A few nights ago, coyotes yipped and howled nearby. I was delighted to hear them.
Granted, I was in bed at the time. My sentiments would, I suspect, be substantially different if I was, say, deep in the woods with a turned ankle and no flashlight.
The next day I got thinking about those wild yelps, and about coyotes.
Here in Vermont, some hunters are happy to have coyotes around, and never think of killing them. Other hunters despise coyotes and shoot them at every opportunity. Still others are somewhere in the middle: perhaps ambivalent, perhaps hunting them occasionally, perhaps happy to co-exist as long as Fido and Sylvester aren’t getting snatched from the backyard.
These hunters would, I imagine, respond in various ways to Aldo Leopold’s thoughts about predators on the land:
Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.
What catches my eye in that passage is the word “game.”
As a broad category, of course, it simply indicates creatures that we hunt or catch. “Game” says deer, not shrew. It says grouse, not egret. It says bass, not minnow.
But doesn’t it also say something else?
By saying “game,” don’t we stake some kind of claim on these creatures? Don’t we define them as somehow different from other “wildlife,” perhaps one step closer to “livestock,” to “property”?
When hunters talk about what impact coyotes do or don’t have on white-tailed deer numbers, isn’t the entire discussion built on the very idea of “game”? On the notion that deer—almost like cows and sheep, or Fido and Sylvester—are, at least in part, off-limits to coyotes?
What are the consequences of believing that certain wild animals should be killed and eaten only—or at least mostly—by two-footed predators, not four-footed?
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli