The world of hunting: Diversity in plain sight

by Tovar on August 12, 2012 · 66 comments

Photo by Ken Thomas

Every once in a while, a non-hunter asks me, “What’s the hunter’s perspective on such-and-such?”

The question puzzles me. Hunters, after all, have a wide range of interests, motivations, and backgrounds.

Some hunt deer, some hunt rabbits, some hunt waterfowl, some hunt upland birds, and some hunt all of these and more. Some hunt a few days a year, some several months a year. Some hunt to procure wild meat, some to immerse themselves in the natural world, some to enjoy time with family and friends, some to carry on a tradition, some to experience challenge and excitement, some to bag trophies, some for all these reasons and others. Some grew up hunting, some grew up opposed to hunting, some grew up indifferent.

Though U.S. hunters are predominantly white males, some are female, American Indian, African American, Latino, or Hmong. And even among white men, viewpoints vary dramatically.

Just over a week ago, while down in Mississippi to present at a Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) conference, I spoke with one white male hunter who emphasized the need for conservationists and environmentalists of all kinds, including hunters, to work together to protect habitats, ensure healthy wildlife populations, and so on. A day or so later, I overheard another white male hunter talking about how “tree-huggers,” “environmentalists,” and other “whackos” are the cause of many a problem.

When someone asks me about the hunter’s perspective on such-and-such, I can only tell them my perspective.

I can understand, of course, how people on the outside—non-hunters—might assume that everyone on the inside shares certain sensibilities. It even gives me some vague inkling of what it’s often like to be a member of other minorities: being perceived as part of, and being expected to speak for, an imagined monolithic group.

I find it more intriguing when I hear hunters make similar assumptions about each other.

Sometimes it’s just an assumption about what fellow hunters think or feel, or what their interests are. I recall a magazine article, for instance, in which the author said he figured all hunters shared his aspiration to hunt large, dangerous animals like grizzly bears. I have no such aspiration. I know plenty of other hunters who don’t either.

Other times, it’s an assumption about how fellow hunters should think or feel, if they don’t already. In these kinds of statements—often about how all hunters should defend every imaginable form of hunting, should share the same views on gun politics, or should treat a certain group as a sworn enemy—I hear a plea (and sometimes a demand) for unity.

I can understand that kind of call, especially in a world where hunters are so vastly outnumbered by non-hunters. And I can understand the strategic sense it makes: People don’t want to be divided and conquered. Better to circle the wagons.

I’m leery of it, though. Making people toe a line tends to shut down conversations and silence important questions. Closing ranks can provide a sense of solidarity within some portion of the so-called “hunting community,” but at what cost? What better way to alienate people, including other hunters, than by telling them what to feel and think?

I prefer ongoing conversations and open questions. I think they lead to better relationships, more creative solutions, and stronger coalitions. As I quipped on Twitter some weeks ago, “To understand, listen. To be understood, invite others to listen. To keep things as they are, preach to the choir and yell at everyone else.”

I think it’s worth considering that the universe of hunting—from hunters themselves to hunting organizations to the hunting industry—may be far more ideologically diverse than most of us suspect. The POMA conference, for instance, might seem like a bastion of hardcore hunting and carnivory. But there I was, talking about my journey into and out of veganism, discussing common values and common ground, fielding questions from a wonderfully receptive audience.

After the session, a young hunter came up to me and said he could relate to a lot of what I was saying. He said he had known a lot of vegetarians, had tried the diet briefly himself, and was a lot more “arty” than most of the hunters he knew.

Then another hunter approached. He said he worked for a hunting conservation organization and mentioned that their graphic designer is a non-hunting vegetarian.

Then a young woman came along and told me that she works for a company that sells products to hunters. She, however, is a non-hunter and hardly ever eats chicken or fish, let alone red meat.

Contemplating these encounters, I wondered: Is this kind of diversity all that unusual? Or is it often right there in front of us, blending in, as many animals do, simply by not drawing attention to itself?

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli

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Carol Eberhard August 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Ah, Tovar…so very well said, as always.

I have hunted with a crossbow for 20 years. I hunt from the ground and this allowed less movement, plus it gave me more time afield each year and allowed me to take a doe if one gave me an opportunity. At the time the hunting world was very divided on the issue of crossbows, and still is to some extent. And here I was, a female college graduate, a theatre major, hunting with a crossbow. Some hunters gave me grief over it. Quite a few didn’t.

Just the other night at rehearsal a member of the cast of the show I am in said she loved venison, but she could never kill a deer herself. To which I always say, not everyone should hunt. We need gatherers, fire tenders and basket weavers, too. Diversity, indeed. :-)

Tovar August 13, 2012 at 7:42 am

Thanks, Carol.

I’ve never been involved in the crossbow quarrel (sorry for the pun) but it’s interesting how those kinds of debates crop up.

A female theater major hunting with a crossbow? Yep, you’re a poster child for hunting diversity. ;-)

R. Gabe Davis August 12, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I think the call to unity among our diverse universe of hunters is driven by fear. The kind of fear that can only come from loving something passionately. People love hunting so much that a sometimes irrational fear makes them freeze up and say lets not enjoy discourse but bind together to save our love…I can understand the fear and even expect it because of the soft,overthought, and metropolitan culture that is developing. The vast majority of people on either coast of the U.S. either don’t care about nor think about hunting or down right dispise it and want it banned. I think that the “lets circle the wagons” tactic is useless and counter productive but I do understand the fear and have caught myself feeling it on occasion. When I feel this fear I remember Love and education. We need to show we are caring conservationists who love the wild places and if trusted we will protect them. Your pal the Envirocapitalist

Tovar August 13, 2012 at 7:43 am

Well said, Gabe. And interesting points.

Holly Heyser August 13, 2012 at 12:41 am

Not unusual, just usually drowned out. Which makes me wonder: Did you write this post in part because of the conversation over at Phillip’s blog, or is it just a funny coincidence?

Tovar August 13, 2012 at 7:44 am

Funny coincidence, actually. I hadn’t seen Phillip’s post yet, though I just checked it out. Very interesting.

Holly Heyser August 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Yeah, the comment thread got interesting.

Al Cambronne August 13, 2012 at 8:45 am

Great post. And yes, sometimes those pleas for unity are definitely more like demands. But I have a hard time buying into that whole “circle the wagons” mentality. If there are hard questions to be asked, and if we don’t ask them, then someone else will. Plus, I’d really struggle to defend a lot of the activities that somehow end up labeled “hunting.”

Tovar August 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

Thanks, Al. “If there are hard questions to be asked, and if we don’t ask them, then someone else will.” Yep.

Tony Bynum August 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Well said Tovar! Thank you for commenting and for attending the conference. I want to add something to this discussion that might be worth thinking about. I’m a westerner and grew up hunting and mostly exploring as a matter of lifestyle and frankly in retrospect cuz that’s what we did. I’m writing now from Montana, the last best place on earth. Last year I made a trip by plane out east. On the trip I sat by two separate men one each way. On the trip out i sat by one man that had two children, on the way back the other man was by himself. Both had Montana on their minds for the same reason and both were from Chicago. Montana was where they were building cabins for when things go to hell in chicago. I’m serious, and these are not Freemen, these were power broker’s with big bucks planning to protect their family’s. They both purchased land here in which they would retreat too, with their family’s if things get to rough in chicago – when i say too rough I mean when the power goes out for two weeks and the food runs out rough. The amazing thing is neither was a hunter. In fact neither had ever killed an animal on their own to eat. However, they both had guns, and both knew that in Montana there’s game and a means . . . These were city folk who never felt the need to own guns but now do, just in case that day comes where they might actually have to kill an animal for food. . . Two of them on one trip out east. . . If I sat next to two of them, imagine how many other non hunters there are that understand that living in the food chain, instead of around it, is a real possibility . . . You never really know until you ask. You never really know until you talk about it and we cant understand one another if we are unwilling to be rational and sit down, without all the rhetoric, and talk. . .

Tovar August 14, 2012 at 10:33 am

Thanks, Tony. It was good to meet you there.

It’s interesting that you mention the guys you met from Chicago. When I was doing my thesis research, interviewing adult-onset hunters, that sort of “survivalist” theme came up now and then. In most cases, folks talked about it with a certain degree of irony. They knew that hunting wasn’t likely to be a huge factor in their long-term survival, whether because of their own lack of skill, the sheer numbers of people vs the numbers of game animals on the land, or whatever (the exception being one young woman up in Alaska). In any case, it was part of the thought process for some of them.

Neil H August 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

Another thoughtful post, Tovar.

I think my thoughts echo Gabe’s and some of the others. I understand the “circle the wagons” mentality in the face of well funded ideological extremists that they really do want to dismantle hunting one piece at at a time (which is not a conspiracy theory, it’s taking their actual words at face value). There are actual, polarizing forces at work out there. However, I’m not comfortable with where that leaves us. Does this put us in a place where we have to defend every single behavior that’s called hunting? I don’t think so. I think if we lose our internal debate, and differences, we lose the moral rudder of hunting in general, and allow those opposed to hunting to steer our course for us.

My home state, for example, bans all feeding of wildlife. I agree with that. There are a number of reasons that have nothing to do with sport why baiting is detrimental. I don’t think I’m an ideological traitor for saying so. Once upon a time in America, you didn’t have to agree with every single aspect of a persons views to steer towards a common goal. This applies to a lot more than hunting, but is particularly true of hunting.

I sat a family gathering this last weekend, first weekend of deer season actually, and one of my family members was loudly prognosticating about how these _________ were doing this and that, “destroying” the country, blah, blah, blah. The kind of talking points you get from chain emails. I looked over and said, “You know, the majority of people aren’t cartoon characters. They have thoughts and opinions that fall somewhere in between these perfect little labels you’re talking about, and if you talk to them, you might find you have some things in common”. So it is with hunting. I’ve seen some great and thoughtful articles and editorials that break though echo-chamber of preaching to the choir, many written by folks commenting here. That’s great. But most of it is up to individual who hunt having dialogue one person at a time. This is true both between hunters, but also with the non-hunting populace. I think there’s a time and a place to rally the troops, but unless we embrace diverse viewpoints, we’re left with hunting as one big straw man for someone so inclined to knock down.

Tovar August 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Well put, Neil. I love your line, “the majority of people aren’t cartoon characters.”

Erik Jensen August 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Very good, Tovar.

I can say that as a dissident in the labor movement for over twenty years, (I’ve been part of a small group that’s been willing to publicly criticize corrupt and or simply serving labor leaders even though from a pro-union perspective) I’ve listened to a lot of attacks and arguments that dissent is undermining the union. If we only just “united” behind the leadership, we’d be so much stronger, even though, IMHO, a lot of these leaders did and do things to undermine the labor movement to preserve their own interests.

The hunting community isn’t the labor movement by a long shot. But, there is a similar dynamic at work in some of this. Generally, the exaggeration of the threat posed by animal rights activists and extreme gun control is serving a larger agenda of a small group within the hunting community who want to privatize and profit from hunting at the expense of the great mass of American hunters.

Having said that, however, as I’ve gotten deeper into my pro-conservation, pro-environment activism from a “pro-hunting and fishing” perspective, I do understand the leeriness most hunters have of “green” groups, or at least of a big slice of their members, even hunters who have the same or similar policy goals as “non-consumptive” green groups. There exists a small but significant difference in the viewpoint on human use of nature and animals. The line between “conservation” and “environmentalism” is small and getting smaller, but it’s still there, at least as far as I can tell.

Erik Jensen August 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

A little more on the “diversity” issue, this time as it regards demographics. I do see the hunting community getting more diverse, but I’m real concerned about the pace. There are some encouraging numbers out on participation, (USFS survey says hunter numbers are UP 9% from 2006) but at least what I’m seeing in MN is that we are still SO white. More women, that is great and is one thing that is “saving our butts” right now.

BUT, even in the more “progressive” hunting venues, you see almost no people of color. The classes I taught at Seward co-op, we had one person of color, and she was native American. She said something like “even though I am from the reservation, I don’t know how to hunt, so I thought it was something I needed to come and learn”.

Last weekend, at the MN DNR’s “Deer Days” a free hunting instruction day where everything is provided, it was a similar story. A little more diverse than my classes, but a much larger group.

If we don’t do something about this as a “hunting community” we’re screwed. Even from a practical political point of view, let alone concerns about equity that I care about, all the numbers I’ve read about attitudes towards hunting speak to the need. In general, whites are much more supportive of hunting than non-whites, and it’s safe to assume that is a urban-rural split. That is another issue that general (rather than in specific situations) calls for “unity” don’t address.

Neil H August 17, 2012 at 1:19 am

Hi All,

Erick, thank you for adding a dimension to this. I don’t doubt what you say is true where you are. It is obvious you don’t live in California. If you go to a national forest, you find folks that are either Chinese or of Chinese descent, Hmong, Latino, Filipino and yes, of European stock. I personally don’t care one way or the other about this kind of diversity at all. People are individuals, and if you didn’t move here from someplace else, you’re just an American. I think numbers trump the particulars of who’s doing it. There is some concern that not all folks from other places are have the same belief in the North American Conservation Model, and the numbers for violations bear that out. However, that’s a transitional issue.

I do think you are right about the odd separation between the conservation and environmental movement, in spite of the fairly obvious overlap. Holly has written some interesting articles about this.

As far as animal rights activists exaggerated, I’m not so sure. Truly, I’m used to outfits like the NRA touting constant existential threats. But I live here in California. We just passed registration for longarms and have a history of feel-good fuzzy bunny-rabbit laws trumping science based management. So facing down a slick, $120 million a year organization fueled by donations from folks who mistakenly think they rescue dogs and cats, it’s a pretty real threat.

Steve Bodio September 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Let me second this– I live in NM where the LARGEST hunting group may be NM Hispanic, and tribal folks of various types I would guess third!

Erik Jensen August 17, 2012 at 7:06 am

Neil –

I understand there is some threat there in California and a few other places in America both to hunting and guns. So, I understand the appeal of the “unity” call on some level.

However, one huge problem I have with these calls, usually led by the NRA and other “hard-right” players within the hunting community, is the deceptive analysis and politics they have. They give people the impression that there is some grand conspiracy at work, by a secret leftist plot to bans guns and establish some kind of left authoritarian regime or something. You look around the world in rich nations, and the countries that have oppressive gun control, the public voted for it. They tend to be urban countries with low firearms ownership and little participation in shooting sports to begin with. England and Australia are prime examples.

Nordic countries, overall much further to the left than England, Australia, and of course the U.S. politically, have more gun control than the U.S., but high ownership and participation in shooting sports. Mass shootings don’t lead to calls for gun-confiscation because people know someone that has a gun. Peace-loving Norway has the second highest rate of private firearms ownership in the world, right behind the U.S., and Finland is right up there as well. Hunting ethics laws there are stricter as well.

So, in my view, the question is about participation, and usually that relates to urbanization as well as access to places to hunt. As a general tendency, urban people and urbanized societies don’t like guns and hunting, rural people and societies do. The people leading the “unity” calls usually advocate a politics that is actually AGAINST addressing these issues. The anti-public sector politics they have is actually a detriment to doing something about these issues and is in the long term anti-hunting and anti-firearms ownership. Sprawl control ? That’s big gov’t. Small dedicated tax increases to pay for public land purchases ? Big gov’t. Protecting public lands from ATV abuse ? Big gov’t. Bargaining on gun laws in order to get something to help with shooting sports support (i.e. more public ranges and some mandates on firearms safety training in public schools)? That’s treasonous support for big gov’t.

Being involved with trying to make sure hunting (and fishing) continue, I watch this play out again and again, and it gets pretty tiring.

Erik Jensen August 17, 2012 at 9:27 am

Oh, how could I forget…addressing climate change, maybe the biggest threat of all to hunting and fishing ? A HUGE gov’t conspiracy in the minds most of the people who call for “circling the wagons”.

Neil H August 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

Erik,

I agree with you word for word. I think we’ve even spoken here about the disconnect between some of the stances taken by the NRA and conservation. The hard right factor in regards to conservation shows you how much the Republican party has changed in the last 30 years. The Republicans from Roosevelt to Nixon were the party of conservation for most of their history. Heck, Nixon signed the clean air and water acts (and the largest gun control bill in our history) and we don’t even need to list the contributions of T. Roosevelt, do we? Now if you suggest the slightest control, even background checks, or socialistic ideas like public land or roadless areas, you’re a “lib”, pinko-commie traitor. I actually think unbridled, “in your face” gun-nuttery is a huge threat to our gun rights. Case in point, the folks that managed to get “open carry” banned because they insisted on parading around. Now regular, practical folks have one more law to dodge. This unfortunately echoes the polarization in much of the rest of American public discourse.

The shift from rural to urban is certainly the key element in my opinion too. I live in San Francisco, and I literally could get a new person into hunting once a week if I had somewhere to take them. I took a young woman that works for us shooting last week. She had never fired a rifle. She didn’t event know how to hold one. That said, off a bench she shot about as accurately as me! That’s not uncommon; she practices yoga, had no preconceptions, or ego attachment to shooting, she just did what she was told to do. She wants to go along on a hunt with me, albeit not to hunt herself, yet. While we were driving to the range she related that she was probably more for than against “gun control”. What that meant to her was a notion that actually was actually as vague as her other knowledge about guns. We talked, as unbiasedly as I could, about the history of gun control in various forms and places in the US. She was surprised, as most urban people are, to know that our neighborhood convenience store, and pretty much every other one she’s ever been in, has a gun behind the counter. She was surprised how ordinary everyone at the range was. Is she ready to join the NRA? No. But firearms are no longer some unknown and mythical threat to her.

Erik Jensen August 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

Thanks, Neil. My sympathies on putting up with California hunting and gun politics/culture wars. Otherwise, esp northern calif would be a cool place to live.

I have to remind myself how lucky I am sometimes as far as hunting and conservation politics goes as far as where I’m at in the U.S. In the upper midwest, politicians generally bend over backwards to get the “hook and bullet” vote. It’s an unwritten law in MN, if you are governor, you have to host a “governor’s fishing opener”, and a “governor’s deer opener”. On the deer hunting deal, you don’t have to hunt, but you need to host an event and pay homage to deer hunting the day before firearms season. On the fishing deal, you better at least try to catch a fish.

Our current governor, a liberal Democrat who likes bird hunting, one-upped the whole tradition by hosting a “governor’s pheasant opener” as well last year.

Tovar August 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

Thanks, Erik, for the parallel observations on dissent in the labor movement and among hunters, and for the thoughts on ethnic diversity. I believe the surveys all show that US hunters are overwhelmingly white (California may be an exception) and I agree about the importance of making hunting more inclusive.

And thanks to you and Neil both for the political analysis, including the comparisons with other places in the world. I agree with you both. US political rhetoric (about guns, conservation, and most everything else) has gotten bizarrely polarized and disconnected from reality. If the conservation heroes of yesteryear showed their faces today—or, heaven forbid, tried to establish public lands—I imagine they would be strung up by a number of groups that are supposedly pro-conservation.

Phillip August 18, 2012 at 11:33 am

Coming to the party late… nothing unusual about that.

There’s a lot of good conversation and some great points on here, and not sure I could add too much of value. But I do have a thought regarding the circle-the-wagons arguments.

It becomes really easy to start seeing things in black and white. “It’s either a good thing or a bad thing, and here’s why.”

What that perspective misses is the reality of all the shades in between. For many of us, including myself, circling the wagons doesn’t mean ending all discussion and debate. Debate is healthy and necessary, especially when it comes something as emotionally loaded as hunting. But what that call for unity is really about is far simpler than shutting down dissent. It’s a call to end the divisive arguments, and to stop creating exclusive walls between the members of the hunting community simply because we don’t understand or appreciate someone else’s means or methods.

Find a hot topic such as high fence hunting. This is easily one of the most divisive issues I can think of among the hunting community. I think there are valid pro and con arguments to be made, but most times, the argument comes down not to the realities, but to the preconceptions and myths (many of the most vocal detractors have never actually seen or experienced a high fence ranch, and their opinions are shaped largely by the images provided by anti-hunting propaganda). The call for unity is not to drown out the discussion of Chronic Wasting Disease, or the value high fence ranches offer to the old or infirm hunter. It’s a call to stop the ostracization of other hunters simply because you, personally, don’t like the idea of hunting a confined animal.

High fence is an extreme example. So take crossbows, as they were mentioned earlier. The arguments regarding crossbows are completely based on esoterica. It’s an affront to a certain aesthetic or sensibility, and little more. Whether the crossbow really provides significant advantage over the modern compound is debatable, but what bearing does that have on the ethics or morality of using it…especially since the general intent of allowing crossbows during archery seasons is to bring more hunters into the community and/or to increase the deer harvest to meet management objectives?

The call for unity doesn’t mean you have to appreciate the experience of some other hunter, only that we need to accept that there are myriad differences in experience, motivation, ability, and opportunity. The Maine deer stalker may not understand or appreciate the methods of the Carolinian in his tree stand and bait pile, and perhaps neither gets the allure of the hounds to the houndsman. None of that should matter. They are all hunters, engaged in a legal activity that provides satisfaction and enjoyment.

Again, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the “hard questions”. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge status quo. It only means we need to recognize that we are all in this together, and that we are facing a very real common enemy. That enemy will exploit the divisive issues to drive wedges between us. Nothing suits the anti-hunters’ aims more than to have hunters openly attack other hunters, especially when the attacks are based on nothing more than personal opinion and values.

Circling the wagons means reeling in some of those personal values and assumptions and focusing on real problems (and there are plenty). It is, most of all, a call to stop condemning what we do not understand.

Tovar August 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Phillip.

I appreciate what I take to be the central focus of your comment: the value of hunters ceasing to create “exclusive walls” amongst one another just because they “don’t understand or appreciate someone else’s means or methods.” On some fronts, I’d agree with you. For instance, the lines that some people draw (between the acceptability of crossbows and compounds, or inline muzzleloaders and sidelocks, etc) can get ridiculous and have, as you say, little bearing on ethics or morality.

On other fronts, I’d argue that something being “a legal activity” isn’t anywhere near enough. Here in Vermont, for example, we have no wanton waste law. It is legal for hunters to shoot small game, such as snowshoe hares, and leave the carcasses in the woods. I think the hunters who do this are a small minority, but I have heard people talk about doing it. It’s legal and these hunters must enjoy it or they wouldn’t do it. So some circle-the-wagons types would argue that I shouldn’t criticize just because I “don’t understand or appreciate someone else’s means or methods.” But I think it’s abhorrent.

High fence hunting is a much more complicated issue. I’m not going to go there at the moment. In my view, it falls somewhere between silly muzzleloader technicalities and the grotesque mowing-down of hares for kicks.

More broadly speaking, one of the main points of this post (and of this discussion) is about the shutting-down of dissent, the silencing of questions, and the erasing of ideological differences. I should have mentioned that I think this kind of silencing tends to deter people not only from critical speech but also from critical thinking. In theory, hunters (like any group) can refrain from subjecting each other to unnecessary attacks without silencing important questions, debates, and differences, and without throttling their own thinking. In practice, it often doesn’t work that way.

On a small scale, I’ve seen this happen online when hunters defend actions that are ethically indefensible. One of their defenses is to tell other hunters not to criticize and not to act as divisive “ethics police.”

On a larger scale, it happens (as suggested above by Erik and others) when powerful organizations define the terms of public debate—over guns, conservation, or whatever—and tell their hunter membership to toe that strident line. Too often, that leads to consequences that are harmful—to hunting, conservation, etc—in the long run. For one thing, it often divides hunters from valuable non-hunting allies. In some cases, it also leads to people betraying what they know is right; I have heard, for instance, that quite a few prominent hunter-writers wanted to speak up in defense of Jim Zumbo when he got torched back in 2007, but didn’t, for fear they would be committing professional suicide.

I’m going to be quiet for a few days and see what other folks have to say. I’ve got some articles I should be working on anyway, not to mention some meetings I need to attend…

Tovar August 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm

P.S. As most hunters know, Zumbo was torched for his commentary on semi-automatic “assault” weapons, which he characterized as “terrorist” rifles. His point was broader than technical differences, pointing instead to cultural values and how such weapons are perceived (by hunters and non-hunters). Whether you agree that he was raising a valid question or think he was turning a silly technicality into a divisive issue, there wasn’t any room for that discussion to occur at his high-profile level because the hunting media/industry came down on him like a ton of bricks.

Phillip August 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Tovar, sorry to respond when you said you wanted to step out for a minute. I won’t expect an instantaneous response.

I do think you get the gist of what I’m saying, but maybe I’m not getting to it quite right. Just because something is legal doesn’t always mean it’s OK. That’s not what I intended to suggest. I think the wanton waste example is a valid example of a place where such discussion should be taking place.

There’s a big part of me that argues, what does it hurt? Are they wiping out the rabbits, or is it (at heart) just a question of aesthetics? If you pull the emotion out of it, is it really any different than the question of inline muzzleloader vs. traditional? Nevertheless, if the will of the Vermont hunting community is to pass a wanton waste law, then the community should come together to make it happen. Have the conversation and work to make the change you want to see.

The point is have the conversation, but have it with a willingness to come to an impasse from time to time.

As to Zumbo, he recovered just fine… but your point is taken. When the debate is driven by the mega-powers via that “with us or against us” mentality, then yes… productive conversation is shut down. But why do “we” let the NRA or RMEF, or whoever draw our lines for us? My experience with you and many other bloggers has led me to believe that real, productive conversation can happen in spite of the 800 lb gorillas… even if a good portion of that conversation is primarily academic.

Tovar August 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Phillip: I imagined you would acknowledge that legal doesn’t always mean acceptable. But it’s not entirely clear where the line is between that argument and the argument you are making.

On my wanton waste example, for instance, you seem to be saying something like “that’s a valid discussion to have, and it’s okay to pass a law about it if you want to, but there’s not anything inherently unacceptable about blowing away animals and leaving their bodies where they fall.” (Incidentally, such a law was proposed here in Vermont a few years ago. But it got shot down. If memory serves, it was torpedoed by a vocal minority of hunters. Maybe I or others will try to revive it at some point.)

What does that kind of hare hunting hurt? Well, I don’t think a threat to an entire population or species is the only valid measure of harm.

First off, it hurts the hare. This may sound like a silly observation, but harm to animals is often central to ethical debates over hunting, even among hunters.

Second (and obviously related to my first point), I think such essentially meaningless killing erodes the soul of hunting, if hunting can be said to have a soul. If you pull the emotion out of it, then, yes, I guess it becomes merely aesthetic. But if you pull the emotion/heart/compassion/spirit out of hunting, I think you’re left with heartless, soulless, disrespectful killing: an animal’s life taken senselessly.

Third (and also related), as Ingrid spells out below, tolerating—or worse, defending—such practices hurts the cultural meaning of hunting. I can’t think of a more effective way to lose the support not only of the vast majority of non-hunters, but also of quite a few hunters, including yours truly, than to declare that the so-called “hunting community” condones (or should condone) such behavior. Once that kind of position is declared, I doubt many people could put stock in the “hunting community’s code of ethics” with its talk of respect and the importance of utilizing animals. At that point we’ve lost, as Neil put it above, “the moral rudder of hunting in general.”

I sometimes have to remind myself that my occasional hunting of deer doesn’t mean I need to identify with or defend guys doing X. Convince me that my hunting does mean I need to identify with or defend them and you’ve got a fair shot at driving me not just out of the circle of wagons but out of hunting altogether.

As to your other point, we don’t have to let the 800-pound gorillas draw our lines for us. If we aren’t beholden to them or afraid of their wrath, we can do and say as we like. But I’d be a fool to believe that circling-the-wagons (whether practiced by everyday hunters or promoted by big gorillas) doesn’t have a significant impact on many hunters’ thought and speech.

(Yeah, I know I said I would be on hiatus for a few days. Maybe that will be true now…)

Phillip August 20, 2012 at 12:43 am

Hunting is an activity. It does not have some sort of “soul” or “moral rudder” that can be tarnished or diminished by activities which you, personally, find abhorrent. The participants do, and they all vary individually. Your own soul may be deeply tied to your personal justification for killing (I only kill what I will eat), but that doesn’t neccesarily carry the same weight for another individual. I’ve known several hunters whose primary rationale for hunting is the social interaction, or to watch the dogs work. I’ve also known hunters to whom killing a deer is no more significant than picking a wild apple. You have a pretty unique perspective on the hunt and what it means to you, and you’ve made some pretty neat contortions in your personal values to convince yourself that hunting isn’t a bad thing. But that’s not the same for every hunter… not by a long shot.

That said, the hunting activity can certainly have a reputation, and that reputation can be cast over all of the participants for good or bad. The guys who slaughter rabbits for target practice may be guilty of damaging the reputation of hunting, which in turn makes all of us look bad. And that, in a nutshell, is really what most of these discussions revolve around. It’s not, “how do I, as a hunter, improve myself spiritually or morally?”

