On the hunt in Tuscany

A case of declining numbers

Oonagh Stransky
November 10, 2011

About the same time that all the supplies for making homemade tomato sauce appear on display at large supermarkets like Ipercoop, a section devoted to hunting gear also materializes. There, you can find camouflage pants, vests, military sweaters, waders and hunting caps, everything to complete the look. One thing you won't find, however, is clothing in women's sizes. The antiquated message that this marketing strategy relays-women stay home preparing dishes with tomato sauce while men go out hunting for boar, pheasant, larks and other game-goes hand in hand with the waning popularity of the sport. The hunters I have spoken with told me that the decreased participation in hunting reflects the dearth of game, high costs and overly complicated bureaucracy. And here I was, romantically thinking that hunting was enjoying a renaissance because of the economic downturn, much in the same way that vegetable gardening seems to have become popular again. But, I was wrong. 

 

 

For my friends Gianni, Paolo and Lorenzo, the complex laws that govern la caccia represent a significant obstacle, but they have learned their way through the labyrinth.  

 

In order to hunt, you need a license to bear hunting arms, which the Questura issues. The exam for this license is, apparently, extremely difficult. It used to be that you needed only to prove a clean record (no arrests or convictions); not so any longer. Now, in addition to a license, you must obtain a medical certificate, proof of payment of a hunting tax, and a hunter's ID code. You also need to be registered in at least one hunting zone, which is usually the same as your residence, but you cannot be registered in more than 19. Depending on whether you are hunting wild boar (which is done in teams), migratory birds (from lookout stations), small game, or deer and other hoofed animals, you are allowed to hunt a certain number of days per season, which goes from September to January. Guai a te if you forget to mark off the days in your booklet: the pecuniary sanctions for breaking any of the laws are very severe. According to the Tuscan Region, non-residents can hunt migratory birds and hoofed-animals for up to 20 days with the proper permits from the Questura. 

 

As for my lack of awareness about the dwindling animal population, this time I chalk up my naivete to too much Tuscan sun. I live in the hills near Arezzo, where the Val di Chiana, Casentino and Tiber Valley come together. The lowlands and hillsides nurture vineyards and olive orchards while the forests offer timber, pastures for grazing, and cover for wild animals. When I take my adopted shelter dog (a collie-mix) out for long walks in the summer, we often run into wild boar. The sound of bloodhounds baying and periodic rifle shots also led me to mistakenly believe that there was no lack of game. 

 

To find out about this matter and more, I met with one of the area's most venerable leaders. Marsilio Rubecchi is 86 years old and lives with his wife and his son's family in a large home above Arezzo. He is a specialist in wild boar hunting and timber. Unfortunately, he can no longer hunt because of eye troubles. (In fact, when I went to see him he had recently had a cataract operation and therefore kept his Ray Bans on, adding only to his gruff charm.) We sat face to face at the long dining table in his kitchen, his wife presiding over us at the head, busily knitting socks, while family members chattered in the background. Marsilio explained how pheasant were introduced to the area in 1956 and wild boar in 1977, and how the gradual demise of local agriculture together with the increase in number of wolves has led over the years to a drastic decrease in the number and kinds of animals that populate the area. When I asked about shooting the wolves, I was told-and everyone chimed in-that it's illegal and the penalty is prison. The changing agricultural landscape means thrush and blackbirds no longer fly overhead. 

 

Marsilio's main concern over the years has been with teaching rifle safety. As a team leader for boar hunting, he knows all about the dangers of sweeping the forest with 40 men and 25 dogs. You shoot straight ahead or straight behind you, never to the side. And you always keep your gun unloaded until you actually can take a shot. Marsilio is deeply worried hunters are using weapons that are too powerful, and that they lose their heads too easily. When I mentioned that perhaps the licensing bureaucracy could address that issue, he let me know what he thought about that system: 'sono leggi che favoriscono i bracconieri.' In other words, Marsilio feels that the tightened laws actually lead to an increase in illegal poaching, a topic worth pursuing.

 

I quizzed him, as I did my other hunter friends, about where the hunting is best. Siena is wonderful for pheasant, they say, but anywhere near a forest, state park or reserve offers strong shooting. Still, it's not like the old days. Marsilio remembers times when he had to come home because he ran out of cartridges; last year he carried around the same six cartridges in his jacket pocket all season. 

 

One would think that animal-rights groups would be happy about this situation. But the thought that large numbers of animals have been decimated is sobering. Here in Italy, animal-rights groups coordinate to fight their cause. They also set off loud fireworks to warn animals of the impending danger much in the same way that, in Ireland, anti-fox hunting campaigners sound sirens to protect the prey.  

 

The fact remains that hunting is both a tradition and a passion for many Tuscans. The sport emphasizes their attachment to the land and glorifies many traditional values. It encourages camaraderie, awareness and communication. Yes, it is a dangerous and perhaps cruel sport, but in the final analysis, for many Tuscan men, nothing beats bringing home the pancetta di cinghiale, even if they have to go to the Ipercoop to buy it.

 

 

For more information on hunting in Tuscany, see the following sites:

Tuscan Region www.regione.toscana.it

 

European Committee for the Defense of Animals www.ceda-fi.tk

 

Amici della Terra www.amicidellaterra.it

 

 

 

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