Food in an ideal world

What would your ideal, sustainable world look like?

The question—asked by Ingrid in the comments on my last post—made me stop and think. Ingrid wondered what solutions I see: solutions that would bring humanity into a balanced relationship with ecological systems, and reduce the suffering we inflict on our fellow creatures.

Years ago, I had a vision for such a world. In it, everyone would be vegan and all would be well.

In one sense, I no longer have that kind of vision. I don’t know how many humans the planet can support or for how long. I don’t know what resource conservation-and-management approaches might work globally.

Take food, for instance. I don’t subscribe to any universal “sustainable food” paradigm. (Over the years I’ve let a lot of subscriptions lapse, to magazines and ideologies alike.) I don’t know how to feed 6.9 billion people. In fact, I don’t think there is any one way. I’m more inclined to think in terms of specific, local approaches.

In the Arctic, for example, I imagine hunting will continue to be central to a sustainable food system. In places like Vermont, hunting will play a much less significant role. Though wild meat is central for some families, Vermonters drag home only a million pounds of deer and moose meat each year—less than two pounds of meat per state resident.

Moose track

In another sense, though, I do still have a universal vision, for today, for tomorrow, and for whatever future comes our way:

  • I’m convinced that our behavior ought to be rooted in respect and reciprocity, restraint and compassion. I think that all of us—humans, other animals, and the planet—will benefit if we Homo sapiens cultivate genuine regard, for ecological systems and for individual creatures.
  • I also believe that our relationships with nature ought to be rooted in celebration, in a deep appreciation for the material world and our participation in it, for all the lives and deaths intertwined with ours.

That’s part of why I hunt. Hunting is one of the ways I cultivate that attitude of respect, that awareness and compassion, that sense of mindful engagement and appreciation.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Neil H says:

    Thanks again, Tovar, for another thought provoking post.

    I recently had a friend suggest to me that overpopulation, which is an issue of mine, was a myth, that numbers are stabilizing. I’ve seen that too, in pretty mainstream sources like National Geographic. The numbers they come up with are on the order of 10 billion. So while that might be fine for averting mass famine, some of us, I suspect most of your readers, don’t consider the entire biosphere a life support system just for humanity.

    If 10 billion people were all bicycle riding vegans, or lived in the way of the Lakota or Costanoans, it wouldn’t be sustainable. At some point we’re too far out on the limb, vulnerable to the slightest gust of wind. I would suggest that climbing back in is the answer, rather than figuring out ways to sustain more people in an ever more precarious position.

    I’d like to see a future where a variety of approaches; more integrated animal husbandry into farms, some vegetarian, some eating less meat, and a variety of other approaches can all be part of the solution to more environmentally integrated food. Things seem to be just beginning to move in a more positive direction, and I like your idea of a common approach being rooted in a philosophy of respect and reverence, rather than a one-sized-fits-all mentality. Different people in in a variety ecosystems will need solutions that are equally diverse.

    Hunting will never be a mass source of food. But hunting does a lot to foster the awareness you describe, creating stakeholders in maintaining wild lands in addition to being an excellent management tool when used properly. It is one of our oldest connections to land.

    As long as we have nearly the populace we have, yes, some large scale production of food will be needed, hopefully done in a thoughtful way. It’s my hope we can slowly move away from the idea of feeding more and more with less, and move towards a more balanced place on the planet.

  2. Brian says:

    Like you I believe in reverence for the world and nature. Like you also mentioned the notion of ‘a global solution’ is a bit of a phantom. Formulating ideals of a neatly packaged global sustainability amongst vastly different ecologies and cultures also typically postulates a form of homogenous environmental relationships (normally those of the hegemon).

    Hunting cannot be major form of food supply as people often point out, but nor can domestic meat sources. I thinking hunting highlights this quite neatly. In my sparsely populated province (<4million) we could no doubt not all eat venison but we could probably eat farmed animals. However this is because the farmed animals have input and ouptut externalities that extend far beyond the borders of the province, country and continent, not so for the vension.

    The idea of balance also interests me. My biology prof friend often counters this concept, saying the nature shouldn't be balanced as we conceive of balance, but is more akin to a rubber ball bouncing off the wall; entropic. Ecologists seems to have abandoned the idea of balanced, 'agricultural' type management paradigms of fixed carrying capacity (now vehemently debated amongst elephant ecologists for example), strictly surpressed fires or square pasture-like controlled burns (fire surpression being almost totally, understandably, economic, especially in forests and that has led to umpteen forest health issues) etc.