It’s, “How do we manage our public image?”

It’s an important discussion, and I have never, once, advocated for silence. If that’s what folks really take away from my comments, then I’ve obviously carried far too high an opinion of my ability to communicate through writing.

I honestly don’t understand why so many people are falling into this all-or-nothing mindset. It is not a situation where we must either choose to embrace every hunting practice, or we must choose to pose as ethical paragons and denounce every act that doesn’t attain some mythic level of ethical perfection… especially when so many people tend to define “perfection” based on their personal experience and prejudices.

What I propose is that we consider where we’re drawing the lines and why. For what it’s worth, I agree (as would many hunters) that the rabbit killers are operating on the wrong side of that line. It was probably not the best example to use to make my point. But the question I asked, “what does it hurt?” is still a valid one.

If the only answer one can come up with is, “it hurts our public image,” then I’d argue that we need to find some way to quantify the damage before we simply denounce the practice or the act out of hand. Because once you start down that road, it’s a pretty long way to the end and you’re liable to be pretty lonesome by the time you get there.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 8:13 am

I get that hunting is an activity. I get that it doesn’t literally have a “soul.” What I meant is that it, as a practice, is (or at least should be) imbued with some degree of heart and meaning. Some version of that view is held across a wide variety of hunters and hunting cultures.

I get that my perspective is unique. I don’t want or expect everyone to share it.

I get that hunting has a reputation and an image (and probably multiple, conflicting reputations and images), which I referred to as hunting’s “cultural meaning”—its symbolic status in American culture.

But here’s my question: Why does something like shooting-and-leaving hares harm that image/meaning? Just because some people have an arbitrary aesthetic aversion to it, or because there is actually something wrong with the behavior?

Perhaps a better example would be the grotesque shooting described by Bill Heavey in his essay “Morons Among Us.” Though Heavey is certainly concerned about the reputation of hunting and the consequences for its future, he is more disturbed by the callousness itself. The behavior described is, as he puts it, “ethically indefensible” (creating a very high risk of wounding) and “shows no respect for the life of the animal.” That’s what “sickens” him (and me). It impacts the image/meaning of hunting because it is sickening—because there is actually something wrong with it. Heavey also addresses one of the points under discussion here: silence, tolerance, and a “resounding absence of anger or censure.”

I’m not suggesting we should adopt “some mythic level of ethical perfection,” as you put it. But I do think we have to draw lines somewhere and criticize other hunters. And I think circling the wagons (urging hunters not to start divisive arguments just because they don’t understand or appreciate someone else’s means or methods) often has a chilling, silencing effect, whether that effect is intended or not.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 9:41 am

P.S. I meant to include a couple analogies: Farmers I respect don’t object to the most heinous of factory-farming practices on the grounds that those practices harm their image as farmers; they object to the suffering inflicted on animals. Dog owners I respect don’t object to the abuse and neglect of dogs on the grounds that it harms their image as dog owners; they object to the harm done to dogs. If farmers or dog owners were in the kind of cultural and political situation that American hunters are, maybe they too would hesitate to criticize one another, or would focus more on reputation management than on animals. That, I think, would be unfortunate and (ironically) harmful to their image in the long run.

Phillip August 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I have more thoughts in relation to some of the other comments, and what I’m about to write may come off as too flippant, given the depth of the conversation. It’s not meant to be flip… just something for consideration.

In regards to concern about the “harm” to the rabbits (and on the assumption that they were killed legally)… they’re dead in either case. It doesn’t really matter to the rabbits whether the shooters ate them or not. This isn’t the same as inhumane acts at the factory farm, or cruelty to a dog. So really, the issue isn’t the fact that the animals were killed, but the callousness of the individuals who did the killing, right? At which point, are we still discussing hunting, or are we discussing human nature? Is this something we want to change, or is it just something we feel the need to point out? If we pass laws against bullying, does that mean bullies will disappear?

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm

True, Phillip: From a Euro-American perspective, the hare probably doesn’t care or know. (People from other hunting traditions would disagree.) I was mainly referencing the killing of the hare to keep the animal in view.

The comparison to inhumane acts on the farm or in the home was intended more as a parallel with the “ethically indefensible” shooting referred to by Heavey.

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Phillip, this comment kind of blows my mind: “In regards to concern about the ‘harm’ to the rabbits (and on the assumption that they were killed legally)… they’re dead in either case. It doesn’t really matter to the rabbits whether the shooters ate them or not.”

My first reaction is that perhaps you’ve been a hunter too long to understand that some of us view other species’ lives with at least some level of intrinsic worth — even animals that constitute prey for other hungry animals. Is there no place or measure for that value in a hunter’s heart? Does it really just come down to legality and utilitarianism, without even a morsel of sentimentality for what a life means to that other being, inherently? Is the issue of inherent value far too charged to consider because it would call into question so much of what we do without thought to other species, including how we sometimes mutilate them for sport and enjoyment? Or is the cycnism exemplified in that comment what necessarily happens over time to humans, when the taking of lives becomes regular and commonplace?

Even if one doesn’t care about the life of other species, the actions Tovar describes toward the hares undermine the validity of hunting as a whole, even beyond the superficial perceptions hunters here are concerned about with the general public. So many hunters tell me that to hunt is perfectly natural, because we are part of nature, not observers of nature. We are part of the ecological web, and people like me are the aberrations, because we choose not to interact violently with other animals.

But, when one shoots hares or, say, “varmints” (god I hate that word) in quantity, without taking the meat, or — in some situations I’ve seen — leaves grotesque displays of those animals on fence posts or exhibits other gratuitously sick and violent acts — that emulates nothing close to what other animals do in the ecological web. It’s target shooting a living being for fun, plain and simple. Is that really ever right? Would you argue that? For me, that type of ethic toward nature points to something pathological, that violates the type of interconnectivity we non-hunters are brainwashed to believe hunting is all about.

I realize that in order to hunt, one must often embrace a totally different value system toward other species in order to be able to kill for sport in the first place … and then kill without the emotional pain that would prevent people like me from engaging the sport. I know people who can do that, and I know people, like my husband, who has never ceased to regret the first and only bird he ever shot. It’s obviously a constitutional quality that some can or cannot employ. But it’s difficult for those of us who don’t kill for sport, to understand what must live in the heart of someone who can kill for such spurious purposes. Because to answer your comment, whether or not you choose to believe it, I believe it mattered to that rabbit that it lost its life. It should matter to compassionate humans, that it lost its life for no good reason except to satisfy the violent impulses of some knucklehead. And it should matter to hunters that these guys are out there making a mockery of whatever is left of true sportsmanship when it comes to the treatment of wild animals.

One last thing. You wrote, “at which point, are we still discussing hunting, or are we discussing human nature? Is this something we want to change, or is it just something we feel the need to point out? If we pass laws against bullying, does that mean bullies will disappear?”

That could be said about any human activity that we have, throughout history, at least tried to curb through legislation or cultural education. By this reasoning, there should be no laws against murder, or extortion, or rape or child molestation because in all of those cases we are, indeed, talking about human nature and its inclinations. But in a civil society, well, a society that I prefer to be a member of, we take care to protect or at least offer recourse to those who might be harmed by those who would construe their “personal freedom” as a license to harm others. Sadly, the protection of other animals falls so far short of what we’ve deemed appropriate for our own species.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I was just out running an errand. As I drove, I realized I should have noted that the point of “referencing the killing of the hare to keep the animal in view” was to draw attention to the question of inherent value, and to raise the question: What does and does not justify the taking of a life?

