Hunters and other whackos

The word “hunting” or “hunter” catches my ear. Then I hear my name.

I’m at a gathering of neighbors and a friend has just told a couple acquaintances that I hunt. Catching a few more words, I can sense their astonishment from across the room. He seems like a nice enough guy, I imagine them thinking. You wouldn’t think he was part of that deranged, bloodthirsty lot.

Photo credit: Steve Wright

Ten or fifteen years earlier, I would have been in their shoes. I would have reacted from the same viewpoint: Modern hunters don’t have to kill to survive. They kill because they want to. Wanting to kill is a sign of ignorance, sadism, or worse.

To be sure, there are some nasty, sadistic hunters out there. But I’m not sure that such people are found any more frequently among hunters than among the general population.

When you paint all hunters with that brush—convincing yourself that they’re all deranged—you can ignore everything they say. Who listens to nutcases? It makes things easy. You can dismiss them as a stereotyped category, shaking your head and saying, “I just don’t understand that (crazy) way of thinking.”

But the blade cuts both ways.

I hear folks talking about anti-hunters in similar ways: they’re ignorant, naïve, or worse. They’re all nutcases.

When we—in either the anti-hunting camp or the hunting camp—circle our wagons and sit around congratulating ourselves on having so much more on the ball than those whackos, I think a few things happen.

One: We lose touch with our empathy for them as fellow humans.

Two: We lose sight of our common ground. Many hunters and anti-hunters share basic beliefs about animal welfare. Folks in both groups, I wager, think more about animals than do folks in the non-hunting majority. Some folks in both groups go out of their way to help animals and alleviate suffering.

Three: We stop trying to see beyond the stereotypes, to comprehend where other folks are coming from. We run the risk of becoming rigid, self-absorbed, and deaf to reason. We short-circuit our own capacity for learning.

Anti-hunters could learn a lot from open-minded conversations with thoughtful hunters.

And hunters could learn a lot from anti-hunters.

I’m thinking, for instance, of the comments left by Clyde on my post of January 1st. He says he’s a dedicated vegetarian and feels antipathy toward the gunshots he hears in the woods. Yet he respects those hunters who have “a solid code of ethics.” He’s found a way to hold both and expresses passionate, sensitive views. He writes of the moral responsibility that comes with hunting, the need for the hunter to minimize suffering through “compassion and acute judgment,” and the sacredness of the power to kill or let live.

Some hunters I’ve met could have written Clyde’s words. Others I’ve met could stand to read and ponder them.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Re “Folks in both groups, I wager, think more about animals than do folks in the non-hunting majority.” – Amen to that! And that’s where we see the ignorance – the offhand remarks about “those poor defenseless animals.”

    I fell into the trap you’re talking about when I first started debating people online about hunting. Conversations with people like Hutch (the vegan wildlife rescue guy who comes to my blog occasionally) have really helped me remember they’re just people who care. Now I just want them to understand I care too, even though I see the world differently than they do.

    Nice post!

  2. Eric Nuse says:

    Point well taken. I suspect the biggest threat to wildlife and wild places are the folks who never think or interact with nature. In many ways the antis need us hunters and trappers, otherwise they are out of business. The true believers would probably be very happy if that happened, but I suspect the leaders of these groups would not be. After all they will be out of a high paying job. Of course this cuts to the pro-hunting groups also.
    A great example of where hunters and non-hunters, and some anti’s get to interact is at the Becoming an Outdoors Woman weekends. We would have lots of woman come to learn birding or kayaking. They would end up talking at dinner with an interesting person and getting to be friends and then they discover this lady is an avid hunter. Woops, stereotypical knuckle dragger image is broken.

    • Tovar says:

      BOW is a great example. I think those opportunities for interaction are invaluable, especially when folks get to know and like each other before they realize they have opposing views about hunting.

  3. Cork Graham says:

    Tovar —
    You’re running into thread that has been debated for way too many years, and again we get into “discussing it”. Part of the problem is that it’s trying to deal with a person’s beliefs through logical discussion. Belief is tricky in that it goes beyond logic–it’s conditioned at a young age, reinforced by peer groups and almost impossible to dislodge unless someone has an “enlightenment”.

    How would you suggest helping make real change in these beliefs that would do away with the polarization of hunting and anti-hunting. It wasn’t really here until the 1970s. Some in the hunting who remember it, put part of the blame on a “documentary” that Dan Rather hosted/narrated that was very anti-hunting and more importantly extremely inaccurate, something that gets me riled up, as a journalist of 26 year in the field, ironically more than the anti-hunting slant.

    My friends Dr. Randall Eaton and Dr. James Swan have done their best to be those talking honestly and accurately about hunting, but they don’t have deep pockets, and there’s so much more money supporting the antis than hunters. Interestingly, before the big anti movement and programming of kids to believe that hunting is bad, pro-hunting beliefs were well supported not by big money, but simply by a society that had a closer relationship to nature (more farms, ranches run by families who actually lived or visited family there).

    Swan and Eaton directed great programs (Eaton still does), where they took urban kids out into the woods and let them see for themselves what they were only told before and how to interpret. How would you suggest we get people, specifically kids (before their beliefs are set), out in the field more, so that their beliefs are based more on what they see for themselves, instead of what they’re told?


    P.S. I’m not saying I’m against beliefs: Anyone who has studied psychology, anthropology and sociology will tell you that beliefs are a tool our mind has to keep us alive without having to process every little thing (most of the genes of cavepeople who didn’t have “beliefs” that dark caves were places you didn’t go alone were wiped out by cave bears thousands of years ago). It’s just when beliefs get in the way, such as when they get in the way of sound wildlife management practices as part of effected wildlife conservation.

    • Tovar says:

      Sure, beliefs are tough territory…for all of us. Here, I’m talking about how we see and relate to other individuals, rather than about the broad sweep of Euro-American history and trends in our attitudes. The latter is a fascinating subject, though, with the conflicts going right back to colonial days.

  4. Arthur says:

    I think it’s real easy to paint all anti-hunters with broad brush strokes – the same way many of them put all of us hunters in one basket – but I, for one, don’t fit that mold.

    I do relate to where Cork is coming from, though, because there are some who cannot be persuaded to change their mind, or even open it for that matter, so trying to have a legitimate conversation or debate with them is moot. We need to concentrate more on the individuals who are “on the fence” about hunting, start conversations with them, and get them thinking.

    I work in an establishment that I would not consider pro-hunting, and I do everything I can to initiate conversations with people, especially those who are undecided and willing to listen. The hardcore anti’s are not the ones we hunters should be focused on – getting them to change their mind is impossible – it’s the people who are open to the conversation that we need to focus on.

    And we definitely shouldn’t be tossing all of them into the same basket. We just need to try, as Norcal said, to show them that we have a lot of the same passion, we just go about it in different ways.

    And another great post, Tovar.

  5. madeleine says:

    Remind me to tell you some day about an interesting first date I had with someone years ago. It involved skinning and roasting a chipmunk over an open fire on the banks of the Connecticut River. I guess he made an impression on me; we were together for three years.

  6. Off the subject. I wanted to get something off my chest. I always hear people say that hunters don’t need to hunt they just like killing. I live in a rural mountain community in E. Tennessee and I can’t afford to buy enough Beef to feed a family of four. So I use reloaded bullets in a 30-06 that my father passed down to me for free to kill deer which I cut up my self. (I did buy a vacuum sealer and an lay down freezer 10 years ago) but it costs me next to nothing to put 6-7 deer in the freezer every year. I also help a friend with a large garden so we can split the bounty (he has land, I have knowledge) It would be like saying I don’t need to grow my own potatoes I just like digging. I think deer meat is much healthier than beef as well. I know the meal. No one else handles it. My family will never have E-Coli from beef or tomatoes. I don’t like killing I like being self sufficient. I am going to put more thought into this and write a post on it. I wonder what you think.

    • Tovar says:

      Great comment, Gabe. I definitely respect the kind of subsistence hunting (and gardening) you’re doing.

      For the vast majority of hunters in America today, though, I don’t think hunting is a physical necessity, nor even a break-even deal in terms of time/money versus meat gained. Here in Vermont, for example, even if you have a free firearm and reloaded bullets, you can only take one buck in rifle season; anyone can buy a license, but only 1 in 10 hunters is lucky and/or skilled enough to actually get a deer in those 16 days. If you hunt bow and/or muzzleloader seasons, you might get a 2nd or 3rd deer, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

      I don’t think most hunters “hunt because they like to kill”; it’s a good deal more complicated than that, with lots of different and overlapping motives involved for different folks. But that is, I think, a common perception among many anti-hunters (like I used to be) and among some non-hunters.

      And I totally agree about wild meat (as well as local, healthily raised meat) being healthier than supermarket meat.

      • Gabe, excellent point – I hate that too. But my response is a little different: Well, YOU don’t have to go to the grocery store for your meat – you have other options. The rationale behind the “you don’t have to” argument seems to be that it’s morally superior to make someone else do the killing, and I reject that (obviously).

        • Tovar says:

          Good point, Holly, especially regarding meat-eaters who object to hunting. For them, the objection is to the kind of killing or to the engagement with killing (and sometimes to the species of animal being killed), not to the killing itself.

          In the case of vegetarians who object to hunting, it’s different, of course. They still impact both wildlife and domesticated animals (especially through agriculture), but they’ve taken one of “other options” you mention, by choosing not to go to the grocery store for meat.

          • To further dilute the point,I am known in this area for eating only wild game and “Trophy Hunters” (I don’t know what else to call them) call me when they have killed a buck and I come to their house, cape the deer and take the carcass sans head with me to eat ( I rarely kill 7 deer myself in a year, but my family eats 7). I do not understand this type of hunting but I also know we need the shear money and time these people put into conservation. And I appreciate the free meat. These people are my friends but this conversation you are having is leading me toward asking them about their motivations. It always stuns me as to how complicated people can make issues that I have never had an issue with. I do not hunt Ducks because I don’t like eating them. But I will walk around a pond at night to gig frogs. They taste gooooood! As for anti-hunters and hunters talking in a civil manner, I don’t see it happening. Anti’s see hunters as murderers, why would they want to talk to us.

            • Tovar says:

              I don’t entirely “get” trophy-hunting either, though I’m working on it. I guess that’s a growing edge for me, as I’ve long been uncomfortable with it. There’s a future post on the subject kicking around in the back of my mind. Personally, I can’t imagine killing a deer for nothing but antlers and cape.

              I’m glad to hear that someone’s making use of the meat those folks didn’t want in the first place.

              And I agree: I don’t see us convincing anti-hunters to come out in droves to sit down for a warm-and-fuzzy chat session. All we have control over is our own attitude. Do we dismiss those who disagree with us? Do we listen and try to understand where they’re coming from? Do we express ourselves in a way that invites them to understand where we’re coming from?

            • Tovar says:

              My site stats indicate that this page got two visits from folks who searched for “hunters are murderers” in the past day, picking up the latter word from Gabe’s comment above. Google searches are funny things!

              Maybe anti-hunters aren’t coming out in droves to join this conversation yet, but somebody got here…

  7. I had an interesting time last sunday night – I was out drinking with a friend (oh the joy of being self employed) she’s an angry vegetarian (with the emphasis on the angry) once she’d finished with the knee jerk condemnation of hunting she said (in a much quieter voice) ‘actually i have far less of a problem with what you do than people who eat meat from the supermarket’.

    Encouraging isn’t it

    • Tovar says:

      Great anecdote, SBW! Yes, it is encouraging.

      I’ve heard similar things in other places: near-vegetarians who won’t eat any meat except wild game, or vegetarians who (referring to a particular hunter or group of hunters) say “I wouldn’t be a vegetarian if everyone treated animals that respectfully.”

      For a lot of vegetarians, factory farming is the basic problem, with its cruelties and ecological impacts. Remove those from the equation, talking instead about wild or humanely-raised animals, and many vegetarians can engage with the issue of meat-eating in a different way.

      • Conversely, factory farming is vital to the anti-meat movement – it’s their biggest recruitment tool. And it’s huge for young people, like the college students I teach, because buying meat that was raised properly/humanely/in a healthy manner or hunting for most of your meat, as I do, is pretty expensive. It’s just easier and cheaper to go veg than to find and buy meat that doesn’t make you cringe.

        The big problem I see is how do we get back to that meat on a large scale? It involves prices going up, period – can’t do it cheaply. That’s why factory farming took root the way it did; we’re addicted to cheap. How do you convince the vast majority of people that it’s worth paying more for meat and eating less of it to get away from this system? I mean, the vast majority doesn’t have conversations like we’re having here.

        • Tovar says:

          Isn’t feedlot beef cheap in great part part because the market is flooded with incredibly cheap corn? Isn’t that corn cheap because it’s subsidized, giving taxpayer money as profit to Cargill and friends? If we stopped those subsidies, feedlot beef would also be expensive.

          What if we shifted those subsidies over to support more sustainable and humane animal husbandry? The major obstacle, I suspect, is that Cargill and friends would lobby hard against losing those taxpayer-funded profits. They haven’t yet figured out how to corner the market on grass.

          At some point down the road, of course, fossil fuels are going to be in short supply. At that point, we’ll have to do something different, since we’ll no longer be able to make cheap chemical fertilizers (for corn, etc). Maybe we’ll need manure and such, from grass-fed animals; maybe supporting that kind of agriculture will suddenly look like a really good idea!

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