    I think it was Thomas Homer-Dixon or Jared Diamond who wrote that we will still see rapid population increases globally (but not always regionally) because of the demographic momentum from girls alive now who are still reaching the age of motherhood. However if each women alive today was to bear only one child we would be down to 4.5bil people in 50 years (IIRC). Of course that impinges on basic rights to have children and also opens the issues of gender equality and issues of religious freedoms to go forth and multiple (and that my friends offers us a whole other debate!!).

  3. Ingrid says:

    I agree with everyone here, and have stated previously, that population is probably the core issue in any sustainability model. When engaged at all in the mainstream, the discussion tends to cover just numerical overpopulation (read: an issue for other less developed regions to contend with), while not taking into account the variety of consumption overpopulation we practice here and in other developed countries.

    I don’t have kids and opted not to have kids because of my strong environmental inclinations. But I don’t advocate for a child-free lifestyle. It’s still a choice. It’s just a shame that taking steps to reduce our reproductive numbers (as Brian points out), is viewed as an impingement on our rights, rather than a valued choice about our future as a species and a planet. So much of that perception has to do with the prevailing cultural memes, I realize.

    I think population, more than our agricultural, industrial or hunter/gatherer models determines the condition of our earth and ecology. I realize it’s all the rage to glamorize the hunter/gatherer model in these terms. But when you look at the various studies done on Neolithic deforestation practices — and even late Mesolithic, which would be considered pre-agricultural — it’s clear that even early hunter/gatherers wreaked havoc on the land and exploited it in some damaging ways to enhance their hunting success. It’s probable that the damage was limited simply by virtue of their limited population numbers.

    I believe in local and global sustainability models, unlike some here. But I don’t think any true success in this regard is possible without addressing the critical component of our expanding ranks. World population has doubled since I was born, and we know what the projections are in terms of exponential growth, barring biological or other control mechanisms.

  4. As one who spends a lot to supply my family with clean meat, and reasonable access to recreation, I work at trying to make the children I am charged with educating aware of the major forces at work in the world. I used to raise my own vegetables, but now live in an apartment, trying to save $ for a place of my own, where I can once again raise food in a controlled environment.
    I have a poster on population growth in my classroom that came out of the National Geographic, entitled “7 Billion on Earth.”
    While I can tout all sorts of possible remedies, I think one thing that will need to be taken into account, and that’s the Earth’s climate changes. With potentially catastrophic changes in Ocean levels, wiping out the lodgings of Millions of people, it will be more than just Water Wars that we’ll be waging, but wars over rights to unclaimed territory, food production, and this will be happening soon. In Africa, it’s happening already, in Darfur and other sub-Saharan countries.
    So, we have these future spectres hovering over our dinner plates, and yet I see the beginnings of a mindset that seeks to address some or all of these issues. As we set up the models for cultural change in the face of adversity, let’s comfort each other in the knowledge that we can have these discussions practically anywhere (for now), and make some sort of headway, while the ability is still available. Otherwise, we’ll have profiteers and naysayers controlling the education and governments, and we’ll simply get to watch it all follow the path of denial and propaganda, as we sink in our own filth.
    The Eat Local/Locovore model has a lot of catch-up to play, so better get crackin!

  5. I think the world is too complex and mutable a place for any of us to predict with any certainty how we’re going to handle feeding people. As I try to coax as much of my own food as possible out of my little patch of ground, and the woods and water around me, I become increasingly convinced that efficiency is all. I can putter around in my garden and grow iffy radishes, but I’m acutely aware that it’s a luxury. If the world needs radishes, they have to be grown by someone who knows what he’s doing, grows them in a hospitable climate, and does it in volume. The unpardonable excesses of Big Agriculture have made a lot of us turn our backs on the idea of economies of scale in food production, but I do think that’s where we need to go.

    I also think science can help. This morning, in my garden, some of the healthiest plants are the ones I’m growing hydroponically. I farm oysters, and we get specially bred triploid seed that’s disease resistant, sterile, and doesn’t spawn and become thin and milky. Finfish aquaculture is getting better, cleaner, and cheaper. And let’s not forget GM organisms. While there are potential problems we have to be aware of, there is also the possibility that more efficient, nutritious crops (e.g. Golden Rice, rich in vitamin A) can come out of the lab.

    There you have it. Big Agriculture and Frankenfoods, my vision of the future! Just not as we’ve had them in the past.

  6. Al Cambronne says:

    We humans are too numerous. It’s that simple.

    My ideal, sustainable world would have far fewer of us living in it. I’m now fortunate to live in a rural area that’s pretty sparsely populated. But I realize not everyone has that luxury. And those survivalists’ fantasies of living off the land and eating fresh fish and venison every day are just that–fantasies. After civilization collapses, it would only be a matter days before we’d be fighting over the remaining squirrels and their acorns.

    Earlier in my life, I’ve visited or lived in some large Asian cities, places like Hong Kong, Seoul, and Taipei. If I could choose, I’d certainly rather have more of the planet look like my neighborhood rather than the Kowloon Peninsula, or even Suburban Taipei. But we seem headed toward a very different future.

    I also lived in rural Taiwan and got to see what intensive, small-scale agriculture looked like. A lot of hard work to eke out a small living from very small acreage. At the time I was working at an international ag research center, where I had a small glimpse of what’s possible with conventional plant breeding. I’m not an expert on this stuff, but I don’t think genetic engineering, even if it were without risk (and it’s not), could take us a lot farther.

    I think we’re now bumping into a lot of limits. Modern agriculture in the developed world is based on cheap petroleum for fuel and fertilizer. Aquaculture is great, but those fish still need to be fed something before they can feed us. I also read something recently about phosphorus. It’s a key fertilizer that gets less attention than nitrogen, but that’s available in very finite amounts. We could run out in less than a century. That one factor could change everything.

    But, as others have noted, our population is still growing rapidly. That’s inevitable.

    Here’s the question… Even if we could somehow feed 11 billion people, is that the kind of world we’d want to live in????

    I’m depressed. Back to work for a bit, and then I must go and cultivate my garden.

  7. Erik Jensen says:

    I think it’s a good question, Tovar, and I’ll get to my answer in a minute, after weighing in on people’s responses…

    I think the obsession with no children as an environmental choice in rich countries is a poor one to focus on. In first world countries, including the U.S., birth rates are down as women (as a general trend) get richer and more free. The only countries that are maintaining their population through birth rates are Nordic countries and France, and I think the U.S. Nordic countries and France essentially pay people to have children to compensate for the work of bringing up the next generation, and have generous maternity and paternity leave programs. These are essentially feminist programs (they help women stay in the work force while raising children and not become poor if they divorce). Even with these generous supports, Nordic countries and France still have an average of two children per family (as is the case in the U.S., a substantial minority of women have no children, and a minority has three or more children but it evens out to two). The population increases are from people living longer and immigration. The population increases in the U.S. are also from immigration and aging. About one in five American women have no children, and a minority have more than two, and another slice has only one. Most of us that have kids in the U.S. have two, and like it that way (my wife and I are in this group).

    It is generally in poor countries where women have a lot less freedoms that population is exploding, esp countries where conservative theologies have strong hold.

    Overpopulation is a big issue, esp given that the poor of the world want what the majority of us in the first world have (naturally), but a huge problem with the comments is that they totally ignore wealth distribution and lifestyle. A huge slice of first worlders and a small slice of the population in poorer countries, the ultra-rich and the upper middle class, use way more than they need and impact the planet a lot of with all their energy intensive toys, unused home space, manicured lawns, and commercialized leisure. Social scientists have studied this and none of this makes you any happier as a person. Having a good basic standard of living and then enough time with family and friends is what will. Here I’ll really step on what are often seen as ‘basic freedoms”…How about taking a bunch of the elites’ money and eliminating poverty and pouring resources into “green jobs”, sustainable agriculture (which can be highly productive per acre if done right), shorter workweeks and more leisure..part of the leisure can be low-impact outdoor recreation, of which hunting and angling (if done without too much mechanized support and other caveats) can be part of the mix ?

    • Tovar says:

      Good thoughts, Erik. I think Ingrid is getting at your point about “wealth distribution and lifestyle” when she talks about “consumption overpopulation.”

      The proposal you make in your last sentence makes a lot of sense. With it, we’d probably all be happier and better off. In the current U.S. political climate, however, it’s untenable (as you suggest in mentioning the ideas about “basic freedoms” on which your proposal steps).

      • Ingrid says:

        Thanks, Tovar, yes, that’s definitely what I was getting at. It was sometimes referred to it as the Indian ratio. And it used to be 12:1 when I was studying environmental science (1 American kid consumed, at that time, what 12 Indian children would). The world’s parameters have obviously changed quite a bit since that time.

  8. Hi all,
    2 quick points – got to analyse data although this is far more rewarding!. I want to mention two points we need to ponder; topics often bandied about with a romantic halo:

    1) The growth in peri-urban acreages in many westernized countries. We love this idea (I do too) as it enables us to return to our roots, grow food, hunt close to home and have green space. Its terrible for the environment. Most people commenting here seem to do do all those things in earnest, but most acreage owners dont. They still work in the city, drive, and all those properties require roads, power, sewage, drive ways, lawns etc etc etc. Brad Stefox from Alces systems (just google it) has shown the attendant linear impacts from this boom in decentralization and peri-urban subdivisions is wreaking havoc on biodiversity, habitat and agriculture; its almost like mega sprawl. Its a nice idea to have people ‘homesteading’ but the reality is that most dont live more self sufficiently, they just use more energy than if they lived closer to the city, and create more impacts.

    2) Local food movements – how big can they get? NY city can concievably not convert to the 100mile diet as they may not be able be grow enough food in that radius. So where to next for local food production? Of course my example is flippant. Large centres can still try to source food locally as defined by say a state or province border for example, instead of buying tomatoes in Toronto that are grown in Zambia… Its a good point to ponder as we advocate for more local food.

    I live in a dissonant view – I like the idea of a self sufficient acreage but also see the value in medium density multi-use urbanism in mid size cities as a means to reduce our foot prints (when coupled with more effective agro-geography).

    ITO affluence = larger footprints: well undoubtledly yes, most of it being externalized. The problems in many of the poorer regions is localized short term damages like erosion, surface water pollution etc. Most of us export much of that of course. Structural issues also abound, such as capturing of resources by elites and the damage to marginal land by the poorest trying to eek out a living – Homer-Dixon has some very good case studies on this in Phillipines, RSA etc in his book Eco-Violence (no I am not a raging conflict Marxist either).

    OK back to work…later.

    • Tovar says:

      Good points, Brian. I’m with you, both in your concerns and in your dissonance, living as I do on a small acreage in the woods, abutting hundreds of acres of timberland which abut thousands of acres of state forest.

      I considered including some basic math in this post, dividing global arable acreage by current global population. As you suggest, the numbers come out like this: If everyone gets a slice of heaven, pretty soon heaven is sliced and diced.

      • Thanks Tovar,

        I forgot to emphasise in that hasty reply that my views are not an indictment on acreage owners. We are hoping to do that one of these days too but when I saw Stelfox’s presentation on the cumulative linear impacts (and their concomittant layers of buffering) from this rapidly increasing popularity of ‘county living’, I was astounded. Ironically although those properties could produce food most dont and they drive ag lands further from the cities, compounding the transport issues the local food movements seeks to attenuate. Of course we lose hunting land too.

        • Erik Jensen says:

          Brian’s comments illustrate another one of those political paradoxes…urbanists (a large share of whom don’t hunt or view it negatively) and hunters, (a big chunk of whom view city living and urban people negatively, due to more common anti-hunting sentiment amongst that group), should actually be allies. I suspect if we all could telecommute (which we can’t), acreage ownership could be a much better option for the environment, esp if you were into growing food and eating the numerous deer and small game that are on these exurban places.

            • Ingrid says:

              This is interesting, especially what Brian points out as the paradox of owning acreage, yet living an urban lifestyle. I’ve always dreamed that if I had the means to acquire such acreage, I’d strive to make it a model of the things Brian describes, including making it an integral part of the community and its resources somehow. Of course, making a place entirely self-sustaining and waste-free often takes a significant financial investment (solar panels, gray water treatment, etc), so, in general, peoples’ choices in this regard are limited by the paycheck.

              In my case, it would also have to be a safe haven for wildlife, so, sorry, no animal protein derived on my parcel, guys. 🙂 Hugh and I joke that we’re not sure where we could actually find acreage among other non-hunters and wildlife rehabbers. Maybe in exorbitantly priced Marin County? My experiences of living in rural areas where acreage is quite possible, have, unfortunately, been characterized by neighbors who liked shooting (a lot) which is a bit tough on this old pacifist.

              Anyway, I’ve appreciated the conversation here on “country living.” Will look into some readings on this topic.

              • Tovar says:

                It may not surprise you, Ingrid, to know that I once had a “safe haven” vision much like yours. And, noise-wise, I’m still glad that my immediate neighbors don’t do any shooting to speak of, at least not at home.

                • Ingrid says:

                  It doesn’t surprise me at all, Tovar. I have told several people, when we engage on the topic of hunting, that if more hunters were as judicious you are, I would have never become so persistent in my criticism of hunting. If I was ever forced into hunting for some unforeseen reason, I could see my background forming my [reluctant] need to hunt, the way your background formed yours. Among my fellow wildlife rehabilitators, I haven’t met any who’ve become hunters after working in the rehabilitation setting. I’ve met those who’ve stopped hunting after they start working hands-on with wildlife. That’s not to diminish the work of those who both hunt and rehabilitate wildlife, which I know happens. In discussing hunting at length here, I’ve often wondered if one like me could ever raise a weapon toward an animal that I have been indoctrinated to protect.

                  • That’s interesting, Ingrid.

                    I know quite a few folks involved in conservation related work. Many are hunters, almost all are pro-hunting to some degree, even if weakly so, acknowledging its utility even if personally uncomfortable with it or even if they choose not to do do it themselves. Only very few are in some way opposed to hunting.

                    Many of those hunters see their hunting and their love of wildlife and desire for conservation work as integrated, not oppositional.

                    I used to be ambivalent about lion hunting. Currently I am very critical of its status quo (from the info I have) and while see its relevance in some areas I agree its future is bleak from a conservation standpoint. Right now I have no desire to ever kill an african lion. Ironically it was when I was doing lion research many years ago and actually working with the cats in the field that I really really wanted to hunt one!

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Brian, in the end, I think whether one can hunt or not (outside of starvation or genuine subsistence issues) depends on fundamental constitutional individuality. I’ve known quite a lot of hunters and many of them speak of this drive, often predatory in nature. The truth is, even though I was exposed to hunting at a young age, I never felt the drive. Or, it’s possible I channel what could be construed as my predation instincts into other pursuits.

                      Since I can remember, though, my sensitivity toward animals precluded any activity which involved harm or killing. The first salmon I ever caught was also my last. I didn’t sleep well for weeks. It’s quite possible that the people who are drawn into hands-on wildlife rehabilitation (as opposed to other types of conservation pursuits) have a different constitutional makeup to begin with.

                      I have joked here previously that there must be more than two subspecies of humans. If so, I definitely evolved as prey, whereas someone who enjoys hunting probably belongs to subspecies H. sapiens praedator.

                  • Tovar says:

                    Over the years, Ingrid, I’ve learned to appreciate and enjoy many things about the process and experience of hunting. Raising the weapon isn’t one of them.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Totally get that. A friend of mine in forestry management was also a skilled sharp shooter. He killed one ungulate each winter (usually deer) because he lived up at his fire post through the seasons and that was his sustenance. Based on what I knew about him, he killed swiftly and with good judgment in terms of shot placement, etc. Ironically, for all of his hunting and forestry experience, he disliked many other hunters. He was the one out there in the dawn light, staring down at hunters’ tire tracks over the crushed saplings he’d just planted. There is clearly, as Brian points out, a delineation between conservation minded folk (hunters or not) and those who just don’t give a damn. Unfortunately, those in the latter camp are still permitted to use their weapons.

  9. John McConnaughy says:

    Good post and good comments!

    Neil H: Thank you, thank you for discussing population in terms other than “how many people can the earth support?” Posing the question that way seems to imply that avoiding catastrophe constitutes success. It’s as though we defined ‘clean’ water as ‘non-flammable’, because some rivers were so badly polluted before the Clean Water Act that they caught fire. “How do we avoid turning ‘the entire biosphere in a a life support system for humanity’?” is a far better question.
    Your friend’s complacency is really tragic though. We know how to bring down birth rates, and have done so in many countries as diverse as Thailand and Iran. But, with the job half done, we seem to have lost the will to put resources and energy into it! In the meantime, the planet’s population is increasing by nearly 80 million a year, with 30 million births resulting from unintended pregnancies.

    Brian Joubert et al.: the discussion about acreage is quite interesting. I’m wondering whether anyone has considered part-time or seasonal rural acreage. I’m thinking of the “dachas” that are so common in Russia. The owners generally live in city apartments and take public transit to work.
    The dachas are used seasonally and/or on weekends. No old fashioned dacha would be complete without a garden, and if there’s a family member who can stay there during the week, they may raise pigs or chickens as well. Dacha gardens supplied a significant portion of the food people needed during the first few years after the USSR broke up. The dachas themselves (the old fashioned ones anyway) are generally small and lack modern conveniences, and are therefore pretty low impact.
    Perhaps a similar set-up could provide the benefits of rural acreage while maintaining the lower footprint of urban living. Just a thought.

    And, Tovar, thanks for your original post — there aren’t any one size fits all solutions.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, John. Your comments are always much appreciated. Interesting thoughts on the “dacha model”…

  10. Neil H says:

    Tovar and Ingrid: Interesting thoughts about rural land and the changing face of it. The idea of having relationships with people and developing access in these small pockets of land is dear to my heart; though we have some family land in trust passed down from my great great grandfather, one of my favorite places to hunt is about a half hour from my home in San Francisco [wave out window to Ingrid]. The property has had issues with sensitive suburban ranchette neighbors before, when someone was guiding on it. So I’m very sensitive to respect of property lines, agreements with neighbors about how far I’ll hunt from them (more than the legal distance), and how I and other hunters were perceived. I intentionally emphasize tradition, carry a classic wood stocked hunting rifle, maintain a non-militaristic appearance, and old fashioned manners. Fear, ignorance and people with differing values moving in are some of the big reasons people don’t allow access, and it’s up to each of us to change those views and make sure people’s worst suspicions are unfounded if we want hunting to carry forward on the ever-shrinking parcels of land.