In my view, a human’s momentary thrill does not. There has to be, as a longtime hunter-educator friend of mine puts it, some “serious purpose” involved. In the case of a hare, that purpose is usually eating. This matches many of the “codes of ethics” I’ve read in hunter education manuals and elsewhere, where use of the animal is described as important and as a form of respect: if you take an animal’s life, you commit to honoring the value of what you have taken.

When I got home, of course, I found that Ingrid had already made this point in her own terms.

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Uh … sorry. ;-)

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

My own terms are obviously less succinct than yours. I should have considered you might be out on an errand, pondering the addendum.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm

No worries, Ingrid. :-) I was the one who neglected to mention the obvious. (The obvious is often the easiest thing to forget to say. The basic premises of our thoughts and speech become invisible to us and we forget that not everyone takes the same things for granted.)

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I was being a little flippant. :) You’re right about taking assumptions for granted. I think, though, that you’re justified in assuming a certain understanding here because you draw a diverse and knowledgeable group. I forget to offer that benefit of the doubt sometimes.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

Also, I’ve been reflecting on what might appear to be a glaring inconsistency: In the original post above, I argued against assumptions “about how fellow hunters should think or feel, if they don’t already.” And here, in the comments, I’m arguing that we have to draw lines somewhere, laying down some ethical minimum standards, which could sound like telling other hunters how they should think or feel, if they don’t already.

I need to think on this some more. For now, I’ll say that I take the value of ethical minimum standards for granted. Both among hunters who share much of my personal perspective and among hunters who come from very different perspectives, I have found fairly wide agreement on basics such as the imperative to make a clean kill and not to take iffy shots. When I mentioned circling-the-wagons and making-people-toe-a-line in the original post, I was thinking about a broad range of issues (political, ecological, etc). Where ethics were concerned (e.g., “how all hunters should defend every imaginable form of hunting”), I was thinking about how circling the wagons can impinge on the raising of ethical questions.

Within my frame of reference, the original text made sense. Given where the discussion has gone, I might write it differently, adding clarity on these points.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Lastly—I really have to go tend other matters now!—I’ll add this: I recognize that notions of right and wrong are cultural and contextual. They vary from person to person, group to group, and time to time. I’m less interested in seeing one narrow version of ethics dominate all of American hunting than I am in seeing hunters do their best to live up to (and challenge other hunters to live up to) the kinds of hunting ethics commonly professed.

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Tovar, I linked out to that article. That very well sums up the argument and the issue. My feeling is that if hunters don’t police themselves, they will have to rely on the ignorance of the general public to keep the perceptions alive for however long that works. I suppose it has so far, so perhaps its a safe bet.

ingrid August 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm

As the token non-hunter, I have to agree with Tovar here in terms of how a “unity at all costs” mentality appears to those of us who aren’t fans of hunting. Part of the reason I became as antagonistic toward hunting as I now am is precisely because there is very little scrutiny of practices that are ethically difficult to defend. After a while, you give up seeking compromise, when you realize that the compromise is expected from one side and not the other. I’m expected to embrace hunting as a conservation measure, accept it in all forms, even though I’ve been witness to some of the worst practices which cause unjustifiable suffering. But, when I bring up some of the more questionable practices that even some hunters find objectionable (usually telling me in private), I essentially get stone-walled with the types of argument that Phillip puts forth here: it’s legal, accept it. I have nowhere to go with that except to reject hunting as a whole.

Hunters may think this is a victorious stance against the “antis” because the united front gives the illusion of power. But in my view, it’s a pyrrhic victory. You may win some short-run battles, but if you lose respectability for passively advocating for the worst practices and the worst players, you lose a much bigger battle. I’m not talking about calling out poachers. Almost every hunter does that — it’s easy to do. I’m talking about highly questionable acts, from an ethics and cruelty standpoint, all legal under current regulations. As Tovar suggested, legality doesn’t and never has, throughout history, implied that something is ethical or “right.”

Immersed as I am in the wildlife rehabilitation community, with birders, with photographers, with animal rescuers of many kinds, I will tell you that it’s not hunting, per se, that turned those who are now against hunting. In fact, a few wildlife rehabilitators I know used to be hunters. Many of those who turned, once accepted hunting as a conservation practice. But, it’s almost always personal experience in the field, witnessing the worst of hunting, the worst of hunters, which then made all of hunting impossible to reconcile for those who care about wildlife. It’s the “if this is legal and accepted and embraced, then I simply cannot accept this sport” stance.

I’ve made this argument here before, that in a wildlife hospital, we are dealing with the very same species hunters are, but our restrictions are so much tighter. There are also ethical standards that are implemented with respect to participants, and there’s no question about “dividing” the community in doing so. It’s just the “right” thing to do in that context, put the welfare of the animals first. As a result, the practices I’ve had the great privilege to work with or witness, engender community respect. If such an enterprise were allowed to function with questionable and cruel practices, they wouldn’t have the respect of the outside world, nor should they. Why should it be any different in hunting … particularly since it’s generally undertaken for the purposes of recreation, an arguably unnecessary activity? I personally think it’s a big mistake for hunters who hold themselves to a high standard, to associate themselves with the worst practices by saying nothing. Whatever you gain in perpetuating the PR for hunting, I think you lose in a much bigger way.

R. Gabe Davis August 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I would love to see a list of hunting practices your think are ok and should be legally practiced. I mean this sincerely. I have known many people who are antagonistic against hunting and they all believe it should all be band. I have never found one whom I could have a middle ground with. In my experience it is always the anti-hunters who will not compromise at all. Most I know believe it is cruel and should be outlawed. I am really interested to hear what kinds of hunting practices who think are ok that we could come to compromise on. Your pal the Envirocapitalist.

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 1:56 am

@R. Gabe, it’s a valid question. Truth is, I’ve just about abandoned the idea of middle ground, for probably the same reasons you have, coming from different sides of the issue. But, for theoretical purposes, the things I’ve articulated here and elsewhere — in my former, more hopeful incarnation — have to do with situational ethics and baseline aptitude. Those terms alone might seem ambiguous, but I do see the gray areas in life, in contrast to how a lot of hunters characterize us “antis.” I’m an idealist with a great deal of compassion for animals … tempered by the sadness of realism. I personally would be resolved to accept certain changes or restrictions in exchange for respecting hunting rights. I know full well that my “ideal” of a non-violent society will never come to fruition, given our self-oriented and violent ways as a culture and as a species.

That’s a bit abstract so I’ll go tangible. The main thing I’d like to see, which really is at the core of the problems I witness in the field, is increased, mandated training and baseline requirements for who can use a weapon to fire at a wild animal. You have to keep in mind that I’m speaking as one who has cared for injured wildlife — and one who has too often come upon the aftermath of the carelessness that often characterizes behavior in the field. Gun advocates, in an argument against gun control, like to point out that Switzerland has a high level of gun ownership, but lacks the same degree of gun crime as the U.S. I lived in Switzerland, my husband is Swiss, and although the reasons for this are more complex than this space allows, part of the explanation is in the stringent requirements and degree of social responsibility associated with gun ownership … not to mention mandatory, regular military service and training. We are nowhere close to that degree of mandated responsibility. And, any hint of additional mandates sends gun advocates into a frenzy of socialism accusations.

I have been ridiculed for suggesting that the privilege — yes it is a privilege — to hunt wild animals to their deaths, should come with greater aptitude tests and more stringent hunter education, on a regular basis. It would be a huge improvement over the status quo if we non-hunters knew that at least those who took to the field with a gun or a bow, had passed strict ethics and proficiency standards and were required by law to enhance those skills on an annual basis. Hunter education is nothing close to what ought to be required for the exchange of taking a life. Wildlife rehabilitators are required by law to take continuing education each year to renew their licenses. My initial education was many weeks, followed by apprenticeships and so forth. The fact that a 12-year-old can own an air rifle or pellet gun and shoot randomly without any mandated education on songbird identification, as one example, is a travesty to me. I cannot tell you how many injuries I’ve come upon, birds especially, often illegally shot, but often raccoons and squirrels, wantonly aimed at, eyes lost, crippled or otherwise debilitated for the rest of their lives, by such weapons and ignorance.

Beyond that level of proficiency proof, I honestly wouldn’t ask for much more. But, I can easily say that because none of that will ever happen if sportsmen have their way, and if Second Amendment arguments consistently undermine reasonable discussion to this effect. If standards like the above were implemented in my lifetime, that development alone would exceed anything I’ve come to expect or hope for in the realm of our compassion (or lack thereof) toward other animals.

I mentioned situational ethics above, but the point is rather moot, considering, again, that none of this holds any hope of even being taken seriously. I would ask sportsmen, however, how it benefits them to be silent on events like the PA pigeon shoots. Or how they can possibly justify the reduction of Idaho’s wolves by 50 percent in one year, since the delisting … not to mention how they can abide by the nefarious way in which the ESA was undermined, unprecedented, in these circumstances by virtue of a budget rider.

It’s those fringe and questionable undertakings, the ones that are difficult to justify except to admit they’re being undertaken for the political and financial interests of certain groups, like ranchers. These activities don’t fall under the auspices of the ethical, responsible or noble sportsman image that hunters would like us non-hunters to believe in — the hunter simply going out into the words to acquire a meal for his family. It’s one thing to admit that hunting is nothing close to the image presented in hunting PR. It’s another to present hunting to the non-hunting public as this noble endeavor, and then to essentially ignore the dirty side of the sport which totally undermines the validity and truth of that representation.

R. Gabe Davis August 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Thanks for responding to me. As Tovar probably knows I am one who does not consider hunting a sport and these discussions are sometimes humorous to me because of everyone’s sensitivity to how we get food. I grew up seeing animals as food. we raised chickens and hogs to eat and hunted and fished for food not for trophies. I am starting to realize that maybe I am a minority. Most people see animals as sport or almost equal to people. I don’t buy food or fish from a store and go about my hunting as the first step of bringing food to the table. I realize what is going on with the rest of the hunters in the world. I am known in my area as the guy to take a animal to you have killed and don’t won’t since I will eat it. I have always thought that all “anti hunters” should be vegatarians but maybe I should also say all hunters should be meateaters….sounds like a future post . your pal the Envirocapitalist.

Tony Bynum August 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm

great civil discussion, thanks for hosting it Tovar! Found a great new organization you should look into. . . http://www.bullmoosesportsmen.org/

Cheers.

ingrid August 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Tony, I checked out your link and read some of the material at the Bull Moose website. Granted, mine was just a cursory reading. But, I’m not sure how their various positions enhance this discussion of diversity among hunters. Their agenda seems to be more of an echo to the NRA lobby (they’re for guns in National Parks, against lead ammo bans, against assault weapon bans) than it is a call to draw in more diverse and conservation-minded outdoors people. To me, a non-hunter, it looks like an organization holding the same old divisive ideas, in the interest of simply furthering access and reducing restrictions for hunters.

R. Gabe Davis August 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Thanks Tony, Reminds me of the TRCP. It is nice to find some true hunting organizations instead of political pacs posing as hunting organization.

Tovar August 20, 2012 at 8:25 am

Thanks for joining in the discussion, Tony, and thanks for the link to Bull Moose Sportsmen. I’m not familiar with them and will check them out.

Incidentally, I found an interesting article in High Country News from earlier this year, which mentions both Bull Moose and TRCP. (Over the years, I’ve seen various posts and comments online, maligning the TRCP as a “liberal” and “environmental” organization posing as a hunting conservation organization. Heaven forbid there should be political and ideological diversity among people who hunt and care about the natural world.)

Tony Bynum August 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

@gabe youre spot on! Yes it’s similar to the TRCP but more active. @ingid, thank you for taking the time to look at the bull moose sportmen’s site. And thank you for your generous thoughts. I encourage you to reconsider the bull moose sportsmen, they are working toward common sense solution without the divisive and offensive partisan positions often found in other organizations on the left and right.

ingrid August 20, 2012 at 2:17 am

Tony, thank you. I will take a closer look and give the website a more diligent read.

Erik Jensen August 20, 2012 at 11:16 am

My last comment, due to having to work overtime this week and get ready for my twin daughters’ first hunt on the MN youth waterfowl day in just under three weeks….(even though I’ll open another can of worms). In response largely to Phillip, but several others as well, I think hunting is more than an activity, it plays an important environmental/conservation role in both American culture and politics as well as actual management and protection of wildlife. I say this as someone who, like Tovar, sees the need to be a “dissident” at times and often sees the call for “circling the wagons” as self-destructive, even though there are times when it’s necessary and I do join it – to defend the hunting of mourning doves, wolves (on a very limited basis), and public land purchases whose main purpose is to provide places to hunt.

Because we play this larger “social” role, we need collective standards, and a willingness to override the wishes of a vocal minority of hunters who oppose banning wanton waste of hares, or oppose figuring out a solution to what to do with wolf meat or meat from other “varmints” that people don’t like to eat, at least from what I’m hearing. (I’m for making them into dog food if you won’t eat it).

Lastly, high-fence opponents like yours truly aren’t just concerned with “fair chase”, which we are (I understand some high-fence operations meet general “fair chase” standards). We are concerned about the privatization of wildlife, the blocking of migration corridors, CWD, the fragmentation of land, and making hunting a less accessible activity. If there is way to sum it up, high-fence hunting “divides” us as a hunting community in an area where there should be “unity”: support for the basic principles of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, and in being a constituency that works to get hunting access for all and serve broader public needs at the same time.

Neil H August 20, 2012 at 11:51 am

Since my phrase “moral rudder of hunting” got referenced earlier, I feel inclined to comment.

Phillip, what you say is true, and in a perfect libertarian world where everyone is judged based on their individual actions, it would be fine. But like it or not, people who perform certain activities, are often pooled together. In hunting this boils down eventually to regulation, which is more tangible than just public perception. Hunting may be an individual activity, but the average behavior, or these days the most egregious examples of behavior, set the standard by which we are all judged. Further, the average minimum standards of behavior can and should be peer driven, and pretty much always have been for good or bad. Some things should be obvious, like whether drinking is acceptable behavior, to more ambiguous measures like what a realistic range for shooting at game is. People take cues from their peers, as well as media, and there’s always been an average standard to these kinds of behaviors and where that “average” needle is set. By “moral rudder” I mean the average of standards that we aspire to. You can see an example of an improvement in the average minimum standard through philosophies like “leave no trace” in backpacking. If we don’t add our our voices to these issues somebody else will. I think you aren’t saying otherwise, and much of this discussion is semantics.

In general: Ethics is what one does when no one is looking, but in fact both hunting peers and the non-hunting public often are looking. From a standpoint of practical ethics, this boils down to separate issues: How does the behavior affect the resource or environment? How does it affect other people, including other hunters? and yes, How does it affect the perception of the activity? These are all questions that are better answered from within the hunting community than others.

I don’t think its’ beneficial, as some might be tempted to do, to pretend there is some puritanical ideal of hunting that applies to all, a perfect standard that few will measure up to. As Ingrid pointed out, that tactic can work against us. Nor do I think backing the lowest common denominator and saying it’s all fine will serve us well. I agree it’s a dilemma, since whatever is said gets jump on by folks who do want to divide and conquer. But there’s another side: If you want to create public bigotry towards a group of people, you first have to present them as a single archetype or stereotype. Showing the diversity of views amongst those who hunt humanizes us, makes us individuals, and shows hunters as the diverse parade of very different people that we are. At the end of the day, a broad range of views spoken openly serves us all better both within the community of people who hunt and with the non-hunting public.

Steve Bodio September 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I must link to this one, Tovar– thanks.

Tovar September 10, 2012 at 10:25 am

I’m glad you enjoyed it, Steve. And thanks for linking.

Redneck Blinds September 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Very good blog, like the pic. Can not wait for season to start.

Lieing Wolf September 12, 2012 at 7:48 am

As I teach hunter ed to a now growing new hunter population, many more “women, (Yeaaa!) , probably, Flatlanders and tree huggers ” are among them. Hunting could use a face lift at times and women and girls are just the ticket! They don’t brag or poach much, shootting the red squirrel that makes to much noise, they often bring a compassionate and softer thoughtful side. The folks now walking among trees, will learn of the trees live cycles, discovering the insect problems, growth rates ( passage of time) , necessary tree species types that fit their types of wildlife. The green movement will probably wash over the sportsman community and reach places it could not, “sporting” probably the first to sink! The law now provides the minimum standard of exceptable conduct, as a society of people sharing a public resource, The system works for the most part because MOST of us adhear to it. In a free country, we can swing our will either way of it. All things having out comes and prices. As they go to the forest to discover who they are., some will be dissapointed, some inspired. But is that not what we seek? True freedom? True belonging, to a system greater then ourselves full of riches and hardships and challenges? Our hearts wild and untamed?

Tovar September 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for your thoughts as always, LW.

RandyZ September 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Tovar

I have recently been introduced to your work and would like to express my thanks. I am a lifelong hunter and fisherman (40 years or so…) who has always come to both as a means of providing food for my family and a connection to the natural world. I greatly appreciate the platform for an open honest dialogue about what it means to be a hunter that you are providing with your blog. I look forward to more!

Regards,
Randy

Tovar September 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm

You’re more than welcome, Randy. Thanks for stopping by!

Somsai September 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Not sure what this post is all about. Hunters are a diverse bunch, ok, I get that. Many for instance on the periphery of hunting are vegans or vegetarians etc, OK I get that, though around here having been a vegetarian is as remarkable, say, as having brown eyes, and I’d have to note I’ve never met a currently practicing vegetarian who hunts.

When you discuss rabbits in Vermont I think we are getting a little closer to the point, but I don’t remember any circling of wagons over the issue, as a matter of fact I’d never actually heard of the issue before. I did find rabbits listed under the heading Vermin in Wikipedia. First I’d heard of it. And yes I wouldn’t say anything one way or another about rabbits as I’m not a subsistence farmer in Vermont, and that’s probably how the listing came about.

As I’ve learned to hunt and eat, and hunt and not eat more species, I’ve become much more reluctant to form an opinion or especially voice an opinion about aspects of hunting that I might not yet fully understand. I call it being broad minded.

I’m also slower to criticize how people hunt in different parts of the country that are different than where I come from. The list of hunting practices that I don’t do is long, the list that I still find distasteful is much much shorter, the list to which I’ll publicly object to is non existent. It’s true that some groups actively work to stop some forms of hunting and that those same groups move to new anti hunting issues once they are successful on one. If I were to for instance publicly encourage PETA to work to abolish high fence hunting it would bring them one incremental step closer to abolishing all hunting which is their goal.

Maybe you could do a couple of posts about hunting practices that some might wonder about. Predators or hounding or both? Trapping or catch and release fishing. Baiting and shining. Squirrels and prairie dogs. Guiding for profit?

Tovar October 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

To you, somsai, and others, it may indeed be obvious that hunters are a diverse bunch (and, yes, that’s mainly what the post was about). But to many others, it isn’t obvious at all. That’s certainly true among non-hunters and at times it seems true among some hunters, too.

Paleo Man October 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm

In terms of genetics and ancestry, we are all hunters. We are only here and alive because for eons past, those whose genes we carry were not only hunters, but skillful hunters with the deepest and most aware connections to the natural world.

For some of us, some of them crossed the Bering Strait something over 10,000 years ago and entered an inhospitable environment where only remarkable hunting skills could provide sustenance in a wintery land where vegetable matter was non-existent. And they encountered large predators, perhaps the last of the now extinct mega-fauna, which would have made easy meals of vulnerable humans not equipped with stellar prowess, strength, and hunting weapons.

When we hunt, however we intellectually try to explain it, we are all tapping into this primitive call and it is this that we all have in common. The genes and instincts that once allowed some of us to survive an encounter with a now-extinct short faced bear in the far north, may now entice a hunter to face the charge of a cape buffalo. In such a case is there really a distinction between sport and survival? Is sex for sport, or is it for survival? Do we carry any genes, could any genes survive evolution, from those who shunned sex for gratification in eons past?

The environment in which we humans find ourselves has changed immeasurably. But genetically, we are the same humans who survived ice ages, deprivation, predation, and distant migration only by hunting skill and resourcefulness. And as with the survival essential of reproduction, with pleasure in what allowed us to survive, hunting.

We find ourselves in a world where hunting is not necessary for survival, something that innumerable generations of ancestors over tens of thousands of years could never imagine. We don’t need to hunt to stay alive. But we might be made so that we need to hunt to truly live, whether we disclaim pleasure in that need or avidly embrace it..

In a world with huge human population and limited wild food sources, this calls for ethics consistent with our limitations, but so far as possible with opportunities consistent with the hunters that we all are.

Tovar October 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

Interesting thoughts, Paleo Man. Thanks very much for sharing them here.

somsai October 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Just this evening I finished a book about broadly why we hunt and how ethics fits into the scheme of things. I guess it was the best book about hunting I’ve read, not to say I’ve read many, but it was well done, in parts beautiful.

Why we hunt, why we love the animals we hunt, why the deeper immersion into the natural world than other pursuits. A Quiet Place of Violence (Hunting and Ethics in the Missouri River Breaks) by Allen Morris Jones. The Breaks are in Eastern Montana not far from the Fort Peck Reservation, real pretty country.

Some of the ideas in the book sounded similar to what you wrote Paleo Man.

Tovar October 9, 2012 at 9:35 am

I haven’t read that book yet, somsai. Thanks for the recommendation.

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