Home » fishing

Tag: fishing

Mother Nature’s Child (or Girl the Hunter)

Even before the film started, my antennae were up.

Cath and I had gone to the January 25th screening of Mother Nature’s Child: Growing Outdoors in the Media Age out of general curiosity. The documentary’s message would, I expected, be much like that presented by Richard Louv’s compelling book Last Child in the Woods.

In her brief remarks before the lights went down, however, filmmaker Camilla Rockwell had piqued a more specific interest. She said that certain parts of the film were “edgy.” She would be curious to hear how people felt about them.

What would be “edgy” in a documentary about connecting kids to nature?

My gut gave one answer: hunting.

In Louv’s book, I recalled, several pages were devoted to “The Case for Fishing and Hunting.” Louv wrote that these activities “remain among the last ways that the young  learn of the mystery and moral complexity of nature in a way that no videotape can convey.” As a non-hunting angler, though, his focus was on fishing. Hunting remained in the background.

Settling into my seat, I enjoyed the first half of the film. It’s a well-crafted piece, blending footage of young people outdoors with excerpts from interviews with adults. We saw suburban kids running through the woods and crawling through hollow logs, their voices high with excitement. We saw urban teenagers planting gardens and learning to fly-fish. We heard from teachers, parents, and researchers.

Watching and listening, I was reminded just how crucial interaction with the natural world is for children’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I wondered, not for the first time, who I would be today if I had not spent my boyhood summers almost entirely outdoors, wandering the woods, fishing for brook trout, catching tadpoles and bullfrogs.

And then, halfway through the film, there she was: a girl about ten years old, headed to the Vermont woods with her grandfather—in blaze orange.

Rachel, grandfather, and deer Courtesy of Mother Nature's Child

Sitting there in the Montpelier’s independent theater, The Savoy, we watched the girl handling a rifle. We watched her waiting in the woods. We saw clips from interviews: Nancy Bell of The Conservation Fund talking about her respect for animals and why she hunts, Jon Young talking about how close contact with nature helps young people confront deep questions concerning life and death. Finally, we saw a still image of girl and grandfather. Beside them hung a dead deer: her first.

Fifteen years ago, I would have been horrified. Killing animals, I would have argued, has nothing to do with encouraging healthy relationships with nature, especially for kids.

Now, I see it differently. The filmmakers—both of them non-hunters—have given us a fine documentary about children’s relationships with the natural world. They have also given us a stereotype buster: women and girls hunt, and environmentalists, too! Perhaps most importantly, they have given us a great conversation starter.

The film opens a door for hunters and non-hunters to talk about hunting. Why do some of us hunt? What is it about hunting that others find revolting? Is it helpful to distinguish between stereotypes and first-hand experiences? Is it helpful for non-hunters to hear from actual hunters about how they relate to nature and animals? And, of course: What roles can or should hunting play in young people’s lives?

The film also opens a door for hunters and non-hunters to talk about our shared love of nature. It’s high time, after all, that conservationists—hunters, non-hunters, and anti-hunters—stopped lobbing political firebombs at each other.

It’s time we heeded the warning issued by Richard Nelson in his introduction to A Hunter’s Heart: “After we’ve lost a natural place, it’s gone for everyone—hikers, campers, boaters, bicyclists, animal watchers, fishers, hunters, and wildlife—a complete and absolutely democratic tragedy of emptiness.” Unless we work together, how can we insure that there will be natural places left for our children to relate to?

In the post-screening discussion, it so happens, not one person drew attention to the segment on hunting.

No, I take that back. One person did, indirectly. A man stood up to say that his young son, who appeared in the film, has now taken hunter safety and has put both squirrel and rabbit on the family dinner table. The father—a non-hunter (so far)—made it clear: connections with nature, including hunting, have done the boy nothing but good.

Notes: If you know of film festivals, schools, or outdoor education centers that might be interested in showing the film (or buying the DVD), please mention it to them. If you happen to live near any of these upcoming screenings, check it out in person:

  • 3/17 – Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Quechee, VT
  • 3/24 – CT Outdoor & Environ. Educ. Assn Conference, New Britain, CT
  • 3/25 – Environmental Film Festival, Washington, DC
  • 3/26 – Green Mountain Film Festival, Montpelier, VT
  • 4/5 – Springfield Conservation Nature Center, Springfield, MO
  • 5/18 – Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT

To learn more about Richard Louv’s work, visit the Children & Nature Network.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli

The good, the bad, and the hungry

Two weeks ago, I got an email from Michelle Scheuermann, a spokesperson for The Sportsman Channel.

Hunt.Fish.Feed.—a project Michelle works on, bringing donated game and fish to the hungry—was getting some bad press. She wondered if I would take a look and share my thoughts. Given my journey from veganism to hunting, she thought I might have some insight.

I smiled. It was a nice way of saying that I might be weird enough to understand both sides of the thing.

Curiosity aroused, I clicked the link.

The post—“Kill Wild Animals to Feed the Homeless and Poor?”—was short.

The author, Jake Richardson, challenged Hunt.Fish.Feed.’s economic efficiency, asking why money should be spent on “gasoline, bullets, permits, beverages and other hunting gear” and on game-processing, rather than on “much more affordable produce.”

But his fundamental objections were moral. The Hunt.Fish.Feed. project, he wrote, “smacks of self-promotion…the promotion of killing wild animals for sport.”

More striking were the comments. The post had already drawn nearly 500, most of them vehemently supportive of Richardson’s position. I could see why Michelle had been amazed by the hatred expressed there. But I wasn’t surprised.

Fifteen years ago, as an anti-hunting vegan, I would have agreed with Richardson and his supporters: Hunting is morally wrong. Modern humans don’t need to hunt to survive, and killing for fun is depraved. There are more humane and cost-effective ways to feed the hungry.

