Hunting, Shooting and Fishing

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This page is to consider Scouting and Hunting, Shooting and Fishing.  Please note the three ‘g’s.  This is not a search for fly fishing, grouse moors or hunting to dogs but involvement in any form for sport, food or vermin control.

The original sixth Scout Law states ‘A Scout is a friend to animals’

To which Scouting for Boys adds        ‘He should save them as far as is possible from pain, and should not kill any animal unnecessarily, for it is one of God’s creatures.  Killing an animal for food or an animal which is harmful is allowable.’

All the quotes found indicate that this Law was upheld in word and spirit.  The first quote, from Mike Petty’s records of local Cambridgeshire papers, initiated this page:

1925                Ministry of Agriculture – The Great Annual rat hunt week…’Brigades of Boy Scouts had already enrolled’.

1930                ‘The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries again asks for the help of the Association during Rat Week November 3rd to  8th which it is hoped will be freely given’.

                        from The Scouter

Hunting, Shooting and Fishing in Cambridge

For the Ministry of Agriculture to co-ordinate a hunt on rats indicates a great need.   At a time when the harvest was more immediately connected to a good year ahead and a far higher proportion of the population was connected with farming the response is not surprising.   Rat swarms, if not common, remained in folk memory.  This is not to suggest that a competitive element may not have become evident during the events.

1920    Jamboree at Olympia, 1920.

‘Kindness to animals. It is hoped that each Troop and County Team will bring with it to Olympia at least one pet animal or bird, and a prize will be given for the best. Arrangements have been made to house and feed the animals in a section of Olympia -, this will be known as The Boy Scout Zoo’.          Reveille

1927 7th Cambridge A Court of Honour list of proposed ‘Good Turns’ included ‘Kill rats in rat week’. The list also include ‘banana peel’ crusade.

1935    26th Cub Pack   ‘After they had finished their breakfast…they would go with the farmer or labourers and help in the field with the harvest or catch rabbits…’

1937    26th Cub Pack   ‘we played games, had our teas and hunted for bird’s nests (not taking any eggs of course)’

1941    5th Cambridge             spent a good part of their time fishing, but there is no record that any of them showed any great enthusiasm for a supper of eels’.

1951    Pictures exist of .22 rifle practice from the 12th boat Adventurer.  In ‘The Link’ the 12th Cambridge newsletter, this occasion is described and they set up targets across the river.  They also fished on this cruise with some success.

1951    Also from ‘The Link’ 12th Camp ‘…took us for an exploration in the park, us with the dark object of bagging a rabbit or two (some hope).’ At another camp ‘Rabbit hunting seemed to be the main occupation of the campers but none were caught, as usual’.  This was after an instructive walk with the head gamekeeper who showed two of the Scouts various sorts of traps.  It is of note that whilst the gamekeeper spoke of trapping magpies and jays and other ‘vermin’, the Scouts only report hunting, but not catching, rabbits for food.

These leaders from the 23rd could, on occasion, catch rabbits.

1957    Good Turn Week         One of the suggested good turns that a Group could offer was controlling rats.  Poison was not to be used.

1964    Kinsey Trophy A fishing competition was held in Mill Pond. The 54th entered one from each patrol – no fish.

1969 44th Cambridge – a letter from GSL to SL on receiving a birds nest with broken eggs from a Scout recommending that the Scout concerned should be suspended or expelled.

1970’s 13th Cambridge ran Patrol fishing competitions

Scout Badges

Fishing             The Fishermans badge (now Angler Activity) has been consistently available since 1908.  The first versions required that a fish be caught by both fly casting and bait casting.  It has always been an activity for Scouts.

Shooting          The Marksman badge existed through until the 1960’s and is now subsumed into the Master at Arms Activity Badge.  From the earliest requirement it has been a target shooting sport not a hunting activity.  Any form of animal (or human) outline on targets is now prohibited. A hundred years ago it also centred on the skills of hitting targets that could be scored.  It is harder to determine exactly what the targets used were but appear to be variations on concentric circles.   The Scout Defence Corps, a training programme in the First World War, involved shooting.  The intention was to prepare Scouts for Military service.  It was not compulsory and generated considerable debate about how it fitted within Scouting.

Hunting           No badge entitled hunting has existed.  Horseman badges (now Equestrian Activity) have existed but do not contain reference to hunting.  The early badge requirements spoke of ‘the evils of check reins’ and all show concern for the horses.

Stalker Badge (to 1960’s)       This badge certainly requires the skills associated with hunting ‘Demonstrate his ability to stalk.  Making use of all available cover, quietly and inconspicuously, and understand the value and use of cover, camouflage, wind, shadows and background by day and night’.  The required proof has always been to take photographs or sketch animals or birds in the wild, never to produce a kill.

Animal welfare

Two badges that specifically oppose harm or cruelty are Friend to Animals badge which required knowledge of the local Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Bird Warden (both to 1960’s) which states ‘with regard to bird life in general, know the chief dangers (including egg collectors) to which it is exposed; any social customs, ideas or superstitions which threaten its existence; and any laws passed, or practical steps taken, to protect it.’.

Animal husbandry

Two badges do require knowledge of, or the killing of animals.  Neither involve hunting; the Poultry Farmer and the Rabbit keeper.  The first requires ‘knowledge of the killing and dressing of birds’ and the second specifically ‘be able to kill and skin a rabbit and dress it in current style for market’.  Both these badges continued until the 1960’s

External views

In Lark Rise to Candleford (pub 1939), Laura Thompson described country life from 1885 onwards.  Jumping a little ahead of the narrative date she praises the Boy Scouts.

The birds’-nesting was a cruel sport, for not only was every egg taken from every nest they found,..    No one in authority told them that such wholesale robbery of birds’ nests was cruel. Even the Rector, when he called at the cottages, would admire the collections and sometimes even condescend to accept a rare specimen. Ordinary country people at that time, though not actively cruel to animals, were indifferent to their sufferings… Their cruelty to the other birds and to some other animals was due to an utter lack of imagination, not to bad-heartedness. When, a little later; country boys were taught in school to show mercy to animals and especially to birds, one egg only from a clutch became the general rule. Then came the splendid Boy Scout movement, which has done more than all the Preservation of Wild Birds Acts to prevent the wholesale raiding of nests, by teaching the boys mercy and kindness.

1956    The local farmers felt that by asking the Scouters to educate Boy Scouts they could influence their elders about sheep worrying.

Running Conclusion

To date the evidence is of Scouting as a very strong advocate of the protection of Birds and Animals.  Certainly the early ‘Friend to Animals’ and ‘Bird Warden’ badges were in the forefront of animal welfare.  If some Scout training could lead to hunting for food at need they abhorred unnecessary killing and did not glorify the event.  The killing of poultry and rabbits was in the appropriate manner, a function of food production.  Similarly in the context of farming the control of pests is a legitimate exercise.

The sixth law can be seen to have been observed.

His first rabbit 7th Cambridge 1927

Other than this photograph there is no evidence of Cambridge Scout Troops facilitating hunting with guns. All the guns held were in the context of target shooting.

JWR Archivist Jan 2020