    My next acquisition will be an air rifle so I can discreetly hunt turkeys on a different 2 acre parcel in the suburbs. While I could conceivably be legal distance for a shotgun, the neighbors, who probably don’t love the huge amount of turkeys, would freak if I fired a shotgun.

    John: Thanks for the kind words about how this problem is discussed. This is something that I think is missing from much of this debate. We are fortunate to live in a young country with relatively large amounts of natural land. When I was a child, many of the rivers in California were already dammed, diverted, or otherwise tampered with, but we could still catch and eat wild steelhead. Now that is gone, and the fishery is a shadow of itself, and more water is being drained to huge cities in the south and giant desert farms that are needed to feed a growing population. When I think of reasons that I’ve not had children, the fact that I couldn’t take them to fish a true, wild river in our great state is high among them.

    • Ingrid says:

      Neil, can you educate me on air rifles? That is, can a person kill a turkey humanely with one? My primary experience with them comes from encounters with kids who shoot at just about everything, including protected songbirds, so I’ve had negative associations with that form of “discretion.” I didn’t realize one could hunt effectively for birds like turkeys, but I imagine there are caliber and power differentiations? Thanks for the info. I might have a different view of them if I’m better informed.

      • Neil H says:

        Hi Ingrid: I wish I could educate you on air rifles in general, but I can’t. Only my intended purpose and a solution to a particular situation. My plans are still embryonic and I’m actually still sorting it out, and I’d have to do a lot of testing before I actually tried to hunt with one.

        I was forbidden to have one as a child and even as a teenager, and my police officer father thought they were dangerous toys, even though I was allowed to possess in my room a 20 gauge shotgun that I bought with my paper route money when I was 10 or 12. A shotgun is a serious tool that demands respect, but a bb gun is seen as easier to misuse.

        There are modern air rifles, and the key word is rifle, that can shoot a .22 caliber projectile at 1200 feet per second, basically the same as a normal .22 caliber rifle. It’s actually illegal to hunt turkeys with a regular .22, but an air rifle is ok given sufficient power, and a careful shot with a scope could allow killing a head shot on rather unwary suburban or farm dwelling birds. My interest is purely in the fact that this is less threatening to neighbors than the discharge of a shotgun. All other legal guidelines, ie, game laws, distance from dwellings, are basically the same.

        So really it’s application that determines whether it is humane, safe and legal, rather that the intrinsic qualities of the object. It’s like whether a bicycle is a legitimate, legal vehicle or a toy. I know many people that are responsible vehicle operators that deserve equal respect, but then there’s those hipsters on fixies running red lights…

  11. Interesting comments about air rifles.

    Niel you are quite correct about the effectiveness of modern 1000fps+ models, especially in .22 and .25 cal. Many folks use them for small game quite effectively (eg hares or upland birds where legal).

    One thing to think of: 1200fps does replicate the velocity of a typical .22lr HV load BUT that is typically with a 38-40gr bullet. A typical .22 pellet is normally less than half of that weight. This means the .22lr bullet will have way more momentum and also no-boubt better BC (and hold it velocity better further downrange, this may be a moot point given the close ranges pellets are, or should, be used at).

    Momentum unfortunately gets little attention in gun-speak. We all love energy- the glamorous child of velocity- but energy figures without a corresponding bullet weight parameter are, well, nearly pointless. By way of example – a .220 swift with a little 50gr bullet gives you 1650 ft/lbs at the muzzle while the venerable .30-30 with a 170gr bullet gives you about 1800. Hardly any difference! I know which one I would choose for deer! Energy gives a disproportionate (squared) benefit to velocity, momentum doesn’t. We often hear “you need 1500 ft/lbs at the muzzle in a deer gun” or what ever other pearls of wisdom – that means without a bullet size parameter that .220 makes a great deer gun! A .300 Weatherby churns out as much muzzle energy as a .375 H&H – the .375 is a classic buffalo cartridge, the .300 is a terrible choice (buts its waaaay faster).

    I always balk at proclamations of ‘you need X foot pounds to kill a moose’. What you need is enough bullet in the vitals to kill a moose and that bullet needs to to be big enough and going fast enough (and be constructed well enough) to do that, energy only tells us a small part of that story…but I am digressing now and sounding like I am lecturing…haha, I am not, just sharing info, hope you dont mind!

    My point about all this is that while a .22 air rifle can be used very effectively on small game just because it reaches 1200fps doesnt quite put in in the same league as a .22lr, because it’s shooting less than half the bullet!

    PS have you seen those ‘silent’ shotgun barrels? Might be what you need for peri-urban use, if legal
    I am a big fan of suppressed guns, too bad I cant have one for legal reasons, I would hunt with one for sure, better for my ears, less stress for game etc etc

    • Tovar says:

      Good technical points, Brian. As one who knew little about firearms, selecting my first deer rifle was a somewhat bumbling endeavor!

    • Neil H says:

      Thanks for the information Brian. Perhaps I overstated my “next acquisition” statement, I’m still researching the practicality. Your information about projectile weight sounds spot on, and something I understand well enough in rifles, but it wasn’t something I’d thought of with the air rifle yet. I know some farmers that use them for turkey depredation, and they seem to have no trouble.

      The fact is, I have a whole list of non-hunting related expenditures before I can buy one, and even then I need a decent shotgun first. My wife and I have been missing poultry. Hence the turkey hunting. In addition to that spot I have another location where sound is an issue as the birds roost near the front of the property. A bow, frankly, might be just as worthwhile and more versatile an expenditure. Any purchase I make has to have maximum utility in food to expense in order to justify it.

      Any air rifle, frankly, would have the primary purpose of cheap and quiet rifle practice. Interesting point on suppressors. They are, of course, illegal in California. In some other countries, it is illegal to hunt without them, or at least inconsiderate.

      • Ingrid says:

        The suppressor issue is one that frustrates me because the noise does cause additional trauma to wildlife in hunting zones (and to people). It seems the possession of one is so strictly regulated, it’s not practical for anyone to have one, even in areas where they’re legal. Is that pretty much the issue? Is it for the crime potential?

        I see enough wild animal mayhem from fireworks. A few months later, more significant fire in the zones where I roam around. I’m thinking of duck hunting, primarily which I’m not sure could be done with a silenced weapon, anyway. Do you know?

        Neil, are you referring to Scandinavian countries in terms of where it’s illegal to hunt without them? I recall Finland being one such place. As someone who’s seen wildlife bow injuries go very bad, it bothers me that a bow might end up being a better option than a weapon with a suppressor. Would a gun with a suppressor dampen the sound enough to make some of these hunting areas possible for you? I believe rangers use suppressors when they’re culling herds (as in Rocky Mountain National Park).

        • Tovar says:

          Forgive me for this aside, folks: Taking one of your lines out of context for a moment, Ingrid — “I’m thinking of duck hunting” — I got mental whiplash. 😉

          • Ingrid says:

            ha, ha. Didn’t even catch that. But then, you know how I am about proofing on the fly. We’ve joked about me in my ghillie/tree suit. I mean, I have half the gear to get me there, don’t I Tovar? And a friend gave me a hunting blind for Christmas (for photography) which is getting little use because it’s huge and I can’t find a place to set it up where I won’t get some serious negative scrutiny. Imagine me being mistaken for a hunter. It might just ruin my year. 🙂

        • Ingrid says:

          btw: didn’t mean to suggest rangers are using suppressed shotguns to shoot elk. I do know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle, but I’ve never been so educated as I am now. Thanks Brian and Neil.

          • Tovar says:

            Sound-suppressed rifles are used by sharpshooters culling in suburban settings, too, I believe. Given their skill and the circumstances — hunting over bait at night, taking precision head shots — they often use much lower-powered rifles than are typical for deer hunting.

        • Neil H says:

          Ingrid: I think crime is the theory behind their illegality, but it probably has more basis in television than fact. I can see it now, ” Local vegan woman advocates hunting with a silencer”. I’d be fine with one if they were available. , just to be neighborly, and have less overall impact, not to mention for my own ears.

          On archery: When I first started hunting again, a few of my city friends asked if hunting with a bow would be more “sporting”. I replied that while hunting might be considered a game of skill, killing shouldn’t be. A high powered rifle with a scope gives me the best chance of killing as quickly as possible. So yes, that’s something I’ve thought about. That’s actually why I thought of the air rifle for turkeys first.

          Ironically, a bow does open up more opportunities. I have always wanted to shoot a bow, but I’m not sure to what degree that will enter into hunting. If it makes you feel any better, I’d probably be even more conservative with a bow.

          • Ingrid says:

            I can see it now, ” Local vegan woman advocates hunting with a silencer”.

            Yes, and the reason she cites is “I just don’t wanna know about it!”

            Funny, Neil.

