Even with the leaves damp and quiet, I heard the buck coming. And even through the branches and brush, I saw enough antler to know he was no off-limits spikehorn.
When he stepped around the big hemlock twenty yards away, my rifle was up.
In the periphery of my mind, the antlers registered: maybe six points, probably a little bigger than the five-pointer I had shot some fifty yards from here, the year before.
But I wasn’t watching his head. I was watching his body, looking for a clean shot at heart and lungs. And I was simply thinking “legal deer.”
I had seen a couple of does in archery season and would have killed one if I’d had a good opportunity. Now, in rifle season, the only legal game was a buck with forked antlers. I wouldn’t get to the woods many more times. If I wanted to bring home venison this year, this buck might be my last chance.
When he came around the hemlock, he kept walking. I prefer to shoot at a still target. And there was something about the angle I didn’t like, his chest almost directly toward me—technically a fine shot with a firearm, but it didn’t feel right. Then he slowed and turned. He was nearly broadside when I squeezed the trigger.
As he staggered and went down—my bullet through his heart—the thought occurred to me: He was big.
As a vegan and staunch anti-hunter, I had seen trophy hunting as the lowest of the low. Animals shot for their antlers? Living beings reduced to measurable possessions? Kills competitively compared by size? Yuck.
Later, as I began exploring the philosophical terrain of hunting, I realized that hunters kill big animals for a variety of reasons. Some are, indeed, fixated on possession and competition, sometimes not even wanting the meat. Some seek out older, bigger, wilier animals to challenge themselves as hunters. Some, like my uncle, welcome the occasional large animal as an unexpected gift.
I realized, in short, that when I saw a pickup going down the road with a big, dead deer in back, I had no real idea who was behind the wheel or what his or her motives were.
When I reached the fallen buck, I was shocked: eight points, four on each side, spreading half again as wide as the five-pointer from the year before. Bits of bark and wood were ground into the base of the antlers, from rubbing against trees.
The buck was heavy. Even with help from a friend, he dragged hard. At the check-in station two miles down the road—a simple scale behind a convenience store—the field-dressed deer weighed in at over 190 pounds. In some parts of North America, that’s not an impressively large whitetail. Here, it is.
Now I was the guy behind the wheel of the pickup with the big, dead deer in back. Now I was the guy being congratulated by strangers, their admiration for the magnificent animal displaced to me. I shook my head and shrugged.
“I just got lucky,” I told them. I wasn’t out to bag a big buck. Just legal venison.
Yet I did keep the skull and antlers: As things of stark beauty. As a reminder of that hunt. As a reminder of the biggest deer I ever expect—or feel any need—to kill.
And, the night after the kill, as I drifted off to sleep, I did wonder: What would it feel like to catch even a fleeting glimpse of the massive buck some hunters swear they’ve seen roaming these hills, the one whose shed antlers people say they’ve found, seven or more points on a single side? Would I kill such an animal, or would I simply stare in awe?
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli
I like a good deer story. The skull and antlers are very nice.
Thanks for stopping by, Rick. Yes, they are remarkable. They remind me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s skull paintings.
I’m with you – I’d be grateful to get such an animal, but I can’t see myself holding out for one like that. Venison in the freezer is what matters most.
It is funny when you find yourself doing those things you’d always associated with such evil before you discovered hunting.
That doing of things I’d “always associated with such evil”—while coming from a place that feels honest, compassionate, and anything but evil—is definitely an eye-opening kind of experience!
Would I hold off on a shot offered to me, for the chance at a bigger animal? No. Neither would I hold off on a shot offered to me by a giant animal, if I am there to hunt.
When I fly fish, I get to a point in the day where I decide I’m catching my limit, and I’m done. Whatever legal I catch for my limit, I bag. One time, in particular, I hooked what turned out to be the largest rainbow of my life. When I landed her, I considered releasing her, and I thought, how is that at all fair that I kept these small fish, whose life is no less important, than this big fish? So I kept her and ate her.
Perhaps she is different. I think about her still, but many hundreds of other fish I’ve eaten and forgotten. So, though I don’t understand why, I still yet know why a person would choose differently.
Thanks for the story of that rainbow you still think about, Josh. In a visceral and soulful way, I know what you mean.
Very nice post! I try not to get too caught up in antler size myself. Don’t get me wrong, if I harvest a large racked buck I enjoy it. But I’ve also harvested “lesser” deer, including does, that were just as memorable if not more so than some of the larger racked deer. In the end it’s all venison for the table and it seems that often the circumstances around the hunt are what makes them special. That being said, a mature whitetail buck in his prime is still a sight to behold in the woods.
Thanks, Bill! Though I have far less hunting experience than you do, what you’ve written rings true for me. The circumstances and events of certain hunts—a special companion, a buck fight witnessed, or a long stalk, for example—do make them special for me in memory, even when I did not bring home a deer of any size.
Ahh the nub of it! As usual you’ve taken us to the heart of the matter, Tovar.
I would love to claim the moral certainty of ‘only for the pot’ but you know what, I’d also love to have [at least] one badass trophy like yours on the wall. Maybe i’ve been reading too much hunter p0rn and I’m easily led? The front runner to replace the Ex Mrs SBW, who couldn’t be less ‘hunting chick’ if she tried, says it would be totally hot. Definitely easily led.
SBW, you need to get a gun in that girl’s hands immediately, because if you don’t, once the courtship phase is over she might change her mind…
LOL good idea, she is a serious favorite, i don’t want to have to play the deal breaker card
“Moral certainty,” ah, yes. It feels like an old friend and nemesis both, and has been claimed by pot hunters and trophy hunters alike, as by vegans of the kind I once was. Though moral questions remain vitally important—to me and, I think, to the world—I’ve come to a place where the quest for certainty looks less relevant than it once did.
I do my best to take Rilke’s advice: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Wherever you go (or are led), enjoy the going! 😉
“The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, the opposite of faith is certainty.”
-Alan Jones, attributing it to an unnamed English monk.
It is an interesting dilemma. I took up bowhunting a few years ago as a way to re-integrate into nature. I still do not believe it quite fair to hunt with a gun … no offense to those of you out there who do, my conviction is simply bow only. That said, I have had some incredible encounters, all within range, with some beautiful does and a few squirrelly fawns. I have yet to harvest any, perhaps I too have been a bit picky about getting a perfectly clean shot. I have not harvested any yet. I am, however, not in it for trophy animals at all … meat in the freezer and a relationship with my food.
Great post again!
Deus, I respect your choice of weapons, but I must disagree with the notion that hunting can be fair. Our brains are vastly bigger than our prey’s brains, our thumbs opposable, our tools immensely effective. It can never be fair until it’s you, naked in the woods, no tools in hand, against the deer. Even then, your brain will give you unfair advantage.
Jose Ortega y Gasset writes in Meditations on Hunting, “Hunting is not reciprocal. And the reason it is not is because it is a relationship between animals which excludes an equality of vital level between the two, and of course, it excludes even more the possibility of an inferior animal’s practicing it on a superior animal. … The essential inequality between the prey and the hunter does not keep the pursued animal from being able to surpass the pursuer in one endowment or another: he may be faster or stronger or more perceptive. However, in the general balance of vital endowments, the hunter will always have the advantage over the hunted. Hunting is irremediably an activity from above to below.”
Nice piece, Tovar!
I have been deer hunting, albeit I have never harvested one. So I do think about this when the time comes. It all comes down to meat for me.
I do admire beautiful specimens, though. And the looks on some hunters faces as they are showing off their kill is priceless. But I can see myself letting the King of the Woods keep walking.
