which means ‘bold’. ‘Paumer à la billebaude’ meant to play a ball in an audacious manner, not according to the rules, trusting to luck.”
It goes without saying that informal rough shooting does not mean disregarding the rules (especially where safety and abiding by the law are concerned); it’s just that there’s something less stifling about it, more downright alive and exciting than what you get from the ritual of a driven hunt for big or small game.
The fact is, though, that an informal rough shoot is usually aimed exclusively at small game such as partridge, pheasant, thrush, pigeon, larks, woodcock, and sometimes ducks and snipe, hare and rabbit. And that’s also why a double-barrel gun seems necessary or better – it offers the choice of two lead or shot pellet sizes.
Communing with nature and animals
Having practised it quite often (and because it’s popular with many hunters in this part of the world, from when the season opens to when it closes, roughly), I’d say that by eschewing the set rules of specific, coded hunts, informal rough shooting beats all the others when it comes to communing with nature and animals. For informal rough shooting is about contemplation, receptiveness, possibility: you know that the game may (or may not) show up, but you don’t know which one; will you be shooting skyward or groundward? Another stimulating uncertainty.
Let yourself be surprised by the unexpected
You walk, you stop, you hide, you watch, you listen, you wait, and you set off again; sometimes, scuffed ground or scattered droppings around a bush hint that a member of a warren could bound into view across our path at any moment; sometimes you hear a cock gobble and maybe you’ll come across it later around the edge of a copse; at other times, it’ll be a flock of woodpigeon looking for an oak to spend the night in, beaks to the wind, that you rush to lie in wait for in the shelter of the woods…
Not forgetting something that has happened to us before, which is the possibility of coming across a pig of the sounder or a solitary old boar that seems to have taken up home in a miserable-looking bramble bush, perhaps a fox that has snubbed its earth… All in all, everything depends on you and on luck – a wonderful paradox! Such is an informal rough shoot.
It’s not the same as before, but it’s still exciting
These few words may seem too succinct, or hasty, to be able to evoke the strange feeling that overcomes us as we make our way through the countryside, alone or in company, but always with our gun, with the sole aim of going after the uncertain.
True, there was a time when game abounded much more than it does nowadays and provided a more intense informal rough shooting experience. Yet that shouldn’t cause us to denigrate or play down the feeling of fulfilment that we gain from this simple, no-frills hunt that adds a pinch of opportunism to the pleasure of the stroll. After all, how important is the catch as long as the hunting was good?
Photo by : Lens and Hound