  12. John McConnaughy says:

    You’re welcome Neil, and thank you for the phrase “life support system for humanity”. I’ll have to remember that one. In terms of what it means — the implications of using so much of the planet’s biological capacity to support homo sapiens — I saw an interesting article in the Canadian magazine, “The Walrus”, titled “The 10 % World”. It’s not specifically about population, but ‘historical ecology’, the study of ecological changes over time spans too long for individuals to readily perceive.
    A couple years ago I ran into a friend at a shooting range, who had a ‘big bore’ air rifle. I believe it was .50 caliber, and it used a conical muzzle-loader slug and a compressed air canister filled with a pump for scuba tanks. It was pretty quiet, although by no means silent, and quite accurate. My son tried a shots with it after me, at 25 yards. It looked like he’d missed the target completely, until we realized the hole from my shot was no longer round, but sort of ‘amoebic’.
    My friend said they’re powerful enough for deer and even moose, and he’s pretty knowledgeable about guns. (He’s a state trooper, and was working for a joint task force investigating, among other things, federal firearm violations committed by gang members.) Might be worth looking into.

    • Neil H says:

      John: I’ll look the 10% world article up.

      Really though, I think I started this stealth weapon tangent with an offhand remark about hunting a little quieter on a small piece of land for turkeys!

      I think there are things we can carry away from your blog post (and frankly the rest of the conversation), Tovar. First, that population seems the common concern for any balanced food system(s). And in everything we’ve discussed, respect, diversity and understanding are essential; There is no one solution.

      • Tovar says:

        Thanks, Neil. Yes, there are takeaways here and all these things are connected, including the various tangential discussions, by which I am always surprised and delighted.

  13. Regarding my post about the acreages: I was reading a 2009 Alberta Conservation Assoc. magazine last night and a conservation philanthropist from Calgary, David Bisset, who has donated millions to DU and ACA believes that “…the perimeter of the city should not be turned into ‘ranchettes’; its inefficient and counterproductive from a conservation view point”. He says he has seen upland bird habitat be decimated by this ‘country lifestyle’ sprawl in his adult life (and over grazing and large, non-fragmented crop lands)
    Now in the vain of tangential-to-the-post topics:
    Neil: I have no doubt the .22 air rifles are very effective at appropriate ranges! I am just like you – my purchase must have some utility. Sounds like a bow would be worthwhile for you. I was just scouting a bowhunting property this afternoon! I am also a minimalist and have reduced my hunting ‘toys’ to a single rimfire, single centrefire and a bow. I sold my shotgun but a new one will be arriving soon. I do like arms though and have a ‘dream-list’ of about 7 specific rifles/calibres, 2 rimfires and 3 or 4 shotguns. I have stopped buying cheap rifles just because they are ‘there’. I also work a few days a month in a gun store so get to play with all kinds of ‘must haves’! 😉 I would rather own fewer but higher quality guns now. I was offered a nice old Sako Vixen .222 the other day – a grand old rifle – but a .222 would be a toy for me with no real hunting utility. My grad student budget is tight too! Like you I think conservative when I shoot and with my bow I will be significantly more so!
    Suppressors: I think crime is main concern but here’s the irony. In the UK they are encouraged; in RSA they are quite common. Both of these countries, especially the UK, have far more draconian restrictions on gun ownership than either the US or Canada, yet silencers are seen in the hunting field! I am not sure if there is any evidence to support the crime theory…I should look into it. John Lott would no-doubt know. As Tovar mentioned I have used supressed rifles in ‘culls’ in RSA– these are spotlight night time operations on reserves in order to remove a lot of game in a short time period with minimal stress and in order to keep the meat marketable only brain shots are allowed. My old boss had shot 5000 impala like this in his 40 year career, most with a supressed .22, or a .233 in more open country (these by the way are not fun – its management butchery, bloody and very hard work through the night).

    • Tovar says:

      Brian: Interesting comment by Bisset. And the culling work really does sound like gruesome hard work.

      A brief note to all who are still subscribed to comments on this discussion (or any other discussion here, for that matter): I’ll be doing some website maintenance very soon, probably tomorrow. At some point, I will be turning off comments temporarily. So if you’re going to leave one, be sure to type it up somewhere else, then copy and paste it here. I’d hate to have it get lost just as I flipped a switch!

      Similarly, I’ll be changing over to a new comment-notification plugin. I suspect that all past comment-subscriptions will be lost when I do that. If someone leaves another comment on this thread after tomorrow, you wouldn’t get an email. On the bright side, the initial settings on the new plugin will allow you to subscribe to comments on a post (including this one) without leaving a comment. Among other things, this will allow for much more sophisticated lurking… 🙂

      • Ingrid says:

        Are you leaving WordPress or is it a plugin that allows subscribing to comments without posting? Curious for my own selfish reasons.

        • Tovar says:

          Oh, I’m sticking with WordPress and am moving over to the Thesis theme, which you’re already using. In making that switch, I’m also trying a different comment plugin:

          I’m making a few minor customizations to it, and looking forward to a few other options that are supposed to be forthcoming with the next version. Check out how I’m using it and see what you think. Feel free to fire questions my way if you have any…

Comments are closed.