I’m going to use this weeks blog post to climb up on to my soapbox, to address an issue that I’ve seen cropping up in a couple places. A recent discussion on one of the airgunning forums regarding a mountain lion hunt was the first incident that got me thinking about this, then afterwards I noticed in a couple of the British airgunning magazines (one of which I sometimes write for) that anti hunting letters were published with a response from the editors.
Let me first say that I don’t believe everybody has hunting coded in their DNA, and both their natural tendencies and upbringing lead them to abhor the idea of hunting. I also understand that in some areas sustenance hunting to supply the majority of protein or at least to supplement the larder is common and accepted. However most hunters participate in the sport because they enjoy it. And the goal of the hunt is in taking your quarry, and for me, while I enjoy being out on the stalk (quite a lot as a matter of fact) if I don’t bag my quarry it is not a success. I won’t be disingenuous and say “if I don’t get my quarry it doesn’t matter” because to me it does. That doesn’t mean I consider an unproductive hunt wasted time, I enjoy being out stalking, scouting, or just experiencing the outdoors more than most anything else, but if I don’t kill my quarry it lacks completeness. So there I said it; I hunt because I enjoy it, and the kill is an important aspect of the hunt.
As humans we are not abiotic, all of us take life to exist in one way or another. Many of the non-hunting and anti-hunting (remember these are not analogous) contingency, eat meat. They seem to feel it is alright to purpose breed and raise animals for slaughter, to kill these animals in less than pleasant ways, so long as somebody else does it, they don’t see it, and it’s nicely packaged before their first contact. I believe this is fine and don’t have a problem with it, though do wonder why it’s better to raise an animal in prison conditions for slaughter rather than letting it live free until it’s end comes. Almost all wildlife dies at some point in a fairly violent way, a clean shot is probably one of the quickest exits from this mortal coil. I lack clarity as to why it’s acceptable to butcher farmed livestock but not harvest a naturally grown head of wild game, what is the value judgment to make a deer’s life more valuable than a cows? I believe both are equally appropriate to nourish us, but I won’t digress.
Well ok, I will a little bit: as to the vegetarian argument and the position that no life is lost, this does stick in my craw. For food to be grown, even organically, land is removed from the natural ecosystem and it is lost to all wildlife as opposed to selective species being properly managed. I won’t go into a harangue about vegetarianism, but when my oldest daughter started eating meet again after a decade of supplements and poor nutrition I was a happy daddy. I will only comment that everyone of us takes life to live, and if you are religious you find in almost all faiths that this is condoned. If not religious, put on your scientist hat and consider why we evolved with the teeth and nutritional needs that we have.
While I believe that it is good and ethical to eat what you kill when that makes sense, this is not in my opinion the justification for hunting or killing an animal. I don’t think it matters if the primary objective of a deer hunter is that the hunter wants a trophy rack on the wall or a fat doe to keep the family fed. That doesn’t mean the trophy hunter should waste the meat, and they don’t, or that I personally wouldn’t rather see the meat hunter get his animal, because I would. However I believe that the key consideration is whether the removal of the animal makes sense from a management perspective; a) to control populations, b) to remove pest or varmint species that have a negative impact on agriculture, c) for environmental health and removal of disease vectors, or c) removal of non indigenous species.
Like it or not, man is almost everywhere which has resulted in limited space for some species. With reduction in predators around human habitation (even animal loving cat owners get a bit miffed when tinkerbell becomes a coyotes main course at dinner) some populations are exploding. Everything from deer in both farming and suburban areas, to non indigenous feral hogs everywhere, and Eurasian collared doves around farming areas need to be controlled, and sound thinking supports shooting as a control mechanism. Both native and non indigenous pest species need to be culled or totally removed from certain area and selective shooting is an effective approach, certainly a better option than poison. I shook my head in disbelief when the writer of a letter to the British publication stated it was natural for cats to hunt birds in Britain but morally bereft for a hunter to shoot a squirrel or rabbit (I’m paraphrasing). Without getting (too) insulting, it is rather dimwitted to approve of a non-indigenous cat running around unfettered eating native songbirds, while disapproving of a hunter removing non-indigenous gray squirrels that are decimating the native red squirrel populations. But it is more an emotional response than a reasoned one. What made it worse was that this letter was from a fellow shooter, who is dependent on his hunting counterparts to help support his ability to participate in his chosen sport in the anti-gun UK.
In the case of the mountain lion hunt mentioned at the beginning, the poster argued that the hunter was participating in a canned hunt because dogs were used. It doesn’t matter that this is the most common (and sometimes only) way to track lions in the dense wilderness regions of Arizona’s deserts and mountains, or that it’s legal, or that the hunter spent six days on mule back in rough conditions, before making a clean and well placed kill shot. It didn’t matter that Arizona’s wildlife management services run a very well thought out and scientifically based program to maintain the proper population suited to the carrying capacity of the land, this individual is obviously ignorant to what goes into such a hunt. Again, this individual is in the shooting fraternity (ironically in a very gray legal area with the products he manufactures and sells) but felt well positioned to comment on hunting ethics. Its bad because it undermines the sport when an ethical hunter using accepted techniques is attacked by someone in the community, but it’s even worse when the attack is based on pure ignorance. I did get a bit confrontational in this particular instance, because I felt the individual was a traitor to the sport, but more over exceedingly ignorant not to mention a screaming hypocrite.
So my concluding remarks: it is up to the individual to define their personal ethics, and choices for when and what to shoot…. so long as it’s legal, that the reasons for a hunter to hunt is a personal matter, and the justification for hunting should be based on scientifically based wildlife management and pest control objectives, and requires no further justification. It makes sense for us to show sensitivity and take the time to explain the role of hunting in todays society, Some people will not agree, some will have an emotional response against it… and that’s ok, we won’t all agree. For my part however, I will never take an apologists position in the debate. Living in a democracy where most people have no real connection to the natural world, we could always have the masses take out sport away (the UK is fighting this battle right now) which means that the best way to secure our ability to hunt is to build a strong case supported with empirical, financial, and scientific data. and to fight from a position of strength.
It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this, and my office is overflowing with gear. Wednesday night I’m loading up the Outback with a dozen guns, half dozen CF tanks, miscellaneous equipment, and heading off to S. Dakota on a prairie dogs shoot we’re filming! Will have 5 days, and some big towns to shoot over. Amongst other projects, I’m going to compare the .25, .303, and .357 under field conditions to decide on my default option for long range pest control.