“Natural causes”: Life and death, food and fantasy

Maybe you saw the recent New York Times op-ed about the “myth” of sustainable meat and the need for us all to be vegans. Several rebuttals have already been written, including one by Joel Salatin, who rose to the occasion with his usual flair. So you can breathe easy: I’m not about to launch into one of my own.

In that op-ed, though, one phrase jumped out at me. Late in the piece, in censuring farmers for the inefficient production of manure fertilizers, the author protests that slaughters occur “before animals live a quarter of their natural lives.”

I knew what he meant, of course, but I wondered: How long would a chicken’s “natural life” be here in rural New England without someone supplying food, shelter, and protection from predators? Why does extending a bird’s life count as “natural,” yet ending its life does not?

It would be silly to make much of one phrase in one essay. But it isn’t alone.

It reminded me, for instance, of my sister’s comment, years ago, about a giant lake trout caught by an angler here in Vermont: “Too bad it didn’t get to die naturally.” I imagine that the fish’s death seemed less than natural because the creature was killed by a predator—a human, no less—rather than dying quietly in the deep.

Photo by Joshua Barnett

It reminded me, too, of one vegan’s response to a line in my book. In Chapter 5, I write about how a ruffed grouse—despite its efforts to stay alive—will, in the end, “be plucked from the air by hawk or owl, or from the ground by bobcat or fox.” The reader responded by asking rhetorically, “Is this truly the fate for every grouse . . . or other prey animal? Do none of them die from old age or disease? Are they all only and always prey?”

I sympathize with his sentiment. It’s unpleasant to think that Mother Nature is always “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson put it. And she isn’t always.

For grouse, though, here’s the deal:

  • Chicks, like the young of many species, have an extraordinarily high mortality rate. Many become food for predators. Many also die of pneumonia-like conditions, especially in cold, damp spring weather, thus becoming food for scavengers and microbes.
  • Adult grouse, like the one I was writing about, almost always end up as prey. About 95 percent are killed and eaten, the vast majority by winged and four-footed predators, not humans. (Disease and other health deficiencies contribute to grouse mortality mainly by making the birds more vulnerable to predation.)
  • The chances of a grouse dying of old age? Basically nil.

What, I wonder, is so compelling about the idea of life lasting until an organism gives up the ghost of its own accord?

It occurs to me that most of us have a particular vision of a “full” and “natural” human life: one that lasts seven or more decades, ending in “old age or disease.” On a coroner’s certificate, I bet death by grizzly bear or alligator would not be chalked up to “natural causes.” We think and speak of ourselves as being above the life-and-death cycles of nature.

And I suspect that some of us have begun to extend these ways of thinking and speaking beyond ourselves. I think some have begun to imagine that, for all animals, “natural lives” end in “old age or disease,” not in being killed and eaten.

It seems a strange disconnect. We do not, after all, need to be terribly observant to recognize that becoming prey is one of the most common and natural ways to die, if not the most natural way.

Photo by Ryan Poplin

I can see it from our front porch. Right now, robins are snagging earthworms near the flower beds. Before long, raccoons, crows, ravens, hawks, and blue jays will be snagging robins’ eggs and nestlings.

Tragic? Yes, since I empathize with robin nestlings and am moved by parents’ calls of distress as a little one is carried away. Less so if I also empathize with hungry hawk nestlings.

Unnatural? No.

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli



  1. Phillip says:

    Great one, Tovar! This is a topic that keeps coming back to me, but I’ve never figured out how to isolate it and write about it. I think you nailed it!

    The disconnect, thinking that death by predation is “unnatural” while living to ripe, old age and then dying of “natural causes” is somehow better or preferable says a LOT about the separation of man from nature. This is not, of course, a new thing, and it’s really only a short step from there to the Bambification of nature (where all the woodland creatures live in peaceful harmony except when Man intrudes).

    I hear it in the oft-repeated argument that hunting (by humans) induces stress and fear in wildlife. But I’d offer that the lives of prey animals, in natural settings, is pretty much all about stress and fear. They are, by nature, the targets of predators. Their bodies and brains are uniquely developed to sense and evade predators, and there is never a moment when these senses are not engaged. Even in sleep, prey animals are prepared to escape an attack.

    It’s not unkind, unless, like Tennyson, you consider Nature to be cruel and arbitrary (as opposed to a wise and kindly God). It is this delineation between God and Nature, by the way, that probably lies at the heart of the disconnect between human and animal, or human nature and wild nature. And it goes way, way back…so far back, that it’s become deeply ingrained in the consciousnesses of people who may not even acknowledge the religious tenets that spawned it.

    Or maybe I’m just reaching here. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot, but have neither the time nor resources to really delve into as much as I think it deserves. Besides, the books have already been written. The first that comes to mind being, Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, although I expect there are some more scholarly works as well.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for all the added thoughts, Phillip. Very interesting.

      I think the two questions — (1) whether we think and talk about predation as being natural and (2) whether we think and talk about humans as natural predators — are somewhat distinct. Related, yes, but also distinct. The first is a basic reality we need to recognize and accept. The second is more debatable, depending on where we imagine humans existing in the larger scheme (more like deer or more like wolves, more like fruit-eating monkeys or more like omnivorous chimps who sometimes hunt, etc).

      • Phillip says:

        Tovar, I think you hit something key in your kind response. “Where we imagine humans existing in the larger scheme…”

        Despite our intellectual conceits, do we really get to determine where we fit, based solely on our imaginations? While I can’t argue that we are in the unique position of being able to totally isolate ourselves from the purely natural world (factory farming and synthetic food, climate control, electronic communication, etc.), is that the same as self-determining our place in the bigger, Natural picture? Maybe. But I really sort of hope not.

        To be sure, some of us have a hard time defining our place or our role (and others have a hard time accepting a definition), but I don’t think that means it was never defined for us. We are what we are.

        • Phillip says:

          By the way, Tovar, I’m just exploring through the door you opened here. Not trying to be antagonistic. I don’t get to have “conversations” like this every day, and it’s exciting to lay these thoughts on the table and have other folks help me dissect them.

          Thanks for the opportunity.

          • Tovar says:

            No worries, Phillip! I enjoy the exploration, too, and didn’t take your comments as antagonistic. If I did, you might have heard me growling. 😉

        • Tovar says:

          “Do we really get to determine where we fit, based solely on our imaginations?” Perhaps not. But our ways of imagining and talking about things are powerful. Just as you are confident that we are natural omnivores and predators, someone else is confident that we are not…

          • Phillip says:

            The question is, does our confidence in what is “real” make it real? Or are we still whatever Nature intended, whether we like it or not? I don’t think we get to choose, no matter how powerful our imaginations.

            But true enough, I suppose, that we do have the ability to choose to live in a way that denies our “animalness”. So for the individual, then real is whatever we want it to be?

            It doesn’t change that, at our basest, most primary core, we’re just animals. We have to eat something. Herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore, I expect it’s more a product of our habitat than any sort of choice. Our success as a species has most likely hinged on our ability to swing across the gamut. I don’t think that changes simply because in our highly developed civilization we now have a wide range of options available to us. Pick the diet of your choosing. But, drop a vegan in the frozen tundra with nothing but a nest of tern eggs and a dead caribou and see how long that choice survives. When it all comes down, we are what Nature intended, or else we are dead.

            To stay remotely within the original scope of discussion, the prey animal doesn’t get the choices that we, civilized human animals do. And for that matter, neither does that vegan on the tundra if there happen to be polar bears or wolves around. You may not want to be prey, but you are. It’s not a choice, and no matter how powerful your imagination, it doesn’t change a thing.

      • ingrid says:

        Three things in response here. First, you’re right, Tovar, to point out this distinction. Because to justify human behavior toward wildlife by saying, “well the hawk or the coyote does this” is a common logical fallacy … suggesting that because someone else commits a certain act, I am justified in committing it also. That simply isn’t an arguable defense for any human action. I would counter that fallacy by saying that nature may have certain cruel components, but that doesn’t mean we humans have to be cruel.

        Second, I spend a lot of time observing wildlife, and have seen my share of natural and human predation. I’ve said this previously, but there are clear differences in how prey animals, for example birds, react to the presence of a predator like a hawk — as compared to a human. The disruption to bird communities by shotgun fire during waterfowl season is far different than how a flock of shorebirds responds to the threat of an occasional overhead raptor. We have employed methods of predation that don’t allow for the nuance I see when I watch a community of birds, with multiple species, assessing the danger from an oncoming bird. Crows have developed calls for different types of dangers, as do geese and other birds I’ve observed. They often work in conjunction with one another to send warning signals. Thus, with so many sentries, they can forage and rest in relative peace, even with intermittent interruption or cautionary calls. That’s a dramatic contrast with the type of scene I witnessed just a few months ago, where a field full of waterfowl hunters essentially lay in wait to ambush geese. There is just no everyday or common comparison among other predators.

        Lastly, the mortality for young animals is, indeed, very high in their first year, this includes predator animals as well, like raptors. The likelihood of surviving increases with age, so there are many wild animals who live lives much longer than the grouse example suggests. As far as natural causes for human deaths, I’ve heard a lot of hunters say they’d rather go by rifle shot, as one example, than die a slow death from cancer. I would venture a hard guess that most of you here who hunt, wouldn’t appreciate that gunshot to the gut tomorrow, while you’re not expecting it. Now that would be living according to the “natural” rules we impose on species other than ourselves, when we become predator. We are rarely part of that cycle as prey, and I think that diffuses our understanding of what it really means to be prey or what it means for prey to live a “full” life.

  2. Al Cambronne says:

    Great post, and grouse make for a good example. I vaguely remember reading statistics somewhere about their life expectancy. Short lives, is all I remember. As you wrote, most don’t last until fall, and most of the survivors don’t last the winter. Very few live to be two or three years old. And biologists even have some technical term for the population dynamics involved. I can’t remember what it was, but the idea for grouse hunters is “would have died the next winter anyway.” So if a hunter takes that bird home for dinner, that might mean one less meal for a fox or coyote. But not fewer grouse.

    It’s part of nature, and so are we. So often people writing or talking about hunting use phrases like “in the absence of natural predators.” I’m trying to not do that, and to instead use words like “in the absence of other predators…”

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Al. I was trying to recall those same stats.

      I think the term you’re thinking of is “compensatory mortality” (as opposed to “additive mortality”). Mortality being compensatory (the bird would have died anyway) doesn’t erase questions of suffering, the meaning of killing, etc, but it does mean there’s no effect on the population as a whole. Incidentally, there are some places (some public lands in the Midwest, as I recall) where hunting accounts for a higher percentage of grouse mortality; in those cases, there can be an impact on the population, especially if the habitat is fragmented.

      • Al Cambronne says:

        Yes, those are the terms I was trying to remember! And if there’s public land in the Midwest where a higher portion of grouse mortality could be traced to hunting, it certainly couldn’t be traced to me.

        • Tovar says:

          Al: I do recall you mentioning once that the main benefit of your grouse hunting had been exercise, for you and the occasional grouse. The same would probably be true for me!

  3. Joshua says:

    Great observations here, Tovar. I’d like to add that disease is a predator group, too, and in some ecosystems, parasites make up half the biomass. Our world is so vastly complex and interconnected.

    Overall, I think most people who consider humans as unnatural predators do so because they consider humans unnatural, period. This is a sad condition, probably the cause of urban and suburban living (few, if any, uncontrolled outdoor experiences) coupled with honest reflection and love.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Joshua. And good point about thinking of diseases and parasites as predators!

      I think you’re right that some people consider humans unnatural. As I mentioned in response to Phillip, I think others consider our species natural, but just not natural omnivores or at least not natural predators.

  4. It is such a human conceit, to assume wild animals will just not wake up after some pleasant nap in their old age. Of course, the same applies to ourselves, when the truth is that most of us won’t have poetic deaths. People assume that we have a right to live; in fact, though, the only right we have is to fight to live, like every other animal, but with no guaranteed outcome.

  5. Cynthia M. says:

    Great article! I’ve been thinking a lot about the more brutal side of nature lately (don’t ask why), and in reading your article realized how much I just assume that animals don’t “live out their full lives”, but are consumed – sometimes alive. Be it by a mammalian predator, virus or internal parasite, that is often their fate (fascinating stats about the grouse, btw!).

    And why isn’t being consumed the natural end of a wild animal’s life from the human perspective? We have definitely become too comfortable with the meat on our table and how it got there, if, as a culture, we so disassociate animals dying via predator as “unfortunate”. More unfortunate are the animals that die in the factory farm slaughters. I often wonder if people give any thought at all to the shrink-wrapped meat they buy in the grocery and where it came from…

    • Tovar says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Cynthia! And thanks for your good thoughts.

      Okay, I won’t ask why you’ve been dwelling on the more brutal aspects of life…

  6. Well, I’ve never hunted grouse, but I’ve done my share of grousing. Does that count?

    On the “natural” deaths. What McWilliams in the NYTimes touches on, and what I think your sister might have been thinking about, is that, when we kill animals, we deprive them of the rest of their lives. To humans, that’s a very big deal. But to an animal that doesn’t understand death, the issues aren’t the same. As an animal dies, it has no thoughts of the books it will never read, the trips it will never take, the unresolved issues with its daughter-in-law. An animal (as far as we know) has no idea that death ends life. And so, killing it “early” has to be thought about in context, I think.

    What matters to me is only the nature of the death. If a “natural” death is likely to be peaceful and painless, then I think we do have to think long and hard about how, when, and why we hunt. But, as you point out, that “natural” death is generally pretty gruesome.

    And, Phillip? For the record, being antagonistic is MY job. Be careful, there, on my turf!

    • Tovar says:

      Oh, I think you’re right, Tamar: Depriving creatures of “the rest of their lives” is very much at play here. I guess I’m not too concerned about figuring out whether animals have any sense of the future or know that death ends life; either way, we can be sure they want to survive, just like we do. But I do marvel at our illusions about how long “natural” lives last and how they end.

      Sure, we can count grousing (as a form of antagonism), though your hunter cred will increase if you can provide evidence that you’ve groused something (or someone) to death.

      • Tovar, re: “I’m not too concerned about figuring out whether animals have any sense of the future or know that death ends life; either way, we can be sure they want to survive, just like we do.”

        For me, the idea that animals don’t have a sense of the future is absolutely critical to my justification for taking their lives. A chase that could end in death means something completely different to a creature that understands the import of death. Animals want to escape predators or danger, but I don’t think they have a concept of “survival.” They only know “bad.”

        • ingrid says:

          I just find it ironic that we use the presence (or lack of) a certain consciousness as justification for how we treat other species. And then we, who profess to possess this higher consciousness, don’t always — or even often — use it to exercise our compassion or mercy toward non-humans. I’m not sure, then, what our level of “consciousness” actually signifies about us.

    • Phillip says:


      I’ll tread lightly, never fear. 🙂

      And I think your point of context is dead on. When we think of wild nature, then we must think of it in the context of wild nature… not modern human nature (whatever version of that our imaginations create for us).

    • ingrid says:

      Tamar, there’s another argument that’s been employed in this situation which suggests nonhuman animals could possibly suffer even more than we, as a result of pain. That is, if it’s true (and we can’t know) that animals don’t have expectations of a future, that would mean their experience lie exclusively in the present. As such, when we torture or otherwise inflict pain on them, it could be argued that their experience of that pain is more intense than ours because they have no frame of reference to say “this pain will soon stop” — or any other psychological palliative we would apply ourselves.

      That being said, I think it’s a precarious thing to either afford or deprive animals of qualities we don’t fully understand. I will just say that I find it preposterous that most of us would agree animals share so many of our physiological processes (respiratory, ambulatory, circulatory, etc) but then we, as a species, diminish the rest of their aptitude when it comes to brain power and emotional complexity. Of course, a nonhuman wouldn’t think of books she’ll never read because she can’t read. But how can we say that a parent animal, with dependent young, isn’t feeling anxiety about not being able to reach her young if she is injured or captured? Substitute that with any other facet of life that might be important to that animal and her existence.

      • Phillip says:

        First of all, I’m not making an effort to justify hunting. I’m making the point that a prey animal is a prey animal, regardless of what hunts it. The idea that humans’ hunting is not natural because it “prematurely” ends an animal’s life is simply ridiculous. Equally ludicrous is the idea that humans’ hunting causes undue stress and fear.

        Your example of gunshots over the duck marsh is certainly well-taken, but the fact is that gunshots are only one of myriad loud noises that disrupt the peaceful, happy marsh. Aircraft, boats, automobiles, farm machinery, a beavertail slapping the water… even trees falling or severe thunderstorms can have the same effect. The startle response to sudden, loud noise is not caused by humans (and we’re not immune to it either). It’s a natural reaction. The fact that the noise is exacerbated during three months of the year doesn’t mean much in that bigger picture. I’d even argue that the only reason it becomes an issue for the birds is that it’s not constant, year-round. Often, by the end of the season, you’ll find that many birds in the heavily used refuges will sit and carry out their business through the barrage, even within a hundred yards. I’ve watched herons stalking frogs and mice within 50 yards of an active blind, and shorebirds scurrying along the mud flats while hunters were firing at ducks just over the dike. I know you’ve seen waterfowl flocking into the closed zones, despite fairly constant gunfire from nearby blinds. They adapt, no differently than the birds who will take over a backyard pond, roadside culvert, or even an airport runway.

        And if we move away from your singular examples of waterfowl hunting on California’s public lands, you’ll find that many other animals adapt even more quickly. It’s not at all unusual to walk behind the berms of a shooting range to find a mass of animal tracks. Even on the range, it’s pretty common to observe wildlife acting fairly normally. Out in the field, I’ve often seen deer, elk, and hogs continue feeding after hearing gunshots… even when those gunshots were directed at them. In the absence of other threats (e.g. visual, scent, or movement), the loud noise of gunfire is simply another sound.

        It’s worth note that you’re not the only one in this discussion who has “spent a lot of time observing wildlife,” and certainly not the only one to have seen your share of predation. Many of us here are hunters, and some of us have been at this the better part of our entire lives. You must, by now, recognize that hunting is far more observation than shooting and killing. I won’t argue that our perceptions and interpretations aren’t colored by our motives, but that’s a two-way street, Ingrid. What you may see as “bad”, such as the disruption of the “bird communities” in the duck marsh, we may see as relatively inconsequential. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t hurt the “bird community” to get flushed by a gun shot any more than it hurts them to get flushed by a fox darting down to the shoreline to nab an unsuspecting member of the flock. They’ll find another place where there are no gunshots, or they’ll come to understand that the noise isn’t a threat and adapt to it. Beyond that, they’re still birds, living as birds do.

        And part of living as birds do is attempting to avoid predation and stay alive… every minute of every day… just like every other prey animal. If humans never hunted again, that would continue to be as it is.

        Which brings us to the last part of your comment here. Humans do not “impose” the natural rules on non-human animals. The whole point of the natural law is that it supercedes human intervention. We don’t make up those rules, and in fact, we (as a culture) too often try to separate ourselves from them. That’s the whole gist of this conversation, and that’s the point I made in the first place. Prey animals don’t get to choose to be prey animals, and as such, they must by nature live in a constant state of alertness and a level of “fear”. What we, humans know or understand about how they feel “fear” or pain really has no bearing on the fact that this is their natural state.

        You are correct enough in your assumption that most humans have no real concept of what it is to be a prey animal… and I’d argue as well that very few have a clear concept of what it is to be predator either. I’d even go so far as to say that most human sport hunters (yes, Tovar, there’s that word again… but it’s there to differentiate from subsistence hunters) can realize little more than a fair approximation of a predatory experience because we’re not dependent on the success of our efforts for survival. In our modern, wealthy, technologically advanced society we actually have the luxury of choosing to assume a predatory role or not. So that absolutely separates us from the wild predators, such as the hawk or the coyote far more than our use of weapons or tactics (by the way, the ambush tactic is widely used by wild predators, contrary to your assertion).

        But is that relevant to this discussion? Not really. The fact is that we know the difference. Wild animals don’t, regardless of the attributes we may deign to assign them.

        • ingrid says:

          Phillip, I know you and I have been round and about on this issue, and that’s not to either defer to your POV or diminish it by not responding to your points. I just don’t want to hijack the space with redundancy, as I’ve already posted some fairly lengthy notes here.

          You and I will always differ, I realize that. One thing, though, that you did not address is the scale. The most recent waterfowl hunting incident I witnessed, from the other side of the hunting field, involved, at minimum, 10 hunters in a very small space. The quantity of birds taken can not be compared to any other predatory mechanism outside our contrived human one. And by contrived, I mean to agree with your comment that we can only approximate the role of true predator or prey.

          Taking their limits, these hunters walked away with at least 100 birds in a short span, and left three cripples. Two cripples were retrieved, but a third languished, unable to fly well enough to escape, but enough to evade capture, even by myself and my husband who stayed behind with our rescue gear, to make sure no cripples were left in the field.

          When you take those numbers from one hunt and extrapolate them to hunting at large in the United States, you are talking about numbers that exceed any “natural” situation. And although the losses to crippling, bow shots or other forms of injury are far understudied and most likely under-reported — especially when you consider some people don’t even know when they’ve wounded a duck — you are talking about a scale of carnage that demands much more scrutiny, philosophically speaking, than any of the so-called natural systems hunters use as matter of fact justifications. Particularly since a lot of it is simply not necessary, when you construe “necessity” from an ecological and survival position.

          I find those quantities obscene, particularly when you consider how many of these animals are taken by well-fed humans. There’s a controversy brewing up here in the Northwest about a cormorant cull. As always, its sport fisherman pressuring fish and game to cull cormorants that are ostensibly having an effect on salmon populations. Of course, it’s never proposed that sportsmen, who clearly identify with this particular fishing as a “sport” stop their recreational endeavors for the sake of providing food for wildlife, or that commercial fishing cease altogether. It is yet again another example of this very unnatural paradigm and hierarchy we’ve set up. And that, again, points to the argument I just have a tough time abiding by, every time I heard it. That is the “we’re only doing what other predators are doing.” No, we are not.

          I know you don’t argue in particular for that point of view. You acknowledge, at risk of debate, the sporting nature of hunting. But many do use that rationale, and that’s what I was initially responding to here. There is no equivalency there.

          • somsai says:

            Ingrid maybe toss that rescue gear for an aluminum pot and when you find a couple of half dead ducks wring their necks and make duck soup. You might find that being a human and a predator isn’t so contrived and ducks taste good. Bring salt too.

            Why torture some dog gone duck for days on end when you could have a full belly and a clear conscience.

            • ingrid says:

              somsai, wow, that’s the best you’ve got? I get it, though. It’s a lot easier to diminish those who care about animals, than it is to defend one’s own violence toward animals.

          • Kevan says:

            May I chime in here? Ok, I’ve been reading the comments here and would like to share a few observations.

            First, there is something missing here in the evaluation of human predator-prey relationships. I know this will go over like a lead dirigible, but there is another sort of prey humans have that are fairly unique to our species: Other humans. Animals will engage in fratricide, but usually for clearly understandable motivations (food, mates, self-defense.) Only humans kill our own species over ideas such as religion, politics, or differences in economic systems. If anyone thinks this is the same as fighting over territory like animals, he is mistaken. Because we also do something else animals don’t do—-genocide. So, we cannot, at once, absolve humanity of all natural behaviors because not all of them are good. Our behavior has sown the seeds of our own destruction: We invented the hydrogen bomb and proceeded to build enough to destroy life on the planet. Animals don’t do this. Is war a natural behavior? Obviously it is, because nothing eliminates it. We’ve had two world wars, nearly destroyed the planet during the Cold War, and here we are, still fighting wars and planning on more. I disagree that humans don’t know what it is to be a prey animal, because anyone on the losing end of an airstrike knows what a rabbit feels when a redtail hawk swoops in. Anyone who has been through military basic training knows that certain skills carry over into hunting—-camouflage, marksmanship, noise discipline, etc. At least this was the case when I went through basic training in the army.

            Now, that animals prey on other animals in what we term far more gruesome methods isn’t really so. Yes, hunters offer a cleaner death if everything goes right. But against other humans, we’re far more cruel. Napalm, cluster munitions, mines, nerve gas, etc. are far worse than what a lion does to a gazelle. In fact, we were and still are prepared to incinerate entire cities with nuclear weapons. Mans capacity for cruelty and destruction is unparalleled in the natural world by any other animal. We are a predator, yes, but we are a very unique one and nothing else like us exists in the non-human animal world. No animal thinks up things like the Final Solution or launch-on-warning.

            My point? Not everything in our genetic make-up is good. Time will tell if we’re a doomed species. It’s certainly possible. Having said that, would vegetarianism bring a more peaceful world? No, certainly not. Agriculture is responsible for the formation of professional armies. When you have farmland, you have to defend it. When you have more people to feed, you’ve got to take land away from others. This is why the Roman Empire came into being. In terms of the capacity for war, hunter-gatherer societies were and are far more peaceful than agrarian societies. Understand this. In America, our farming requires vast quantities of fossil fuels. This is why we’ve got armored divisions sitting in the Middle East along with aircraft carrier battle groups. It isn’t over freedom or democracy or crap like that. That’s just how they sell it to the public. Now, if we convert to a vegetarian diet, we’re going to need more farmland. Of course, we can eat the grain we feed to cattle and that’ll be a good thing. But we’re still going to need vast quantities of fossil fuel to farm that land. That means vast quantities of troops and ordnance. Sorry, but that’s the agrarian system we’ve built. Just wait til we see what happens when the oil runs out. Not trying to sound like a pessimist, but there’s far more to this issue when we call ourselves predators. It’s true, but there’s more than one facet to that stone and not all of them are benign or positive.

            Things are never black/white, right/wrong, left/right. Hunting is not all bad any more than people against hunting are all misguided. Lots of people are respectful hunters who deeply care about the land and the animals on it. There’s also some darker aspects, like one hunter here who took a .300 WinMag to the chest and lingered a month before dying. Or the poachers here who shoot elk to sell the antlers to the underground quack remedy market. No, poachers aren’t truly hunters, but this is how they are seen by the public at large. We must all be able to see everything for what it is, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us. That means people against hunting should be able to see that not all hunters are blasting animals left and right. But that also means that hunters should be able to see wildlife rehabbers are acting from love and that’s not something to poke fun at. Anyway, this is how I see it.

            • ingrid says:

              Thanks, Kevan. I’ve had — almost exclusively — respectful disagreements with hunters here at Tovar’s blog. And I agree with you about the danger of embracing of black-and-white characterizations.

              In fairness to wildlife rehabilitators and also wildlife photographers, I do not represent any perspectives but my own. I have much stronger feelings on this subject that many people I know — because of repeated, negative incidents in the field. Most people I talk to simply haven’t seen what I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. And, there are many times I wish I hadn’t either. Those events significantly altered not just my point-of-view, but also my life.

              In general terms, people who work with wildlife, like the veterinarians and technicians I have been privileged to know, almost always do so at great cost to their time, their families, to their stress levels and even their financial well being. They clearly understand the harsh realities of wild existence and, most often, are just working to fix whatever can be fixed.

              The common thread between me and anyone else in the wildlife community is simply a commitment to the cause. How one construes that commitment is obviously variable.

              • Kevan says:

                Hi Ingrid,

                My wife and I are actually “small r” rehabbers. We have taken in lots of orphaned baby sparrows and pigeons that people found, raised them and released them. Except for one sparrow named Buddha who is now a pet. An amazing friend he is! There are people out there that call sparrows “pests”, but the fact is, they were brought over here by people. I don’t see any life as being necessarily more valuable than another. That’s a very slippery slope that has terrible consequences at the bottom of the slope.

                I see a lot of very disturbing things in the hunting crowd around here. Take for example varmint hunting. The argument about hunting for meat or to reconnect with the natural world flies right out the window with varmint hunting. When I see people eating coyotes, I’ll accept the argument. But when I see people out there with AR-15s doing this, I question their motivations. Now, the AR-15 is the semi-auto only civilian variant of the military-issue service weapon in the M-16 series of rifles. I was issued with and trained often with this weapon in the army. How is it this weapon is now for hunting? There are much more accurate rifles in this caliber than the AR-15. So, I question what’s going on there. There’s also a highly disturbing video out there called “Dog B Gone” which has a bunch of sadistic idiots out there shooting prairie dogs and giggling and laughing about it. They slow-motion the animals literally exploding and spinning through the air from the rounds hitting them. This is funny? The Greek poet Bion once said, “Boys throw stones at frogs in sport, but frogs die in earnest.” I question the conscience of anyone who kills and laughs about it. I also question the consciences of the people who made this video and the people who watch it and call this entertainment.

                I’ve hunted and eaten jackrabbits. People here think I’m crazy for that. Because they shoot jackrabbits and leave them. To them, it’s just marksmanship practice. They think the meat’s too tough. Not if you prepare it right. Hare, which a jackrabbit is, was a “noble animal” in Medieval Europe, meaning only nobility could hunt them and eat them. But, here, people are out there with AR-15s and ghillie suits and it looks like a military operation, not hunting. What is the point of taking a life if you’re not going to eat the meat or use the pelt? I can see shooting a coyote to protect your sheep or to use the pelt. But just to go out and do it? Here, they say it’s to protect the antelope. Ok, but these same people support politicians who are pro-growth and generally anti-environment and, thus, support building on antelope and elk habitat. If you’re shooting coyotes to protect antelope and elk, then how can you support building housing subdivisions on their habitat? Habitat destruction does more harm to animals than coyotes. These people will say that the “other politicians”, that is the pro-environment politicians, are anti-hunters. Well, this is the proverbial boy crying wolf, if you’ll pardon the pun. This is claptrap trotted out by the NRA to make money and gull people into voting for politicians who’ll gladly pave over the last standing wilderness area if there was an extra $1.25 in it. So, there’s a lot of hypocrisy out there in the hunting world and until hunters confront it, hunting will continue to be seen in a negative light by many. Hunters that vote for politicians who are pro-clearcutting, pro-mining, pro-bulldoze and build, and use terms like “environmentalist wackos” are like book lovers that support censorship. Sorry, but this is the way it is. You can’t say you love Nature when you vote for people that see Nature as something to bulldoze and pollute.

                Hunting, done right and ethically, has little impact on the land and flora and fauna. But when hunting becomes politicized and consumerized, it becomes a parody of true hunting. Go through any of the Big Box sporting goods catalogs. It looks like a defense contractors cut sheet to send to the Pentagon. They have better gear in there than we had when I was in the army. Really, does all of this electronic crap make up for learning how to be a good woodsperson and hunter? Or is it more technological shortcutting to get that elk at all costs? Hunters get lost out here all the time because they rely on gadgets instead of learning woodscraft. I can’t tell you how many hunters are out here on ATVs and look like they can’t walk a mile if they had to.

                So, we as hunters have a pretty big house to clean up before we go pointing fingers at anti-hunters.

                • Tovar says:

                  That’s well said, Kevan.

                  Over the past couple years, I’ve written a few posts that touched on related themes. And I touch on some in the book, of course. It’s good to have your perspective in the mix here.

                • ingrid says:

                  Beautifully written, Kevan. And that’s precisely the type of stuff that turned me from one tolerant of hunting, to one who now abhors it and is, at times, traumatized by those events. I have — many times — had ethical hunters tell me “well, those guys are a small minority.” If they are, then I’m having a very bad luck life in seeing many more of these “bad” practices than I ever encounter ethical hunters.

                  One of my photographer friends came upon a scene a few years ago … a “wildlife tree.” Varmint hunters had killed a number of species — coyotes, foxes, cats (feral or domestic, he didn’t know), crows and so forth. They had taken each of these animals and skewered them onto branches of a tree along a trail where he was photographing. Although he called wildlife authorities, he suspected little would be done, precisely because “varmint” species are treated like trash and have very little legal protection. Witness what people do to pigeons and the like. They get bored when there’s nothing else to shoot, and start taking potshots at unprotected species.

                  I am so glad to hear a hunter say that change has to happen from within the ranks. It certainly won’t be heard from an “anti” like me. Believe me, I know that’s how people like me are viewed in most hunting chats. I’ve certainly experienced the threats and the vitriol to substantiate that.

                  But, the fact is, I’ve been pressing these points for quite a few years now, and in the end, the discussion tends to end up just where somsai left it: that is, I’m usually classified as a “Bambi lover” who has no authentic grasp on nature, despite my passionate immersion in environmental and wildlife issues.

                  I’ve said many times that you can wrap hunting in all of the positive PR you want, or focus on the few ethical hunters you know and pretend the other stuff is a rarity. But until hunters themselves show the non-hunting public that they’re serious about policing their own, it will all sound like Charlie-Brown dialogue to those of us who have to witness these horrid spectacles. And in the end, it doesn’t serve hunting as a whole, if one is concerned about the preservation of their ethical hunting heritage.

                  I think it’s fair to draw the analogy between hunting and rehabbing, since you have experience with both. In a wildlife hospital, there is no way anyone who treated wildlife unethically, would be allowed to stay. Our rules for engaging wildlife are SO much more strict, and yet hunters who deal with the very same species, have virtual freedom when it comes to how they choose to interact, pursue, kill, etc. Of course, so much is left up to individual mores, being out of sight of the general public. I speak from a place where I, personally, have been expected to adhere to a very high standard of conduct. As such, I do feel justified in suggesting the same should be true of hunters.

                  One last thing, my previous wildlife hospital didn’t take non-native species, but my husband and I couldn’t make those delineations either, so we helped where we could. I share your feelings, and also believe, based on my various readings, that the overarching harm attributed to Starlings and Sparrows is overstated. There are studies which suggest this.

                  • Tovar says:

                    One interesting treatment of related themes (which I’ve mentioned in a previous post or two, and in the book) is Ted Kerasote’s “Restoring the Older Knowledge.” Hunters, non-hunters, and anti-hunters can make all kinds of claims, but I think it’s impossible to know how many hunters are respectful and careful, and how many are callous and careless.

                    I think it’s worth noting that respectful hunters do not leave behind visible evidence the way some disrespectful hunters do. I’ve never found the ethical hunters’ equivalent of trash left in the woods, of animals left to rot, or of the grotesque “wildlife tree” Ingrid describes. There’s no glaring sign that a respectful hunter passed this way; a respectful hunter leaves little trace of his or her passage through the landscape. The same is true of respectful anglers, or respectful hikers for that matter. I don’t know how many anglers pass along the brook near my house or how many hikers and bicyclists pass by on the nearby trail. The only ones who leave evidence are the littering slobs.

                    • ingrid says:

                      Tovar, that’s true. But I think that’s all the more reason the ethical hunters should make a significant problem out of the unethical. The problem is, whenever I encounter these issues in hunting discussions, invariably, hunters will backtrack and say, “well, who am I to say what is ethical for another person? It’s legal.” If the hunters who genuinely care, as a group, consistently called out the most questionable of the “legal” practices, I do believe those practices would be pushed more to the margins. But I’m not holding my breath for any sportsmen’s alliance to take a stand on so-called “slob” hunters. I couldn’t even find one hunting writer who publicly questioned the the lead ammo and fishing gear provision in the recent House act.

                      One recent example in my own field of photography. When the Snowy Owls descended on the Northwest, there were some serious violations of ethical code. A lot of birders and photographers were livid. Although almost all of these photographers’ behavior was technically legal, enough of us put social, blogging and other pressures on the ethics violators, that by mid to late Snowy Owl season, all but the most oblivious photographers were remaining at the sidelines, photographing respectfully.

                      I just don’t understand why hunters, generally speaking, of course, are so reluctant to publicly call out their own, unless it’s poachers. Maybe because those dudes happen to be armed idiots? Maybe because hunters fear the proverbial slippery slope of perception? I personally think the perception suffers regardless, and that the only thing that will help hunting in the eyes of non-hunters is to actually show that hunting is progressive enough to embrace an evolving sense of animal consciousness and environmental necessity. I’m just not seeing that. The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act is just one lousy example of where sportsmen choose to side, when push comes to shove.

                    • Tovar says:

                      By and large, Ingrid, I agree that there’s too much tolerance of “slob” behavior among hunters. Bill Heavey articulated this quite gruesomely in a F&S article entitled “Morons Among Us” (linked here), which I mentioned in a post a year ago.

                      But I don’t think it’s fair to say that hunters invariably backtrack to legal-equals-okay. Heavey’s piece itself is proof of that and I’ve read plenty of other pieces like it. And there have, in fact, been entire reports on hunter behavior and ethics published by hunter/angler organizations including the Izaak Walton League.

                      Though I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, my understanding is that some American hunting traditions include very specific ways of enforcing ethical behavior, such as humiliating a hunter by cutting off his shirttails if he misses or wounds a deer. Are those kinds of traditions waning? Are other forms of peer pressure not emerging to take their place? Maybe so. I’m not sure. I do know there was no one around to cut my shirttails when I missed my first deer. But I was going to be own harshest critic anyway.

                      I think there’s also a certain circle-the-wagons phenomenon going on: one that may lead to a reluctance to criticize poor hunter behavior, along the lines of what Kevan referred to in his comment a few minutes ago (“You’re either with us and accept everything we call ‘hunting’, or you’re against us and an anti”). I don’t think that’s going to help hunting in the long run, but I’m guessing it comes out of concern that hunters will be divided and conquered. I think hunting would benefit more from consistent demonstrations of respect for animals and nature (though I generally urge that for the sake of animals and nature and our relationships with them, not as a PR move).

                      For what it’s worth, I have heard and seen some politically active hunters raise concerns and objections about parts of the recent Heritage Act, though they have been in the minority. (I’ve been too busy with other things to read up on the Act or get into the fray.)

                    • Tovar says:

                      P.S. Sorry for the growing visual confusion in these threads. I think we got to the deepest level of nested comment-replies possible (10 levels?), and my last comment got kicked to the bottom.

                    • Kevan says:

                      Hi Tovar,

                      A few things I’ll point out. Hunters are not the only people out there in the woods and each needs to take responsibility for their share of the problems. I’ve seen trails ruined by mountain bikers. Hard to imagine but, yes, trails can be ruined by bicycles. I’ve seen campers leave mounds of trash. The worst are ATV riders who can turn a road navigable by a pick up truck or 4WD into a series of mud bogs that would trap a tank. Then we had the idiots a couple years back that decided they needed a huge bonfire in a windstorm. End result? The Schultz Fire.

                      I tend to think that there’s a lot of people who enjoy the woods but don’t really have a stake in the game. What if an excise tax was levied on all camping gear, mountain bikes, and so forth? The same as on firearms and ammunition and archery gear. That would generate a lot of revenue and even out who’s paying for it.

                    • Tovar says:

                      Kevan wrote: “Hunters are not the only people out there in the woods and each needs to take responsibility for their share of the problems.” I agree. That’s part of what I was suggesting when I mentioned hikers and anglers above. We have issues with ATVs around here, too. (It strikes me that ATV-organization rhetoric seems to echo some hunting-organization rhetoric: “Most of us are responsible and a few bad apples make us all look bad.” Hard to say whether that’s true or not.)

                    • Sam says:

                      In both cases, I think it’s the opposite. That’s just my experience. ATV problems here are prolific and I hear it’s much the same across the state. Many people buy them but have no legal place to ride and they end up on the roads and on their neighbor’s land. If VASA ends up with system of trail, I think we will see the same ATV users riding legally on the trails who are also riding illegally back at home.

                    • ingrid says:

                      Kevan, so many of us who use wild lands contribute voluntarily in time and money, where possible — beyond the general taxes we all pay to maintain our public resources. And those same people would welcome a proposal along the lines of what you suggest — particularly when you consider the consistent under-funding of almost every facet of public land management. I’m involved with a project that’s addressing this disparity in one small capacity. But, I will add there is resistance from some sporting alliances to changes in this status quo, precisely because those revenues would give everyone a stake, as you say, in processes now often favoring the interests of hunters and anglers.

                      btw, Tovar, thank you for the fact that your CAPTCHA codes are actually legible and simple. Is this a setting individual sites can employ? I’ve never used CAPTCHA at mine.

                    • Tovar says:

                      I have seen some of resistance you describe, Ingrid, but there have also been some great coalitions. A number of states now have substantial non-hunting/angling funds going to conservation, from a variety of sources.

                      For CAPTCHA, I’m using http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/si-captcha-for-wordpress/. Yep, it allows me to set the level of difficulty. This low level seems to work well: tough enough to deter bots but not so tough as to deter humans. 🙂

                    • ingrid says:

                      That’s true, Tovar. But if you read the mission statements in some of thse cases, priority usage is still given to hunters and anglers, irrespective of their minority numbers (approx 14 million hunters versus 80 million wildlife watchers who use the same lands). Issues favoring hunting (game animal management, for instance) still prevail when it comes to land-use in so many cases. A number of photographers and birders do not buy Duck Stamps or have stopped buying Duck Stamps for this reason. The funds are effectively pooled regardless of who purchased the stamp, and when issues come to the table, refuges invariably give more up to hunting interests and preserving hunted species because the “Duck Stamp” is considered hunting revenue. Of course, it’s not mentioned much that this revenue funds just 3 percent of land purchases, and that refuges operate out of a public budget allocation. That’s just one example. One great example, though is Ohio’s Wildlife Legacy Stamp.

                    • Tovar says:

                      Ingrid wrote: “One great example, though is Ohio’s Wildlife Legacy Stamp.” By that you mean Ohio’s stamp program is working well?

                    • Neil says:

                      Ok, admittedly this was posted before, but for some reason way up in the thread.

                      The discussion of who pays for what and hunters and fisherman vs. other types of appreciation is an interesting one. I do think that other wilderness goods should be taxed, particularly since a good deal of hunting takes place on private land, whereas almost all camping does not.

                      But mostly I wanted to point out that in regards to the 80 million vs 16 million number there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, to hunt one must usually be more engaged than to count as a “wildlife watcher”, which could consist of almost anything for the purposes of a survey. Secondly, the overlap is considerable. There seems to be an assumption that the two are diametrically opposed. I car camp, backpack, gather plants, nature watch, and hunt. I use both BLM and Parks. I actually don’t hunt on Government land much. I, and many others are probably in both groups. I would also say that many wilderness users are positive and an even greater number neutral about hunting. So it’s hardly a black or white, this or that, issue. If anything I would say perceptions of hunting are on the upswing, and that’s in my famously liberal city of San Francisco.

                    • Sam says:

                      “I tend to think that there’s a lot of people who enjoy the woods but don’t really have a stake in the game. What if an excise tax was levied on all camping gear, mountain bikes, and so forth? The same as on firearms and ammunition and archery gear. That would generate a lot of revenue and even out who’s paying for it.”

                      Versions of that has failed multiple times here. Although some hunters are on board, there is strong opposition from hunters. The non hunters seem to be OK with it. What we’re doing in the meantime is taking money out of the general tax collection fund and giving to the FWD.

                      The hunters against it want it both ways: they want 100% control, but want others to chip in. Use of the General fund money achieves this. There are a bunch of folks here that want the Fish and Wildlife Department to revert to The Fish and Game Department. There are a bunch of folks who would like to place a fee on all canoes and kayaks in order to improve fishing access, but they also want to keep the fishing access use priority rules so that fishermen have priority over the non fishing canoes, etc.

                  • somsai says:

                    Keven I find no way around the fact that you are breaking various state and federal laws by keeping a wild native bird as a pet, can you? Rehabilitation licensure all up to date and valid? If you ever were a hunter I’d think that you’d know that a responsibility of an ethical hunter is to be familiar with and follow all laws, otherwise it’s poaching. Maybe there is a special designation for sparrows, and maybe all your paperwork is up to date, but it sure makes me curious.

                    There are strict laws on “rescue” and “rehabilitation” as some pretty sick people get interested in it. People who wish to make pets of wild animals. People who enjoy watching videos of tortured animals or looking at photos of same, then recounting them in every gory detail. They enjoy the emotional see saw of poutrage followed by acute anger like some kind of abusive relationship.

                    The template for a poutrage story is so predictable I could and should write one myself. The formula if followed daily at Care2, Howling for Justice, and a plethora of other anti hunting web sites.

                    Why not head back to the topic of this blog post, the length of life of prey or the animals we eat and if our predation is natural.

                    • ingrid says:

                      somsai, the same licensing requirements do not apply to some non-native species, so Kevan did not break a law by rehabilitating and keeping a House Sparrow. (Other species of native sparrow — yes.) I don’t believe this is some sort of “tell” about how much of a hunter Kevan is. Naturally, I agree that wildlife in the wrong hands can be mistreated or malnourished or improperly habituated, but that’s obviously not your real concern here.

                      As far as people returning to the topic at hand, as you admonish Kevan — I suppose your suggestion that I wring the necks of ducks for my aluminum pot was a helpful part of this civil and intellectual discourse? Right, of course it was.

                    • Kevan says:

                      Somsai, as Ingrid pointed out, I need no license to keep an English Sparrow. Had you read your own hunting regs, you would know that. The information is in there on what species fall under the Migratory Bird Act, what are considered pest or invasive and/or non-native/non-protected species. I can also keep pigeons and starlings, should I so wish. Again, refer to your hunting regs. The information is in there. If you don’t have a copy, you can usually obtain them from sporting goods stores or your local game and fish. If I’m not really a hunter, how is it I know this and you do not?

                      I also run into the “You’re not a real hunter” straw man argument all the time. This is usually because some hunters are a “You’re either with us and accept everything we call ‘hunting’, or you’re against us and an anti.” This is usually a clue to a cut-sheet reply out of American Rifleman being used. I was also interested to see the “The antis are mentally ill” myth trotted out. Are you a mental health professional, Somsai? I would be interested to know where your practice is.

                      Honestly, I don’t need to justify whether or not I am a hunter to anyone. It’s not that big a deal to me. As Rumi once said, what you see in the mirror is yourself, not the state of the mirror. So, if I’ve held up a mirror to hunting and some people don’t like the reflection, the fault isn’t the mirror.

                  • Kevan says:

                    Hunting does have to change from within the ranks, Ingrid. The “wildlife tree” is a good example of what’s wrong out there. Unfortunately, there are some hunters who cannot handle constructive criticism. Oh, they love to dole out the criticism: “The antis are doing this, the antis are doing that!” But they themselves are completely unable to see the changes that need to happen in hunting. Nothing is ever one-sided. If antis exist, well, hunters might want to examine some of what they say rather than dismiss it out of hand. Antis don’t make up the horror stories. They see them and document them. Whose fault is that? The antis or the clowns that did what the antis filmed? I happen across lots of elk hunting camps in my hiking. Tons of beer cans and beer bottles left all over the place along with gutpiles. Hmmm….seems to me that firearms and alcohol don’t mix. Isn’t that what they say in hunters safety? Again, we need to clean our own house. As long as we excuse this, hunting contintues to look like a bunch of drunks shooting at noise. And if that’s not happening, explain the people shot and killed here in hunting season.

                    I’d also like to point out that in many states, hunting is not a right. It’s a privelege. Now, you go to someplace like certain European countries, their hunting classes require excellent marksmanship or you don’t get to hunt. It’s not a right to hunt there, either.

                    • Sam says:

                      I have to say I could have written what Kevan has been posting. I’ve gone even further by saying that the hunter who doesn’t act to curtail slob hunting is a slob hunter. Which would make just about every hunter a slob hunter and every hunting organization a slob organization. Picking and choosing when you live by a set of standards is hypocritical. Evidently, hypocriticism is alive and well in the hunting community. And then there is the whole “anti” thing which is used to intimidate good hunters from doing what is right. Imagine being cast down as your fellow hunters label you an “anti” because you spoke up. My response to being called an “anti” is that I don’t mind hunting, I just hate hunters. That should get a couple gears spinning, at least in people who have gears.

                    • Neil H says:

                      This is a response to Sam, but I have no idea if it will end up in the right place. I’m a bit baffled, though I’d like to think I have “gears” spinning. I disagree that those who don’t actively thwart those who engage in values less than your own are hypocritical. Those who fail to live up to their own stated moral are hypocritical.

                      Ingrid may feel that eating meat is unethical to her. She even does animal rescue. Is she a hypocrite for failing to liberate from bondage every domestic animal she sees? I dislike graffiti. I have helped clean it up, and will call if I see it happen. But I don’t think I’m a hypocrite if I don’t turn into some superfriends style crime-fighter who shoots anyone who might be carrying a pen or wearing a hoodie. I might choose a certain diet. Am I hypocrital because I don’t try to stop people from eating at MacDonald’s?

                      The fact is, the vast majority of people who turn in poachers are hunters. I think that’s good. I think more people should take an active role in enforcing wildlife laws, or for that matter those in society as a whole. I think most hunters are pretty direct when they disagree with some behavior, or at least more than most.

                      I think you might be painting with a broad brush.

                    • Sam says:


                      No one expects hunters to patrol the woods. What we have here is a situation where hunters claim a moral high ground but when it comes time to vote for measures that would help curtail slob hunting, they take the low road. As a group they side with the slobs which leaves you trying to make sense of it.

                    • Paul Roberts says:

                      Most people, from any walk of life, are not very good at confrontation, or the better approach -educating. I see it in the “anti’s” too. My wife is a master teacher with an EQ off the charts, and who happens to genuinely like people. She recently had an issue come up surrounding a parent (an animal rescue person) on a field trip to an organic farm.

                      The farm kept a “snake pit” for kids to view snakes and toads. The parent was horrified and took it upon herself, enlisting some of the kids, to release all the snakes and toads.

                      Since my wife knows from experience that direct experience with animals is invaluable, she would not condemn a “snake pit” out of hand. (The young children in her classrooms routinely actually cuddle snakes, meal worms, and bess bugs –giant beetles with “a face only a mother–or a someone properly introduced–could love”). Instead she met with the farm managers (whom the class has a regular and valuable relationship with) to mitigate the social damage. First, she apologized profusely for the aggressive act of the parent and the assumptions/accusations that were made. It’s true the pit was maintained by migrant workers who were generally less sensitive to snakes and there were too many snakes in the pit (probably for shock effect), and we did worry how long they were held captive, since one was found dead. After patching up the relationships and re-establishing trust, it turned out that the snakes are exchanged roughly weekly. The dead one had died when a student from a different school had dropped a rock on it (meanness, exploration, or accident, they couldn’t tell). My wife also offered a gentle suggestion: That maybe they keep one or two representative species in the pit, and to make it a bit more educational.

                      One might argue that if the parent hadn’t spoken up, nothing would be done. Well… what was done was poorly done, apt to ostracize rather than educate. If you make someone mad, you lose them. I would argue that my wife’s tact was more effective, but it takes time, consideration, and know how. Those just aren’t in everyone’s quiver.

                    • somsai says:

                      That’s one snake that should have been put back in the pit Paul. She must have been guilty of something, theft, destruction of property, best lesson for those kids would be to see someone like that cuffed and taken away in a squad car. Notice how that animal abuser upthread changed his sparrow to English Sparrow? Still no word on his license. Every once in a while I read about some rescue operation getting busted for abuse and neglect of animals. Those kinds of folks seem to be attracted to that kind of pastime. They needlessly prolong suffering for their own enjoyment, and they imprison wild animals then brag about it online. I’d take advice on ethical hunting from Michael Vik first.

                      Why folks can’t just leave wildlife alone I just don’t know.

                    • Kevan says:

                      Somsai, I strongly suggest you get your facts straight before making personal attacks and calling me an “animal abuser”. That, sir, is a slanderous remark for which you have no proof whatsoever. You appear to be the one who has not read your own hunting regulations. Like many people out there who call themselves “hunters” but are unable to see beyond their own very narrow interpretation of what exactly that really means, you do not practice proper fire discipline with your own words. Instead of admitting your rush to judgment and admitting your error as a decent man would do, you persist in your own illusion of rightness, clinging obstinantly to your ego. People that cling to the illusion of being “right” all the time usually never are.

                    • Kevan says:

                      But, Somsai, I believe it was best said on Monty Python:

                      “I fart in your general direction.”

                      Have a nice day.

                    • Neil H says:

                      In spite of my response to “every hunter is a slob…” statement, I have to share with Kevan my confusion over how so many people support policies that directly threaten habitat and ecosystems. How so many see ATV access as synonymous with hunting rights. I personally see ATVs as a threat to the habitat that some species require. When I think of a classic high country elk hunt, some yahoo on an ATV spinning up there in an afternoon doesn’t figure into it. Want to preserve wilderness? You don’t need to “do” anything, you just need to make those who reach it have to put in the work to get there.

                      As far as legislation to “clean up hunting”? Unfortunately most of those are thinly veiled efforts by anti-hunting lobbying groups to chip away at all hunting rights, hence the resistance. The shift that needs to happen, in my view, is a personal, ethical one on the part of many people. I live by my values and try to relate them to others when I think there is a common benefit. I am aggressive in my rejection of issues of safety or unethical behavior. That doesn’t mean I think everything that I don’t chose to do needs to be banned.

                      On the other side of that, if kevan keeps a single sparrow without a proper license (even if needed), I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make him an axe murderer.

                    • Sam says:


                      Not true at all here. They are not veiled attempts. That is often what the slobs say to rile the troops and keep all the lemmings in line. Here we have good legislation proposed by the FWD and it still doesnt get passed.

                    • Kevan says:

                      Well, here’s the thing, folks. Many hunters are responsible people. But far too many are also voting against their own self-interest. For one thing, they vote for mostly conservative politicians who are pro-corporate, pro-mining, etc., etc. This is because, for the most part, they believe the NRA money-making mantra of “(Insert Democrat Politician Here) is going to take away all of your guns!” Then they provide a list of Republican politicians to vote for and, nearly to the man, they all have terrible track records on the environment. Excuse me, but where do people plan to hunt when the last forest is clear cut? Where do people plan to fish when every waterway is polluted because the “free market” ideology of these people has scrapped laws against pollution so American companies can “compete”? If the NRA is to be believed, well, Obama is going to take away everyone’s guns. Why would he do that? He has successfully not fulfilled any promise he made to the Left, so logically, he couldn’t care less about guns. But, to the man, these hunters are going to go vote for every right-wing candidate the NRA tells them to. And these guys will try and in many cases succeed in rolling back laws that protect the environment.

                      Take Northern Arizona (where I live), for example. The Republicans want to bring back uranium mining, to include doing so in the Grand Canyon. This will “create jobs”, they say. The reality is, they have cozy relationships with mining interests. Now, there is still mounds of radioactive tailings left over from the uranium mining done around here in the 1950s and 1960s. The companies never cleaned them up and they are responsible for cancers in this region. But the mining companies now say they’ll clean up the mess if they’re allowed to mine. Not the old messes, the new messes. Sure they will. But many of the elk hunters in this region are all pro-mining. Because they’re told to vote that way. Because the “liberals are going to take their guns” if they don’t. So, while we hear all about “anti-hunting propaganda”, we need to be honest enough to admit there is a whole lot of right-wing propaganda out there that garners votes by using scare tactics and outright lies and falsehoods. And because people vote on issues of perceived gun rights, they’ll willingly consign the Grand Canyon to uranium mining and entire tarcts of wilderness to strip mining. But they’ll think they’re protecting their AR-15s and Kalashnikovs, which are not hunting weapons to begin with anyway. And, besides, every politicain knows gun control is too hot a topic to even discuss, so this is a non-issue anyway. But the NRA milks it for all it’s worth and it generates tons of cash from the gullible who haven’t noticed the NRA has been pulling this swindle for 12 years now. And we have some seriously bad politicians in office as a result. And the collateral damage? Well, just take a look around. Ask Iraq how many died. Take a look at a VA hospital.

                      Am I saying we should vote Democrat? No, I am not. But what I am saying is we need to vote according to what is in the best interests of future generations. We are consigning future generations to a very bleak future with few options by our very actions today. We need to grow up and stop defending wrong action just because it allegedly protects one sacred cow.

                  • Neil H says:

                    Slobs and now lemmings? Is this the comment section for “Yahoo!”? Maybe we can think up derogatory names for various political parties next.

                    Interestingly, I read every one of these bills in their entirety, and look at the sponsorship and yes, in a way you are right. They are not thinly veiled. Here in California, most bills (since this is a way of going around the DFG) are OVERTLY sponsored by the Humane Society, usually in opposition to DFG recommendations. The last time I checked, they are in fact an evangelically vegan, anti-hunting organization. That’s not hype, but rather their stated policies. While I would not prejudge every new bill, that is much of the track record here.

                    But that’s neither here nor there. One of the nice things about this space is that generally people discuss ideas without name calling, or knee-jerk, black and white thinking. A place where people as diverse as Phillip and Ingrid can discuss ideas, often in full disagreement while remaining civil. But what would I know? I’m a slob (or maybe a lemming?). Slob, slob, slob. Thank you for correcting me on that. You’ve brought me so much closer to your line of thought. Yawn.

                    • Neil H says:


                      I have no idea how this whole comment string is connected, or how your comment got ahead of mine, but this is a response to our comment about anti-environmentalism.

                      This is a dilemma, because you are completely correct in that the Second Amendment seems to drive everything else, and meanwhile there seems to be almost a war on conservation. I see this open hostility toward the “greenies” by House Republicans, but also from outdoorsmen themselves. It’s been a long time since Theodore Roosevelt, or for that matter since Nixon signed the Clean Air and Water act. It’s hard not to notice that the proposed house budget basically eliminated conservation, including some of the private/public programs that basically saved the prairie pothole region (the breeding ground for almost all waterfowl and other migratory birds) from disappearing under a sea of wheat and soybeans. Sportsmen should be up in arms, but instead we hear shock if someone is so brazen as to suggest that maybe some of the issues related to fracking are thought about.

                      Incidentally, Howard Dean as chairmen was pretty successful in eliminating gun control as a main issue for the DP. There’s still such a huge disconnect between action and perception. I remember when he ran and I had someone rant to me how this leftist was going to “take all our guns”. I told him that was odd considering Dean had multiple endorsements from the NRA.

                      Now I’m in a particular place for all of these issues. I’m in SF, Ca, where liberal politicians really do try to take away guns. Also, pretty much any hunting restrictions I would support (regarding baiting, or feeding wildlife at all for that matter, especially bears, and others) are already law. So most of our potential legislation really is usually driven by forces hostile to hunting as a whole. Somewhere in between the these extremes is a sane middle ground, but it’s hard when the middle ground is something all these groups only see as a place to win a concession on the way to total victory.

                      Anyway, thanks for your post.

                    • Sam says:

                      Well sorry you don’t like it, but that seems to be the way it’s working here. Ironically just last year we saw the fines for wildlife violations increase. This had nothing to do with the fact that the penalties were so small that they were not a deterrent, but as part of a state wide increase in fees and fines. This should have been done years ago, but never gained support from the hunters controlling the strings. Why? Hard to say since no lawful hunter should have a problem with increases. Possibly unwilling to acknowledge that slob behavior exists and/or they didn’t want to be limited by wildlife regs? You would get a bigger fine speeding and since the penalties were so low only the worst cases were prosecuted. That meant wardens were unable to enforce.

                      It may be all moot anyway. If things keep going the way they are, the entire state will eventually be posted.

                    • Kevan says:

                      Hi Neil,

                      Thank you for your reply. I grew up in Southern California, so I am well aware of the California gun control initiatives that started with Proposition 15 back in the early 1980s. Prop 15 was started by mostly liberal politicians with the backing of several police unions and fraternal police orders. Let’s not forget that Dianne Feinstein had a concealed weapons permit, one of the few in the state. Prop 15 was defeated, but the gun owners made a serious tactical error. They pointed out in debates that handguns are relatively weak when compared to the then-available AR-15s, HK-91s, HK-93s, and other semi-auto weapons (aka “assault rifles” as they’re known by the media.) Now, during this time, few people could afford a HK-91 or any of the other semi-autos. They were very expensive, mostly Western Europe imports. But then in the 1980s, the thaw with China saw the import of Norinco semi-auto AK-47s and these were very cheap in price. Anyone could afford them. You could get a semi-auto RPK with drum magazine and bipod for just a few bucks more. Well, along with the rise of crack cocaine, the streets of Los Angeles turned into a bloodbath. The comments gun owners made about handguns being puny compared to an AR-15 came back to bite them. And LAPD, with their typical flair, even purchased a tank for their SWAT team to deal with the suppposedly better armed crack houses. (This set a precedent. Most major police departments now have tanks and/or armored personnel carriers they get cheap from Dept. of Defense programs for obtaining said weapons. Some PDs even have M2 .50 HMGs, too.) So, gun shops are selling 20 AK-47s to some young guys paying with cash and they’re not suspicious about it? Hmmm…. We’ll get back to that in a moment. But, this is how California ended up with an Assault Weapons Ban which is one of the strictest in the nation. It’s not all liberals. It’s also gun shops willing to jeopardize everyone’s gun rights to make an easy buck. A gun shop is under no duress to sell a weapon. They can pull the plug on a sale at any time, for any reason. But they didn’t. They sold the weapons that ended up on the streets. Those weapons weren’t “black market” weapons. They were the fruit of what’s termed a “straw purchase”. The police running up against these weapons helped lobby for the assault weapons ban.

                      Now, California also has a law restricting gun purchases to something like one per month. Why? Because people were walking into gun shops and buying 30 Glocks and paying cash. Guess where those weapons ended up? On the streets. Glocks were popular because every “gangster rap” song talks about popping people with Glocks. So, guy walks into a gun shop, wants 30 Glocks, pays cash. Not suspicious? Right, he’s only going to do a little target shooting. Again, gun shops sold out the citizens of California with their profiteering. The NRA defends gun shops. But gun shops are where these weapons are entering the mainstream population. They’re not being stolen from the army, I can tell you that. I was a small arms repairman in the army. Weapons, even weapons parts, are under tight security. The army will shut down an entire base if a weapon comes up missing. Yes, some are stolen from National Guard armories. But they are not using Glocks and Kalashnikovs, either. Maybe if the NRA pressed for more accountability of gun shops rather than defending them like the parents of a spoiled brat, they might have some credibility left. And anyone who was at the Great Western Gun Show in Pomona back in the day knows what I’m talking about. Walk in with cash, walk out with unlimited guns, no questions asked. People wearing “colors” in there buying guns.

                      This is what’s going on in Arizona right now. Those guns going into Mexico are coming from gun shops right here in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. They catch these shops doing this once in a while. But we pontificate about our “Second Amendment rights” while there’s a bloodbath going on in Mexico. If the tables were turned and some country was doing this to us and flooding our streets with weapons being used in massacres, that country would find itself on the wrong end of an aircraft carrier battle group. And the feds would turn on the Patriot Act and this place would be a police state. We’d have a tank at every major intersection and troops would be everywhere. Every airport would have an Apache gunship squadron stationed there. But the NRA acts like American gun shops are the victims here, not the people of Mexico being murdered with weapons purchased at gun shops right here in the U.S. Gun owners act like we’re innocent here, but we are not. We’re tacitly defending those sales and vocally defending the right to do it. Sorry, but when ammo is loaded into a pickup with a forklift, something’s amiss. And if a law was proposed to stop this practice, the NRA would come out swinging about “communists” and the “loss of freedom”. Now, yes, obviously some of those weapons are coming from overseas. You can’t buy an RPG-7 at a gun shop here. But the bulk of the AR-15s are coming from here. In case the NRA forgot, the U.S. is the manufacturer of the AR-15 family of weapons. The semi-auto Kalasknikovs are coming from here. The full-autos are coming from overseas. Most of the handguns are coming from here. But nothing will be done, despite the shrill whining from the NRA that our gun rights are “under attack”.

                      My point? There’s always a flip side to every coin. Yes, the liberals cannot seem to get over their fear of guns in private hands. The truth is, guns in private hands don’t kill people even slightly as much as guns in governments’ hands do. They also have bigger guns, for one thing. Plus nuclear weapons and an expressed willingness to use them over ridiculous political ideologies. The U.S. is awash in guns. Nothing can be done about it, not should anything be done, really. But we do need to clean our own house and stop acting like gun shops aren’t trafficking arms to Mexico in the exact same fashion they armed the gangs in Los Angeles. Acting like it isn’t happening when the guns have been found and serial numbers traced is absurd. So, if hunters want to truly defend the Second Amendment, they need to demand accountability. Defending these gun shops is like defending a poacher because he had a hunting license at the time. And, again, we need to look deeply into the mirror.

                      Didn’t mean to sidetrack, but I think this provides an example of how things happen.

  7. Erik Jensen says:

    One thing that also gets lost here is that modern humans in rich countries are very lucky. We are a slice of the world human population that mostly gets to old age, and the majority of us even have ways to minimize our physical suffering towards the end, and progressive states and countries allow us to control the end of our lives.

    It makes me very happy that I will most likely benefit from this. But it’s important to not lose sight of the bigger picture.

    As an aside, I’ve been getting very annoyed with the vegans in the New York Times lately and their false nutritional claims. I’m glad they’ve been running other op-eds to point out how dangerous some of these diets are, esp for children. These folks are as bad as the Atkins people were.

    BTW – teaching a repeat of my hunting class at the Seward coop on Thursday night.

  8. Erik Jensen says:

    …I guess that was bit too general, should have said “SOME progressive states and countries allow us to control the end of our lives”. Hopefully, I didn’t just open up a can of worms on whether legalizing assisted suicide is o.k. Obviously, I think it is.

    Of course, it is pretty standard for people to be able to refuse treatment.

    • Tovar says:

      Good points, Erik. We are lucky indeed and this probably helps skew our notions of natural living and dying.

      Yes, it was good to see Nina Planck (and others) get a voice in the nutritional chat-fest at the NYT.

      Glad to hear you’re doing a second class!

  9. somsai says:

    The fact that we are discussing this speaks volumes to how far removed from “natural” we actually are. Humans have been the apex predator in whatever environment we have occupied for tens of thousands of years. Only for the last century or so have we becomes so affluent and urban that most of us are disconnected from not only our food sources but our own very real physical vulnerability as well.

    For male humans in the prime of life 20% of our deaths are from murder, combined with accidental death of whatever means, most males that die in the US between the ages of 15 to 24, die violently. Isn’t that natural? http://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/2007/AllMen2007.pdf

    Only in a society without subsistance farms could we becomes so disconnected. We make an effort to avert our eyes. We construct fairy tales of gardens of Eden where all animals live without pain and in balance with each other. These fictional constructs could be harmful not just for their affects on hunting but also wildlife management in general.

    • ingrid says:

      And, for the better part of our historical record, there have always been humans — scientists, philosophers, theologians — who argued against our wanton exploitation of other species. So, yes, we would have been discussing our responsibility toward non-human species, even in times B.C. and earlier. This is not new, nor a manifestation of some disconnect. On the contrary. I’d say it’s an important exploration of our growing understanding of other species and consciousness. Beyond that, though, historical precedent doesn’t serve as adequate justification for a modern behavior.

    • Kevan says:

      Somsai said:
      “Humans have been the apex predator in whatever environment we have occupied for tens of thousands of years.”

      Correct. On one path, this predatory instinct has kept us fed and clothed. Another path leads to missile silos in North Dakota and B-52s sitting on runway tarmacs awaiting orders. This instinct must also be coupled with compassion, reason, discipline, and restraint. We know the consequences when it isn’t. Predatory animals do not have the same capacity for reason that we do.

  10. Pete says:

    I wonder if the people attempting to prolong the life of the partridge would also attempt to save the life of the tick attached to their leg? Do they carefully remove the mosquito from their hand and help it find another host that doesn’t mind them? Or do they allow the two parasites to continue feeding off them, in order to allow them the nourishment they need to live a “full” life. Would this person also avoid antibiotics as to not harm the bacteria that is raising a beautiful family inside them?

    I know, I know – maybe I pushed it a little with the examples used – but my point stands that many people draw the line in front of the cute, cuddly, or anything they can anthropomorphize. Although they have little issue crushing the adorable little mosquito, or sweeping the cob webs from their ceiling, resulting in a creature of nature that has expended massive amounts of energy and now must go without a meal, possibly resulting in “early” death.

    I’m not sure if I’m right when I hunt and fish, since I’m acting as a predator who has many choices, or if they’re right in trying to prolong the life of a creature in nature – but whatever side you’re on, I think you have to do it 100%. I can’t see a compromise on this topic.

    • ingrid says:

      I would venture to say that the people who have “little issue” crushing insects or spiders, are not the same people arguing in this blog for compassion toward other species. Those of us who do care, care across the board, irrespective of “cuteness.” To that extent, I try to push the line as far as I can in terms of not causing intentional harm. So, yes, I don’t deliberately kill insects, but even the Jains, who have trouble tilling soil for the organisms harmed, will suggest “least harm” as a way of life. I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that the types of harm we humans inflict on other species fall under the auspices of a “least harmful” existence.

  11. Pete says:

    I agree, the people in this blog are a different group. Open minded and conscientious. My comment was directed at Tovar’s sister, or the vegans response to chapter 5, or the commenters I’ve read on the NYT op-ed.

    • ingrid says:

      Well, I’m actually one of “those” people. 🙂 I don’t hunt, I work with wildlife, and I have historical precedent as the contrarian, anti-hunting gnat on this board. I have yet to meet a philosophical vegan who didn’t also contemplate and act on these overarching issues. I just don’t see people who deeply care about animals and animal issues, wantonly causing harm to other species without a thought.

      • Phillip says:

        “I just don’t see people who deeply care about animals and animal issues, wantonly causing harm to other species without a thought.”

        And the very fact that these conversations are happening should provide sufficient evidence that, in many cases, the “harm” is neither wanton nor thoughtless.

        There is light in the world. Very few hunters fit the stereotype of the insensate, bloodthirsty clod, but some people care more about assigning human-like attributes to wild animals than looking beneath the surface of their own prejudices to see the human-like attributes of other humans. It is, after all, far easier to tilt at caricatures than to address each individual as such.

        Failure to understand a hunter’s capacity to both care about animals and kill them does not represent a shortcoming on the part of the hunter, but it is indeed a shortcoming.

  12. Pete says:

    Ingrid, it sounds like you hang with a group of anti-hunters I would have a strong respect for – I have absolutely no issue with your take, and it would make for a fascinating coffee conversation. However, based on my experience, the NYT commentors, Tovar’s sister (sorry Tovar) etc etc, you and your group of philisophical vegans are not a good representation of the vegan nation as a whole.

    So to reiterate, your stance is noble in my eyes, and my comment doesn’t apply to you or your group. It does apply to the massive amount of hypocritical people in the world that will complain about hunters or omnivores ending the life of the lower rungs of the food chain “early”, while wearing a leather belt (or insert any example you’d like here).

    • Tovar says:

      Sorry not to be replying to recent comments, folks. I’m over-busy today and tomorrow. (Quick FYI, Pete: My sister isn’t vegan and wasn’t at the time of that comment about the fish. But her words are still relevant to the topic. These ways of talking and thinking about “natural lives and deaths” reach far beyond vegans and vegetarians.)

      • Pete says:

        I didn’t assume your sister was vegan Tovar – sorry if my comments read that way. I also understand this goes well beyond vegans and vegetarians. My conversation flowed towards vaganism, simply because I was commenting with Ingrids comments in mind.

        My point was simply that there are many people (vegan and omnivore) who will argue that hunters/omnivores/fishers are ending an animals life “early” – without truly analyzing their own habits and preferences. Its simply a pet peeve of mind that I though was relevant to the NYT column, and your blog.

        If you want the partridge to live its “full natural life” – I’m good with that. Just don’t do it while you’re wearing leather.

  13. Neil H says:

    This is a really interesting post. Thanks, Tovar, for bringing forward such a interesting piece. The Joe Salatin rebuttal discusses this far better than I possibly could.

    I think that one issue that seems to come up is whether we are ‘meant’ to predators. I personally don’t think we are ‘meant’ to do anything. An organism either Is, through adaptations to it’s environmental context, or Is Not. That is the way it has always been.

    Is our success so great it’s become our own downfall? It’s an interesting question. If we have it’s helpful to remember: it wasn’t hunting and gathering that ravaged this planet, it was agriculture, which afforded concentration of population, and made larger families a boon rather than a hindrance. A newly converted vegan friend of mine recently stated to me that “if we eliminated meat production, the grain could feed eight billion people”. My thought is, why is that a good idea? And with what would we fertilize those crops? Should we be putting our intellects to bear on finding ways for more people to exist, or curbing the population?

    We are truly unique in that we question the skills that allowed us to survive. The wolf would never question the advantage he has over the deer. I would like to think that this, in the long run, will allow us to continue as a species. I just personally don’t think that cognizance requires the dismissal of everything that has brought us to this point.

  14. Kevan says:

    Hello Tovar,

    I am reading your book and I must say it is one of the most compelling books I have read since Michael Pollan’s The Omnivores Dilemma and that book was responsible for changing the way my wife and I eat. My wife writes articles in Cooking Wild, in which there is an interview with you I noticed.

    I used to hunt quite a bit some years ago and haven’t been out for a few years. I had thought about “hanging up my bow”, so to speak, using it only for targets and never again hunting. Your book has given me food for thought and I am reconsidering. I haven’t completely decided, but time will tell.

    My wife and I are Pagans and we have been for well over 16 years. To us, life is a cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Life feeds on life. Even the universe itself is a living organism and, one may say, the universe itself takes life. When a star goes nova, who knows if an entire planet there teeming with life then died. We know this to be a natural event. The universe didn’t decide on this course, but followed the natural cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In many myth cycles, Gods die and are reborn, often through a Goddess as is the case with Isis and Osiris. Even in Christianity, if there was no death of Jesus, there could be no rebirth. People have, over time, forgotten the lessons of these myths. The lessons are that all things die—even Gods—yet are reborn and/or transformed.

    One day, Earth will die. Our Sun will die, the planet will die (if we don’t kill the planet first, that is) and that matter will be transformed into other things. You know, people think Halloween to be a festive time to go ask for candy from door to door. But its roots are in a much older event called Samhain. This was a holy day of the Celts. It was a time when animals that would not survive the Winter would be killed and salted down to provide for the people over the Winter. This was also the time when the veil between the worlds was thin and the Spirits of dead ancestors would come. Tables were set for them to welcome them. In other cultures and other times, death was not seen as an ending, but rather just a point of reference along a timeline that did not end. You would be reborn and death was as much a natural event as birth. Our society tends to vilify death as something evil. But, in fact, this is not how the ancients saw death.

    If we believe death is a natural event and a part of life (and the only way to achieve rebirth), then we would see that taking a life to eat is not an act of finality but an act of continuity. If one reads “On Eating and Drinking” in Kahlil Gibran’s book “The Prophet”, one sees the perfect Hunter’s Prayer—-indeed, a prayer for all eating.

    It is only relatively recently that most people were afforded the luxury of dying of old age. Because this happens often now, people impose this belief on animals as well. They wish the natural world to mimic our own. But this is not how the natural world works. It is probably not how the entire universe works, either, since stars go nova. But nothing in the universe happens by itself without a reason, no matter how unapparent the reason is to our minds. We seek to understand that reason because we are unable to accept this timeless cycle of endless changing. In fact, the reason is no reason and because of that, it is a reason. The universe does not need to justify itself.

    Hunting is a solemn act. We bear witness to one of the most intimate secrets of the universe—that this thing we call life is but one place and point of time on a journey. People go through life wondering how the universe works. Well, the universe is working right here, right now, and people do not see it. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Thomas “The Kingdom of God is right here around us and people do not see it”. Hunting? Yes, for we see the moment of death, and the transformation of that life into our life. That body becomes part of our body. On a much larger scale, this is how planets were said to be formed. This is true even of vegetables and vegans and vegetarians do not escape this truth, nor do they escape participation in the Wheel of Life, Death, and Rebirth. The Seasons themselves teach this, for does the land not die in Winter to be reborn in Spring? This is the very basis of religion. Except a grain of wheat falleth unto the Earth and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Even a carrot has died to feed the eater. That it cannot move does not make its death less real.

    Anyway, just some thoughts I had. I am very much engrossed in your book and I want to thank you for writing it.


  15. Tovar says:

    Thanks to everyone for your continued comments on this post and on the various tangents that have emerged. (And thanks to you, Kevan, for your words about the book. I’m delighted to hear how much meaning you’ve found in it).

    My apologies for my continued absence from the discussion. In this final week or so of the semester, I’ve got a ton to do. I had no idea this particular post would generate so much conversation — I find these things impossible to predict!

    For now, I’ll contribute one observation: Regarding hunting, I think we tend to frame our views and comments around the kinds of situations with which we are most familiar. Ingrid, for instance, is often thinking and writing about particular kinds of waterfowl situations she has observed. I am often thinking and writing about particular kinds of deer hunting situations I have observed. Others are often thinking and writing about other kinds of situations. In many cases, these situations bear very little resemblance to one another, for the hunters or the hunted. (Personally, for instance, I wouldn’t want to hunt any kind of creature — deer, duck, or otherwise — in the sort of high-density situation Ingrid describes above. In the situations where I hunt, hunters are few and far between.)

    • ingrid says:

      Thanks for this, Tovar. I didn’t mean to go off on a topic I’ve addressed previously. Although it’s obvious I’m not a fan of hunting in general, the sheer quantity of bird life and crippling that occurs in waterfowling — and in other wingshooting sports, especially with birds that have high bag limits or no bag limits — is troubling to many who share my perspective on birds, even those who don’t generally feel antipathy toward hunting. I have similar misgivings about varmint hunting which so often is done in brutal and indiscriminate ways. I simply can’t find any rationale to embrace what I’ve seen in this regard. I try … because life would be a lot easier if I didn’t feel as strongly about what happens to wildlife in those situations. I know Phillip disagrees with me, but there are clear differences in how animals like birds respond to human predation, even if they are, indeed, dabbling in a closed zone near hunters. Ask anyone who birds or photographs, how birds behave in hunted areas (closed or open zones) versus how birds behave in areas where they are not hunted at all by humans. The difference is dramatic and, for me, heartbreaking when I realize what we humans signify in their lives. I say that because we have the capacity to be so much compassionate than we are as a species. And we choose not to be, so many times.

      • Kevan says:

        Yes, we are capable of much more compassion than we are. I am at a loss to explain what’s going on, except to say that we’re entering into an era of deep forgetting. I am not referring solely to hunting but the overall situation on the planet. We need a paradigm shift in how we see this planet. This planet isn’t a place to exploit—it’s our home. When we forget this, well, as I pointed out earlier, only time will tell if we ourselves are not going to go extinct due to our own actions on one side and lack of action on another. When we have people who place making money above the health of the planet as a whole, well, that doesn’t speak well for our continuity as a species.

  16. Neil says:

    I guess I’ll jump on board the tangential express.

    The thing that’s probably hard for non-hunters to see is that hunting is like my family. They sometimes drive me nuts, I’m often critical, and there’s much complaining, and plenty of judgement. But if an outsider speaks badly of any of them, no one will stand for it. Internally though, the situation is more complex, but I don’t announce those issues to the world. So yeah, I’m pretty judgmental about certain things. They’re usually handled one on one.

    The problem is, hunting by nature doesn’t stand out unless it’s done badly. Much like driving through a poor urban neighborhood, you could look at the dudes hanging on the street corners and think, man, look at how people here are. But the reality is you might be looking at 5% of the populace, since everyone else is at work, or cooking dinner, or whatever. That small number can create the generalization.

    I for one had never witnessed or even heard of any of these transgressions when I grew up in northern California, in a family that all hunted. Later I remember going on a trip to gather landscape stones on a cattle ranch in the bay area when I was about 20, and seeing guys driving around with ice chests full of beer. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it. I still think most hunters, at least where I’m from, have a real disdain for that kind of behavior, and unsafe people are usually shunned. They do tend to flock together though. In spite of that, I personally think hunters are perhaps more responsible than average. How many stupid things did you see on the freeway today?

    • Kevan says:

      Hi Neil,

      I agree with much of what you just said. I’ll also add an observation. The reason we see more bad drivers than bad hunters is because most of the population drives, whereas most of the population does not hunt. Driving is something most people do every day, whereas hunting isn’t something people do every day unless they’re Inuit. This is why we notice bad drivers more than bad hunters. It doesn’t mean there aren’t that many bad hunters, it just means there’s differences in what we perceive based on personal experience. So, this means we as hunters have to be able to admit this stuff happens and not chalk it all up to anti-hunting propaganda. It also means we need to call game & fish when we see things happening that shouldn’t.

      Something anti-hunters need to understand is that, out in the field, it’s hard for ethical hunters to say something or stop slob hunters. Remember, these people have firearms. A confrontation with a loaded weapon doesn’t usually end well. But, quid pro quo, this means we don’t defend these practices or cover for these people.

      I see plenty of elk hunters here driving around with an elk head hanging off their tailgate. Every one sitting on the fence about hunting just jumped off on to the anti side when they see that. Really people, that’s what they make tarps for. There’s a number of very militant hunting decals on peoples’ trucks here and that certainly doesn’t endear anyone to hunters, either. We have the First Amendment, but people will judge you based off what you say and how “in your face” they are with it. They will judge hunting, too, while they’re at it. If hunters are ok with that, I’m ok with that, too. But don’t complain when people have based judgments off that militant attitude. I have seen militant hunters make snide remarks about vegetarians and everyone’s favorite ol’ chestnut “bleepity-bleep liberals” loud enough to be overheard, which is what they obviously wanted. Everyone who hears this and disagrees now has a valid reason to suspect these hunters might just be a bunch of loudmouth might-be thugs.

      When I was in the United States Army, we were told that when we were in uniform and out in public, we represented not only the army, but our country. Thus, we were held to a higher standard than civilians. Certain behavior was expected of us. There are UCMJ regulations that pertain to this and punish infractions, as anyone who has read the news in the last two weeks knows. When you’re a hunter, and you’re in the woods, this should be a guide. You represent not only yourself as a hunter, but hunting as a whole. Sitting in Pizza Hut in muddy cammies guzzling pitchers of beer and hollering about the “bleepity-bleep liberal pansies” is going to make a lasting impression on everyone there. This is why the military punishes this behavior regardless of how unfair civilians (who aren’t there) feel about it. Consider being a hunter as wearing a uniform. What people see in that uniform is all dependant on how we act in public. But, also, integrity is determined by what we do when no one’s looking.

      • ingrid says:

        Kevan, you wrote, “Something anti-hunters need to understand is that, out in the field, it’s hard for ethical hunters to say something or stop slob hunters. Remember, these people have firearms. A confrontation with a loaded weapon doesn’t usually end well. But, quid pro quo, this means we don’t defend these practices or cover for these people.”
        I understand that intimately, and joke with my friends (I probably shouldn’t) that I’ll probably go out of this life, rescuing a duck. I’ve been threatened and assaulted for stepping in on behalf of animals. I know I can’t legally interfere with a hunt, I’m not talking about that.

        The deepest tragedy is that whether or not we choose to intercede when we see some sadistic SOB is mistreating animals, the wildlife at the mercy of these armed people have no choice whatsoever. I’ve seen some horribly twisted things happen to animals in this lifetime and, of course, that forms my ideas of how much we ought to do on their behalf.

        Of course, as a woman often alone in areas that hunters frequent, trust me — I’ve had my share of totally scary and unpalatable experiences. I have good radar, or try to anyway. I rarely have those experiences with backpackers or mountain bikers, fyi. But, that’s actually precisely why I feel even more determination in certain situations, because there I see the mentality to which these wild animals are being subjected. And it infuriates me that people can legally get away with what amounts to sadism at the expense of other species, often way out of public view.

        As Neil wrote, ethical hunters might find it difficult to believe these things happen, until they witness it — because they’re generally hunting with people who share their values in the field. It’s beyond heartbreaking to see and to know. It’s a travesty, and again, if there was less tolerance by those who do care, the change in paradigm (as Neil compares to backpacking ethics) would change more quickly.

        Even if armed conflict in the field isn’t viable, there could be a lot less rationalization in areas where it would be easy to speak out, like blogs. Tovar clearly does take on hard issues. But far too many I read just look the other way if the practice is legal. I’m speaking of some of the more egregious things done in trapping, varmint, hunting, pigeon shoots, etc. I often go to hunting boards when a controversial issue comes up (like the recent wolf trapping fiasco), just to see if anyone has the balls to say something that probably most of us feel.

  17. Neil says:

    Thanks Tovar and Kevan,

    I actually wasn’t meaning to defend such behavior than to perhaps offer one possible insight into why there doesn’t seem to be much internal criticism of others hunters behavior. I actually feel like most hunters are pretty judgmental, and leery of bad behavior, on average. So my point is, hunters in general are members of the public, a certain subset of which act pretty badly. This unfortunately is true, as Kevan point out, of many wilderness users, particularly those that make use of “developed” resources, ie, roads, trails, campsites, reservoirs, etc.

    I’d love to see a furtherance of a respectful, stewardship minded approach to hunting, and I do what I can to further that. I’d also love to see more of a “leave no trace” ethic in hunting. One has to remember though, that this was an actual, ongoing campaign in backpacking for many years before it became prevalent or even common. In the 20s’ people used to drive cars around in Tuolumne meadows and camp, just wherever. I do think the “hook and bullet” crowd is a little slower to pick these aesthetics up, but not as slow as some others.

    There is certainly a divide in hunting between these ideals and those who have a more purely extractive mentality. At one time, that was the general mentality of most of the populace toward nature. The fact that we’re even having this discussion is evidence of a continued shift in perspective. I personally feel there’s a place, if not a leadership role, for hunting, in conservation and stewardship. There’s an often touted and mostly true history of that, and some hunters, (as well as the public) just need to be reminded of that.

    Your point about representing hunters is one I strongly believe in, and living in an urban California city, I definitely consider myself an ambassador, often trying deliberately to counteract other stereotypes which may have more truth in them than we prefer.

    • Kevan says:

      Neil, I agree with what you say. I am thinking it is probably nationwide, but we have a program here in Arizona called Hunters For The Hungry. Hunters donate meat from game animals to poor families. This works through a local food bank. People that get this meat are very grateful for it, to say the least. We’ve also got a few local elk and antelope hunters here who volunteer their time to install wildlife “guzzlers” in the forest and range. This provides water for all kinds of animals. So, I think it’s good to accentuate the positive (as the song goes;-) that’s going on out there.

      I think hunting can be a positive force for good. As people have become disconnected from where meat comes from, society has become willing to accept how animals are treated on factory farms. But the local foods movement has not only brought in family farmers, but also hunters who are making positive changes in the way they eat and supporting these local farmers and ranchers. Take a look at Cooking Wild magazine somtime. There’s a slight paradigm shift at work right now with people who are growing disenchanted and disillusioned with the industrial food system. Many hunters are a part of this movement. We can keep up the good work.

      • neil says:

        Yes, I subscribed to Cooking Wild last year, and just need to renew. I like it.

        The “new” values I think are good, and many times I could be lumped in with that. Interestingly, I don’t differ in my views on conservation and ethics from my 75 year old uncle or my now-dead grandfather who was born in 1905.

  18. Neil says:

    The discussion of who pays for what and hunters and fisherman vs. other types of appreciation is an interesting one. I do think that other wilderness goods should be taxed, particularly since a good deal of hunting takes place on private land, whereas almost all camping does not.

    But mostly I wanted to point out that in regards to the 80 million vs 16 million number there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, to hunt one must usually be more engaged than to count as a “wildlife watcher”, which could consist of almost anything for the purposes of a survey. Secondly, the overlap is considerable. There seems to be an assumption that the two are diametrically opposed. I car camp, backpack, gather plants, nature watch, and hunt. I use both BLM and Parks. I actually don’t hunt on Government land much. I, and many others are probably in both groups. I would also say that many wilderness users are positive and an even greater number neutral about hunting. So it’s hardly a black or white, this or that, issue. If anything I would say perceptions of hunting are on the upswing, and that’s in my famously liberal city of San Francisco.

      • neil says:

        Hi Tovar,

        That would be cool. I have a meeting that might make it tight to go to the book signing, but I’ll try. How many days will you be around?

        Feel free to email me offline to set something up.


  19. Paul Roberts says:

    Great post, Tovar. Examples of wildlife mortality are shocking to almost every one. We humans seem to be on a different track altogether. There are discussions and research into human longevity that show promise of altering the process of senescence to extend human life expectancy to … 200, even 500 years. What will the ecological and evolutionary ramifications be? Will it be considered “cruel” to deny this to certain humans? To animals? Just what will define us, and life, then?

  20. Paul Roberts says:

    Well…the topic has changed. Slob hunters it is…

    Actually there are “slobs” from all walks and some are hunters. Recently, I was camping in a very rural area of SE Colorado. The local high school had just let out and the area was filled with camping kids and partying. (I’d bet, by the location and all the camo hats that the majority were “hunters”. They were generally nice and respectful of our group. But I overheard an interaction surrounding one kid’s tossing of a horned lizard into a campfire. The kid gloated to his friends about it. The responses he received were what you’d expect: “What in the world did you do that for???” “That’s disgusting.” “You are sick.” “Why????”

    Not everyone are “slobs”. And a very few are saints or sociopaths.

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