Meat for the table, and hunting for the experience. If a trophy got in the way…?
Not really sure to be honest.
Thanks, Casey! Like others above, you and I seem to be on the same page here. We know some things about why we hunt and how we would react to certain situations. Other things, we don’t know…
NorCal, I can appreciate your point. When I say fair, it is relative … I must be within 20 yards or so of the animal to even take the shot. When compared to some of the hunters I know that take shots with rifles from 300 yards, I consider this more fair. The bow and brain only allow me to level the playing field a bit … deer are far smarter than most people know and have better hearing, sense of smell, and sight than I. Let alone that they are far better in the woods than I am … camoflage and stealth. I am merely a neophyte middle aged hunter with no prior hunting experience or mentor – like everything I do, it is all based on instinct.
Ha! I’m a neophyte middle-aged hunter as well, so we’re in the same boat, just with different weapons. For me, the imperative of meat is more important than elevating what are, to me, still considerable challenges.
Holly, as a fellow teacher (both in a middle school and an online University), I salute your determination to deal with the idea of hunting from a standpoint of responsibility for your animal’s death. What we are ultimately seeking as teachers is the ability of our students to be able to respond to whatever situations they find themselves in, as intelligently as possible. We should be modeling that, and in the realm of hunting, it seems appropriate to look at being responsible. Seems like you have a healthy attitude.
I wanted to comment on the bowhunter vs. riflehunter philosophy that I read. If I am only able to hunt with a rifle, I’d do that, and not feel it was unfair. If a 300 yard shot means that the deer or prey animal doesn’t even get spooked, then I’ll make sure it gets that chance to either “go down in a heap,” or walk away unharmed.
I bought my current hunting rifle off of an older gentleman who had to give it up, due to stroke damage, rendering him unable to lift it. He had scratched up the stock when he was still hunting, and I decided to leave the damage there, as a testimony to the previous hunter. Kind of like having an old Fender guitar.
I’ve only killed one deer in many years of hunting, but that was at around 400 yards from a prone position on a hill. That one went down in a heap. I ran as fast as I could to get to her (yes, it was an antlerless hunt), and had to dispatch her quickly. I never hesitated.
I think that if life were fair, it would be boring. Half of the joy of the hunt is solving all of the problems, and getting to the point where it is a “zone” we get into, feeling the predator’s urge in our blood. When that feeling is on me, I just feel more alive and in my skin than usual, and it is a big rush. Single-mindedness is such a change from anything I do for a living, and something I seek as a refuge, so I am once again looking forward to it. Life not being fair, I have no qualms at using my brainpower to put me in the position to prey on an animal that I am going to eat. In some cases, it would certainly do me the same favor.
Fortunately, I am still around to say all of this, because life isn’t fair. I have cheated death many times, and hope to do so many more times before I finally lose that fight. For those of you who think that “fair” is an ideal, you’re right, and I strive for it in my dealings with others, but I prefer the word “honest.”
Great thought on fair vs. honest! Thanks for chiming in, Richard.
Deus: Glad you enjoyed the post. Your reasons for coming to hunting as an adult clearly echo mine.
I have hunted with both longbow and compound and have, like you, had incredible experiences: deer passing within mere yards of me, intense stalks covering a few yards per hour, and the like. And I’ve had similar close encounters in rifle and muzzleloader seasons, when (1) the deer I saw were not legal game, (2) I couldn’t tell if they were legal game, or (3) I could tell they were legal but chose not to shoot for various reasons.
I can understand your feelings about the fairness of bow-only. I could very easily have come to the same conclusion. When we’re talking technology, of course, other questions are always spawned: What kind of bow? Homemade weaponry only? Are wood arrows fairer than aluminum or carbon? And so on.
Does minimizing suffering matter more than fairness? If so, the rifle might have an edge, though I think the individual hunter’s judgment and skill matter far more than the weapon. You can take a stupid, wounding shot with a rifle or with a bow. And you can kill quickly with either, the deer feeling little or no pain.
And we get into other questions, too. How challenging do I want my hunting to be? How often do I want to be fed by my hunting? If I lived in a place that was teeming with deer, and killing them with a rifle felt too easy, I might not do it—that’s shooting, not hunting. Given where I do live and my current skill as a hunter, I can easily go years without bringing home venison, even with a rifle. With bow only (especially bare longbow), I’d probably go a lot longer, and might be more tempted to take those less-than-ideal shots. So I hunt with rifle and bow both.
I, too, feel that “fair”—as in “fair chase”—is relative. Where I hunt, the thickness of the woods means that, even with a rifle, my shots are usually limited to 30 yards or less. If I hunted open terrain, where I could see for hundreds of yards, a rifle would mean something different.
NorCal: In a sense, I agree with your point about the impossibility of “fairness.”
Yet hunters, whatever their notions of fair chase, often choose to make the hunt fairer, yes?
And sometimes the advantage is not at all clear. Take, for example, a traditional northern hunter going into a brown bear’s den with a spear. Not much advantage, I think. And some animals that humans hunt—like brown bears, cougars, and wolves—sometimes do, in turn, hunt humans.
Ah, yes, Ortega y Gasset. This week—rather than writing this post—I nearly wrote one about Meditations on Hunting. Perhaps next week. I have a number of bones to pick with Ortega. 🙂
Tovar, I just re-read Meditations, and having had more time to read other works and develop my own philosophy since my first reading, I too have a bone or two to pick with it. But I think the passage I quoted here is particularly on-point. I look forward to reading your critique!
I’m reading Vegetarian Myth now as well and will probably write something about that – thanks for turning me on to a good read. My last couple picks were either boring or annoying. I’m hoping that Lierre Keith doesn’t go as weird on me at the end of her book as Paul Shepard did, when he outlined that perfect world in which I would not be allowed to hunt deer because I lack a Y chromosome.
Whether you agree with her or not, Keith’s book is an interesting read. I’ll be curious to hear your take on it. And yes: you can safely assume that she will not say such things about Y chromosomes or suggest that real food can be manufactured from petroleum.
Thank God. I was thinking how similar their thinking was on the righteousness of the hunter-gatherers, but I quickly realized Keith would never quote a man whose Utopia looked like his did.
Seventeen pages to go, but I’ve been interrupted once again!
‘Fair’ What a great example of a ‘nominalization.’ Lots of times fisherman talk about using light tackle to ‘give the fish a chance’ but to me what they are offering is the chance for the fish to swim away to die with a lure in it’s mouth with the inevitable consequences.
I’ve long held that my journey must include hunting with the bow as its symbolic culmination, but maybe that’s actually quite similar to the lure? I too have recently had to turn down shots because of season or angle (and although he deserved it I wasn’t going to shoot that woman’s weimaraner either :-))
You touched on another interesting point – where ethics are a product of environment.
From writers based in the vast expanses of north america the high fence debate is worth having, when the space gets a lot smaller the nature of the debate changes: I once read a comment on a website where the writer, professing himself to be anti high fence, disparagingly said something along the lines of ‘shooting a deer he’s watched for so many months he’s given it a name’ here on a small island deer stalking is very much about managing a known group of deer that occupy or pass through a tract of land. Selective killing to insure the well being of the herd, and to prevent the suffering of an individual animal. When the space is even more crowded what are the ethics of suburban deer management? You say a rifle would be shooting not hunting – I see your point – but what about a muzzle loaders reduced range? Or in places like inside the DC beltway where all firearms are banned and its bow only? We (to me) have a clear responsibility to manage deer numbers for their and our good. Have I now come to a difference between ‘hunting’ and ‘stalking’?
Though provoking as ever Tovar, thanks.
Good point about the light tackle. My sense is that people often use it to make the fishing more fun, not to help the fish out. I do know folks who use heavy tackle specifically so they can bring the fish in quickly and so, if they decide to release it, its chances of survival will be higher after a briefer fight.
Yeah, I think circumstances change things a lot. In making that comment—“if I lived in a place that was teeming with deer, and killing them with a rifle felt too easy, I might not do it”—I was thinking about a hunter from Maryland I met once. He told me how the deer were so thick in the areas he hunted that you could shoot one, wait half an hour until a few more walked into the same clearing, and shoot another one. He gave up hunting with a gun. Putting myself in his shoes, I wonder: Would I still hunt with a centerfire rifle, or even my blackpowder long gun? Or would that—just shooting, without the need for any hunting effort or skill at all—feel like killing a cow or sheep in a farmer’s field?
You’re right: We do need to reduce deer numbers in places like that, for ecological, social, and safety reasons. I’m just not sure I’d personally “hunt” there with a gun.
I wish I had time to read all the discussion going on here, but I don’t.
That is one magnificent animal, though, Tovar. I’m not a trophy hunter by any stretch of the imagination – I just simply like venison – but I do shoots does, and let the little bucks walk, so that I may have a chance to encounter something like you have memorialized and were so fortunate to kill.
What a story, and what a great buck.
Well, some of the lengthy discussion has been a digression into questions of weaponry—bows versus rifles, etc. That’s another topic I’ll have to do a post on sometime, as it has come up here a couple of times already!
Glad you enjoyed the story, Art.
My first and only deer is a trophy to me. He was about a 100lb black tail fork horn. He was good food. When I was cleaning the head, I thought I would be cutting up the skull and antlers for jewlery and buttons and things that I could touch every day of my life.
Then a little girl and boy came over to my house. I was showing them the beauty and intricacy of the sutures in the skull. Then I realized the skull is a teaching tool. I have put it on the wall, but I made sure I can take it down so its’ true purpose for me is not lost.
The skull is my own cave painting. It is the reminder of good food and stories and that my soul still belongs to what is wild.
Thanks for the opportunity to read your fine posts and to post my two cents.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jean. I so appreciate knowing folks are reading, and hearing their thoughts and stories.
Yours was a special deer, indeed. And how great that you kept the skull as a teaching tool! They are, as you say, like cave paintings, reminding us both of things in nature and of things in ourselves.
Nicely said, Jean!
Okay, you do know you’re quoting a vegetarian with Rilke. 🙂
You ready for your lone dissenter to take on one of the comments? Okay, for better or worse.
You wrote: “And you can kill quickly with either, the deer feeling little or no pain.”
Here’s the problem from my perspective, Tovar — admittedly different from the others shared here. Little pain, that’s probably true — with a very quick death. If you imagine yourself getting shot and dropping dead instantly, you’d probably feel but a blip of intense pain. I haven’t been shot and haven’t died yet so I don’t know for sure. But as far as no pain. Well, unless that death is instantaneous, I don’t believe no pain is possible for any of us human or non-human animals struck by a bullet or arrow.
My issue continues to be that with respect to humane treatment of hunted animals, there is a reliance on the ethics of the hunter — which is so broadly construed that there is no standard of “humane.” And there’s a misconception among some hunters that animals do not feel as much pain as I believe they do. I’ve had that discussion, believe it or not — with at least a few hunters who’ve told me that animals don’t have as many nerve endings, thus don’t feel the pain. I had that very talk the other day in the context of an injured wild animal which I helped.
I realize from a thinking hunter’s perspective, especially a former vegan, this notion is preposterous. But therein lies the problem — that people who harbor those feelings about animal sentience are not likely to abide by the types of practices discussed here, the types of ethics you possess. And yet the individual is allowed to determine these things.
There is no repercussion, for instance, for a hunter alone in the woods, allowing an ungulate to die for a painful hour (or more) with a badly-placed arrow, whereas a veterinarian inflicting an hour’s long euthanasia on a cat would clearly be in violation of codes. I’ve witnessed more than one such death, and it’s agonizing to witness the animal in distress, crying out for that long. Furthermore, it’s too easy to rationalize the humaneness of a death with animals who don’t vocalize their distress or cry out in a way that we could interpret as “in pain.” Prey animals are notoriously stoic for their own survival.
I wrote in an earlier comment that a prominent avian vet in my area told me that certain studies now support that birds feel MORE pain than was originally attributed to them. He said this upon receiving a bird he felt hadn’t received enough painkiller for its wing injury.
I realize I sound like the a broken record and a provocateur on these issues. I’m just leery of minimizing the importance of animal pain in hunting. I think it’s a significant factor in the opposition to hunting as well. Whether or not a practice induces suffering is clearly a demarcation for many statutes pertaining to animals — and in the public’s general perception of an action’s acceptability.
If a slaughterhouse (inadequate though the laws are) is technically supposed to abide by a humane standard with certain animals — if a veterinarian or wildlife hospital must be current on human euthanasia codes — then I believe the same should hold true in any endeavor where we exploit animals, including hunting. I don’t believe the allowance of this wide disparity in treatment is justified. Of course, that’s not the reality right now. And one could argue that many practices do not impose such mandates (bullfighting, slaughter of poultry, rodeos, fur farms, etc.) But that doesn’t make it right. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for a higher standard of behavior across the board. Hunters and the hunting establishment could take the higher ground in self-regulation on so many fronts. I don’t see that happening, but I think it’s worth consideration.
Always good to have your voice here, Ingrid. Seriously! 🙂
I have to run and I have a long day ahead of me, so I’ll have to delay replying—to you and anyone else who jumps in—for a day or so…
Ingrid, I may have already said this here, but I agree that it is wrong to minimize the pain animals feel. I think that’s a coping mechanism some of us (not I) were taught to use to rationalize the impacts of pulling the trigger or releasing the arrow.
That said, I have two thoughts on this:
1. The pain of a minute, or maybe even an hour, preceding death beats the lingering pain of injuries, starvation or even many animal predator-inflicted deaths. Personally, I’d rather deal with an hour of pain before my death than the two years of suffering my dad endured before he died – the catastrophic bodily failures that followed a quintuple bypass that had us all wishing he’d skipped the surgery and suffered a massive heart attack in his garden (as his father had done).
2. Perhaps few hunters are willing to say this, but I am one of them: We have tradeoffs when it comes to killing animals for food.
On the agriculture side, you have – when it goes right – instantaneous or very quick death, but it follows a lifetime of slavery: captivity and absence of free will at best, horrible confinement at worst. You also have the 100 percent certainty that the animal will be killed by humans – every last one of them.
On the hunting side, the animal lives a free and natural life and the very real prospect of escaping predation by humans, but the death – like all deaths by predation – as likely as not isn’t going to be pretty.
Personally, I’ll engage in both. My body needs meat, and I understand that the acquisition of meat is not a “perfect” process. I think it’s one of the giant mistakes of society, be it movies, assembly-line animal death or human executions, that we’ve gotten it into our heads that death is routinely painless.
Also: I know you wish for better ethical and technical training for hunters to ensure that their shots – be they arrows or bullets – strike squarely and kill instantly. But all the training and practice in the world can’t mitigate field circumstances that will make the arrow or bullet miss its perfect mark. And the important thing to understand here is that poor shots can’t automatically be equated with poor ethics or marksmanship, because you don’t know what the hunter’s ethics or training are when a shot goes wild. It’s easy to assume a bad shot was inflicted by a poor or careless hunter – very easy to vilify – but it’s just wrong to do so.
This is the lens I use to try to see other critters pain.
When I was 19, I got hit by a car and knocked to ground off my bicycle. There was no pain. There was great confusion followed by rage. The pain took a long time to start feeling.
When I was sailling some years later, I was thrown across the cabin and hit my head. I was not knocked unconscious, but I was unable to move anything of my body for about a minute. This is a small piece of time. Not so when you can see others around you but cannot communicate in any way. The rage is incredible. I do not remember any pain until much later, say 10 or fifteen minutes after I could move again. I do not recommend trying this at home, but these two examples are enough for me in my life to understand what a body does when trauma occurs.
We had a cat of 13years that developed bone cancer. Rather than put him through the horror of treatment, we found a vet that would come to the house and give him pain medication and vitamin shots. He was put to sleep in his back yard in a bed of catnip. I still cry when I write this and it has been five years.
I know in my heart and mind that other critters feel things much as I do. I also accept that I am biologically well suited to eating meat among other things.
The shots we make as hunters cannot be changed by adding another bureaucracy as you sound like you are suggesting.
I believe the deer feels the same confusion and rage I feel. Whether taken by my bullet or having it’s belly torn out by coyotes. That is not going to change.
Could it be that Nature is perfect but we just don’t want to look at it that way? Too much thinking makes me want to howl at the moon.
I hope my oddball writing makes some sense to you.
P.S. When nobody is listening, I say “thank you” to my tomatoes and I tell them they are beautiful. I figured I should try to leave you with some thing to laugh at me a little bit.
Jean, wow, I got hit by a car while bike riding when I was 20, and now that you mention it, I didn’t feel pain for a while either. Nor did I feel rage – it was my fault, and I was embarrassed to have caused the uproar (and I pay for it to this day with severe headaches from what happened to my neck – sigh).
The animal that is trapped feels rage. When the car that ran the red light hit me broadside (no pun intended), I bent the metal toe clip into a pretzel to get my foot away from the bumper. Didn’t know I did that ’til afterward.
Oh yeah, I did do something stupid to get run into. I looked only at the light turned green and not for cross traffic. Still, I was pretty angry with the girl who hit me. Maybe not the best response but my 30+ years later, my head is a little cooler.
At the time of injury, there is no good reason for the body to pay attention to pain signals, other than to attempt to remove oneself from the cause of the injury.
Doesn’t that suck? I’m like that old Steve Martin joke . . . about his girlfriend who has a “good head on her shoulders.” “When I walk into a fancy restaurant with her, every head turns — except hers. She has no neck!” Neck injuries feel that way!
Holly and Jean, I do understand the points you make. And Jean, I didn’t mean to suggest I’d never felt severe pain or come NEAR death. I’ve just never been shot by a gun or arrow, nor actually died (as may or may not be obvious). So I can’t speak to that particular form of pain that wild animals feel. But I have overcome significant physical challenges in my life, as well life-threatening injury (massive head trauma, etc.). So, I can at least speak from some place of “knowing” with respect to the experience of pain and suffering. I generally don’t share that except as context for suggesting an informed opinion.
My experience is quite different from yours Jean in terms of how I’ve actually felt pain — much closer to the point of impact. With the head injury, however, I was knocked cold unconscious, so that changed the parameters. I’ve never felt the pain-related rage you describe, that’s very interesting. A good illustration of the individuality of the scrim through which we experience our lives emotionally.
Jean, in response to your comment “I believe the deer feels the same confusion and rage I feel. Whether taken by my bullet or having it’s belly torn out by coyotes. That is not going to change.” I realize this gets into Peter-Singer level of philosophical arguments, but I happen to think there’s a stronger moral burden on a human because of the human’s self-professed consciousness. To the degree that we’re conscious of the suffering we’re causing, I do believe we’re culpable. I don’t know what a coyote’s understanding is of the actions it’s taking. Does it have a choice of weaponry or methodology, given the physiology it was given? And if it did, would it choose the most humane of the methods? If so, my comment here would have to change to incorporate that new understanding.
What we do know is that we humans can choose and change our actions based on recognized norms and new revelations. And, as is obvious from our discussion here, we understand that creatures besides ourselves feel pain. Even more so now, as newer studies confirm many animals feel much more than previously suggested by the scientific community.
So I find the excessive pain we inflict, knowingly, in so many areas — as Holly points out, agriculture, etc. — to be unjustifiable under those circumstances. I’m not singling out hunting, as I mentioned in my first comment. There are serious gaps between what we should be doing (in my view) and what we are doing with respect to the animals in our charge, whether they are farm animals or objects of sport.
I had a discussion here with Tovar and Holly a while back, and now, in retrospect, I feel a little silly for getting back on the same topic. I guess you could say it’s my poker tell — I’ve revealed myself. Still, I’ll try not to obfuscate the original intent of Tovar’s piece by staying too long.
In that previous comment thread, we had some discussion about rifles versus bows, and at that time, I suggested that I had a tougher time with bowhunting, not just because of the difficulty of good placement, but also because it seemed to be a form of hunting that was undertaken primarily for the challenge and satisfaction of the person involved, not because of humane considerations toward the animal. That’s been my view and I know it’s one readily challenged by bowhunters.
I appreciate Tovar’s blog, and what I’ve read at Holly’s — and the comments by responsible hunters here and elsewhere who stress the need to take wise and well-placed shots for the least amount of suffering. But I won’t deny that the open field of interpretation over what’s acceptable will continue to bother me as long as I continue to witness those situations where the animals die in circumstances I simply can’t fathom. I admit, my feelings about this grew much stronger after being involved at the receiving end at a wildlife hospital.
I feel the same way about lax agricultural regulations that Holly points out, and the horrid issues of industrial farm confinement. But pointing out that one is worse than the other, doesn’t preclude giving the other more scrutiny, particularly since hunting is carried out, for the most part, as a voluntary sporting endeavor.
That’s obviously a controversial point, but it’s the filter through which I come at these issues. It’s one thing to be starving and have limited means at one’s disposal for acquiring food, the way it was for my parents, who were in hiding and starving during the war, and where a single egg was a precious and life-saving commodity. That’s quite different from the abundance most of us put on the table, whether it’s a duck-a-night from hunting, or a chicken-a-day from a farm. So I would say that given the relative luxury of our modern lives, and the clear availability of more humane methods (in all fields, with respect to most animal endeavors) I just feel these are choices that could be more easily made were personal desires and money (in the case of factory farming) not clouding the picture.
I’ve told Holly and Tovar both that in these comments, I don’t advocate for an end to hunting, difficult as it is for me to witness it. I would say that I’m pressing for us humans to take a more humane stand in those areas where choices are possible. And absent regulatory imperatives, Jean, I don’t see how those behaviors will change. Maybe you all can offer better alternatives because this is obviously a point on which I get stuck.
Look at how long it’s taken to get even a baseline level of humane standard into farming which, as Holly, suggests, is often horrific for what it inflicts on the animals. And birds are even exempt from those pitifully-inadequate standards. It’s a fight all the way, even to instill the most base level of treatment in these cases, and if those regulations weren’t in place, those bare-minimum actions would not be undertaken voluntarily. Are laws always enforceable? Clearly not. The recent case of cow beatings in Ohio is just another case in point. Are bureaucracies efficient? I think that’s an oxymoron. But regulations do give society a baseline around which to form a new idea about humanity and compassion.
That being said, I’m always open to other suggestions for how we, as hunters and non-hunters alike, might move forward toward a better and more enlightened course when it comes to the animals with whom we share this space. I don’t find what we’re doing now adequate, when measured against what we’re capable of.
p.s. To Jean, Holly, Tovar and anyone else humoring my presence here at this blog . . . I’m unemployed this week (freelance) so I’ll just warn you that I have time to respond with meandering, circuitous, annoying, animal-co-dependent analyses. 😉
Dang it, Ingrid, you write faster than I can think. 😉
Hi, Jean. I put myself through school (well almost through school) doing secretarial work. So my hands type too fast for my brain to catch up. I have some degree of writer’s remorse, hitting the RETURN button a little too impulsively at times (as Tovar knows). Good thing I’m not a hunter, with those itchy trigger fingers of mine. [Insert appropriate emoticon here.]
Hi Ingrid –
I was freelancing today, but in the field, so forgive the late response! I think we can all agree that it’s important to remind hunters to strive for the cleanest shots possible, and to avoid shots that don’t feel perfect.
But I don’t know that the matter could be addressed with different regulations. What’s worth knowing is this: California does not require any sort of weapons test prior to getting a hunting license, but some states do. I wonder if wounding rates are any different in those states?
I’m guessing no, and here’s why: Being able to shoot accurately at a shooting range is a poor measure of marksmanship, because the field is a much, much more challenging place to shoot. And being able to nail a target at a shooting range does not mean having the wisdom to pass on an iffy shot (poor angle, animal moving, too far) in the field.
All of us, even the most ethical, will make mistakes in the field. And there will always be a group of people who are willing to take risky shots that could result in mere wounding, not death. Right now, I know I’m not good enough to be one of them, and I hope that even as I become a better shot, I’ll continue to exercise my annoyingly persnickity decision-making on shots.
Hi, Holly —
Are you at liberty to say what you’re working on? Wishing you well with that endeavor . . . even if it is a hunting piece. (I don’t want to keep inserting smileys. I hope by now you guys understand my sarcasm.)
I know we’ve hashed out this issue before, Holly, and I know what you say is realistic. It is, however, still hard to accept that reality when you feel the sadness over human unconsciousness. A friend shared a book with me recently on the topic of Native American grandmothers. They describe how assaults on the earth and its animals feel like physical pain to them. I’m not equating my level of spirituality or evolution to an elder by any stretch, but I understand the underlying concept. It hurts. And knowing how that hurt feels, I simply wish more of us would be keen on reducing the amount of hurt we’re inflicting. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish that we, because of our capacity to do so, would hold ourselves to a higher standard rather than lower ourselves in rationalization.
I know that most of the time, all we can do is control our own actions. Or in your case, Holly and Tovar, live by example through the viable forums you have. For me, I strive to tread more lightly, and help those suffering, ragtag, mottled critters who end up in my hands. The many critters who end up at this address which I won’t publish, but which animals seem to know. Part of helping, sometimes, is also letting people know how their actions affect those critters, particularly in the face of misconceptions and misinformation. You might be surprised (or maybe not) how little people understand about wild animals, their behavior, their needs, and, dare I say, their personalities.
The freelance work is a newspaper story about a local game warden, so it’s related to hunting, but not involving any hunting.
And I do know what you mean about extending compassion toward animals. I’ve been watching an injured feral tomcat make the rounds in our neighborhood, unable to touch his right foot to the ground. Normally I shoo him from our yard, but I’ve been helping him a bit, and trying not to frighten him in a way that would force him to run. I rescue worms that get stranded on the sidewalk after a rain. I usher spiders out of the bathtub before I turn on the water. I capture mosquito hawks that accidentally come into the house, and I return them outside where they can continue feasting on mosquitos, not wither away in our mosquito-free house. And I get really sad when I hear about the indiscriminate killing of wildlife – people killing for fun, not for food, not for defense of livestock.
So I don’t begrudge you your feelings one bit. I’m just more focused on practical realities, both the reality of (for me) omnivorousness, and the reality of human behavior. And within my community, what I try to do is put out a message that doesn’t just preach to the choir, but that perhaps gives others pause. Don’t know if I’ve done that, but if it’s happened even once, I’d feel pretty good about it.
Yeah, on all of that, Holly. Your home is probably a lot like our home . . . except maybe bigger . . . and with more [non-human] bodies in the freezer. A [non-animal-loving] gardener/neighbor of mine used to get so mad at me for moving snails across the sidewalk so they wouldn’t get crushed. “What, are you a nut? He’ll be in my lettuce by tomorrow.”
Answer: Yeah, I’m a nut.
Anyway, the killing for fun — well, isn’t that where all of us should find common ground?
I realize there’s a tenuous line here, because most hunters hunt for fun, even if they eat the meat. But gratuitous slaying, to me, is simply outside the realm of what should be acceptable in 2010. It may be legal and socially acceptable in certain circles, but the anything-goes mentality I’ve witnessed when it comes to legally unprotected animals is simply unjustifiable. Even defense of livestock, as you say, can be construed to fit an agenda. Look at the gray wolf situation.
There are well-meaning souls on both sides, and contrary to what some hunters believe about animal people like me, I do believe in the Bill of Rights. I also believe that any “right” –hmmm, a little tome known as the Federalist Papers had something to say about this — any right must be balanced by its effect on the commons. And as much as I support and uphold all Amendments (including the 2nd) I also believe each Amendment (including the 1st, which I strongly support) comes with a responsibility that, for my money, doesn’t include wanton killing. I think a lot of people interpret a right as an untouchable liberty. But even those who designed our national documents didn’t see any right as all-encompassing or immovable.
Sadly, most of our legal and biblical doctrine is interpreted as it pertains to human life. And I don’t believe change on this level will happen on the necessary level from those of us who aren’t bearing the arms toward animals. I guess that’s why I advocate so strongly for greater responsibility among those who do hold this power and responsibility over others’ lives, in their hands. But that’s a little like asking the fox to guard the free-range-chicken house, isn’t it?
btw: can your stray be trapped and taken to a vet?
Good question – I’ve never tried trapping a cat before (or any animal, really). How would I go about that?
Also, a bit of good news: I just saw him tonight and he’s finally putting weight on the bum leg, which I hadn’t seen him do in two weeks.
I’m really not sure what happened to him – I don’t see any signs of a flesh wound. But I do know that when he was in our backyard the other day and the neighbors let their raucous dog out of its enclosure, the tomcat – who was perfectly safe in our fenced yard – bolted out of there faster than you’d think a three-legged cat could run. So I’m wondering if the dog is what got to him.
(These neighbors, not coincidentally, are the same ones who let cats breed out of control and run feral, ostensibly to control rodents on their mini-farm, but with serious practical impacts on the neighborhood, and the un-neutered/spayed cats. This tom was probably born on their land.)
I have used one of the Hav-A-Hart traps to good effect.
The other method I used required a visit to the emergency room when the cat bit through my hand. Not recommended.
P.S. In case it’s not already obvious, I could easily become a crazy cat lady were it not for the moderating influence of my boyfriend. I actually have a crazy cat lady action figure at my desk. Seriously.
Holly, I’d say, keep the boyfriend around. I understand the motivation, though. Every animal we’ve ever had has been an adopted stray. And we sometimes take in injured domestic birds mistakenly brought into the hospital as “wild” animals (chukar, quail, homing pigeons). We do our best to find them good aviaries, since they can’t be released and wildlife hospitals won’t take them.
Most recently, we rescued wedding doves. Poor things needed an aviary and we couldn’t find them a home quickly enough (great, rescue aviaries are in short supply). Let’s just say you learn a lot about moderation with two wedding doves flying around the dining room of your small apartment — and sitting on your keyboard and admiring their beautiful selves in the reflection of your iMac. Lesson noted.
As far as your neighbor’s kitty, maybe he just sprained the paw in his escape? One of our cats sprained her tail, trying to squeeze under a fence. She couldn’t hold her tail up for a month.
If a cat is truly feral and impossible to catch/handle, you would probably have to use a baited live trap to get him/her to the vet. There’s a whole protocol because ferals are super wise and usually can only be trapped once. You have one shot at it. And, you need to pick a time when you’re around because traps have to be checked all day/night long to make sure the cat is okay, and that unintentional animals aren’t caught. If you’re even in that position, let me know and I can help.
When we lived in LA, we had a number of un-neutered ferals in our neighborhood, so I got in contact with a local feral rescuer and she loaned us a trap until we could spay/neuter all of the cats. We had a vet nearby who did the spay/neuter for ferals at a significant discount. I always felt horrible about trapping the poor guys, because the truly feral really do behave like wild animals. Some of them have to be sedated at the vet’s, just to be touched. But I had to look at the process a “greater good” endeavor. As you might imagine, I’m much more keen on the release aspect of animal rescue, than I am on the capture.
btw: I don’t envy your neighbor situation. People just don’t always realize the repercussions of free-breeding, free-roaming cats.
Wow, what did you do with the spayed females? My little Giblet felt horrible for a week after being spayed (and to this day I don’t know why they didn’t give us pain meds for her).
The neighbors have already gotten several visits from county animal control. They don’t care about the animals (classic response: “They’re animals!”), and they definitely don’t care about the animals’ impact on the neighborhood, including one tom who delighted in spraying through people’s open sliding glass doors.
I’m going to keep watching the injured tom and see if it’s worth the trapping routine. If he’s already recovering well. I’d rather not put him through the trauma of trapping. The neutering idea sounds good too. He hasn’t been a sprayer, but I know feral toms live short lives – particularly when you’re close to a major street, as we are. The aforementioned sprayer didn’t last long.
Holy smokes! What a torrent of fine comments, thanks to Ingrid, Holly, and Jean! I’ll have to pick just a few places to jump in, or I’d be here all day…
To me, the question of animal welfare and suffering is vital, whether in vegetable farming, livestock operations, or fishing and hunting. As you know, Ingrid, I don’t advocate the view that animals feel less physical pain than we do. (I suspect they do feel less psychological pain, which often gets blended into our experience of the physical, but that’s another topic, as is the question of emotional pain, which I think animals do feel, in various ways, depending on the kind of animal.)
Like Jean and Holly, I have experienced injuries where all I felt initially was shock—disorientation and some nausea—with “pain” coming much later. I’ve also experienced some where the pain came more quickly. I’ve never been shot, arrowed, or deeply stabbed. The accounts I’ve read of such experiences—from battlefields, hunting accidents, and so on—describe there being no pain initially, though other accounts may illustrate a different set of experiences.
Yet I’m quite leery of using ideas about “pain-free shock” to argue that shooting animals doesn’t “hurt,” and therefore doesn’t carry any moral burden for us. I think it does carry a moral burden.
The essay anthology A HUNTER’S HEART, edited by David Petersen, is an excellent and discomfiting read. In the essay “If Elk Would Scream,” George Wallace writes, “If elk would scream, the woods would have fewer hunters.”
My current view: Predation is a natural phenomenon. Humans can be predators, but we are unique in our moral sensibilities. We can and, I think, should consider things that other predators don’t. For me, those things include making the kill as fast as possible, so that “pain-free shock” is the most likely experience for the animal, so that the animal would not even have the time or awareness to scream.
How do we make such priorities more common among hunters? Good question. In my writing and in other forums, I do what I can to get people thinking and talking about such issues. And I’d support the enhancement of hunter education, to include shooting proficiency requirements and lessons about the consequences of bad shots, in terms of wounding and suffering.
What other measures might be helpful? I’m not sure. When I see or hear about the deliberate or careless infliction of unnecessary suffering by hunters, it makes me sick to my stomach. (Here I brush up against a key question—What is “necessary?”—one that I will leave alone for the moment.) Perhaps we could put some kind of “no intentional cruelty” law on the books. Yes, that might provide a moral reference point for society. But, short of being able to measure hunters’ intentions and deploy game wardens behind every tree to monitor their actions, I don’t know how it would be enforced or whether it would have a substantial impact on behavior.
Ingrid wrote that we should “strive for a higher standard of behavior across the board. Hunters and the hunting establishment could take the higher ground in self-regulation on so many fronts.” Like Holly, Josh, Eric (who now heads Orion—The Hunter’s Institute), and many other hunters and non-hunters, I completely agree.
I’m on board with Holly’s comments about the tradeoffs in agriculture and hunting, and the value of accepting the uncomfortable fact that nothing—in nature or culture—is perfect.
Lastly, Ingrid noted that “most hunters hunt for fun.” A full reply would take more space than I want to take here. In brief, then. We have a tendency to want to disconnect utility from enjoyment. (I won’t go off on this tangent, but think of some religious doctrines about sex being for procreation but not for pleasure…) Even in cultures where hunting provided a large percentage of the food, people enjoyed hunting. In his introduction to A HUNTER’S HEART, Richard Nelson writes, “During a year I spent in the arctic coastal village of Wainwright, I was struck by the fact that Inupiaq men lived to hunt as much as they hunted to live.”
Hunters’ experiences vary. Mine may be unusual: I hunt in great part as a way of confronting things in myself and in the workings of nature. I do find some enjoyment in being in the woods, being with fellow hunters with whom I feel rapport, watching nature, learning about animals, tracking, stalking, etc. I find enjoyment and nutritive value in eating what I hunt. I find zero enjoyment in the killing itself, in watching an animal die, no matter how swiftly.
To Holly: I couldn’t nest any more replies under your reply, but in answer to ferals . . .
Jean may have more info, too. Sounds like she’s done some feral trapping. And yes, cat bites can be bad. They usually require instant antibiotics. I confess, I’ve had times when I’ve been bitten when I’ve quickly done the 15-minutes soap-and-water, then hydrogen peroxide, then neosporin, hoping to stave off infection. And it’s worked sometimes. In case you ever find yourself bitten and without a prescription . . .
As far as feral spay recovery, Holly, in many cases it’s not ideal. The female is often released the day after surgery, after having been monitored post-op by the vet. In our case, we were lucky in that the feral group in our area had a saint of a cat person. She had an extra room in her house for feral recovery, and she was able to do the recommended recovery for females which is a week. Of course, lactating females HAVE to be returned to their kittens much sooner. As much as I support and believe in and even did some of the feral trapping and spay/neuter, I also found it very difficult from an emotional standpoint. I obviously find hurting, trapping and confining ANY animal very hard, even the animals we have to treat at the hospital. You feel so, so sorry for them. They are essentially being handled everyday by monsters (from their POV). Babies do okay. It’s the adults who have a tough time.
As far as cat painkillers, progressive vets have used them for a long time. But it was standard not to use painkillers for cats in many vet offices. Even for those vets who’ve believed in them, there are (to my understanding, someone can correct me) only two or maybe three drug types that can be used for cats. And one of them, Metacam, carries some kidney risk in cats that might be susceptible. Our cat had some surgery last year, and the Metacam decision was literally agonizing, because she’s older. Our previous cat went through two years of CRF treatment (us giving her fluids and such) so we were understandably reticent to try anything that could lead to the same issues again. Pain management in cats is not ideal and I keep hoping some new, effective and safe drug family can be used for them.
The only cat pain med we’ve gotten is Buprenex. The same vet who did the spaying gave it to us after our elderly cat had surgery for an abcess. We have a lot left; she died of heart failure two days later.
Tovar, sorry to hijack the thread, but this has been a helpful conversation 🙂
No worries about “hijacking,” from accidental trophies to animal suffering or feral cats. It’s all connected, one way or the other. And if it’s helpful, all the better!
Yep, this WordPress template won’t let me set comment-nesting any deeper than 10 levels…
Thanks, Tovar. I think I’m the one who took it off track, so if I need to cut a few swatches from my Buckeye tree and self-flagellate, let me know. The scarring might count toward some spiritual redemption points.
Yep, Buprenex is one we’ve had, too. I am SO sorry about your kitty, Holly. I remember reading your lovely and heartbreaking post. I think I’d be in good company here (?) in saying that of all the people we’ve lost who’ve been close to us, the magnitude of pain and loss in losing our animals has been on par, sometimes even greater. In some circles, it’s sacrilege to say that. But I know Tovar wrote of his friend’s dog, and your poignant essay about your cat suggests you both get what I’m saying without misconstruing. Our pets don’t have the emotional baggage and they are our constants. It’s an incredible and lasting void they leave behind in our hearts.
Thanks, Ingrid. Our cats are our friends – less articulate than the human friends, but equally, if not more witty, and entertaining. We adore them.
When Kimber and Shiloh were fixed, We gave the girls Buprenor. I am guessing it is the same stuff as you used. I had my tubes tied a long time ago and there Is NO WAY I would let our girls go through something that is more invasive without pain management. We used their activity levels to tell us what they needed and it looked to have work well. I have always had smart cats. They are good at letting us know what they want.
Thank you, Tovar, for putting up with all the cat people talk.
No problem, Jean. 🙂
I grew up loving cats, though allergic to them.
A year or so ago, we heard a pitiful wailing in the woods near our house and found a very young kitten alone there (presumably a “drop off”). We thought we’d get it to a shelter within a day or so. But no one would take it. And Cath, who is more a cat-person than I am, was headed out of town for several days.
So I became kitty’s caretaker. By the time Cath got back, kitty and I had bonded. We did find a good home for the little fellow soon thereafter. I was surprised by how hard it was to let him go, attached as I had already become.
I had my tubes tied too, and I definitely needed those meds for a couple days. But probably the closer experience for me was having my appendix out – something removed, lots of poking around in my belly. Not fun at all.
Great note, Tovar. More often than not, you and I are on the same page. Of course, if we agree then your note must be “great,” right? Ha.
In response to just one of your comments, this one:
“I suspect they do feel less psychological pain, which often gets blended into our experience of the physical, but that’s another topic, as is the question of emotional pain, which I think animals do feel, in various ways, depending on the kind of animal.”
That’s interesting and I’ve heard this said in other venues. As a counterpoint, I need to dig up the piece I read recently — an article (can’t remember which publication) where the author presented the exact opposite point-of-view — that suffering in animals could, in fact, be more emotionally intense because they don’t have the understanding or language to wrap around the experience of terror and physical pain they’re having.
I obviously can’t say with certainty. But when I put myself emotionally in the position of being horribly victimized, say, as in a confined animal experiencing chronic abuse, I try to imagine how it would feel to be assaulted in this way and not grasp what’s happening. I don’t think the not knowing would reduce my suffering. I believe it would increase my confusion, disempowerment and desperation. If you’ve seen animals who come from abusive homes or primates from abusive lab situations, their responses suggest to me intense suffering and terror.
If some animals, as new studies suggest, have the cognizance of a three or four year old child, I could suggest parity in some of the experiences I had as a young child where painful circumstances beyond my control did, in fact, lead those types of overwhelming feelings.
Again, I obviously don’t know. But I hadn’t heard anyone express that opposite point of view until I’d read that piece. To me, it made more sense. I genuinely wish we could ask them. Absent that capability, I err on the side of believing they feel and think more than we, as humans, have allowed. Someday, if and when research suggests animals have been far more lucid and conscious than we’ve allowed, I personally want to be on the side of history that gave them the benefit of the doubt, owing to the glimmers of sentience I was able to see.
Interesting point, Ingrid.
In terms of human pain, I was thinking of how we feel what we expect to feel, and how the idea of what is happening (or is about to happen) can magnify what is happening physically. I can see where an animal, confined and abused, might suffer more because it can’t grasp what is happening. Then again, I think that I—in that animal’s place—could also suffer a kind of pain precisely as a result of grasping the horror of the situation and my likely fate.
That aside, what struck me about your comment is that it is about situations of confinement, not situations of predation or hunting (to which I intended to refer). This reminds that traditional hunting cultures are often deeply opposed to any kind of animal experimentation, even the attachment of radio collars. As I understand it, their objection is both to the infliction of suffering and to the degradation of the dignity of any “animal person.”
In other words, perhaps the experiences of confinement, abuse, experimentation, etc, are unnatural and therefore not graspable by animals, particularly wild ones, whereas being hunted (especially for a species like deer that evolved under predation) is quite natural and maybe even “understood.”
You know, I chose to throw in just one example out there, strict confinement being an obviously wretched situation for any person or animal.
But I did witness a large bull elk dying slowly by bow a few years ago. And I believe the elk could have had some of the feelings we describe. I can’t prove that, unfortunately. I am making assessments that some would view as anthropomorphic, but which I base on my own understanding of animal behavior and sensitivity.
The elk was grunting, struggling to get up — writhing in distress — while the hunter and his partner smoked cigarettes and watched. I realize it’s common for people to wait out a dying animal who’s been struck this way.
But to watch this animal staring wide-eyed at his hunters with abject fear, trying to get up, crying out, and experiencing no mercy whatsoever from the humans who were witnessing his pain, catapulted me into a temporary breakdown, I admit. I still have a tough time grappling with the idea that there are people who can watch suffering as a matter of course, without the instinctive inclination to at least soothe or care for the dying and distressed animal in its last breaths. It would take a Spockian mind meld for me to understand, I suppose.
That’s the very reason the pain issue is significant to me. I think rationalizing animal pain, as some do (not you guys) allows for some pretty broad strokes in interpreting acceptable behavior toward animals. And I think the hunting community at large should think about those things because — sadly for the more thoughtful hunters like you — those experiences tend to form those of us who don’t hunt in terms of our views on hunting in general. They’re traumatic and one doesn’t easily recover from the visceral impressions.
To me, that amounts to torture.
In “If Elk Would Scream,” Wallace shoots an elk badly and is compelled to finish him off as quickly as possible. I can’t imagine doing otherwise. That’s not a mind-meld I’m interested in experiencing.
I don’t understand people like that either, Ingrid. I do know that you have to stay some distance away to avoid injury. And I don’t half wonder if these guys were busy feigning disinterest to each other – I’ve talked to so many men who are deeply troubled by these moments. And I’ve read some incredible stories by women about the lengths they’ve gone to to comfort an animal they’ve wounded during the time they’ve had to wait to finish the kill.
I do not understand why someone would not want the journey through acceptance and death to be smooth and clear. It does not make sense to be other than thankful, grateful and merciful. And to ask forgiveness for the life I am taking from the being I am taking it from.
People do many things that don’t make sense, mostly because they do not understand. I do not understand very much, but I keep trying.
Holly, I think many men are extremely uncomfortable with suffering and will go hide from it rather than deal with it. If fathers do not give this gift to their sons, I am betting it is a difficult skill to learn.
Thank you all for being so thoughtful in your replies. I’ve had my go. So, even if you’re not inclined, at this point I’m prepared for the critiques of animal people like me. 😉
By the way, Tovar, I didn’t comment on but liked very much your description of the traditional hunting ethics surrounding the dignity of the “animal person.” I realize it’s a precarious intellectual endeavor to idolize any culture or tradition, based on the great disparity even among those traditions, some of which were quite cruel, too. But I do appreciate the respect inherent in the type of thinking you portrayed in that comment.
My own affiliation is with age-old traditions like the Jains, whose idea of respect translates toward not inflicting deliberate harm. Even those of us modern people professing to be connected with nature — some hunters, some mountain bikers, some recreational outdoors people, some nature photographers (ahem) — are so far from real connection with the nature and animals in our midst, those traditional concepts seem positively ideal by comparison.
I ruminated quite a bit on our exchange here, and something came to me last night — while I couldn’t sleep, for all of the graphic images coming out of the Gulf. In addition to the disaster’s inherent horror, seeing the oiled birds brings up a number of feelings related to the oiled animals I’ve personally worked with. But that’s for a therapist’s couch, not you guys.
Anyway, have any of you read James William Gibson’s book, “A Reenchanted World”? The premise is that through modernity, we’ve moved from a world that had a level of enchantment — animism, nature spirits, human-animal language — to a disconnected, Cartesian and soulless existence, one that’s allowed humans to exploit rather than live in symbiosis with our environment.
This is obviously not a new idea — and the book, for its strengths, is a bit like a thesis: a reenactment of citations. But I recalled one area where he talks of ancient hunting rituals, and the agreements many of the ancients made with the earth — that in exchange for the privilege to hunt, they made a promise to do so in a sacred way, to care for the forests and the waters, to treat the earth as a living brother/mother/sister. And, when hunting, to recognize the animal as us, not a disembodied, disconnected being but rather a spirit with the same spirit energy as us.
He relays an anecdote by a hunter who’d been in WWII, and who, when killing a bear, heard it scream for the first time. Then when skinning the bear, saw not a bear’s carcass but the body of a woman. The Gibson writes “without its fur, the bear appeared human. It was the veteran’s last bear hunt.”
He does not write this in an anti-hunting context, but rather to illustrate a contrast between what he calls a modern idea of hunting for domination versus hunting by ancient rite, where “if a hunter acted in harmony with the land and its animals, then he might be rewarded with an opportunity to participate in that exchange.”
Remembering that passage is what led to a new thought — about what ties some of us here together, in spite of our differing views on hunting. I think a hunter who holds the earth sacred has more in common with me, an environmentalist who holds the earth sacred . . . than I would have in common with a non-hunter who cares nothing for the earth, or than you would have in common with a hunter who treats hunting as an act of sport without the spiritual obligation.
Therein lies the rub — the point to which I keep coming back. I see too much of the disrespect and so little of the reverential acts of earth worship. To me, the responsibility of engaging in nature in such a way that lives are taken demands the sacred in us. And I would hold recreational outdoors people like myself to the same standard as I hold hunters.
I have written at my own blog, about the frustration I’ve experienced with photographers who don’t understand their own place in the order of photographing wildlife. And actually, wildlife photographers do have an internally implemented standard of practice which is one of the reasons I feel qualified to comment at all about raising the standard of conduct by hunters as well. In wildlife photography, if it’s discovered that you baited an animal or disturbed a nestling or any other such violation of fairness and adherence to a nature photography code, you won’t lose your camera, but your work will fall in esteem. And it should, from my POV. There’s an internal policing of sorts which is along the lines of what I’m asking of the hunting establishment.
Anyway, for what that’s worth, I thought the commonality of how worshipfully we handle this earth is probably a more binding tie than how we realize our place in that sacred circle.
Re “I think a hunter who holds the earth sacred has more in common with me, an environmentalist who holds the earth sacred . . . than I would have in common with a non-hunter who cares nothing for the earth, or than you would have in common with a hunter who treats hunting as an act of sport without the spiritual obligation.”
Amen, Ingrid. While I have heard one animal rights group in particular searching for common ground in a way that strikes me as manipulative, I believe what you have said here is pure.
I think this is where many of us hunting writers can do the most good: Writing about how we feel about hunting creates a sense of acceptance for these feelings. As I’ve said before (probably here, can’t remember), I’ve written many things about hunting only to find veterans saying, “That’s how I feel too, but I’ve never been able to put it into words.” I think we also deal with the unwritten code among men to look tough, no matter how they feel. And then of course there are the morons who really just don’t care.
Ingrid, I’d love to meet you, maybe spend a day with you watching your wildlife photography, or rescue work. If you’re up for that, let me know: I have two-and-a-half months of summer break left, and only half of it is scheduled to death.
Thank you, Holly. Very much. A lovely response and much appreciated.
I’d enjoy meeting you as well. Right now, we’re prepping for a move, in and around other logistics. As much as we love our little Bay Area hovel, we learned the hard way that we can’t properly accommodate animals-in-rehab in our apartment. So, about the time I’ll be free, you’ll be heading back to school. But that wouldn’t necessarily preclude a get together sometime, a mutual convenience sort of thing.
I’ll send you my stats. Through your blog, the best way?
Around Northern California, the best wildlife photography coincides with hunting season. When our fall and winter migrants return, it’s a visual splendor, as I’m sure you know from being out in the wetlands and woods.
Jean, nice to make your acquaintance. I know what you mean about trying things out in a public forum. I’ve taken some verbal beatings for my views, and it can feel awfully precarious to step into the flame zone, not knowing how much grace people will show in the face of a philosophical counterpoint.
Bye, Tovar (she says, leaving a wake of tangents and hijacked threads . . .)
Ingrid: Best email for me is [email protected]. We’ll make it work one of these days, when the time is right.
Sorry not to reply here sooner. I was away for my once-a-year weekend of fishing with my uncle on Cape Cod.
I have not read Gibson’s book, but the ideas certainly resonate.
Your comment is beautifully put, Ingrid. And I believe it is right on the mark. It is easy to identify particular practices—like hunting, fishing, photography, or logging—and see doing or not-doing them as definitive of deeper commonality and difference. But I think that’s misleading.
As you put it, “how worshipfully we handle this earth is probably a more binding tie than how we realize our place in that sacred circle.” For some years, I viewed and lived in the world in a Jain-like way. Now, I see and live in a more animist-hunter-like way. The perspectives and experiences are different, but are also similar in important ways.
I, like you, want to see a raising of the standard of conduct among modern hunters; this is very much what Eric and his colleagues at Orion are up to. We need more respect and reverence for animals and earth. We need it across the board—from hunters and non-hunters, city dwellers and country dwellers, loggers and farmers. And, as Holly said, the feelings of respect and reverence that are already present among hunters need to be expressed more clearly, especially in ways that non-hunters can relate to and understand.
I haven’t been in California in nearly a decade. When next I’m there, I hope I have the opportunity to meet you and Holly both.
Thank you, Ingrid, Holly and Tovar, for a profoundly good conversation. Thank you for not making me feel foolish after I posted some of my thoughts.
Ingrid, I did not respond to all the things I should have in your replies. Please forgive, I am still working on some of this in my own mind and am a little afraid to try things out on a public forum.
Thank you and until we meet again,
It’s great having you in the conversation, Jean!
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