A hunting culture in decline: Causes and consequences

Are Vermont hunters an endangered species? Fellow writer and hunter Matt Crawford thinks so, and his new article in Vermont Life presents compelling evidence.

Crawford notes, for instance, that resident hunting license sales in the Green Mountain State have dropped from more than 89,000 per year in 1993 to an estimated 70,000 today. The decline continues despite what he accurately terms “a generally accepting culture” that includes “the most lenient” gun-ownership laws in the country.

Why is that?

The article suggests that one factor is the arrival of newcomers—non-hunters who have moved to Vermont from urban and suburban areas. Crawford quotes me on this point:

The obvious answer to the question about the biggest threat to Vermont’s hunting culture is ‘people from away.’ There are a lot of folks like me who move here, buy land and either don’t have a connection to the culture of hunting or, in some cases, who don’t approve of it. It’s very much a tension point between new Vermonters and those who’ve spent their lives here doing things in an accepted way.

This is indeed an “obvious answer.” Some lay the blame for the decline in Vermont’s hunting culture squarely on an influx of outsiders.

But how much influence do newcomers really have on local traditions?

Some newcomers certainly disapprove. I was one of them when Cath and I moved back to Vermont in the late 1990s. (Whether I’m “from away” is open to interpretation. I grew up in both New Hampshire and Vermont, but my family is not from here: My parents grew up in Connecticut and New Jersey.)

To what, though, does such disapproval and tension lead? Does it erode local hunting culture? Does it lead to a tighter grip on tradition in the face of a perceived threat? How many kids or adults are discouraged from hunting because of disapproval from “flatlanders”?

Some newcomers learn to respect local traditions. Some of us even take up hunting. As Crawford notes in the article, the local food movement is generating new interest in hunting and new respect for rural ways of life.

There are no anti-hunting referendum votes in the Green Mountain State and there probably never will be: We don’t have a referendum system. The only public protests in recent memory were over so-called “coyote tournaments,” a practice to which some hunters also objected. And, as Crawford notes, hunting has enjoyed constitutional protection in Vermont since 1777.

Some newcomers close their land to hunting. Whether due to safety concerns, a dislike of hunting, or both, some mark their property boundaries with “No Hunting” or “No Trespassing” signs. In most of Vermont, though, it still isn’t hard to get permission to hunt private land. And there’s a fair amount of public land, too. The bigger threat to hunting access, as Crawford indicates, is land development, by native Vermonters and outsiders alike.

Maybe newcomers are a significant factor in Vermont’s hunting decline. But I’m not convinced.

I think we’re witnessing a much broader, more complex erosion of rural traditions. Crawford notes, for instance, that Vermont is experiencing a parallel decline in farming. As far as I know, no newcomers to the state are opposed to agriculture.

The decline in hunting is a complicated puzzle, long studied by the likes of sociologist Jan Dizard and anthropologist Marc Boglioli. Crawford’s article quotes Boglioli, whose outlook for the future of hunting is not optimistic:

According to the people who run these numbers and make these projections, there’s just no way we can imagine that in 100 years we’ll have hunters anywhere near the numbers we have now. I see hunting as being farther removed from mainstream society. It’ll be kind of this Sturbridge Village of leisure activity. Nobody will be threatened by it. We’ll be nostalgic about it by then.

The article in Vermont Life points to several related dangers.

One is the resulting loss in revenue for habitat conservation. (I think the current system—of funding wildlife agencies almost exclusively with hunter-and-angler dollars—is a fiscal dead-end in need of a serious overhaul, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Another danger is decline in economic activity. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates, hunting boosts the Vermont economy by $258 million annually.

My greatest concern is the third danger Crawford points to: disconnection. This is not just about hunting as a practice or even as a cultural tradition. (Despite frequent paeans to Vermont deer hunting as a tradition that reaches back into the ancestral past, the state was nearly devoid of whitetails in the late nineteenth century.) It’s about hunting as part of a broader set of activities that keep us engaged with nature.

Crawford cites Richard Louv, whose books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle point out that people need more nature-exposure than they’re getting. Entranced by technology and distracted by busy lives, children and adults alike are spending less and less time doing anything outdoors: hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, bird-watching, you name it.

Ebony jewelwing

The risk we run—as Louv argues, and as the film Mother Nature’s Child suggests—is not only to our own psychological, spiritual, and physical health, but also to the health of the natural world. We conserve and protect what we care about. If we don’t even know what a grouse or a leopard frog or a whitetail or a jewelwing looks like, we won’t care much.

If we don’t care much, where in our hearts can a serious conservation ethic possibly take root?

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. chuck says:

    I have an aunt and uncle who live in rural ohio. they have prime hunting property. i asked if i could hunt for deer on their property and got a resounding “NO!”. my aunt asked me why i hunt and i told her it was because i want high quality, inexpensive meat for my family. she couldn’t grasp that an animal living and eating in the wild could be of higher quality than an animal confined with other animals and force fed grains. she also could not grasp natural order of predators and that deer have little predation in ohio.

    there really is a disconnect from nature. do-gooders really don’t understand what they are defending and fighting for.

  2. Steven Bissell says:

    I don’t know about Vermont, but studies in the Western States indicate that people moving into the states do not differ from residents in any significant manner (I think this was in Manfredo, M. J., Teel, T. L., & Bright, A. D. (2003).� Why are public values toward wildlife changing? Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 8(4), 285-304.) Looking for single reasons for the decline in hunting is not going to produce anything of real value. We are seeing all over the United States changing values in regards to almost anything you want to mention. Hunting is a activity that requires high levels of commitment and a long period of learning the skills. While it is tempting to blame ‘those new people’ or ‘single parent families’ or ‘anti-hunting movement’ the answer is much, much more complicated. You are correct that one correlate is the changing demographic from sub-urban and rural to more urban, but a correlation is not always indicative of ’cause/effect.’

    While a decline in hunters does mean a decline in traditional funding of conservation programs, it does not necessarily mean an end to conservation programs. And to assume that a decline in hunting means a ‘disconnection’ to nature in general is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. People ‘connect’ to nature in many ways and hunting has never been the primary ‘connection.’

    Times and cultures change and the decline in hunting is, lamentably, one of those changes.

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting points, Steven.

      I completely agree that “looking for single reasons for the decline in hunting is not going to produce anything of real value.” This post was intended, in part, to clarify that I think things are, as you say, much more complicated than the quote attributed to me would lead readers to believe. An “obvious answer” is often a mistaken or oversimplified answer.

      I agree with you on the funding, too.

      My point about disconnection is not that the decline in hunting by itself indicates a disconnection from nature in general. Rather, my point is that the decline in hunting appears to be part of a broader disconnection/disengagement from outdoor activity and from a firsthand sense of the natural world, and of our relationships to it.

  3. Steven Bissell says:

    Well, my point is that perhaps the ‘connection’ to nature is changing and not declining. I don’t know, nor am I going to look up, participation in other outdoors sports but one of my students tells me that trail biking has increased by at least one magnitude in recent years. According to the USFWS 2006 survey (http://library.fws.gov/pubs/wildlifewatching_natsurvey06.pdf) Watchable Wildlife activities have remained constant since the 1996 survey. I think the ‘disconnection’ to nature is more a perception than a trend.

    To be fair I’ve held this same opinion for more than 40 years. I cannot recall the study but about 30 years ago there was an educational study that showed a higher level of knowledge of conservation issues among urban school children than among rural children.

    My opinion is that living in sub-urban and rural areas is no more likely to improve your sense of the natural world than living in urban areas. But, that is opinion, I have no real data to support that.

    • Tovar says:

      You may be right, Steven. And in my non-and-anti-hunting vegan years I would have believed absolutely that such a cultural change — still “connecting” to nature, but in non-lethal ways — was an unequivocally good thing. Now, I’m not so sure. (Nor, for that matter, am I convinced that hunting is always a good thing.)

      I wonder how much knowledge of the natural world, and sense of deep connection to it, necessarily accompanies trail biking. Is it like living in a suburban area, giving you more opportunity to connect and know, but not necessarily leading there? Interesting.

      • Al Cambronne says:

        In answer to the question about trail biking, I can only describe my own experience. Your mileage and level of connectedness may vary. I’ve done a little mountain biking, and still do some cyclocrossing on dirt roads and logging trails. I used to do some trail running, and I still enjoy cross-country skiing.

        When running, I felt as connected to my surroundings as I was when walking. Self-righteous hikers may disagree, but there’s really not all that much difference between 2 mph and 5 or 6 mph in terms of what you see and how connected you’ll feel. You always have the option of stopping to smell the roses, either figuratively or literally. And if anything, I was more likely to see wildlife while running than when hiking. I was still silent, and I was moving slightly faster. (When running alone, I was definitely quieter than two hikers conversing.)

        When biking or skiing, though, the connection feels just slightly more tenuous. In both cases, even if it’s packed dirt road or a smoothly groomed ski trail, I use more mental bandwidth for watching the surface ahead and paying attention to what I’m doing. There’s less of my head left over for connecting with whatever’s happening on either side of the trail.

        That said, there’s still way more of a connection than you’d get while indoors on a treadmill or exercise bike. I think a day spent mountain biking through the woods would still get the Richard Louv seal of approval. And while any biking is better than any Nintendo… If I had kids who wanted to hang out at the BMX park, I’d instead try to get them out in the woods.

        • Tovar says:

          Thanks for the thoughts from the trail, Al.

          My limited trail biking and more extensive x-c skiing have been similar: I can always stop, look, and listen (though perhaps not quite as readily as a runner). But I don’t sink into an awareness of the place and the other creatures who live there nearly as deeply as when I’m sitting still, in the manner of a hunter…or a wildlife photographer. 😉

  4. chuck says:

    I believe there is a huge disconnect between modern living and nature whether people live in rural or urban settings. For the most part, we are so far removed from the natural order of things. Kids are not going in the woods with their dads to hunt because they’d rather play XBox or their PETA mom won’t let them. People would rather go to the grocery store and buy meat and produce from thousands of miles away than eat something that may have lived in their backyard. Heck, a lot of people don’t even buy that stuff at grocery stores. They buy boxes of food-like items and get their meat at restaurants. It is viewed as cruel to kill an animal that lived free in the wild but it is OK to buy animal meat from farms where those animals live on top of each and barely see the light of day. It really is sad.

    • Tovar says:

      “People would rather go to the grocery store and buy meat and produce from thousands of miles away than eat something that may have lived in their backyard.”

      Too true. It’s good to see more and more people questioning these habitual patterns of thought and consumption.

  5. Kim Graves says:


    I think that there’s an additional concern from those of us who don’t hunt and that is the “gun culture” that surrounds hunting and gun ownership. Those of us from the flat land see guns as weapons to kill other people. If you have a gun in the city that’s the reason you have it. And the NRA has encouraged this sort of view of guns. Their defense of assault weapons and hand guns has put guns in the hands of “nuts” and very fearful people who shoot first. Our own daughter as been witness to TWO schools shootings: first as a student at Simon’s Rock where one of her fellow students went nuts and killed her advisor and best friend and then as a professor at Northern Illinois U just a couple of years ago. This (and I suspect other) city folk fear guns and when I see an NRA sticker on the back of a pickup I immediately associate that with “this is a gun nut” rather than this is a responsible hunter.

    Maybe if there was an organization of hunters for responsible gun ownership that could counter the NRA that would help to differentiate these two views of guns. Taking up hunting for me, even though I’m interested, is a near impossibility because my wife won’t allow a gun in the house. There is clear and uncontroversial statistical evidence that having a gun in the house is much more dangerous than not having one. It’s hard for me to argue that “I’m different,” even though I probably am.

    So I fear that I will be close to impossible to bring back a responsible hunting culture as long as that culture is seen as an irresponsible NRA gun culture rather than a responsible conservation one. And the part of the hunting culture that is uneducated about ecosystems and kills coyote and other predators also doesn’t help. Personally I support a responsible hunting culture. But currently that culture has a lot of baggage.

    Best, Kim

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting points, Kim. You’re certainly right that American hunting culture has “a lot of baggage” in the public eye.

      As I was getting into hunting, I definitely had to wrestle with my own attitudes toward guns. And my wife wasn’t keen on them either. Fortunately, she and I both grew up in families where guns had a functional-though-minimal presence, so we had non-fearful experiences to draw on. Then again, we’d also both had frightening and dangerous experiences around guns: a hunter’s bullet in an upstairs hallway, a family friend’s suicide attempt, a double-murder-plus-suicide committed by a high school classmate, etc. I had to think long and hard about purchasing a firearm.

      In my thesis research with adult-onset hunters, quite a few talked about guns, especially those who grew up in families where they were forbidden or — as you say — in urban environments where they were associated exclusively with killing people. At least one hunter I interviewed took up bowhunting in part because he had no exposure to guns and owning a bow in the city was easier than owning a firearm.

  6. ingrid says:

    Tovar, you wrote: I think the current system—of funding wildlife agencies almost exclusively with hunter-and-angler dollars—is a fiscal dead-end in need of a serious overhaul, but that’s a topic for another day.
    Yes. Please. We non-hunting, non-consumptive, photographing, wildlife-watching users of public lands outnumber hunters by a long shot. But so far — beyond the tax dollars we all contribute to public lands — efforts to fund conservation by way of a non-consumptive tax, have not gained enough ground.

    I’m all for being levied a fee or tax for conservation efforts. I voluntarily contribute what I can every year in funds and hands-on habitat restoration. Most non-hunters and nature people I know are all for this. Ironically, though, a lot of hunters with whom I speak are not. I think they realize that with additional funds also comes additional influence. It’s been a strong talking point in the hunting community — that hunters fund conservation. That bullet point would change when the rest of us have an opportunity to contribute in the same way.

    I’ve purchased duck stamps, but like a lot of other non-hunters and birders, I have mixed feelings. This blog post from 1000 Birds sums it up for me: http://bit.ly/o7v0n5

    • Tovar says:

      In my opinion, every state could use a system like the ones put in place by Missouri in 1976 and Arkansas in 1996. In those states, a mere 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax — dedicated to state conservation programs of all stripes, from parks, recreation, and forestry departments, to fish and wildlife agencies — has done wonders. Hunting and fishing programs and game species have done well, and so have all manner of other programs, efforts, and species.

    • Al Cambronne says:

      On a federal level, hunters fund conservation through Pittman-Robertson taxes on guns, ammunition, etc. I read somewhere that when when bowhunting first became popular, the makers of archery equipment begged to be included. It was a rare instance of someone asking to pay more taxes.

      Maybe binocular makers like Zeiss, Svarovski, Leica, Bushnell, and Nikon could step forward and do the same. I believe they’re already paying in for riflescopes. How about binoculars and spotting scopes?

      Next: Backpacks, tents and sleeping bags, anyone?

      • Tovar says:

        Some states have taken — or at least tried to take — that kind of approach, expanding such taxes to outdoor gear like kayaks, backpacks, etc. I’d have to brush up on the details to report on it accurately.

        At the federal level, I wish the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) had passed a decade ago.

  7. Sorry if I am ‘behind’ on the issues, I just speed read the whole thing.

    Aren’t overall hunter numbers up in the US according to the NSSF? Our numbers are slightly up in AB, largely due to the huge in-migration of workers (for the oil industry which is our biggest threat to wildlife). Waterfowler numbers are down signifcantly as lots of that discipline is gear-heavy and more expensive than deer hunting. However, the provincial government here still funds a ‘waterfowler heritage day’ every fall, which seriously grates the antis.

    Ingrid, I strongly disgaree that wildlife watching is ‘non-consumptive’. often the difference between a photo trip and a hunting trip is the life of a deer (which is rapidly replaced).

    • Tovar says:

      I’m not sure if the NSSF is claiming that US hunter numbers are up. If they are claiming that, I’d want to look at other data, too. Even if that claim proved true, I would suspect it may be a temporary, short-term blip.

      I agree that the terms “consumptive” and “non-consumptive” are misleading and unhelpful. A bird-watcher who jets all around the country or world to see particular birds is “non-consumptive,” but a hunter who kills a deer a half-mile from home is “consumptive”? Just because the first doesn’t actually kill and eat a bird? That makes little sense to me. If “consumption” of nature is the issue, we need to think well beyond the taking of individual lives and the placing of food into our mouths.

  8. Steven Bissell says:


    I’ll email you a JPEG file from the NSSF study (Duda, M. D., M. Jones, C. L. Shilli, S. J. Bissell, T. Beppler, A. Criscione, et al. 2008. The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports: Research-Based Recruitment and Retention Strategies. Produced for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under Grant Agreement CT-M-6-0, Harrisonburg, VA.) as I don’t know how to attach it here. The trend is for the United States is steadily downward since 1982. Pretty much the same as in the 2006 USFWS survey referenced above. There are some regional differences and a few upward trends, but overall the decline is marked and long term.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for the JPEG, Steven. Yep, it shows the steady downward trend over the past 30 years, with a few upward blips. And that’s just straight numbers of hunters (defined as license holders); with a growing US population, the drop in percent-of-Americans-who-hunt would be even steeper.

  9. Steven Bissell says:

    It is risky business evaluating the ‘quality’ or ‘depth’ of another persons experiences with nature. I had an acquaintance who hunting every possible season he could; often traveled to other countries in order to hunt when there were no seasons in the US. However he seemed to be at war with nature. He often spoke of his hunting in militaristic or, frankly, sadistic terms. As far as I could see he had no real values in regards to wild animals other than as objects. On the other hand when I was doing research on the topic I met anti-hunters who were were deeply and profound committed to nature (I also met some who had little real interest).

    There is no objective way of saying that hunting is ‘better’ than trail biking as a way of connection with nature. In my case my hunting was a deeper and more profound connection than my trail biking but I would not dare to make that a generalization.

    • Tovar says:

      Indeed, it is. I don’t think Al and I were evaluating anyone’s experience other than our own.

      I’ve met hunters whose attitudes appear to be like the one you describe as being “at war with nature” (though we, as you point out, can never know for sure). Hunting — like almost anything humans do — doesn’t guarantee a particular attitude or experience or sense of connection.

  10. douglas says:

    Hi Tovar, if I could add a perspective from rural Canada…we have been seeing the same slow decline in hunter numbers here in British Columbia as is noted in the Vermont study. In BC there is an abundance of hunting opportunities on crown land, a people tend to be accepting, if not supportive of hunting. The cost of a hunting license and tags is very low for residents.

    My theory concerning the decline in hunting is that people are intimidated by the learning curve necessary for the new hunter; learning to shoot accurately, learning field dressing of a large animal, and learning how to find the animals within a great big landscape!

    The people in my acquaintance, who have taken up hunting as adults tend already be at ease in wilderness situations, and are the types who are willing to learn “on the fly”.

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting, Douglas. As you paint it, your scenario isn’t unlike what we have here in Vermont.

      I agree that the learning process can be intimidating for many adults. It was for me! Plus, there’s Kim’s point about unfamiliarity (and discomfort) with firearms.

      Do you have a sense of what’s happening there in BC with young people who grow up in hunting families? Are they abandoning the hunt? Moving away? Staying and hunting, but slowly being outnumbered by people moving in from elsewhere?

      • douglas says:

        Hi tovar, from what I have read concerning “hunter recruitment” in BC, there is a much higher chance of someone who is raised in a hunting family, to continue hunting. That being said, I can’t think of anyone I know whose kids have shown any interest in hunting. The biggest reason that I can see is that kids prefer social activities with their buddies, over solitary time out in the woods. By its nature, hunting is a difficult activity to invite friends along for.

        I helped raise my step-son from the age of 10. Despite his mom being an ardent outdoors person, it was like pulling teeth to get him out hiking, camping. Now as an adult, he has taken up both hiking and hunting (go figure!). i suppose that having any type of exposure as a child makes it easier for someone to explore something as an adult.

  11. ingrid says:

    @Brian, you said “Ingrid, I strongly disgaree that wildlife watching is ‘non-consumptive’. often the difference between a photo trip and a hunting trip is the life of a deer (which is rapidly replaced).”
    Brian, the designation may be problematic, and it’s validity is debated in academic circles for sure. But those are the terms generally used to distinguish purposefully extractive activities (hunting/fishing) and activities like wildlife viewing. I understand your issue with that distinction, so what about “non-hunting” activities? I’m not sure that’s broad enough — or perhaps too broad.

    I’ve read some interesting studies, several done around marine wildlife issues in New Zealand and Australia. The findings appeared to be consistent with the idea that “non-consumptive” users do tend to engage the environment in a different way. One piece focused on the difference between sea kayakers and sea fishers, finding that “non-consumptive” users like sea kayakers, as a general study group, were more ecocentric whereas the fishers were more anthropocentric. And in the context of preserving marine ecosystems, the conclusion of that study was that more should be done to encourage ecocentric behavior among “consumptive” users because it was less damaging to the environment.

    I can’t help but think this is an important distinction. I agree with everyone, that travel to and upon, and trampling of the wild lands cannot be considered, in the truest sense, non-consumptive. But there is a dramatic distinction in intent, which does indeed manifest as a different relationship to nature and wildlife.

    I simply cannot agree that my hiking and observing quietly (and from a distance) on a wetlands trail, with or without my camera, has the same “consumptive” impact as the masses of waterfowl hunters I often see a short distance away, firing, loudly at birds flying overhead. I don’t want to pick on this issue because I’ve addressed it in this blog before. But, with that type of hunting, when you take into consideration the disturbance in terms of killing and injury of wildlife, plus noise pollution and intrusion into habitat, there is simply no way they are equivalent.

    And that’s the distinction I’m referring to when I mention funding from “non-consumptive” users of refuges and wild lands. I would almost be happy to limit the term to “non-hunting wildlife viewers and photographers” because we alone, in numbers, would be a huge source of revenue. And I’ve heard enough birders complain about the way funds are allocated (often toward hunted/game species) that I’m sure there would be very little dissent among this group when it comes to contributing money and influence to the decisions at hand.

  12. somsai says:

    I’ve had a hard time commenting on this post, of the many reasons I’d have to say in general hunting is hard.

    I think there are more medium and big game hunters than anything else, and often the undertaking is hard, and at the end of the day there is no animal. I climbed for years all over the United States, and I have to say most of my fellow climbers viewed the forests we walked through as a route to the crag, the alpine environment a pretty backdrop to our achievements. Many friends mountain bike, few know the tracks and scat of the animals they peddle past. To tell the truth many users of the outdoors can’t find their way off trail.

    Last evening I researched a new place to hunt. The management unit is over a million acres with 265 acres of residential building in it. The entire unit is over 8000 feet in elevation. There are a very few roads and fewer trails. Finding the 2000 harvestable bulls in that great expanse with winter conditions of a late season hunt puts me in touch with my camping and wilderness skills much more than any big wall ever did. More than riding a bike or all the canoeing and skiing of my youth.

    There will always be people who value hunting in such settings, our challenge is to make sure the opportunities survive for public land hunts in these places.

    • Tovar says:

      Somsai: Yeah, the difficulty of hunting — that is, the low chances of success — almost made me give it up a few years in. And I’m only hiking into the woods half a mile or so here. Nothing like the wilderness hunt you describe.

      Places like the one you mention really are important, for all kinds of reasons and all kinds of creatures, humans among them.

  13. @ Ingrid – I really like the notion of a ecocentric extractive users. I am quite senstive about the consumption rhetoric, I think is it highly fallible 😉

    I am interested in the phenomenology between hunting, angling and other outdoor sports. I have been a passionate kayaker for some years and to me the emotion, sense of focus and feeling of ‘flow’ is quite different between making a stalk and dropping into a challenging river canyon. Both are highly stimulating and ‘addicitive’. Both also drive my desire to learn more and contrbute more to conserving the geography that facilitates that (albeit with insufficient action!)

  14. Erik Jensen says:

    Insightful post,. Overall, I think the points about hunting as a high commitment activity are very important. Blaming outsiders or PETA is overall ridiculous, as public support for “hunting for recreation and meat” remains rock solid if not increasing. I do think the irrational fear of firearms in some families, usually liberal, has some small but not insignificant effect. I’ve had this a stumbling block in mentoring some youths who are interested, even in this pro-hunting and pro-firearms ownership, but very liberal, state of MN. Blaming the NRA’s nutty gun politics for this doesn’t cut it for me. Even though my politics are highly progressive, I think the NRA is on to something with this even though they exaggerate it, as much as I hate the NRA. It is a shame as these families would contribute a lot to the hunting culture – high ethics and strong environmental/conservationist commitments and a vision of hunting playing a positive role in society.

    The statistics don’t show that there is much difference in safety in having guns in the house vs not if proper safety procedures are followed. The increase in danger is so small it is almost not worth noting.

    I will sound like a broken record, I think I’ve posted this before but I think the issue of the general direction of society is a huge factor. We live in a hyper-competitive world where hunting is not something that helps you get into a good college. Youth sports are the biggest problem when it comes to recruiting youth, followed by media use. Mark Duda’s surveys show that pretty conclusively. I’m sure saying that you can really use a gun or bow well and can sit in a deer stand for hours or go deep into the wilderness like Somsai and I do doesn’t help on a resume unless you are already in a place where hunting is highly ingrained in the culture, and those are few places…Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, and Alaska. It would be an ice-breaker with a prospective employer at least.

    Lastly, I think one of the reasons hunting is important is that it takes commitment when it comes to conservation/environmental protection. As flawed as the American hunting culture is, there is no one who contributes as much boots on the ground money and time and effort to wildlife protection and conservation, esp the protection of land from subdivision and sprawl and privatization. While I think the attacks on “non-consumptive” outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife watchers by the right wing in the hunting community are really awful, as it is splitting two constituencies that ultimately are a coalition, I would guess hunters are the lynchpin of wildlife protection in America and many other rich countries. We are still a powerful force overall for good. The declining numbers are a social negative as far as I am concerned.

  15. Kim Graves says:

    @Erik Jensen: Hi. Would you shoot me the citation for the study you cite? It would be useful to me in my discussions with my wife about having a gun in the house. Especially if it defined “proper safety procedures”, etc. Thanks, Kim

    • Erik Jensen says:

      Kim – let me look and get some stuff/references to you. It might take a day. I think the absolute first step is a locked ammo box in the house, that only adults have the combo to. I’ve had that most of my life, then when I had kids I built a locked closet for guns, now I bought a real solid gun safe w/only a combo since my kids are getting old enough to use keys and they now have their own gun (a single shot .22).

      I also use (combo) trigger locks when I have guns in a vehicle and I’m with the kids, usually on weekend trips when we are going to do some target shooting or hunting.

      Last point for now is that from the reading I’ve been doing on the web, (it is very hard to find objective info about such matters) every other rich nation in the world has a “safe storage” law for firearms, including such high firearms ownership countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and Switzerland. I think it makes big difference in gun crime (stolen guns are the most common way crooks get guns) and accidental shootings involving kids. Some gun control is ridiculous, esp the controls they have in Australia and England, but the safe storage law is something I definitely support.

    • Erik Jensen says:

      Kim – I doubt the link below will work, I have played with it awhile and the Journal of the American Medical Association’s website has a shortcut feature, but it doesn’t seem to work.

      The article is “Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentio​nal Firearm Injuries”, February 9, 2005, Grossman et al. 293 (6): 707 — JAMA, which showed that storing guns unloaded and locked, separate from ammunition, was a feasible alternative to asking families to not have guns at all if they have children.

      I combed through the American Academy of Pediatrics site and unfortunately they didn’t study safe storage much, but there was a clear correlation between purpose of owning a gun and the type of gun owned and accidental deaths from firearms. Owning a handgun for self-defense was correlated with much higher likelihood of unsafe storage practices and accidental deaths vs owning long guns for hunting and sport. Presumably this was because of self-defense oriented hand gun owners were most likely to have guns unlocked and loaded in the home. Higher education was clearly correlated with safe storage of firearms.

      I would comb through the JAMA website and AAP websites and look at some of the studies. One of the things I find unfortunate is that there is no specific study of the risk to families who are involved with shooting sports and follow safe storage practices vs those who don’t own firearms at all. The studies look at a range of behaviors and practices of firearm storage and use in the U.S.


        • Erik Jensen says:

          Kim – OK. A couple last points for now: As I read the study, even though I am not real familiar with these odds ratios, it looked like when all safety practices were followed: guns unloaded and locked, and ammunition stored separate, the risk was of accidental shootings and suicides by youths was very small.

          Lastly, I can tell you that on one of our first visits to our pediatrician almost seven years ago, shortly after our twin daughters were born, we were told that the American Academy of Pediatrics “still recommended” no guns in the home if you had children, but the doc downplayed it and said the risk difference was small or very small if safe storage practices are followed. This was a doc who was a prof at a big University and she didn’t mention owning firearms herself. We are always asked at each well-child visit whether we have firearms and if yes, how they are stored.

          • Kim Graves says:

            Hi Erik,

            Thank you again for your efforts. I’ve had a chance to read the study and you’re right, it doesn’t meet my needs. Though locks are “common sense”, it’s really antidotal rather than evidence. I would need a “double-blind study with randomly selected pool, large sample size, etc, etc.” A tall order – it’s too bad that such a study seems not to exist. It would be useful for people who keep guns to know how dangerous, or not, keeping guns in the house are even under lock and key. That way they could make an informed decision and maybe come up with creative solutions – for example keeping firearms at a gun club where two people with two keys were needed to get at the guns. Or maybe gun locks that required two keys – maybe they already exist.

            In some ways, my question is unfair. Clearly the chance of being hurt by a firearm kept in the house is zero if you don’t keep a firearm in the house. That “zero” is a hard target to beat.

            Regards, Kim

  16. @Erik:

    Good post and I agree with your points. The notion that hunting doesnt have any ‘life utility’ is accurate IMO. Unless one comes from an outdoor familiy that values outdoor sports most kids get stuck into ‘formal’ sports. These provide not only excercise but also the chance to build social capital and networks in the competative world, as you pointed out. I think most parents who are not outdoors-people see far more utility in their kids playing hockey that sitting in a marsh shooting ducks (and all the life skills that go along with that). I have seen it in kayaking too. Its also easier to enroll in hockey that figure out where to shoot ducks if the parents are not into that (but we know this already! It comes back to the mentoring issue)


    • Al Cambronne says:

      Talk about utility… Last week as I was leaving that rifle range, I reflected on this very idea. I’d just shot some OK groups at 100 yards, and soon I’ll be able to use that skill for a very utilitarian purpose (i.e., shooting dinner). What a coincidence that a football field and a typical outdoor range are roughly the same length. Although I was a scrawny kid who never did learn how to throw a football, being able to shoot accurately at the length of a football field now seems like a much more useful skill.

      You, Erik, and others have mentioned youth sports and structured activities as being part of the problem. I have to agree. We have an interesting example right next door. Dad’s an avid hunter, and he’s also the baseball coach. His two teenage sons hunt, but rarely. It’s convenient and available, but they don’t seem to get excited about it. The archery target is out in their yard all summer, but most days I don’t hear a lot of arrows hitting it.

      Competing for their time, there’s baseball, basketball, video games, DVDs, the internet, and now… Girls. I foresee dusty bows and rusty rifles.

      • chuck says:

        The problem is as the kids get older, the passion for sports and girls will wane. That is where hunting should take over. Unfortunately, it is easier to plop one’s fat ass down and surf the web or play video games than it is to go hunting. Of course, the gun haters and animal lovers would rather it be that way.

        I have no problem with sports and girls in the teenage years. I do have a problem with video games and facebook taking the place of outdoor activities.

  17. chuck says:

    Personally, I think hunting for recreation only is an abomination. The death of an animal should be honored by eating as much of that animal as possible.

    Also, I wonder what the anti gun segment thinks about bow hunting.

  18. chuck says:

    @Brian and Erik

    I personally see a sect of American’s moving toward homesteading and self sufficiency. Hunting and fishing may start to seen as valuable life skills as people continually want to be less reliant on others to feed themselves and their families.

  19. Chuck,

    Of course thats an ethical position we can all agree on but the rhetoric is simply flawed! I am a meat hunter first and foremost but ALL of my hunting is recreation, as is eveyone else I know. The only way to cleave any form of recreation from hunting is when its a dire matter of physical survival.

    So, I am a ‘recreational’ hunter. Do I take it seriously? You bet. Do I treat my prey with deep reverence. Hell yes! Do I endeavour to recover and use every scrap of meat. Of course! I just about puked from the exertion of getting a sheep down a mountain last week, hardest recovery I have ever had, by a looooong way. However, was that hunt a recreational hunt? Without doubt. I could have avoided that hellish recovery and just hunted deer in ag fields. I can say I was spiritually compelled to enter those mountains and experience some hardship on my path to a big ram in the future, but ultimately I did it for personal experience, not pure material utility.

    In my dealings with Native hunters here there is a good deal of recreation in their subsistence hunts. Somehow pop-discourse acknowledges subsistence hunting as honourbale but ‘sport’ hunting and abhorrent. I can assure you that they may be different at their margins but for the most part the overlap between them is significant and in most cases complete.


    • Tovar says:

      In part, Brian, we’re again dealing with the core issues we hashed through in my last post (on “sport”).

      As I said in that discussion, I agree with you that the dichotomy between subsistence hunting and voluntary/enjoyed hunting is a false one. As you and I have both pointed out, traditional hunters from indigenous cultures hunt for subsistence AND ALSO enjoy hunting and would do it voluntarily.

      My hunch (and correct me if I’m wrong, Chuck) is that when Chuck says “hunting for recreation only is an abomination,” he’s making a point about what it means to divorce hunting entirely from eating. And I suspect he also has a different meaning of “recreation” in mind: something more along the lines of “frivolous fun,” and less along the lines of the complex voluntary/enjoyed “personal experience” and “spiritual compulsion” you describe. (I’m not saying that either use of “recreation” is wrong. I’m just noting that the word, like “sport,” has such different ranges of meaning for different people that it can easily lead to misunderstandings.)

    • chuck says:


      I am glad you take an animal death seriously. I know many hunters who don’t. But I did say “I think hunting for recreation only is an abomination”

  20. Hi Tovar,

    I see that. I am sure Chuck meant ‘frivolous’ fun at shooting things and killing game only to leave them or huting purely for horns and discarding the meat (illegal but does happen unfortunately). I just felt the need to unpack that statement, its one we often here bandied about.

    One question, sort of off topic: is varminting pure frivolous recreation? I understand taking of coyotes by stock farmers, especially when the pelts are sold. Even gophers here, they do create issues for stock when they step in their holes but most ardent varminters revel in the quest for the ‘red mist’. Are they just doing a duty to farmers? Thats my devils advocate question.

    • chuck says:


      You know you got me thinking. I killed a groudhog recently. With a machete I may add. It attempted to make a home in my food garden. Something primal went off in my head. I do feed my family with what I grow in my gardens. In a matter of a few minutes, I discovered the animal and killed it. There was nothing fun about it. I did feel bad about it. I looked up groundhog recipes but couldn’t find anything. I suspect had this been 10,000 years ago, I would have known exactly how to prepare it and would have loved it.

      This is where the vegan theory of animal protection is flawed. Animals do die so farmers can provide vegetables for us to eat.

    • Tovar says:

      Your question about “varminting” is a good one, Brian.

      Perhaps, as you say, “most ardent varminters revel in the quest for the ‘red mist.'” If that’s the case, then my two initial responses are (1) their motives are so different from mine that I don’t know how to relate what they do to what I do (from where I stand, yes, it looks and sounds like frivolous killing-for-fun), and (2) the argument that they’re “doing a duty to farmers” is a justification, not an actual reason for what they do. (The latter point applies to a lot of deer hunters, too. Management is invoked as a justification, but it actually has little to do with why people choose to hunt. Survey research has established this clearly.)

  21. With a machete… you neolithic savage!

    Well, I have no qualms with killing varmints like you needed to. To be honest I would not have wanted to eat it! I may have cleaned the skull though, added it to my little osteo collection.

    Your last statement about ag related animals deaths is of course true. The wildlife cost to produce tofu has been discussed here on this site before!

  22. Greetings all,

    I enjoyed the post as well as your very thoughtful discussion. This is my first ever reply to any type of blog — as I generally just read the discussions. However, as an avid backpacker who is preparing to go hunting for the very first time, I thought you would appreciate my perspective and motivations.

    What first drew me to hunting was nutrition. After I became an adherent to the Paleo Diet, I started doing some research into the nutritional value of corporate farm animals versus grass fed, free-range animals. Wild game obviously affords some of the most nutritious meat. And since I have no qualms paying other people to kill, butcher and package the animals I choose to eat, I felt the need to directly participate in this process.

    In addition to nutrition, the concept of eating what I kill resonated with my desire for greater self-sufficiency. The ability to bypass the giant corporate food delivery system (especially the grocery store), would amount to a level of self-sufficiency that I sorely lack. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy and appreciate the conveniences of our modern society. It would just be nice to sidestep the commercial food gathering process now and again.

    The final factor that is attracting me to hunting is a desire for a greater connection with the outdoors. I am an avid backpacker. In fact, I am hiking the Pennsylvania Loyalsock trail following my first attempt at harvesting a whitetail with my bow. However, as I continue to learn about the bushcraft associated with hunting, I realize how much backpackers really miss. As a backpacker, it is generally all about getting from point A to point B at whatever time table you have imposed upon yourself. I admit that during many of my excursions, it is the mentality that I employed as a triathlete that often edges out the naturalist mentality. While I do enjoy and appreciate nature as a backpacker, I am certain that experiencing the woods as a hunter will prove far richer. Instead of worrying about reaching point B by sundown, I will be likely experience a far more engrossing experience with my surroundings.

      • Chuck,

        I paid a visit to your blog, and was very pleased with what I saw. Not only a blog but a very positive-minded set of supporters dedicated to the practice of thoughtful nutrition. As a recent convert to the Paleo Diet among a mob of processed food addicts, I found my visit on your blog to be very refreshing. I just started a blog (http://www.paleocontempo.com) and would welcome any feedback, argument or constructive criticism you may offer.

    • Tovar says:

      Greetings, Matthew, and welcome. Over the past couple years, as I’ve gotten into blogging, it’s been fascinating to see all these overlapping interests: the paleo diet, local and healthy food (as opposed to industrial food), the ethics of meat, nature, and more, each drawing people toward the idea of hunting.

      What you say about your experience of hiking — and how it contrasts with your experience of hunting — resonates with things I’ve heard from a number of other hunters. Speaking of backpacking, did you see Bruce Barcott’s hunting article in Backpacker magazine, in October 2010? If not, here’s the link: http://www.backpacker.com/hiking-and-hunting/destinations/14747

      • Tovar,

        Thank you for sharing that link. I really enjoyed the article. Although I’ll be sticking with bow hunting for the time being. I figure it is a lot more difficult to shoot myself with a bow than a rifle (and yes, I’ll be wearing a safety harness in my tree stand).

        As for the multitude of interests converging upon hunting, it’s all about the food, right? And for non-vegetarians, that means taking the life of an animal. For us meat eating, non-hunters, we have been participating in this process as the end users for our entire lives. Whether we tie this interest in hunting to the local food movement, gaining a greater appreciation of Nature or wanting access to more nutritious food, I think it boils down to the extreme disconnect that our recent, pervading lifestyles have caused between us and our true environment.

        Anyway, I’ll be sure to let you know about my first hunting experience. Thanks for the welcome.

        • Tovar says:

          “As for the multitude of interests converging upon hunting, it’s all about the food, right?”

          Yes, I think so. That in itself is an interesting shift from a century and more ago, when hunting for food (“pot hunting”) was part of what conservation-minded American “sport” hunters were crusading against.

            • Tovar says:

              Chuck: I’m just referring to the late 19th century, when hunting regulations and conservation were being championed by those who defined themselves as “sport” hunters, distinct from “pot” hunters and “market” hunters.

              • ingrid says:

                Something often absent in discussions at hunting blogs is how significant non-hunters were in these efforts. Hunters are often cited as the earliest conservationists, completely overlooking, for instance, influence’s like John Muir’s on Roosevelt as one significant relationship. Muir actually wished, to no avail, that Roosevelt would abandon his hunting practices. Sport hunters were clearly part of early preservation and conservation movements, but the motivations (securing enough game and habitat for their hunting) were distinct from the environmental concerns of anti-hunters at the time. As a result, in spite of consensus on habitat preservation, there have been some lopsided priorities in the history of U.S. conservation efforts — from the POV of a non-hunter like me.

                • Tovar says:

                  True, Ingrid. Among other allies who worked with hunter-conservationists to bring about the Lacey Act of 1900 (and other reforms) were non-hunting women opposed to the slaughter of wild birds for hat-making.

                  • ingrid says:

                    Tovar, this is veering off-topic, but do you happen to know where the various hunting and gun rights organizations stand on some of the current efforts to roll back ESA protections for wolves, salmon (e.g. water issues), etc? These are mostly Republican-sponsored bills, pending in the Natural Resources committee, with a percentage devoted to, sadly, decimating wolf populations throughout the west. Hunters have already taken a significant chunk from existing wolf pack populations. And since hunters do take pride in their history of conservation, it would seem to me the modern counterpart to their objection to market hunters, would be to take the side of conservation here, especially over the interests of agribusiness and oil. But I don’t hear much from hunting groups on some of the serious bills up for consideration, as they affect endangered and threatened species. Often there seems to be a collusion between hunters and the moneyed interests on culling these species. I’d like to hear and know more about where hunters’ groups stand on this. What’s my best, reliable resource? The threats to the ESA and certain animal populations are facing significant assaults right now.

                    • Tovar says:

                      Good questions, Ingrid. I have a long day ahead of me with little time at a computer, so can’t reply at any length just now. My sense of these groups’ positions is fairly general. Erik and others here might have more detailed info at their fingertips.

                    • somsai says:

                      Ingrid the imported experimental Canadian wolf is no longer an endangered species in the Northern Rockies and is off the endangered species list. The one exception being Wyoming where the US Fish and Wildlife and the state of Wyoming have agreed to a very good conservation plan that is undergoing the requisite waiting period. I believe similar measures are underway in the upper great lakes.

                      Many elk herds and a large number of moose face local extinction but it’s hoped that delisting has curtailed some of the great damage done to fifty years of careful wildlife management. I’m not familiar with current legislation but I do know that if there is one issue that transcends all party lines and is truly bipartisan in the west, it is the importation of the Canadian wolf. Support for delisting is universal and usually co sponsored by members of both parties.

                      One source that often speaks for hunters is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. I’ve no idea where to point you for the opinion of gun rights people and I know nothing of salmon.

                    • I like having wolves around BUT cannot get good info on about how many are favourable. One one hand we have some hunters who see them as some kind of ungodly beast borne from hades that must be extirpated at all costs and on the other we have HSUS types who think all wolves are ‘endangered’ and must be preserved, one-by-one, at all costs. I dislike both sides.

                      The politics, ideology and wolf iconicism make getting good info quite tough.

                      We recently had the controversial wolf sterilization research in the Alberta rockies. It was extremely divisive amongst the public but as a biologist friend of mine explained, wolf management in north america has typically followed 2 paths. One is to leave them alone and force stock farmers to drive around dropping ethylene-glycol laced weiners, the other is a knee jerk realization there are too many and conduct costly aerial culls. Innovative ways to ‘balance’ wolves might be necessary. I am totally fine with people hunting wolves as well.

                      I was astounded at some of stated declines in Elk (e.g. 70% decline in the Lolo herd in ID etc). I was also quite shocked by the discourse of the RMEF president – he aint no wolf lover! Made me wonder about the politcs of fundraising by RMEF. It is important to realize that the Yellowstone reintroduction has exceeded its goal by 500%. If there is no conservation imperative to prevent wolf hunting in Montana, Idaho etc then why not allow some hunts?

  23. Was the rally against ‘pot hunters’ not more of a rally against commercial shooters, like punt-gunners? Were ‘pot hunters’ not conflated with the commerical shooters and thus all tarred with the same brush?


  24. Evan Pollitt says:

    I have been in Vermont for nearly three years and I was really disheartened to read this post, and the article it was based on. I moved up here from Florida and while there are some beautiful, wild places left, in large part they have been used up. The mindset there is that we own the land, and are separate from it. One of the things I have loved about VT is that people seem to have a much stronger connection to the land, it would be unfortunate to see that fade.
    I bought my first hunting license the day after I read this.

    • Tovar says:

      Welcome to Vermont, Evan, and to the counter-trend. Don’t worry, Vermont and its humans are a long way from looking like Florida. 😉

  25. ingrid says:

    In response to somsai and Brian:

    First, it’s a misnomer to call the wolves “Canadian wolves” and allude to their “importation.” I often hear this jargon used by the anti-wolf movement to confuse the issue. The reintroduction involved wolves from Canada, because the subspecies had been exterminated here. But the DNA has crossed national lines as long as wolves have traveled the distance they do. These are Western Gray Wolves, and a term like the one you used is designed to have the reintroduced wolves perceived as invasive.

    Second, I should have clarified that I know that hunting groups have, sadly, from my point of view, sided with powerful agricultural interests on the wolf issue, despite some extremely controversial moves and dubious science on wolf predation and effects. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear on that. What I was referring to was the newly introduced legislation stemming from the wolf decision.

    somsai, you say that the “wolf is no longer on the endangered species list.” Are you aware of how this came about? This was a highly controversial move involving Tester and Simpson (one D, one R), slipped as a rider into the budget bill and circumventing the usual scientific and judicial avenues of delisting a species. There is no hard science behind this slippery political move, it is heavily disputed, and the result has been a slew of introduced pieces of legislation that attempt to circumvent the ESA in the same way. The majority of these new bills have been introduced on the Republican side, with a few water rights Democrats advocating for similar weakening of ESA provision in the interest of agricultural groups (as I understand their support base).

    A Pandora’s box of habitat and delisting issues could result, and based on how hunting groups have cheered the ESA delisting for wolves, I would expect — but I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking — that they also support some of these other measures which put various species at risk if the laws pass.

    It’s disappointing, however, to consider that this is probably where hunters’ groups stand on critical issues of species conservation. Hunters proclaim at every turn their conservationist history and tradition. And yet, in modern times, when hunting groups ostensibly have an opportunity to show that they are more conservation minded than they are focused on human gain and hunting opportunities, they seem to fail this analysis. They seem to side with whichever large moneyed interest provides a loophole for increased hunting opportunities, irrespective of the implications. One exception I can think of at the moment is hunters and conservationists united against various hydrofracking issues. Thank goodness there is some consensus on that dreadful potential.

    Brian, in response to your comments about the Lolo herd, did you happen to read that 2010 game department study which showed that wolves probably had very little to do with this decline? And that habitat destruction as well as human predation accounted for a large portion of elk’s decline? In other areas where wolves are also present, there have been studies questioning and possibly contradicting the impact stated about wolf packs, since those same declines do not exist. The claims of trophic collapse because of apex predators have proven not to be true, at least as far as I’ve read. In fact, there are species, such as beavers, who’ve made remarkable recoveries in areas where wolves roam.

    I read an editorial by a hunter and hunting guide, not too long ago, who lamented the position of the NRA and other hunting groups, on the wolf issue. He claimed that he’d been hunting in the wolf-reintroduced areas since before their reintroduction, and is now seeing the abundance of species now thriving as a result of a more balanced ecosystem by virtue of such predator returns. Beyond that, there have been numerous cases of misleading wolf baiting, such as that very well known early incident of the initial calf kills after reintroduction, where the slain wolf was blamed for the death of a stillborn calf. The opening of the last season resulted in a brutality of anti-wolf sentiment and some pretty grisly and questionably wolf “hunts.” The wolves do not number that many in larger terms. There is no significant over-abundance, and their long-standing pack family structures are being decimated in ways that are difficult to reconcile, not to even address the methodologies involved.

    As far as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, they have taken a strong and highly questionable pro-wolf-hunting stance, using, in some cases, misinformation to promote this cause. At its heart, the organization represents sportsmen who often blame wolves for the reduction in elk herds, simultaneously glossing over the very real human impacts that contribute to reduction in some areas. The rhetoric often ignores some of the ecological benefits that wolf reintroduction appears to have brought about, including increased survival of willow stands, as wolves tend to force elk into less concentrated grazing areas. Even then, the overall number of elk killed by wolves is not that high, especially as compared to the human assaults and hunting pressures. It seems to me a very self-serving position, advocating for the abundance of elk for human hunters as opposed to supporting a diverse and thriving ecosystem that includes other apex predators.

    I’m not surprised by that from hunters and hunting groups. But I am curious about how hunters and hunting groups now feel about this significant loophole created by stripping wolves of their ESA protection through such dubious legislative means. It may work to hunters’ advantage right now, to have wolves to hunt for sport and a few more elk at their disposal. But I can’t help but think that if hunters and their group representatives do not take a stand on this in one form, they will be on the very wrong side of history in terms of our ecosystem conservation. I’m quite disappointed in the self-serving motives of some of these groups, especially as we seem to agree here that protection of habitat, whether through ESA-listed species or other, benefits us all.

    • somsai says:

      Ingrid Canadian wolves refers to a subspecies, the one they boxed up and imported across an international border on flatbed trucks down to Yellowstone National Park. Some say naming subspecies is splitting hairs, I’ll leave that discussion to scientists.

      Of course the gray wolf as a species has never been close to threatened biologically. The IUCN lists them at their very lowest designation, a species of “least concern”, similar to the gray squirrel. http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/3746/0 The science has never been there for listing as endangered in the first place.

      Hunters paid for and acquiesced to introduction from Canada to promote species diversity. Unfortunately anti hunters seeing a way to curtail big game hunting in the Western United States had a more subtle objective. Which leads me to a question.

      Do you support hunting? Hunting as defined in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation? I’m frankly uneasy by your use of the terms “consumptive”, “human assault” brutality and grisly.

      Hunters have an eighty year track record of being on the right side of history. We were conserving species when the only connection to hunting urban America had was to go to the market to buy wild meat. I’ll take a chance that we, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, are right about wolves.

      • ingrid says:

        somsai, you’d have to go through Tovar’s past threads to understand my position on hunting. I’ve obviously written plenty here and won’t expound on perspective these poor guys have heard ad nauseum. My perspective on hunting is nuanced and influenced by my role as a wildlife rehabilitator and photographer. The topic of conservation and current legislation which appears to undermine scientific process, when actually supported by hunters, disturbs me because of the seeming disconnect between that important conservation history, and some of the current rhetoric used to justify what, again, in my mind is management based on slippery science.

        As far as your comment: “I’m frankly uneasy by your use of the terms “consumptive”, “human assault” brutality and grisly.”

        These, again, are discussions we’ve had here previously and we debated the validity of the term “consumptive” and “non-consumptive.” It is for lack of better term that I used it again, to signify the difference. But, again, in previous threads, we all agreed they were problematic terms.

        As far as “brutality” and “grisly,” I stand by those descriptions in terms of what I’ve seen at times with respect to predator hunting, especially wolves in recent times. There is such hatred behind the wolf issue, the images and actions which emerge from these hunts are tainted by that. I obviously can’t implicate someone who I’m sure prefers to remain private, but a friend of mine was present when the first wolf hunting licenses were being issued to a long line of hunters. The temperament of group, and the revelry surrounding the first wolf kills as it was described to me, were so distasteful as to be obscene. Wolf hunts are not in any way emotion-neutral. And any hunt motivated by some with a huge degree of hatred for a species, doesn’t end well in my mind. I find the whole thing horribly tragic. I find our species incredibly self-serving when at times, even as we profess to care about the issues at large.

  26. Ingrid,

    The thesis about the Lolo herd decline being attributable to factors other than wolves is of course highly plausible. Its like Woodland Caribou in this province. Yes wolves do kill a lot of them BUT their hunting is enhanced by the oil industries seismic lines. At its base it’s not the wolves fault but rather industry that is hurting species like caribou and grizzlies.

    As I said I like wolves and like having them around. I didnt like what i heard from RMEF and it made me think twice about their integrity as a conservation NGO. Their president was vehemently opposed to wolves which i thought was odd from a conservationist, he sounded more like an Elk rancher. I also dont like being told by ill informed HSUS’ers that wolves are clinging to the edge of survival. They may be under regional threats due to agricultural pressures etc but are not endangered as a species (as you said, Western gray wolves are the same species, they are common in western canada).

    I think we certainly agree on 99% of the issues.

    • somsai says:

      Brian the RMEF is one of the most respected Hunting/Conservation organisations in the US, you do them a great diservice in calling them elk ranchers. On the contrary their mission statement commits them to the management of “wild free ranging” elk. In the last quarter century they have conserved and enhanced over 6 million acres. They don’t employ legions of lawyers or have scare mongering web sites, but have been quietly doing the hard work of conservation on behalf of all outdoor users for twenty five years.

      The RMEF is a strong proponent of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, it is one of the pillars that informs their stance on all species, predator, ungulate or other. I looked at their last statement on wolves which comes down below a great article by Hal Herring it’s called Where We Stand. http://www.rmef.org/NR/rdonlyres/47852A73-0EC4-40E3-BE29-479A8671D7EB/0/WolvesSO10.pdf

      I’m curious as to what the RMEF president said that you found objectionable? They advocate a “balanced” approach, certainly nothing a reasonable conservationist would object to.

  27. Somsai,

    I am familiar with the RMEF and their mandate. I think its great what they do for wild spaces. I am not anti-RMEF. As I said I was surprised to hear during an interview with the President of RMEF just how fundamentally opposed to wolves he was. Thus it sounded LIKE the rhetoric of an elk rancher. Of course I am aware that they are not Elk ranchers. I just thought his vitriol was a bit off-putting. I am someone who would not balk at a hunter killing a wolf (I have tried to call them into range before) but his sentiment was a bit alienating to me. Now of course I cant actually speak to the facts and he was clearly angry at what he described at wolf related population crashes of Elk in Idaho and neighbouring states. Is he wrong or right?

    Trust me, I grew up within a deeply entrenched institution of private property rights for wildlife on private land in South Africa. I am a fierce proponent of the North American model of democratic public wildlife management. I guess along with that comes the necessity to accomodate all interested parties, hence the complications (and thank god for that ‘inconvinience’!).

    • somsai says:


      I understand better now. Thank You.

      I can certainly understand the President of the RMEF coming across as strident in an interview, maybe some background or historical context would give you some perspective my outlook or insight into that of others.

      At first I and I’d suspect most hunters were very excited about the idea of wolf introduction. Who after all hasn’t felt a thrill to be hunting and seen the tracks of a cougar or bear. Being in the woods with a large predator certainly enhances my hunting experience.

      The idea was to put some wolves in Yellowstone where there was no hunting allowed anyway.

      Then I lived on the other side of the world for a few years. I got back just about the time they decided that allowing animals to naturally re occupy habitat wasn’t enough and they decided they’d bring some in and let them reproduce until they reached around 300 animals. Quite a change.

      At first only ranchers were apposed, with the 300 numbers some local hunters and outfitters around Yellowstone started making unhappy noises. About ten years ago wolf numbers exceeded the original goals for management to begin, after three more years the USFW tried to delist. Extreme anti hunting groups (don’t know what else to call them) went to court and won on a technicality not science. Since then they’ve gone to court many times always making their case on procedural issues not the science.

      Wolf populations double every 3 to 4 years, they aren’t like mountain lions or bear. One wolf eats twenty elk a year. A thousand wolves eat twenty thousand elk. Bear and cougar predation isn’t always the same. Bear smell and eat calves at birthing, wolves kill pregnant cows in late winter, the numbers are additive.

      It’s not just the Lolo herd. The Gallitan Valley herd has dropped probably 85%. The moose population around Jackson which used to number well over a thousand is down to numbers too low for a good estimate, some guess around a hundred, maybe less. That’s an area covering from the north side of the Salt River Range all the way to the southern boundaries of the Park. I spent a lot of time there as a young guy, walked all over the hills, full of moose.

      The Northern Yellowstone herd decreased 75% and continues to see decreases despite the wolves of Yellowstone eating each other. The Yellowstone herd used to be the largest herd of elk on the planet, it has been decimated. Now the park service says elk numbers really weren’t bad for the environment after all. Twenty thousand animals was ok from a historic perspective and they really didn’t cause any damage to ecosystems. http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/northrng.htm

      There used to be lots of tags for that herd. If you couldn’t fill your freezer any other way at least you could go shoot a late season cow. Now there are zero tags and freezers go empty. As everyone knows most hunt for meat.

      We know from all our environmental science classes that there is no magic balance of nature. We can have a few predators and lots of large ungulates, even fewer predators and hardly any large ungulates, or any number in between. I’d challenge anyone to go to one of those typical web sites and see where they are going to control the population of a predator that doubles every 3 or 4 years. It’s not there.

      Hunters certainly aren’t going to shoot enough. Wolves are smart. I’d think eventually there will be a lot of money spent on aircraft or a bounty.

      Tying this all in with the topic of the post I’d have to guess a lot more people out west hunt than do in Vermont. For now a wide segment of the population supports hunters. Today a Democratic congressperson from Wisconsin in a letter to interior pressed wolf delisting there, she was supported by the Democratic senator of the state and another Democratic congressman.

      This kind of support won’t last forever, but I think wolf introduction helped a lot. Last year the largest conservation group in America, The National Wildlife Federation dropped it’s opposition to wolf delisting. It was just after the last successful courtroom maneuver by anti hunters. It was widely recognized that what was being stymied by millions of dollars in lawyers fees would have to be enacted legislatively. It’s how we do things in America, when laws no longer work we make new ones. Now many less charismatic species are slipping through the crack in the ESA. I’d say it’s time for an entire new ESA, maybe one that limits listing to animals truly endangered.

      I used to support any and all environmental groups, my default postion was support, now I am much more circumspect. Often I do a site search on hunting to see if they have a stance on the issue, or I read what they write very carefully. I also look at who they employ, scientists or lawyers?

      • Somsai,

        Thanks. Its tough to ‘debate’ or discuss online as it lacks context and suffers from constructed speculations! We try and pack our feelings into short bites; less than ideal!


  28. Steven Bissell says:

    Brian, Do you have a reference or a link to the remarks by Mr. Allen which you found so objectionable? Nothing he, or RMEF, that I am aware of can be said to be ‘. . .fundamentally opposed to wolves. . .’. RMEF has called for ‘science based management’ of wolves. Is that what you consider to be ‘opposed to wolves’?

    • ingrid says:

      Steven, M David Allen has publicly stated that since he became CEO, the stance of the Elk Foundation has changed. An organization that yes, is responsible for habitat restoration for elk, went from being, by their own admission, wolf neutral, to being more aggressive on the wolf issue since Allen took the helm. Whatever statements Brian is referring to do not surprise me. He has been called out on scientific inaccuracies by groups like Defenders of Wildlife which I consider among the more esteemed wildlife welfare groups. They were behind the wolf/farmer compensation program, prior to this new bill rider which makes for other provisions.

      Beyond that, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, whatever works it has done in terms of habitat restoration, is and always will be primarily an advocate for hunters and for hunting elk. As such, their stance regarding wolves should be considered suspect. I don’t take any of their statements at face value without triple sourcing. And they are on the side of the NRA, the Safari Club and other pro-hunting organizations when it comes to the wolf “management” plans. The motives are quite transparent when you read more of the rhetoric. There is much contention over the validity of how wolves are being managed, and about their optimal role in the ecosystem. And there is comparatively little rhetoric devoted to human hunters’ impact on elk populations — which is significant.

      I do not walk around with stars in my eyes about wildlife issues. I work in rehabilitation and see more than the average person when it comes to ecosystem balance and imbalance. But I do not want wildlife managed by interests, agricultural or hunting, which do not have the species’ best interest at heart and which appear to ignore some of the ecological imperatives that should be part of management decisions. There is clearly a conflict of interest between a pro-elk-hunting organization, for instance, having its position be tantamount in decisions that affect all of our natural resources. This is also why I constantly stress the importance of alternative funding structures so that non-hunting, conservation-minded public has its interest fairly represented in a funding structure that is often quite lopsided in its priorities.

      Brian mentions the “endangered” aspect as it pertains to the species at large. Local populations of species can and are endangered, and the fact that members of that population exist elsewhere does not absolve us of our commitment to the ESA and other legalities with respect to these localities. Another example of this would be the populations of resident orcas and wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, clearly threatened and endangered as the issue pertains to locality.

      That’s precisely what’s wrong with what’s happening. The rider was slipped into the budget bill as a political move. It was dirty politics, and the ability to “manage” wolves through scientific process is now suffering. The rider essentially allows the states to bypass provisions of the ESA which call for scientific and court-based decisions on endangered species and the attendant issues. Now, there is, in effect, little citizens recourse or scientific recourse because this rider stipulates that no court challenges are allowed. It undermines the ESA and as such, more legislation is being introduced into the Natural Resources Committee by interests who would love nothing more than finally circumventing the ESA for various development projects.

      Of course, this is further complicated by Ken Salazar’s recent deal with Wyoming which allows the taking of wolves year round without a license. You cannot convince me in a million years that this policy will not have a detrimental effect on a population that’s just beginning to thrive, by ecological standards. That is not what anyone has in mind when the notion of scientific management arises. If it is, then you guys and I are clearly on opposite sides of “conservation.”

      Again, the motives of pro-hunting groups are transparent in these recent decisions. By undermining one of the most important wildlife laws of the nation, the ESA, it appears that pro-hunting groups are affiliating themselves with causes that I would consider antithetical to conservation at its most base level. And it seems awfully short-sighted for immediate gain — especially in light of what this could mean to further stripping of the ESA provisions.

      When you look at the issues that motivated early hunter/conservationists, including Roosevelt, it’s not hard to imagine that the stances of Safari Club or the NRA would be much closer to the sentiments of the old market hunters, than to those of Roosevelt and other more conservative, wildlife-minded hunters of the time. There was a similar short-sightedness when it came to certain species at the turn of the century. Wolf management decisions now are motivated heavily by a real disdain for wolves and sometimes spurious evidence of their impact. Their proponents in our Congress managed to squeeze through some significantly damaging legislation as a result. This is not scientific management. It’s clearly politics on behalf of a very vocal and well-funded anti-wolf contingent. And it appears to have opened a door to similar legislated challenges to, again, what I consider one of the most important wildlife laws of the nation.

      • Interesting Ingrid,

        As I said to Steve I have limited knowledge on the US wolf issues. I learn alot from posts like this and others.

        I also believe that managing an animal like a wolf purely on science will never happen, its just too politically loaded, for better or for worse.

  29. It was a podcast I heard about a year ago. IF I have time I’ll try and find the interview. All I am saying (for the third time) is that I was quite amazed at the strident anti-wolf tone of his opinions. I am not, nor have I, disputed their claim to adhere to ‘science based wolf management’…and lets be serious, thats a vapid statement if ever there was one. They obviously prefer certain science that would favour wolf control over more stochastic approaches that favour a more laissez faire approach. We all pick and choose our science.

    As I stated before, I like RMEF, I like what they stand for.

  30. Steven Bissell says:

    If I understand you correctly you are saying that just letting things go with wolves and see what happens is preferable to management? That, as Aldo Leopold said, shows good taste and poor judgement. If you seriously think that the Federal or State Governments are going to ‘wait and see’ what happens with wolves you are dreaming.

  31. Nope. Never even implied that. I said that by saying ‘science based management’ there is no actual postion taken as the science in question may favour very strict contols or may favour a more stochastic approach (although I am not sure if the latter would ganer much funding?).

    I seriously doubt anyone would take the laissez faire approach to wolves (or grizzlies, lions, elephants, markhor or any other iconic and politically loaded species). So I am in agreement with you.

    I also, in my limited knowledge, agree with allowing states to manage wolves instead of being hamstrung federally by the ESA (I stand corrected on this).

    I think my original statement about my surpise at the talking head from RMEF has morphed into speculations about each others views on wolf management! It seems we both agree with hands-on wolf management?

  32. Al Cambronne says:

    First, I have to agree that this end-run around the ESA has set a bad precedent. And politics has certainly played an interesting role in these debates. Not all of the hunting organizations seem to take positions that are based on science.

    Here in the Midwest, our situation is a little different. Wolves were pretty much extirpated here, too. But rather than being reintroduced, they just wandered back on their own. We now have about three times as many as are present in the Rocky Mountain states. My county alone has more wolves than all of Yellowstone.

    Not everyone is happy about that. Some hunters hate the wolves because they’re taking too many of “their” deer. Bear hunters run their hounds in areas where wolves have pups, and then the wolves feel a little defensive and kill the hounds. Every once in a while, I see bumper stickers with slogans like “Wisconsin wolves: smoke a pack a day.” And we do lose some livestock.

    Most people, though, are pretty accepting. They like to know wolves are around, even if they rarely see them. But that’s a good question… How many is too many?

    Here in the Midwest, even most individuals and organizations that would be considered wolf advocates are now in favor of delisting. Their rationale is that if wolf populations are maintained at or below “social carrying capacity,” then the wolves that remain will be better tolerated. Similarly, if a small number of “bad” wolves that have developed a taste for veal and mutton are eliminated, then the others that still prefer venison will be more tolerated. This seems like a pragmatic but realistic approach; in the long run that’s going to be better for the wolves than some of the alternative scenarios.

    Another wrinkle is that in the northern parts of MN, WI, and MI, most of the best spots are taken. There’s not much room for more wolves, so new packs are forming in southern agricultural areas. That, in turn, leads to more conflicts than there would be in the forested northern areas.

    We do have a program that reimburses farmers for their losses due to depredation. It even pays for hunters’ half-eaten bear hounds. I believe these funds come mainly out of hunters’ license fees. Each claim is investigated very carefully, so there are none of the “falsely accused” situations like Ingrid described in an earlier comment. (At least not among reported incidents involving livestock, hunting dogs, or pets.)

    I have a friend who does that sort of work for APHIS, and I’ve heard a few stories about his daily routine. It’s kind of like on those TV crime shows, only the CSI stands for “Calf Scene Investigation.” A basic necropsy can reveal whether the animal was killed by wolves, or merely scavenged. And even if there are no tracks, it’s also possible to tell from a necropsy whether the culprit—or scavenger, for that matter—was a wolf, coyote, bear, or just the neighbor’s dog.

    It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as our Midwestern delisting debate enters its next phase. Time will tell…

    • Ingrid says:

      Thanks, Al. Another source of that compensation was the wildlife advocacy group (non-hunting) Defenders for Wildlife. They recently ceased their compensation program because, as I understand it, this new rider has some provision that takes its place. And yes, as far as forensics on alleged wolf crimes, even the case I cited was investigated, unfortunately, after the guy shot the wolf. The wolf was vindicated because the calf was stillborn, but unnecessarily killed. I’m alarmed by the numbers slated for hunting/killing. I believe the states want to reduce the wolf numbers down to 100 from, in some cases, packs and populates of 300-500. To me, based on what I’ve read, this feels reactionary and far to dramatic. But I’ve already stated my case. I’m with you on the dangerous precedent involving the ESA. It’s one of those situations where I think various interests will support individual bills as they benefit their personal interests. But over time, it will be a case of the barn door far too widely open to be remediated. It disturbs me that the major hunting advocacy groups seem to have traded off long-term prudence in this regard, for some short-term hunting gain. I genuinely hope I am wrong. In this case, I would pray, non-denominationally, that I am wrong.

  33. anon says:

    I’m a 10 generation Vermonter and I would never lay the decline of hunting at the feet of flatlanders aka newcomers. Frankly I think doing so shows that the person holds himself blameless and has the mentality that flatlanders are the source of all of Vermont’s evils. That’s BS and a commonly heard theme from locals.

    On the access side of things, here what happens: Somebody buys a house and then wakes up one morning in late November to find some guy on his lawn surrounded by beer cans dressed in camo with his face all painted up sighting in a deer with an assault rifle.

    That story can be told many different ways. But in one instant, access is denied forever more and it isn’t the homeowner’s (who could be a local or a newcomer) fault. I don’t know a single landowner that doesn’t have a version of that story. Many deny access, others don’t because of the amount of effort it takes to deny access, and yet others don’t because of community peer pressure. Which in itself is mind boggling. Since what good is a community that thinks it’s ok for you to have to put up with these things.

    On the participant side of things, in the scheme of things hunting is fairly low on the list of required activities like working, fixing the house, etc. It’s not productive in a sense that you are not bringing home an hourly wage of meat for every hour you hunt. It’s actually the opposite for those who use vacation to hunt. As such, even small obstacles will cause participation to suffer. In terms of the younger generation, hunting is minimally fruitful time spent. While getting outside to do anything is great, using technology is what makes kids competitive later in schools and the job market. In the kid’s perspective, the amount of time it takes to make successful hunt is greater than their attention span. That is not necessarily bad in today’s world.

  34. Erik Jensen says:

    I have to admit I haven’t read all the discussion between Brian, Somsai, Ingrid, (I am catching up after a week of being in union negotiations) but I read Al’s comment entirely and have to agee with Al that here in Al and I’s corner of the world (Wisconsin and MN), people are more accepting of wolves, but even wolf advocates want delisting. I have to say in response to Ingrid, you seem to lump together “pro-hunting” organizations like NRA, Safari Club International with the entire hunting community, and I really have a problem with that. The hunting community is divided generally between two wings, the hunter-conservationist environmentalist, who values hunting, but also has a broader belief in environmental protection, sustainability, and protection of public land, and the “hard right” of the NRA and Safari club, which in the minds of people like me, take actions that are actually both anti-hunting and anti-environment. I would agree that the RMEF has taken a bad direction in the past years, but even within that organization, there is the same division. Recently, the RMEF leadership came out for legislation that was anti-wilderness, but members of RMEF, some of whom are also members of a group I’m involved with, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers created a lot of opposition within RMEF and the RMEF changed its position. Anti-wilderness is anti-elk hunting, period. Elk need big, unbroken chunks of habitat and avoid roads and motorized trails. Lots of RMEF members understand this clearly even though the influence of the ATV lobby has grown amongst elk hunters and within the leadersip of RMEF.

    On the wolf issue, there are conservationist-environmetalist groups like the National Wildlife Federation, and to my knowledge, several others, which are heavily populated and even led by hunters that strongly support both the ESA and some hunting of wolves. They understand that habitat is key, wolves are not to blame for the biggest declines in the numbers of elk, for example, but nonetheless…there is a delicate balance between the protection of livestock and pets, the number of elk tags issued, the number of wolves, and the importance of wolves in the ecosystem.

    Generally, Ingrid, I see the main problem with your general skepticism towards the hunting community and its focus on animals for human use as somehow questionable is that it ignores that it gets people vested in protecting their habitat. Most people don’t spend money and take political action without some vested interest, even if they are generally supportive of a position.

    For example, I can say that I am someone who has always been pro-wilderness, but now that I am have developed an interest in backcountry hunting and angling as what I love to do most, I spend tons of time and energy following and advocating for wilderness issues that I didn’t before.

    Hopefully I didn’t say anything here that was already covered since I skimmed some of the discussion.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Erik. That was a point I wanted to make as well: Highly visible pro-hunting organizations do not speak for all hunters, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    • ingrid says:

      Erik, I agree with you and Tovar about the big hunting organizations not representing all hunters. Our discussions here are testament to that, but obviously, the examples transcend the threads in this blog.

      The problem is, those organizations you mention are so highly powerful, their lobbies dramatically influence politics and policies. And in as much as hunters do not regularly speak out against them, they have more power. It seems (to an outsider like me) that hunters support the NRA and other such groups when the causes serve them. And then, for other issues, they don’t. But with regular hunter support, the NRA retains a huge measure of power and also biopower as it relates to hunting and wildlife issues. I do check the pages of these organizations when issues come up, and almost all of the hunting orgs I read about seem to be on a side quite opposite to mine. I forgot to throw the Sporstmen’s Alliance in there, too.

      Which are the comparably influential hunter-conservationist group that regularly challenge the NRA positions, and stand up for hunters like you? I know about Ducks Unlimited. I imagine there must be others. I do value what DU does, but again, people like me feel that moneys are disproportionately allocated toward hunter-friendly causes in wildlife decisions. And that includes which habitats are restored and the permissions granted on those lands.

      I’m going to post in my blog soon about why I’ve decided to stop buying duck stamps, even though I have for years. I’d like a non-hunters duck stamp because being grouped in with hunters when it comes to handing over our money, diminishes our influence when it comes to wildlife and land decisions. Photographers and birders buy the duck stamps and donate our time and money to the same habitat causes. I’m not sure if there are any statistics on what percentage of stamps are purchased by birders — I’ve been meaning to look that up — but it wouldn’t matter: when it comes to policy decisions, the general will of the hunting community is given priority. And birders and photographers are made to feel uncooperative if, for philosophical reasons, we’d prefer a stamp that supports non-violent usage of land and engagement with wildlife. Some of us would, for instance, like to see the “refuges” free of duck hunting and human activity for even just a week a month during duck season, to give the migrating birds a chance to recuperate from the stress. Those types of concerns are rarely represented, or overruled as a result of our contributions not being properly applied. And then, people like me do, indeed, feel at cross purposes, even with conservation-minded hunters.

      You mentioned the RMEF’s turnaround on the recreational vehicle proposals and interesting, I posted about that on my FB page not too long ago — that I was happy this was one issue where people like me and hunters appeared to agree. I was very glad to see that turnaround. Those points of agreement are not lost on me.

      I wrote privately to Tovar saying that now is probably a good time for me to back away from these discussions. As a wildlife rehabilitator, this is the time of year I start seeing the distasteful aftermath of bad shots and crippled animals. And, I admit, it makes me a bit more steely in my resolve on issues regarding wildlife and the welfare of wild animals who will spend the next four months under continuous hunting pressure and at the mercy of every imaginable ethic when it comes to stalking and killing them. It’s tough not to feel a sense of disillusionment when groups of hunters or their representatives, who proclaim to be our heritage of conservationists, side with policies that seem antithetical to the ideas we environmentalists hold dear in terms of prudence and compassion — for all life that thrives on our public lands.

      • Erik Jensen says:

        Ingrid –

        To answer your question the best I can quickly…

        I think a lot of hunting organizations and their members quietly oppose a lot of what the NRA does, especially when it comes to conservation, but these groups try to go around them rather than confront them directly, as usually these groups are trying to achieve some other objective. The NRA is always going to have some influence within their organization because of gun rights issues, and a group like DU, which I’m a member of, has members who have varying opinions on guns. I find that a huge swath of hunters have a lot more nuanced positions on gun issues han the gun-rights movement, but the NRA does speak for all of us at times.

        There’s a lot more to it than that, but that is the quick version…

        • ingrid says:

          Thanks for that explanation, Erik. I could be wrong about this so please correct me if you think I’m totally off base. But, it seems to me, as an outsider, that there is very little criticism of other hunters or hunting organizations from within the ranks of hunters. I should say, criticism that results in any action or even admonishment. The whole endeavor does not seem transparent to me in the least and, instead, comes across as a clubby atmosphere where — with the exception of poaching — very few practices are given the scrutiny and objection I believe they deserve.

          As a counterpoint, I’ve mentioned this to Tovar, facilities in the wildlife rehabilitation field are licensed also through fish and game departments. But the standards of behavior, qualifications, mandatory continuing education, humane treatments, and so forth are much more stringent. Not only are we dealing with the same wildlife and species, we are in the business to help them. And yet our restrictions appear much tighter than they do for those who set out in the wilderness with weapons to actually harm/kill the same animals. That’s a very general description, and nuances in each field obviously exist. But it’s a disparity nonetheless.

          I guarantee you that there is self-policing as well as internal policing when ethical standards aren’t met. We obviously don’t have the state and federal funds to employ more wildlife officials to oversee wildlife practices. And, actually, I’ve read some pretty awful things said about wildlife officials in hunting forums, when they are simply doing their job and checking up on hunters and their camps.

          Because of that, the comparatively loose engagement hunters have with wildlife is quite difficult for me to reconcile. Although I hate the term “resource,” wildlife is, in fact, a shared resource. And it pains me terribly to see so much disregard … which I have, many times. It comes to roost every year about this time, hence my unabashed expression, this October.

          The first archery-shot animal I ever saw stunned me. I simply could not believe that type of killing was legal or accepted, given the prolonged suffering the animal endured. Prior to that, I’d pretty much bought into the hunting community’s meme on the necessity. When it comes to large-scale efforts by groups like the NRA, I tend to see is part of the same, unquestioning atmosphere.

          In the end, I think it only hurts hunting and its perception if those issues aren’t addressed and even change, whether it’s calling out individuals or organizations. I’ve taken prospective photographers and wildlife rehabbers out to the wetlands with me at times. When they witness sky busters and the resulting crippled birds, I guarantee you, shock is the reaction. Those people will never support waterfowl hunting again. It seems self-defeating to look the other way when people or their representative organizations support questionable practices. But I guess most non-hunters aren’t exposed to these realities, and that works in favor of hunting organizations.

  35. somsai says:

    Back to Vermont, and the decline in hunting.

    I had a couple more thoughts so I googled.

    Vermont has few people and it scores ok in the “human per square mile” category, but it has very little public land. In today’s transient society the chemist working in Burlington this year might well be in Sanderson Texas next year. (pity that poor person). Private land hunting is something that takes personal connections and a years long development of trust.

    The assistant director of wildlife for Massachusetts wrote a very good essay about this very subject, it’s on page six.
    Massachusetts faces many of the same problems and west of the Connecticut has very similar land and hunting laws as Vermont.

    In the mid 1960s my folks bought a house and a fair sized piece of woodland a long rifle shot from the border of Vermont. Brattleboro was the closest big town, if you can call B-boro big. Many of the same issues were playing out a half century ago as today.

    We urban refugees were fearful and antagonistic of what we didn’t understand. We joked about Elmur Fud and repeated stereotypical remarks about drinking and hunting, or intelligence and hunters. We posted our land.

    My dad had come from the area and grown up hunting and fishing, of course that was before deer. My mom a girl from the suburbs remained fearful to the end of her life. In cleaning out her desk after she passed I came across the complimentary stationary and note cards of all the “environmental” groups she’d donated to. Soulful baby seals stared out at me, along side cute kit foxes. Sierra Club, Audubon, and Conservation Society, as well as the newer, more activist, less sane ones.

    Today with virtual commutes and income inequality, urbanites and the non working affluent range further than Putney and Marlboro. Beamers with bike racks are vying for parking spots with diesel pickups from Boulder to Bozeman. Both get the same gas milage.

    Often us urbanites take up rural pursuits when we move back, gardens, chickens and wood stoves. Fewer still of us actually grow a significant amount of what we eat, more fun to go shopping at the farmers market, or Whole Foods. Even fewer of us raise pigs, hunt, or stay the winter.

    My surprise isn’t the decline of hunting, but rather that the decline is as slow as it is.

    • Tovar says:

      Hey, Somsai, sorry I’ve taken so long to acknowledge your comment. These have been a crazy couple weeks.

      I really appreciate you telling a bit of your family’s story, set in the context of these trends. And thanks, too, for the link to the Massachusetts essay on access.

  36. Motaki says:

    Hey. Found your blog through Harris’ Hawk Blog, with I found through As the Falcon, Her Bells, which I found through Phoenix Fire Falconry, discovered via Google- getting carried away here.

    I had my first deer hunt last year, and I only went the first weekend of our two-week Minnesota hunt. The first day, with the adult my mom and I live with sitting in the stand with me, I hadn’t seen a twitch from anything for a couple hours and had slouched on the two-man bench seat, because I was more than slightly tired. I straightened up a bit to position my head more comfortably on the wooden frame on the stand…

    …and saw the white flick of a doe’s tail.

    I jabbed my fingers deep into my companion’s side, probably causing him discomfort. I raised my right arm, pointed at the doe, who had crossed the path I was supposed to be watching into the brush on the other side. A brief murmur of conversation affirmed that he wasn’t comfortable with the shot; my mom had forbidden me to take anything lesser than a fully legal adult buck.

    I watched as a small fawn crossed the path behind the doe, my companion let the fawn pass.

    The fawn and I looked each other in the eye as it crossed the path, and it smoothly strolled on, crossing into the trees. I didn’t see a scrap of fur after that, although my cousin saw a very nice buck near his stand, in the swamp beneath him, at a bad angle for a shot.

    We regrouped around one for lunch. I munched sandwiches and learned that while I’m right-handed, I’m left-eye dominate, which means I have to shoot lefthanded.

    But that’s what urbanites miss when they despise hunting.

    • Tovar says:

      I’m glad you found your way here, Motaki, through all the twists and turns of the internet! And thanks for taking the time to share memories of that first deer hunt.

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