Larysa Switlyk’s decision to post pictures of herself with a dead goat she shot on Islay appears to glorify the death of an animal and gives the wrong impression about shooting, writes Garry Doolan of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
If you look beyond the sensationalist headlines and extremist rhetoric, there are plenty of organisations like the BASC jumping in to explain the use of shooting for the essential control of feral goats. Our members expect no less of us and it is right and proper that we highlight the importance of lawful and legitimate methods of population control.
There is a ‘sweet spot’ for maintaining sustainable population levels and visiting fieldsports tourists in Scotland have a crucial role to play in maintaining that balance. An alternative to such population management could be that many animals may starve to death in the harsh winter ahead.
But it is a much tougher ask for us to defend photographs that give the impression of glorying in the death of an animal.
Larysa Switlyk says she is passionate about educating people to the clear benefits of shooting. There are more subtle, more constructive ways of doing that than smacking the general public around the face with a photograph of a dead sheep dripping blood from its nose onto the rocks below.
As a well-known American hunter with a strong online presence, Ms Switlyk should be keenly attuned to the power of the media and social media in particular.
Like the rest of the shooting community, she will be acutely aware that no matter how hard she works to promote shooting she can never hope to win over the antis and the extremists. They are firmly entrenched at one end of the spectrum.
But all of us who shoot have a personal responsibility to work hard to normalise the activity in the eyes of a general public which occupies the middle ground, a populace which is generally ambivalent to shooting until something comes along that has the potential to turn them against us.
I firmly believe that those who sit in the middle of the spectrum - the ones neither for nor against shooting unless given good reason to shift either way - stand to be won around if only we could get them out on a well-run shoot, for example.
On a fresh winter’s day, let them sit on a beaters’ bus being hauled through country lanes by a knackered old Land Rover. Let them hear the frantic whistles as proud and determined men, women and children try to reign in excited spaniels. Let them witness the amazing precision of a well-trained Labrador delivering a beautiful partridge or pheasant to hand. These are the sights and sounds that make a shoot day special to me and many thousands of others.
Equally, all our hard work and good intentions can be undone in an instant on social media. It has the power to educate and inform. It also has the power to alienate vast swathes of the population, the very people we need to get onside – and keep onside – if shooting is to continue to prosper.
As the UK’s largest shooting organisation, BASC does not run scared of using pictures of dead animals when appropriate to do so.
But it is useful advice for those who want to share such things on social media to pause for a moment to imagine how that picture would look on the front page of a national newspaper. The storm currently swirling around Larysa Switlyk illustrates the dangers perfectly.
Garry Doolan is deputy director of communications and public affairs at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC)