By Dave Jones for the Costa Blanca News
The official hunting season is in full flow. Barrel-chested men dressed in combat gear, shotguns in hand, can be seen (or not, as the case may be) stalking the countryside with the view to a kill. The echo of gunshot rings out in the valleys, as anything sporting fur or feathers is targeted. However, at the same time the ‘unofficial’ walking season is also upon us. Those who enjoy taking advantage of the vast network of routes which criss-cross the mountains are now out in force, with the heat of the summer just a distant memory.
To the untrained eye these may seem to be mutually exclusive activities.
How can hundreds of thousands of walkers be out treading the paths when there are equally large numbers of armed men in the same areas loosing off rounds at anything that twitches in their vicinity? It sounds like a recipe for disaster, particularly when pretty much everywhere in the vast areas of mountain/countryside which make up the Spanish interior is marked as an area where hunting is permitted with signs of ‘coto de caza’, ‘coto’, etc. On Sunday I found myself halfway up a mountain on a path which has been waymarked by the Valencia regional government. It’s a fairly popular route and I’d passed a group of walkers coming down after an early start. Up above I heard voices and a barking dog. In front of me were two men dressed in green with guns slung over their shoulders. It’s a fairly common sight at this time of year. Not really my cup of tea, pointing guns at rabbits, but each to his own. Therefore I bid them ‘buenos días’ and moved to walk past them. At this point one of the men said: “You can’t be on the mountain at the moment.” I had an inkling of what he was getting at, but asked him why this was the case. At this point the man identified himself as an off-duty Guardia Civil officer. He explained that it was the hunting season and that I was in an area reserved for hunting. I told him that I had not seen any signs on the path below or at the start of the waymarked walk informing that the mountain was in any way ‘closed’. He then talked of the potential dangers, saying that if a hunter was nearby and ‘a partridge was suddenly flushed out’, and I was in the way when he started shooting, then this could be very bad for me. I told him that I understood what he was saying and thanked him for his concern and the warning.
At this stage the advice from the officer changed somewhat. Seeing that I was determined to go on, he advised caution but no longer seem willing to press the point that the mountain was out of bounds. I thanked him again and carried on my way. The conversation was at all times ‘amicable’ and the hunter/officer was very polite but I did wonder at the way he had offered advice over the route and its ‘openness’ or ‘non-openness’ on what was a public mountain, albeit designated as an area for hunting.
A press release from the Valencia regional government sent out on October 12 helps to shed some light on the matter. It states that there are some 75,000 hunters in the Valencia region alone and the season runs until December 6 for those shooting from a ‘fixed position’. They can hunt at weekends and on bank holidays only; and they must always be at least 25 meters away from public paths. There is no mention of areas of public mountain being closed off to walkers. Despite the differences between hunters and walkers – and the destruction done by hunters to signposts and waymarks on some regional government routes – the simple truth is that there are very few reports of walkers getting shot by hunters.
The reason for this is that most of the hunters are responsible people who take their sport seriously and do not want to risk killing or maiming another human being. There is a conflict of interests between the two activities but with mutual respect on both sides, and particular care taken by both hunters and walkers, then tragic accidents can be kept to an absolute minimum.
Malcolm Thompson of the Hondon Valley Walking Group adds; I usually carry a florescent jacket in my day bag. It weighs nothing and could be a potential life saver. It could also help in a search and rescue situation as the reflective tape will pick up torch light.
Click this link for more information about hunting in Spain.