Like some of the commenters, I might have accused Hunt.Fish.Feed. of being “another desperate excuse to try and justify [hunters’] blood lust” and a “way…to whitewash their evil.” Like Richardson, I might have listed “beverages,” but not food, as a subset of “hunting gear”; aren’t all hunters notorious beer-swillers?

The polar opposite view is just as easy for me to imagine: All legal hunting is honorable. Using game to feed the hungry is an obvious good, perhaps evoking traditional hunting cultures where successful hunters help feed a whole village. Cost-effectiveness has nothing to do with it. (My garden may not be the most efficient way to produce food. But why not plant an extra row of beans or corn to help feed a needy neighbor?)

Many of us, though, don’t see hunting in stark black or white. What do we think of a project like Hunt.Fish.Feed.?

Do we see it as a sincere effort to help, or as disingenuous self-promotion? If the project partnered with vegetarians to offer more diverse meals at future Hunt.Fish.Feed. events, as Michelle has told me they might, would that strike us as a praiseworthy attempt at collaboration, or as a blatant marketing stunt?

And how do we feel about the donated meat itself? Do our opinions—like most Americans’ attitudes toward hunting—hinge on why the hunters hunt and why the animals are killed?

Would we approve of hunters seeking out game specifically to donate it, but disapprove of them killing “for sport,” as Richardson put it, and donating the meat only as an afterthought? Would we approve of meat donations that resulted from an ecologically necessary culling of deer, but disapprove of those that resulted from a trophy hunt where venison was never part of the aim?

Personally, I hunt for food. I hunt for the humbling reminder of my impact as a living being. I hunt for a deeper understanding of the land and my place in it, one animal among many.

I don’t hunt for antlers. I don’t enjoy killing. I don’t live in a village that depends on my hunting for survival. And the deer population in my immediate area is not so dense as to present impending danger, ecological or otherwise.

So I don’t kill more deer than Cath and I can make use of, with a few pounds given away here and there.

Yet, if a second deer came my way in a single autumn, might I not raise my bow or firearm, with my mother’s, sisters’, and friends’ freezers in mind?

And what if I knew that a needy family or a group of homeless folks—perhaps unknown to me—would end up with the meat? Would I kill a deer for them?

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

‘Gone killing’

Hunters and anglers, writes Marc Bekoff in Animals Matter, “often like to hang signs that say ‘Gone Fishin’’ or ‘Gone Huntin’.’ But what these slogans really mean is ‘Gone killing.’”

When I opposed hunting, I would—like Bekoff—have objected to the euphemisms. Even catch-and-release fishing, with its professed intent not to kill, often does.

Now that I hunt, though, what strikes me is simply that “gone killing” is a terribly inaccurate description of my experiences in the woods.

When I hunt deer, the creatures I see most often are small woodland birds, usually chickadees. If I’m lucky, a pileated woodpecker might land on a nearby tree trunk with a thwack, or a pair of ruffed grouse might scurry by in the brush. Typically, the biggest mammal I see is a red squirrel, hopping past or pausing to scold me.

Hunters do hope to kill now and then. Yet many of us go years without doing so. I recall talking with a man who was out in the woods, hunting with his son. He said he hadn’t shot a deer in over twenty years. He seemed perfectly content just being out there.

Even when animals do show up, often there isn’t any opportunity for a legal, ethical shot. And even when there is, hunters don’t always kill. Sometimes we let the moment pass.

On the rare occasions when I do shoot a deer, the killing itself takes mere seconds.

In short, killing isn’t what hunters do with most of their time in the field.

But, just for a moment, let’s imagine that Bekoff’s words were literally true—that all hunting entailed killing. If we were all subsistence hunters, dependent on the meat to keep our families alive through the winter, perhaps we’d be glad to know that we’d return from every outing with dinner in tow.

Even then, though, how would the certainty and the constant killing feel? What kind of experience would it be?

I’m not even sure what we’d call it. As one local hunter—a particularly experienced and skilled outdoorsman—once put it after a long, unsuccessful deer season, “That’s why they call it ‘hunting,’ not ‘finding.’”

Maybe next time I head to the woods, I’ll hang a sign: “Gone looking, listening, and birdwatching—and, just possibly, killing.”

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

A hero among us

The first thing I ever heard about my great-uncle Al was that he never gave up.

When I started hunting, my mentor—my mother’s brother, Uncle Mark—wanted to impress upon me the vital importance of persistence. So he told me stories about hunting with his uncles in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest back in the 1960s and 70s.

Uncle Al, me, and Al’s son Jim in Vermont in 2007. The sign behind us, which Cath and I had never noticed before, indicates that access to one of our favorite hiking and fishing areas was funded by the Land & Water Conservation Fund, a program Uncle Al helped establish in the 1960s. Photo credit: Catherine J. Cerulli

When pouring rain or biting cold or just plain hopelessness drove everyone else back to the cabin, Uncle Al would stay put, his back to a big oak, fallen logs and branches stacked up on either side as windbreaks, his .35 Remington pump in hand. Hours later, the cabin door would swing open and Uncle Al would step inside, grinning, and set a plastic bag on the table. In it would be the liver of a whitetail, still warm. While other hunters often went home empty-handed, he dragged a buck off that rough Allegheny terrain three years out of four.

I started corresponding with Uncle Al in 2006. The next year, I met him and his son Jim for the first time. As I’ve gotten to know Al and learned about his life, one thing has become abundantly clear: his dogged perseverance has led to far greater accomplishments than success in the deer woods.

Now, at the age of 93, Uncle Al (Alfred Buck) has been named a Hero of Conservation by Field & Stream.

On my essays page, I’ve posted a piece about him—Country of Rivers: A Life’s Work—along with a number of photos. I hope you enjoy it.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli