When hunters ruin the hunt

Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

He loved the woods, the animals, and the hunt. What he didn’t count on were the hunters.

Following his boyhood dream, he earned his license as a Registered Maine Guide and landed a job with an outfitter.

Then came the group of hunters who returned to camp bragging about how they had chased a moose with their truck. There to hunt deer or bear, they had just happened onto the bull. They laughed, describing how close they had gotten to the animal and how wildly he had run.

Then came the hunters who used their truck to drag a bear back to camp. A half mile or more of high-speed travel over rough ground left the carcass battered: the hide torn and stripped of hair, the meat covered with dirt.

Then came the hunter who, having already taken a bear, illegally shot another one on the last day of the hunt. The tag on the animal belonged to an inexperienced and luckless companion.

Then came the hunter who wouldn’t keep his rifle pointed away from people, even when reminded.

Had these been isolated incidents, he might have stuck it out. They were not.

Had his fellow guides been as outraged as he was, the outfit might have tightened ship. They were not.

Photo by Ryan Bayne

So he left.

When this young man and I crossed paths a few years ago, he was still a hunter. But he’d had enough of prostituting his skills to guys who cared nothing for what he loved.

When I consider the future of hunting—how it will fare in the public eye, and what meaning it will have for generations to come—it’s not anti-hunters I worry about.

It’s these guys.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. I worry about both – without the anti-hunters, the misdeeds of the slob hunters would be less likely to be exploited. One extreme plays to the other extreme’s goals.

    I have also heard horror stories from guides. I’d like to guide some day, but having to keep my mouth shut about such antics would grate on my nerves – I don’t think I could stand it for very long.

    • Tovar says:

      I hear you, Holly. There in California, I suspect the anti-hunting aspect is much more in your face than it is here in Vermont.

      We could turn your statement around, too: without the worst kind of hunters, the anti-hunters would get less traction and might even be fewer in number. (Imagine a society where alcohol consumption was a minority activity. If everyone who drank did so safely and in moderation, how much traction and membership could a modern-day Prohibition movement get?)

      I know I wouldn’t want to guide for pay. For me, the territory of hunting is just too sensitive. I’ll take a newbie friend hunting, but only if I have a strong sense of his or her attitude toward the endeavor.

      • I enjoy taking newbies out for fun too, but there comes a point at which if it takes as much time as a full-time job, you need to earn some income from it. I actually think there’s a good market for guiding new hunters – I hear from so many who are desperate to learn, and don’t have any mentors to help them. My boyfriend was one of those – he taught himself as much as he could, went out with friends when that was an available option, and paid to go with guides when he got tired of beating his head against the wall trying to figure out everything by himself. He learned a lot about pig and duck hunting with guides – we’re both grateful for it.

        Of course, guiding professionally isn’t a practical proposition for me, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. And I don’t think the negatives people have talked about here should reflect on either guiding or hiring guides as a whole. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with the process or the relationship itself.

        • Tovar says:

          I think you’re right about the market for guiding new adult hunters. And I think it may be a great opportunity to educate a new wave of cazadors and cazadoras, in both practical and ethical aspects of the pursuit.

  2. These type of hunters will go on for far longer than any of us ethical minded hunters would like. That is just the facts and sad as they are I wouldn’t doubt that these types of individuals may also partake in poaching as well. They have no respect for themselves so how can they respect anything else? I have never had the interest to be a guide and cater to such worthless individuals for the exchange of money. Money can not buy integrity or ethics, at least not mine!

    • Tovar says:

      Sadly, you may be right, Terry.

      I imagine there are many professional guides out there who abide by a strong sense of ethics. I would be curious to learn what strategies they use to weed out or handle the bad-apple hunters who seek their services.

      • Yes I imagine they must have guidelines in place. Although you know it just takes one person one time to do something that turns your stomach for a really long time. I admire the fellow from Maine who hung up his guide’s license, not easy to do. Yet he kept his integrity and ethics intact by doing so.

  3. Ingrid says:

    As a wildlife rehabber and non-hunter, it would be too easy to pile on to what you’ve already said. So, I will just add that I’ve seen enough horrendous behavior construed as “hunting,” that it’s had a dramatic and negative effect on my view of the sport as a whole. I know that’s a discussion we’ve had here previously. But thanks for the courage and integrity to post this, Tovar. Perhaps it will bring greater awareness to an issue that affects all of us: hunters, non-hunters, and the hunted, as well.

    • Tovar says:

      Yes, I’m sure you could “pile on” easily, Ingrid. This stuff is so disturbing.

      It may sound odd, but these crimes gall me even more now than they did before I hunted. Part of it is that I can no longer distance myself from “hunting” as a whole (though I can distinguish myself from certain kinds of hunters, just as I drive a car but distinguish myself from drunk drivers).

      Part of it is simply that I now care more intensely about how (dis)respectfully we relate to nature and animals.

      It does affect us all—“hunters, non-hunters, and the hunted, as well.” Thank you for putting it that way.

  4. I was raised as a hunter, and I was always ambivalent. When I was a kid, I worked with and for my father, who held my wages, and bought my guns with them, then turned them over to me. Later, in my teens, when I started to grow my hair long and do all the rebellious things my generation did back in the ’60s, I still hunted for a while. I got a lot of looks for my long hair, but I ignored it.
    i saw all sorts of behavior around me, most of it proper, but some definitely questionable, in terms of regard and respect for the process. My dad wasn’t an intellectual, but he was a fairly honest person, and he gave me mostly good examples.
    I remember the first time I went deer hunting with him, and since we hadn’t seen any deer, we shot a porcupine out of a tree. Ok, I guess they eat trees, and are somewhat destructive, but I remember it with a feeling of guilt.
    I’ve kept myself fairly clean of guilt associated with my acts as a hunter, but I can remember when I did my varmint hunting, I wasn’t really overjoyed with killing for the sake of it, using animals as target practice. I would hope that we all have some sort of line that we feel uncomfortable about crossing.
    Now, when I watch Youtube videos that people have posted about their exploits, I often see elation and some blood-lust in the eyes of these guys, high fiving when they kill, describing the vapor coming out of a wound on the slow-motion video with awe and wonder…kinda makes me feel like a boy torturing frogs must feel. I don’t come away with a clean feeling from these experiences, so I tend to avoid them.
    When I hunt, it’s for meat, and for the feeling I’m in touch with a primitive, yet essential side of myself, and have a single-minded intensity that is predatory and a little scary. It helps me to remember that I’m getting meat for the table, just as I focus on this when I go fishing. While my friend wants the challenge of the big fish, I tend to collect the younger, somewhat smaller ones, because I think they taste better. I still get a thrill when I’ve fought a big fish, but it is ultimately the provisions I seek.
    These yahoos who get together and act with callous disregard are often the unthinking and uncaring, somewhat inconsiderate and …can I get away with saying “less intelligent” members of our species? They are not very thoughtful or introspective or educated, so I’m not encouraged by their presence, and dread running into them in the field.
    My last comments are there, due to an incident that happened to me when I was in my 20s in Wyoming, out Antelope hunting with a friend, who happened to be a black man I’d met in my small town, Roy the mailman. He and I were in a jeep, and bumped into another hunting party of four guys. One of them said, “Hey, if it ain’t old nigger Roy!” We were all armed, and it was a tense moment, but Roy just shrugged, and said to me, “stupid is as stupid does.” We left the scene, and soon didn’t feel like hunting any more. I remained Roy’s friend for my time in the town, but there was a new space between us that I couldn’t get past, like I had seen him humiliated, and it reminded him of it every time he saw me.
    So, I’m always tempted to agree with the anti’s, because these fools are going to get all the attention, like the guy who ended up killing a bunch of fellow hunters because they started making racial comments to him. In any case, there’s a lot of bad publicity, but I have gravitated to this place in my psyche again, and want to explore it again with people who are more thoughtful and considerate. Thanks for being there.

    • Richard, what a nightmare! I’d like to think that kind of racism has diminished – or at least those kinds of overt acts of racism – but I’d be a fool to think everything’s fine now. Of all the things you mentioned in this comment, this is the one that struck me the most, because I have a Korean friend who’s taken up hunting (late in life, like I did), and her overwhelming impression of hunters before she joined our ranks were that these were the kind of people who would scream racial epithets at her. Though nothing like that has happened to her, I’m pretty sure she hasn’t quite shaken that feeling yet.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stories, Richard. It’s good to hear your voice here.

      Like Holly, I was struck by your mention of overt racism. This is an important issue which appears to have some unfortunate historical roots in the same sport-hunter/conservationist movement that ended market hunting and saved North American wildlife from complete devastation a century ago. Now I’ve got another post percolating.

  5. Art says:

    I refuse to hunt with people who have so little respect for the activity that I love. It’s horrifying, and just plays right into the anti-hunter’s hand.

    And don’t even get me started about bumper stickers and t-shirts. Those do more harm then good as well.

    We all need to be conscious of who is watching when we take to the woods – or even when we come out of the woods. You just never know who is watching and making their judgments about what hunters really are.

    That being said, though, there are always a few bad apples in every bunch, and, unfortunately, not much we can do about it, except call it out when we see it.

    It’s sad, but true.

    • Art, that’s the tough thing: We know the bad apples make all of us look bad, but it’s impossible to eliminate the bad people in an field or endeavor. I think the best we can do – particularly as writers – is to speak loudly about the ethical behavior we see (and participate in) out there.

      • Tovar says:

        I agree with you, Holly. Though it’s important to call out the worst behavior, it’s at least as important to celebrate the best. Such models can, I think, help shift hunting—and our understandings of it—in better directions.

      • Ingrid says:

        Holly and Tovar, I’m sure you have a slightly different perspective on this, but I think there’s something to be said for also moving toward a changed ethic overall — beyond discussion in blogs. For instance, what’s wrong with vocal hunting groups actively taking a stand on these things — and creating an environment where there’s far less tolerance for these things which harm us all?

        Maybe there’s no precedent as a result of the various fears that arise from restricting one hunting practice or another. But most social change has occurred as a result of such a sea change and exhibition of courage. I mean, how on earth can one justify dragging a bear carcass behind a truck, as one example? And why couldn’t that be subject to penalty of some kind, even if it’s a personal restriction on their hunting?

        On “my” side of the issue (wildlife hospital, etc) there would be no tolerance whatsoever for someone who violated certain medical or rehabbing ethics. And that person would be dismissed. I have a difficult time understanding why similar restraints don’t exist in a sport where there is much more license is given in terms of how wild animals are treated than what we have.

        As I’ve said here far too often, there is great responsibility of taking a life. It should always be construed as such and expected of those engaged in a practice where lives are at stake. What’s wrong with demanding that?

        • Tovar says:

          I’m with you on this, Ingrid. When someone steps far enough over the line, there should be consequences, whether they come from other hunters and an overall ethical environment, or from the state.

          Some hunters would, I suspect, vehemently resist the latter, due in part to the American celebration of individualism. But, circa 1900, Americans in general and hunters in particular had to admit that giving individuals free reign to hunt as they wished was impractical: wildlife was just plain going to disappear. So they supported state intervention. The result? A successful wildlife conservation model that American hunters widely tout.

          And, as you point out, ethics are legislated and—as far as possible, enforced—in many other settings: wildlife rehab, the medical and legal professions, and so on.

          There is plenty of room for disagreement and “grey areas.” But when someone steps into the black (e.g. harassing a moose by nearly running him down with a truck), there need to be consequences. I suspect there actually is a law against such harassment. What we need is a stiff penalty and the collective will (especially among hunters) to enforce it.

          • Ingrid says:

            I like what you say, Tovar. You articulated this perspective better than I did. That’s precisely what I was getting at. Thanks.

    • Tovar says:

      I feel much the way you do, Art.

      You’re right that the public perception of hunting is at stake whenever any of us is afield. So we’re fighting for a good image of hunting.

      More deeply, I think we’re also fighting for its soul.

      I think we need to ask ourselves: Is there more we can do to improve the situation?

  6. Cheryl Frank says:

    Sadly.. I too know a guide who has seen his fair share and no longer guides as a result.. but also… sadly.. I know even more guides that share the outdoors traditions in ways that are unethical to many hunters…

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Cheryl. I’m really sorry to hear about your guide friend and about the other, less-than-ethical guides you know.

  7. Bill Koury says:

    Glad you raised this issue Tovar.

    I think Norcal has it right. Both “ethical” and “unethical” practices need to be raised, written and spoken about. We can debate what is “unethical” concerning hunting – even fishing, but the more practices are identified and discussed, the more a standard of behavior will be held up for hunters and even anglers to consider.

    Hunting and fishing are activities where there are no referees or umpires to call a foul. Part of the beauty of the experience is that each of us is on our own to follow our values knowing we do it because to us it is right.

    I also have seen, what was to me, unacceptable behavior by hunters in pairs or groups. I have to wonder if each hunter was alone, would he or she behave the same way?

    • Tovar says:

      Good thoughts, Bill.

      This point about there being no audience or umpire—what Leopold called the “peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics”—is an interesting one. I have mixed feelings about it.

      When behavior of any kind is good despite the absence of witnesses (not just in hunting, but anywhere), then I agree that the virtue involved has a particular kind of importance and, as you said, “beauty.” But when the behavior is bad? Then I wish there were witnesses. I find no beauty in an actor being free to perpetuate a horrendous act anonymously.

      Your turnaround is interesting, too: asking whether peer pressure might encourage certain bad behaviors, rather than preventing them.

  8. Phillip says:

    Good, simple and to-the-point post, Tovar!

    To Ingrid’s point… there is actually more internal policing of the hunting ranks than some people think. Hunters are pretty vocal against unsafe behavior and illegal activity. There’s a huge and never-ending debate over “ethics” in the hunting community. It’s carried on in the hunting media, online discussions, and around campfires and living rooms. In some cases, these discussions end up on the floor of various legislatures and become codified into law.

    But the conversation is not likely to be heard outside of the community. There’s not really a platform for it.

    I’ve been in hunting clubs where dues-paying members have been evicted for behavior that didn’t fit the ethical standards of the club. I can’t count the stories I’ve heard from friends who “dis-invited” guests from their hunting camp after some infraction of laws and/or common sense. And for serious infractions, the law does respond by revoking licenses and hunting privileges.

    The unfortunate side of that, of course, is that it’s not illegal to be an idiot or a jerk. You can’t lose your license for being an ass. And the real poachers and scofflaws don’t much care if they have a license or not.

    What I’m saying, I guess, is that you can’t really “form an environment” that excludes these people because hunting is not necessarily a social pursuit. You don’t need to be “accepted” to be a hunter. All you need is the desire and a license.

    I’ve said to many of my friends, it gets harder every day to “defend” hunting because we’re constantly faced with the actions and words of folks who embody everything the anti’s and negative stereotypes describe. Sometimes I just want to give up, go hunt by myself, and let the future of the sport go where it will.

    It helps (a little) to remember that hunters are just a mixed segment of the whole population… and they come complete with all the foibles and faults of any group of individuals. It’s the same for any venue. For example, most anti-hunters I’ve known are deeply and philosophically opposed to our sport, but they aren’t out there spiking truck tires at the trailhead, or crashing through hunting areas with horns and whistles.

    I know a lot of passionate environmentalists, but very few of them are active members of ELF, out burning down condo developments or demolishing new cars on the lot. Not many Monkeywrenchers in the bunch, but they are out there… and they are the ones who tend to make headlines, and as a result, those are the images often held by the general public.

    A few bad apples…

    • Ingrid says:

      Hi, Phillip,

      Thanks for your insightful comments, and for responding specifically to my observation. You tie up your note by saying it’s “a few bad apples.” I don’t know that either of us can say what the percentage is of ethical versus questionable hunters. Those of you who abide by a strong sense of hunting tradition may not see the things I’ve seen at times, precisely because you choose your hunting company (or family members) as Rick suggests.

      You also make a point about anti-hunters who, as a general rule, aren’t spiking tires. I’m guessing you’re right about that, based on the anti-hunters I know (although that’s not a scientific sample, so who knows). The types of activities you cite (harming property, interfering with hunts) are punishable by law. I’m sure you’re aware of hunter harassment statutes which (although they vary state by state) prohibit the very things you cite.

      There is legal prohibition of these types of activities, and I would argue there’s need for more legal disincentive when it comes to people policing themselves — in any context. Poaching is another thing altogether. But I think we’re talking about a very hazy and still-legal-but-should-it-be area of ethics here.

      • I’m guessing that hazing a moose (harassing it with a truck) is illegal – it would be in California. And dragging a bear to the point that its meat and fur is rendered useless is wanton waste, which is illegal in many states, including California. So the laws are there on that side of the equation too.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Phillip.

      It’s good to know that you’ve heard of so many clubs and camps evicting people for bad behavior. As you point out, though, that just means those folks are out there on their own now, their behavior perhaps unchanged.

      • Phillip says:

        Ingrid, I’ve definitely seen some of the bad… maybe even some of the worst behavior. In some cases, I’ve done what I could to bring it to an end (including calling in law enforcement). In other cases, I was in a position where I was powerless to do more than disassociate myself from the individuals.

        I absolutely know what’s going on out there, and some of it sickens me. But as some people know, I also take a pretty laissez faire attitude about activities that I may not understand or like, but they’re not a threat to the resource, the habitat, or human safety.

        The question of where to draw the line is definitely an ongoing debate, and I’ve chimed in plenty. Ethics is a pretty individual thing, when it comes right down to it, and there’s a lot more to consider than public opinion before we start restricting legal behaviors.

        • Ingrid says:

          Hi, Phillip, Tovar & Holly —

          As always, Tovar, great discussion you inspired.

          Holly, you’re right about those particular activities. I thought about that after I impulsively clicked ‘submit.’ And I’ll try not to rehash our previous discussions here. It would be like beating a dead deer. 🙂

          In response to Phillip’s comment, “as some people know, I also take a pretty laissez faire attitude about activities that I may not understand or like, but they’re not a threat to the resource, the habitat, or human safety.”

          I guess this is probably what might separate our perspectives the most, Phillip, even though I assume we agree on many things. Because of my work with wild animals, I can’t leave out the [in my mind] equally germane issue of how this behavior affects the animals themselves. They may not be harmed as a ‘resource’ when they are hunted cruelly or unethically. But having seen the effects of human malice up close on any variety of animal, I can’t help but assert, to the end of my days, that this facet is significant when we discuss ethics and morality of sport. I do believe that how we view and treat animals and nature has a huge bearing on our collective morality. I’m in good company with that thought, but it’s also a contentious one.

          I understand your argument for ethics being an individual thing. At the same time, historically speaking, ethics change very little without a societal or legal framework that protects the discriminated or the disenfranchised, in the face of popular mores. I understand a hunter’s reticence to call out another hunter’s behavior, particularly in the fuzzy realm of ethics. Although on another level, I have no problem doing the same among my colleagues, particularly if harm comes to me, us or the animals as a result. So I don’t necessarily think that’s an excuse for some hunters to look the other way.

          I know I won’t get flamed at Tovar’s blog, but I think this could be a flame-inducing comment: I don’t believe we should have as much freedom to make those individual decisions on behalf of our “resources.” I’ve said here before that hunters would be horrified if their dogs were treated as coyote varmints are treated. But I think we all know that game regulations (or non-game regulations) are rarely made with my points in mind. I think it’s problematic when living things are characterized as a “resource,” for precisely the things you state. It provides convenient distance in a field where, unfortunately, someone like me doesn’t have the luxury of that distance.

          • Phillip says:

            No flames from this quarter. But, at risk of beating that deer a little more…

            How do you define “hunted cruelly or unethically”? What does that actually mean?

            • Ingrid says:

              Here’s the problem. We get into semantics when using terms like unethical, I realize that. So, yes, I get your point. There are various ideas of what constitutes acceptability and ethics across the board. And in other areas of society, we seem to adopt a general consensus — as in embezzling is unethical, murder of humans is unethical.

              The problem with hunting is that killing another living thing is an inherently complex endeavor, philosophically, morally and religiously. It is the taking of a life, however seriously or lightly one approaches that endeavor. (I’ve met people like you all who take it very seriously. And I’ve met those who, frankly, couldn’t give a damn.)

              And once you open the doors to the idea that killing of any kind is okay (again, for the purposes of argument) you engage any number of irresolute, trickle-down ideas of what’s acceptable and what is not. It’s as if you cross a significant ethical line and create a world of murkiness as a result.

              Well, what about “as long as it’s humane.” Well, what is “humane?” I’m thinking you’d ask. All of us have undoubtedly been down this road in debate before and have come to realize that our initial premises vis-a-vis animals and our actions toward them, are probably too disparate as to make a consensus on those things possible.

              But, for the sake of debate, let’s use a veterinarian’s ethics. There are stringent practices in play for what constitutes a cruel action toward an animal in one’s care (deliberate, inflicted injury, for instance). There are standards for how “humane” euthanasia is to be carried out and, for the most part, there’s agreement in the community on what constitutes “humane” or “ethical” or “right.” Why not in hunting?

              Although I think your comment asks for a conclusion of ambiguity — that we can’t police every inch along the ethical spectrum, there are standards in play which tend to guide behavior. And, from my perspective, the standards in hunting aren’t high enough. My experience has been far too disturbing to suggest that what’s in place is adequate to protect the interest of the wild animal.

              Of course, the “interest” of the wild animal becomes a moot point when animals are, as I said earlier, managed as resources, by the numbers. I come at this from someone who has intimate connection with the end result of human harm on these animals, seeing closely the physical and psychological suffering when humans don’t take care to abide by something close to a veterinarian’s ethic.

              • Phillip says:

                Actually, it’s not about semantics at all. I think there’s a very clear definition of cruelty, and it’s codified, not only into hunting regulations but into state, local, and even federal legislation.

                And in the hunting community there is a widely accepted idea about what is ethical and what is not. This is also the source of many of our hunting regulations, as well as most of our widely accepted practices. Most of the things you take issue with are exceptions to that. And there’s where I’m trying to get you to narrow down the discussion.

                The ethics debate itself is one I’m in no hurry to get back into. We’ve been there, and it rapidly becomes a rabbit hole of personal opinion.

                But I keep hearing about all these things that are, apparently, atrocious and repugnant. What are they? Because my guess is that most of what people have witnessed and find so “wrong” is already illegal. If that is the case, then I simply wonder what more you could ask?

                • Ingrid says:

                  “But I keep hearing about all these things that are, apparently, atrocious and repugnant. What are they? Because my guess is that most of what people have witnessed and find so “wrong” is already illegal. ”
                  Phillip, I wish that it were so. But one huge example is the animals exempted from game regulations: coyotes, prairie dogs, birds like starlings, raccoons, fox squirrels, pigeons, etc. Varmints. They are obviously subject to all manner of treatment, some at the hands of careless shooters, some at the hands of exterminators or humans who find them a nuisance. I would say those animals are found in the most, to use your word, ‘repugnant’ circumstances.

                  Additionally, animals that are used to train hunting dogs or used as lures are often treated inhumanely, with little or no oversight. I’ve seen birds like pigeons with wing feathers pulled off and tossed into the scrub for dog exercises and so forth. That’s a memory I wish I could erase. A rescue group I work with here in the Bay Area just rescued a rock dove who was used for bobcat lure and I can’t begin to recall the circumstances in which he was found.

                  But even among protected species, those subject to game regs and seasons, I’ve seen more than one incident that amounted to torture based on how long it took the animal to die and how the animal reacted to its injury, in what most of us would construe as abject physical distress. As I once mentioned to Holly and Tovar, if your dog or cat were killed in this manner, there would be animal cruelty prosecutions. Yet it’s legal when it comes to wildlife.

                  I could go on but I’m dominating this space a bit too much. I appreciate your indulgence in this discussion. I still maintain that the baseline is not high enough. We’re supposed to be living in a relatively evolved age where concepts like humanity and compassion ostensibly do matter. And if they do, I think it behooves us to address those areas where we, as humans, fall short.

                  • Ingrid, I’m not a fan at ALL of using animals for target practice. There are, I believe, good reasons to kill, but just “fun” isn’t one of them.

                    Regarding the rock dove, that sounds terribly illegal. To my knowledge, the only non-marine animal you can bait in California is the coyote (this from a game warden I recently profiled), and I’m not sure it’s legal to use live bait even for ‘yotes.

                    As for the training birds, I can’t speak to that because I have no experience with it, but I agree that maiming an animal for dog-training purposes is NOT OK.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Hi, Holly. Thanks, I should have clarified. This case took place out of state, but local rescuer was involved for various reasons of bird placement. My understanding is that the bird was kept in a live-bait box in the back of a trap. The trapper did violate regulations in terms of the frequency of inspecting the traps, so at least that provision exists (however difficult to enforce). My understanding is that live-bait traps like this are legal on a state by state basis. Do you know?

                      The bottom line for me in all of this, is that consistently, you and I and Tovar and others here agree in principle on so many things. I don’t understand the resistance to codify some of that understanding. I mean I understand it — no one wants to initiate restrictions on their own form of sport. It just seems there’s enough collusion between conscientious hunters and non-hunters, that we could raise the bar some. Of course, that’s me being a broken record. I don’t mean to be an unfailing optimist about this because, at heart, I’m pessimistic that any of this will change. I like to put in a good word for potential alternatives to the SQ, though.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Holly, you said “I agree that maiming an animal for dog-training purposes is NOT OK.”

                      Does anyone here happen to know how often live-bird maiming happens in the context of dog training? I realize that’s a loaded question and maybe best not answered in the presence of a non-hunter. I’m genuinely curious, though. I’ve had a few experiences with birds injured this way, but I don’t know if it’s the norm or if its frowned upon by hunters — to use tethered birds with clipped wings, for instance. You can certainly find plenty of trainers online who use this methodology and worse. But the internet isn’t necessarily representative, and I haven’t taken the time to verify whether or not this is SOP.

                    • Tovar says:

                      I don’t know what the incidence of live-bird maiming is.

                      Though I haven’t done any substantial hunting with my dog Kaia, I did do some field training with her early on. I knew some folks who used live birds both in training and in field events, and that just wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go.

                  • Ingrid, no clue. The only training I’ve been associated with was “upkeep” training, not training young dogs, and in that case, it was like a regular planted-bird hunt: You put birds in the field, let ’em wander a bit, then send out the dogs and hunt.

                    As for making the laws, you inadvertantly hit on the problem: Most game laws are a state-by-state matter, and in no state is it a simple matter of a group of ethical hunters saying, “Hey, let’s have a new law to codify this common-sense idea!” I covered state governments for a decade – lawmaking pretty much requires paid lobbying help.

                    But I would not be averse to any law designed to thwart unnecessary maiming, injury or harassment. The catch, of course, will be the definition of unnecessary. Using live bait for fishing? Necessary (in my opinion). Maiming a training bird? I think it’s unnecessary, but dog trainers might argue otherwise. Harassing moose? Hang the bastards. Wanton waste? Make it illegal. Poor shot placement? That one’s gonna be tough to legislate, and even tougher to enforce. But if someone wants to put in law that you need to aim for a kill zone, I’d support it. Just understand there will probably never be a conviction.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Way to disarm this disillusioned hunting antagonist.

                      Seriously, though — thanks, Holly. I appreciate the common sensibility on this.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      You mean you’re not my new BFF? Hey, Holly, I just learned I’ll be moving to the Northwest in a few weeks to harass hunters up there. Actually, it’s just a good work offer — no tire spiking (Phillip will be glad to know). I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to meet before I leave, but my California flop house will be with a friend who has a place in Sacramento. Maybe we can connect on one of my trips back down here . . . which will be frequent.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Holly, You may or may not be surprised to know that a number of my friends in the Northwest have been hunters. So, I’ll play nice. I did meet these friends before I had all of those difficult hunting experiences, which turned me into this gadfly on Tovar’s blog.

                      It’s odd (maybe?) that several of them decided to quit hunting recently. It surprised me but I’ll be interested to hear the motivations. I do appreciate people who’ve lived both sides of the issue, as I know you have, you and Tovar both.

                      Sometimes I wish I could, in good conscience, do some hunting so that I could tell people, “yeah, dude, I’ve been a hunter! I know what I’m talking about!” You know, street cred, or rather, deer-blind cred. 🙂

                      I’m always curious about the impetus to both start and stop hunting later in life. It’s a radical lifestyle and philosophical shift from either end.

                      (I mentioned to Tovar that I now have to learn a whole slew of hunting regs in Washington so that I can avoid being at the scene of the hunt, which happened far too often in my early California days. Hence, my litany of bad experiences. Hard to avoid hunting scenes when you’re in the outdoors a lot.)

                • Tovar says:

                  Here’s a question, Phillip: Let’s say I was a vicious bastard and decided to aim low, shooting an animal in the leg for the fun of it, or decided to aim back and hit the paunch. Obviously, no one could prove I hadn’t been aiming for the heart/lungs and just missed. But let’s say they could prove it (maybe I’m dumb as well as vicious, and had bragged about it). Would it be illegal in California, for example?

                  Here in Vermont, I don’t know if it would. I doubt it. We don’t even have a wanton waste law, which appalls me: the Fish and Wildlife Board considered and then dismissed a “retrieval and utilization” rule in 2009.

                  • Phillip says:


                    This thread is getting long and it’s hard to keep up with every comment. If I get something of yours out of context, please forgive me and point it out (if you care to). My intent, as always, is to engage in fair and honest discussion.

                    You wrote:
                    “But one huge example is the animals exempted from game regulations: coyotes, prairie dogs, birds like starlings, raccoons, fox squirrels, pigeons, etc. Varmints. They are obviously subject to all manner of treatment, some at the hands of careless shooters, some at the hands of exterminators or humans who find them a nuisance. I would say those animals are found in the most, to use your word, ‘repugnant’ circumstances. ”

                    That doesn’t give me an example of either cruelty or inhumane treatment. It just means animals aren’t regulated because, like a cockroach or a mosquito, they’re considered vermin. Pests. Right or wrong? I honestly don’t see how we can think it’s OK to poison a roach or a rat, but not shoot a coyote or starling.

                    I do see your point regarding dog trainers using live birds. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can certainly see where people would find using a live bird with clipped wings objectionable.

                    As far as basing “torture” or cruelty claims on how long it took an animal to die… how exactly would you legislate that? Predation is an imperfect act, and sometimes things don’t die as quickly as the predator wishes it would. That applies equally, whether the predator is a lion or a man. The exception, and it would TRULY be an exception, is the person who would do as Tovar describes… and that kind of cruelty is a sickness. But even then, what law, short of banning hunting altogether, would address it?

                    If, by some crazy legal twist, someone could prove intentional maiming by the shooter, then animal cruelty laws DO come into play. I’d be willing to bet that even Vermont’s liberal laws forbid intentionally injuring animals… domestic or wild.

                    Unlike Holly, by the way, I would never support a ridiculous law that requires a hunter to aim for the kill zone. The ramifications of mis-application of such a law would be disastrous for hunters.

                    The simple fact is that no matter how fast a bullet, or how high-tech the optics and sighting system, the variables at play in the field are uncertain and changing. The very best hunter and marksman will make a bad shot from time to time. Animals are wounded and lost. Others die slowly. The vast majority of us don’t like to see it, but it does happen.

                    • My point, Phillip, was to get at someone who would deliberately shoot to maim. I think the ramifications would not be what you think – how can you ever prove intent? Only in cases like the “thrill killings” we’ve seen, where you have a bunch of kids shooting animals for fun – perhaps an accomplice could say, “Yeah, Joe said watch me shoot the knees out of this deer.”

                      It should be obvious – to you of all people – that I would not support a law that would penalize people for any of the myriad things that can go wrong on shot placement.

                    • Ingrid says:

                      Hi, Phillip,

                      I know the “we” is a dubious designation because, for instance, I personally don’t think it’s okay to poison a rat. I think poison is one of the worst, most damaging forms of pest control that exists — including the intense suffering and death it creates up the food chain in raptors and other mammals. In defense of hunters, a clean shot is more humane than poisoning an animal even though I’ve witnessed target shooting of ground squirrels that turned my stomach to the point where it’s difficult for me to ever entertain varmint hunting as a reasonable option (reasonable being the operative term, as in depending on the reason of the humans engaging the activity).

                      Frankly, humans are probably the biggest pests on the planet if we were to view ourselves through the same lens of damage and control that we apply to other animals. But we don’t. So I find our designations arbitrary at best.

                      Sadly, seeing an animal through the portal of “pest” does lead to acts of inhumane treatment, within and outside of the hunting world. I’m not singling out hunters here, just making a point about the extreme case of unprotected animals. How “varmint” animals are treated proves my point that baseline legality does, indeed, change our behavior toward others. And that in this way, ethics can be marginally legislated. If you want a list of the “cruel” actions I’ve seen or seen the outcome of, I could provide it.

                      I think Holly was making a theoretical point about the kill zone, although I’m reticent to put words in her mouth. It’s clearly not a law that would pass nor one that would be enforced, and she stated so in her comment.

                      The cruelty-of-predation argument is one that could take us in circles for months. I’ll just say, and I’m sure you’ve heard this before, the fact that we can consciously contemplate the ramifications of our actions, here in the blog and elsewhere, to me suggests a greater degree of responsibility in how we execute those actions. That’s a philosophical stance that hunters and animal rights activists have been arguing for years, and it’s a discussion I know I had here earlier with one of Tovar’s other readers (Josh, I think). It’s again, the murky ground of ethics studies. I just can’t easily abide by “we’re just other predators” rationale when, in fact, we do possess the capability to think things through. I think it’s an easy out for justifying methodologies we clearly have the capacity to avoid or change.

                    • Tovar says:

                      I checked in with Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s legal counsel today. We do not seem to have any laws against intentional maiming or injury of game animals. Apparently, only pets and (to some degree) livestock get such animal-cruelty protections. “Disturbing, harrying or worrying or wounding” is included in the statutory definition of “taking,” so the only rule is that you can’t do it out of season or without a license.

                      On wanton waste: both state and federal law prohibit it in the case of migratory game birds. That’s the only restriction, unfortunately.

  9. Rick says:

    Thanks for the post. It seems whatever our passions are there are a idiotic minority that make our passions less enjoyable. I’ve only ever hunted with my family and I’m frankly concerned at the prospect of going out with friends who hunt because I’m not sure what side of the spectrum they’ll fall into.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Rick.

      That question of “what side of the spectrum” people fall into is exactly the one I need to resolve before I feel comfortable hunting with them.

  10. When I took my hunter education class, the instructors stressed the importance of both rule-abiding and ethical practices over and over. And it’s not just because we all need to respect our open spaces and the wildlife that call it home, but because every hunter, once he dons his camo and picks up his shotgun, is an ambassador to the non-hunting community. Jackass hunters don’t just piss off other hunters — they give the whole pursuit a bad name.

    I haven’t been out in the field enough yet to see bad behavior first-hand, but I’ve heard enough stories to know to expect it.

    People behave badly in every activity known to man. It’s just that, in hunting, they have a gun and a license to kill things. It’s not a good situation but, like some of the commenters above, I think it’s inevitable.

    • Tovar says:

      My hunter ed instructors did the same, and for the same reasons. Nothing burned them more than knowing that some of their young students would ignore all talk of ethics and—guided by fathers and uncles—would learn the finer points of hunting both unethically and illegally.

  11. PBurns says:

    A core problem is that hunting magazines, blogs, and bulletin boards tend to look away from bad behavior in the hunting community.

    The feeling seems to be the same as for so many minority groups — we cannot dare criticize our own without fueling the fire of the opposition.

    Of course, that’s dead wrong.

    It’s silent Muslims that allow so many to think “they” are “all terrorists.” The metaphor, of course, can be extended to any group that perceives itself as “embattled.”

    Another part of the problem is the sense of entitlement that so many hunters and anglers have if they have paid a lot of money for a guide or access to land. They are no longer hunting — they are shooting — and they expect a return on investment. This is why guided hunts and pay-to-shoot places are a slippery slope.


    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for commenting, PB.

      I agree that there could be more attention paid to such things in public forums. And I do sometimes hear the circle-the-wagons message among hunters—more often in reference to debates over weapon preferences, but it can happen in reference to real ethics, too.

      Yeah: entitlement and return-on-investment. I imagine those are biggies. I’ve never seen hunters in that mental space first-hand, but I’ve read the “price lists” for taking various game in high-fence operations. I can imagine where that might lead.

  12. Ingrid, I can no longer find you within the nested replies, but I’d love to hear why some of your friends have quit. You’ve got my email! Take care, and good luck up there.

    • Ingrid says:

      Thanks, Holly. And best of luck with all of your upcoming projects! I’ll keep you in the loop if any interesting stories arise.

  13. Phillip says:

    Holly and Ingrid,

    I get Holly’s (and Tovar’s) point re: intentional maiming. My point, such as it was, is simply a response to Tovar’s theoretical scenario. And like I said, such behavior is already illegal in most states. However, when it comes to hunting, the impossibility of proving intent provides the exception to the law. I couldn’t begin to dig up the cases, but it’s been tried before.

    Does that make it right? Of course not. But such behavior is so rare as to make it a true anomaly. Not that it never happens… I have no doubt that the human animal being what it is, some pretty sick things have taken place.

    Something Ingrid said with which I totally agree, by the way, was the status of humans as the biggest, most destructive, invasive pest on the planet. By our own standards, that’s absolutely true. I also agree, to a point, that it is only our ability to contemplate the consequences of our actions that gives us a certain level of responsibility toward the other species with which we share the planet. However, I think that the sharp (and probably inrreconcilable) divide between Ingrid’s philosophical stance and my own falls in exactly how far that responsibility should extend.

    • Ingrid says:

      “I think that the sharp (and probably inrreconcilable) divide between Ingrid’s philosophical stance and my own falls in exactly how far that responsibility should extend.”
      I suspect you’re right about the above statement, Phillip. Which is why it’s so damned hard for those of us on the animal side to press for more humane standards in any field — and why hunters are exasperated with people like me on the animal side. 🙂

      • Phillip says:

        True enough, Ingrid.

        But for what it’s worth, people like YOU really don’t exasperate me. We just see things differently, and we’re both acting and speaking on our deeply held convictions. I appreciate that as one of the things that keeps some sort of balance in social discourse… it’s what makes the world go round, to put it tritely.

        I find these conversations stimulating and educational, even though I will likely never be won over… nor do I expect to convert someone who is as truly committed to their ideas as you are.

        • Phillip says:

          Oops.. I hit Submit too soon.

          Meant to go on and say that the people who DO exasperate me are the ones on either side of the discussion who are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, to consider and make new arguments, or to concede a lost point. It’s OK to be stubborn, but not stupid.

  14. I think the fact that this is a wildly popular topic, with so many responses that it is hard to keep a sense of direction in the conversation, says that we are probably “preaching to the choir.” I haven’t seen much disagreement, no flaming or ranting, and I’m pretty sure that we are a self-selected group of people who are concerned with being ethical and fair about hunting. This blog won’t attract those who we are concerned about, and it is not going to educate anyone here to some new Aha moment, because we’ve all experienced this, and have chosen our side. Is there a way to have some of this conversation transferred to a site like Gun Nuts, so that more of the “yahoos” will bump into it? I think we’re going to end up just missing a great opportunity to “spread the gospel,” if we keep this conversation to ourselves.

    • Oh God no, don’t do that!!! The F&S Peanut Gallery is malicious for the sake of being malicious. It’s one reason I don’t comment there. Aside from having been attacked personally, I just don’t see a lot of “discussion” happening there.

      • Ingrid says:

        I tend to think Holly’s right. I don’t post at those places but I’ve ready plenty of hunter writings and comments over the years. Some of the acts they describe are beyond abhorrent. So, Richard’s right — those are the very people we’re talking about — the ones who form our non-hunting vision of hunters and hunting — the very ones who probably wouldn’t hear a word of this anyway. It’s a sad paradox.

    • Phillip says:

      Richard, I get where you’re coming from, but do you honestly expect valuable discussion of such an idea on one of those big, unmoderated forums? Talk about preaching to the choir.

      The absence of rants or flames on this blog (and others like it) is due to the presence of intelligent and reasonable voices. There absolutely IS disagreement, but it’s voiced logically and discussed with reason and consideration. I think there are more “aha” moments than one might expect, as we all stand to learn something when the conversation is kept at this level.

      On the other hand, I have very little doubt that the discussion of this kind of thing on the F&S blogs would quickly turn to idiotic musings on Ingrid’s physical characteristics, or Tovar’s sexual orientation. As evidence, I offer Holly’s recent guest post at the Field and Stream blog, and the downward spiral of resultant discussion (http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/guns/2010/01/why-i-hate-booth-babe-story-guest-editorial-holly-heyser).

      Also, keep in mind that a blog like this one (especially like this one) draws a pretty esoteric crowd of viewers, many of whom might never comment… but they’re reading and forming opinions. This dicussion is definitely flowing outside the narrow confines of the active audience.

      • Ingrid says:

        So, Phillip, what you’re saying is that it was a mistake for me to post that full-body shot over at the F&S forums? But they all seemed so nice! 🙂

    • What I really like is the idea of a social marketing campaign (which I’m sure I’ve said before, but I can’t remember if it was on my blog, Phillip’s or Tovar’s). I’d like to see some of the big companies in hunting to sponsor PSAs on hunting channels about sharing hunting ethics.

      Have you seen the Mormon commercials? They don’t mention LDS at all, but they’re just heartwarming little blurbs about being nice to other people and valuing your family. They don’t make me want to become a Mormon, but they do make me want to be nice.

      I think a campaign like that would affect both hunters and people on Ingrid’s side who just don’t see prominent enough messaging on this issue.

      • Phillip says:

        I absolutely love the idea, Holly… and would go so far as to take it beyond the hunting channels. I believe there’s a lot about the conservation ethic and what hunters and our organizations are doing that would actually sell to the general public.

        Ducks Unlimited has done this on a smallish scale across networks and at movie theaters, so the ground is already broken.

        • Ingrid says:

          I would suggest, for this to be truly effective, that one involves people from my side of the fence . . . unless you’re speaking to the hunting public alone. I’ve seen a number of hunting PR campaigns that struck me in the same way Chevron’s greenwashing campaigns do: disingenuous or trying too hard to obfuscate. I think to earn respect in a broader audience, any such message would have to have authenticity and collaboration as elements of its intent.

          • Oh, Ingrid, I see this specifically as a campaign designed to affect hunter behavior, a more subtle form of the key message, which is, “Hey, don’t be a douchebag out there. Treat animals with respect. Don’t litter. Don’t take risky shots. Raise your junior hunters to be respectful stewards of the land.” The only reason I mention anti-hunting people is that I know they monitor our TV (just as I monitor anti-hunting activity).

            I don’t see this as something we send out to the broader world to say, “Look, we’re nice people, really!” There are other ways to do that (which I’m also actively involved in).

            • Ingrid says:

              Gotcha. Phillip mentioned Ducks Unlimited and I believe it was one of their films I saw that kinda rubbed me the wrong way — even though I know DU does good habitat work.

              Okay, off to rescue some wild critters at the hospital. See you all later . . .

  15. Exactly what I think, and why I think there has to be some way to approach this in an educational manner. As a teacher, both of children and adults, maybe it would be cool to start a forum for Junior Hunters, so we can correct some of these attitudes before they’re too deeply inculcated. I also think that we can send off articles to magazines; I’ve seen some excellent writing, both on the part of Tovar and participants, that I think would make excellent candidates for publication. Anybody think we could collect some essays and submit it as a book?

  16. Phillip: I appreciated the post of Holly’s post, and the reply stream. I actually read everything there, and found that it was a good discussion, with people on both sides of the fence weighing in. While there was some antagonism in various replies, I found a balance in the discussion, even though there were a few of the yahoos there, whom I think were schooled by posters who actually demonstrated intelligence. There were even some women hunters there, who backed her up, and one who also seemed to be satirical about the whole thing. The editor of the magazine showed up, much like the Assistant Superintendents often show up in the middle of a discussion on Union Negotiations, so I know it was somewhat monitored, and it seems to have drawn quite a bit of attendance. There was even some promotion of Holly getting her column back by guys who felt her voice needs to be heard. So, I think you inadvertently proved my point…this discussion is a good idea for the Gun Nuts, and other forums, simply because it makes everyone talk, pick sides, and express their POVs. I honestly believe that those forums are a good place to post, if we can get some of our articles published by those magazines….a Writing Collective, anyone?

      • Ingrid says:

        I’d brave it. But it’s tough for someone who doesn’t hunt to garner any respect in those types of forums. I tend to lay low for that reason. You wouldn’t know it from my posting here . . .

        • Josh says:

          I’ll first confess that I didn’t read every thread, but not for a lack of interest!

          Ingrid, I do want to point out something I noticed in a comment you made here. You state:

          “And once you open the doors to the idea that killing of any kind is okay (again, for the purposes of argument) you engage any number of irresolute, trickle-down ideas of what’s acceptable and what is not. It’s as if you cross a significant ethical line and create a world of murkiness as a result.”

          I do have an ethical problem with this statement, because everybody lives in that world of murkiness, and there is no ethical line one has to cross to get there.

          It is impossible not to kill in this world – plants, insects, animals, fungi, bacteria, etc. To eat, one must kill. Further, vegetarian meals depend to a gigantic degree upon pest management and harvest, both of which indiscriminately kill even protected species, and very often in very painful, horrible ways. Without these measures, the impacts of rats, voles, and mice would, alone, cause mass starvation and disease among humans.

          So, if a person must kill, then there can be no ethical command to not kill. It isn’t that killing is “okay” or “not okay” – “ought” implies “can”. Death is sad, but it cannot be wrong.

          I know for a fact that the majority of hunters responding on this comment thread hunt, in part, because of the responsibility they feel when confronted by this reality of the world. Recognizing that we cannot help but kill, and understanding the sorrow that comes from this, we often choose to do so with a minimum of pain and suffering. Frankly, many vegetarians do not recognize that many animals are horribly maimed and killed and left in the field, as an unthinking consequence of their choices – a position I find morally untenable.

          I do think it’s vital to include anti-hunters in this conversation, because not one of us is exempt from the maiming and killing of animals for our sustenance. Should a person hire a man to kill a human, they are still guilty of murder. What, then, is hiring a person to harvest your grain, knowing full well that it will lead to indiscriminate and wanton death and suffering?

          You have riled a bunch of hunters who share your feelings about horrible people who indiscriminately kill, maim or harass and call it hunting. I think it’s fair to also rile those who do the same, and call it eating, and work toward better, more responsible habits all around.

          I do appreciate your comments, by the way. You are a very thoughtful and compassionate person. Thank you.

          • Tovar says:

            Well put, Josh.

            As you know, you’re right on the mark regarding my hunting: it is, in great part, one of the ways I respond to (take response-ability for) and engage with the murkiness. Avoiding industrially grown soybeans and grain helps mitigate the harm you describe, but even local organic vegetables have their impacts.

            And, as I’m sure you suspect, I see value in unsettling—sometimes even riling—hunters and vegans alike. 😉

          • Ingrid says:

            Josh, I do see your point. I think you and I have had this discussion in these very pages where we both acknowledged the impossibility of living harm free. I believe that’s also a central tenet in Tovar’s move from vegetarianism — understanding that reality of carnage, and making different choices as a result. But I think that argument is also sometimes used to justify any manner of taking life for choice or sport. That bothers me. I do think some distinctions can be drawn.

            For instance, with respect to food, one can eat a vegetarian diet that is far less harmful than a hunting or meat-eating one. Not all vegetarian diets. It’s about the choices you make as a vegetarian, just as it’s about the choices you make as hunters. Many hunters not only hunt and eat farmed meat, but also indulge in grains and products such as soy (in so many food ingredients), drive big trucks, etc. so the damage, unless growing your own food, would be significantly larger. They’re eating meat and indulging in the same products vegetarians eat. Compound interest.

            I’m not deluded that my (or any) modern lifestyle is harm-free. But I can avoid those products I know to be intensively farmed, like soy and most grains. I’m blessed in the Bay Area with lots of friends who share the spoils of vegetable gardens and so forth, in addition to farmer’s markets (even though I know petroleum and road hazard is involved even there). I know several farmers who do not kill pest animals, who make every effort to, again, reduce, but not eliminate harm.

            What I’m getting at — and I think you may find issue with it — is that I believe you can, in fact, draw a line between inadvertent death, when all measures are taken to prevent that death, by hunters or non-hunters alike. And then, killing deliberately for sport.

            Before you take that to mean what it sounds like, I don’t mean to suggest that most of you here aren’t hunting for meat and sustenance. But on balance, even when the meat is eaten, a lot of hunting is done for recreation. I have yet to meet a hunter who expressed dread about the fact that hunting season was coming up.

            And I do think there is a mental paradigm shift in humans, in general, when there’s an acceptance of directly causing death. I’m not saying it’s all bad. Tovar and Holly would be the first (or second) to say that hunting has increased their respect for life. But it is a big line to cross. And in less capable hands, it’s a line that opens up rationalizations for behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable if that line hadn’t been crossed.

            Absolutely, it’s hypocritical for meat eaters and vegetarians not to recognize their own impact on the planet. You are so right about that and right to challenge any claim to corporeal immunity. But let’s say you put it in human terms. Humans die everyday from the effects of our modern lifestyle, pollution, etc. And yet, few would make an equivalency argument between the ancillary effects of driving, say, an F150, and taking the life of a human by hand. I think most people would argue that one has crossed an ethical line in taking the life direction — but driving an F150?

            Now, I’m not saying driving a truck isn’t as bad as murder (ha, ha). I’m just saying that unless someone is aware that their exhaust pipe is spewing CO into someone’s bedroom, I don’t believe they’ve crossed into quite as murky an ethical bog.

            I stand ready to face the onslaught. 🙂

            • Tovar says:

              Ingrid, you said “the impossibility of living harm free…is also sometimes used to justify any manner of taking life for choice or sport. That bothers me. I do think some distinctions can be drawn.” Agreed.

              Also, you said “one can eat a vegetarian diet that is far less harmful than a hunting or meat-eating one.” As you pointed out, that depends on the choices we make.

              It also depends on how we measure harm. By the number of (vertebrate?) deaths caused? By the physical mass of creatures killed? By the amount of suffering caused? By the amount of habitat destruction or displacement required? By the soil erosion, water pollution, fossil fuel consumption, and other ecological impacts involved? By some combination of all of these?

              The past two autumns I have killed a single deer within a half-mile of home: one death, virtually instantaneous, for 75 or more pounds of meat. No suffering or maiming. Zero habitat displacement or soil erosion. Fossil fuel: I had to drive two miles to the local convenience store for legal check-in. To be fair, we’d also have to consider the production of my vehicle, my rifle, the single bullet I used, etc, etc. But I think I would be hard pressed to get the same food volume and nutrient value in a less “harmful” way. I think this becomes increasingly true the further you live from year-round agricultural lands.

              My hunting, though, isn’t rooted in a single-minded effort to minimize harm.

              In the F150/Hummer vs. murder example, I think your point about awareness is crucial: “unless someone is aware that their exhaust pipe is spewing CO into someone’s bedroom, I don’t believe they’ve crossed into quite as murky an ethical bog.” As you indicated, not knowing doesn’t make the act any less harmful. The question is: does not knowing make the act more ethical?

              I’m not sure that it does, especially if the ignorance is willful. As James Baldwin put it in connection with the legacy of slavery and racism, “[they] do not know it and do not want to know it…it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

              My hunting is rooted here, in a quest for awareness, in an attempt to face at least some of the “harm” my life inflicts. (It’s also rooted in other places and reasons, of course.) For many years, I felt more comfortable with inadvertent harm. Now, strangely, I’m more disturbed by those unintended consequences. I find more peace in the harm I have chosen deliberately.

              As modern First World consumers of food and much else, I think most of us spend most of our time sitting in the back seat of the Hummer while someone else drives (maybe it’s a stretch-limo-Hummer). We don’t even look out the front window, let alone measure the gases coming out the tailpipe. We have no clue what impacts we’re having. For me, this is still true in large part: much of the food I eat and the products I use have impacts of which I am unaware. I can’t claim pure moral high ground.

              • Ingrid says:

                Tovar, you said: “as James Baldwin put it in connection with the legacy of slavery and racism, “[they] do not know it and do not want to know it…it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”
                Yes, beautiful quote. Yours and Baldwin’s point taken and agreed upon. I was only half joking in equating driving an F150 with murder. Holly’s Hummer suggestion was better.

                There is culpability in willful ignorance. Any of us. There is that Camus quote, to quote back at you, that the evil of the world all derives from ignorance — and that good intentions can be as harmful as the malevolent, if they lack understanding. I believe that’s the point of yours and Josh’s disagreement with me. And you’re right in challenging that premise.

                I would still argue, as a Buddhists might, that “intent” is also part of the ethical equation. But deliberate oblivion does complicate that picture.

                I was having a conversation with a former colleague not that long ago, and, after some commentary about a dire world situation, this person said something to me like, “why can’t you just let it go and be happy?” In response, I asked how, pragmatically speaking, in her life, she chose to deal with the dichotomy of sitting there at the dining room table in affluent suburban America, understanding her blessings yet simultaneously reconciling global strife. As you might imagine, the response was something like, “I don’t think about it. Frankly, all that’s important to me is my house and my kids and my little world here.”

                She was “happy” in her own way. Meanwhile, the relatively wasteful lifestyle she, her house and her kids live wreaks untold havoc and reduced happiness for untold humans and non-humans, as do many of our human lives, in ways — as you suggest — that are far more harmful that walking a few paces and killing a deer for the year.

                What we come back to here is a similar conclusion to one we arrived at in another thread. And that is a collusion of consciousness. My use of consciousness here denotes awareness and a willingness to act on that awareness. (Yes, I can construe words to mean anything I like. :))

                All of us here, as we seemed to agree previously, have more in common as hunters and one non-hunter, than we do with people who are not concerned with these matters at all, whether they are hunters or not. Richard and Phillip addressed this directly and indirectly as well. None of us has too much of a moral high ground in this chaotic existence.

                At the same time, in as much as I am disappointed and sometimes angered by the head-in-the-sand approach by people like my colleague, the same holds true in an endeavor like hunting, where such stubborn obtuseness leads to the very subject of this post. My point has been and continues to be, that part of the problem is the head-in-the-sand approach by those in the hunting community, who fight what I see as the obvious conclusion that some things need to change. Particularly if we’re to keep pace with a modern understanding of animal sentience and psyche.

                To me, business as usual in hunting — based on age-old traditions — is no more justifiable than people driving gas guzzlers because that’s what their daddies and granddaddies did. In this era, such luxury does create some measure of suffering for us all.

                • Tovar says:

                  Amen, Ingrid.

                  Speaking of which, I have this vehicle question to resolve: older 4WD pickup truck, not nearly as fuel-efficient as I’d like, repairs becoming more costly. Not it’s not an F-150. 😉

                  Do I keep the truck or replace it? If I replace it, what with?

                  I need a vehicle I can commute with (fuel efficiency would be nice, both economically and ecologically) and feel safe in (4WD or AWD is almost a necessity in Vermont winters).

                  A truck is awfully handy, especially for hauling manure, compost, and mulch for the garden, plus other materials for house repairs and projects. But a car is more efficient, even if it’s not a pricey hybrid. And I don’t want to incur the expense of keeping two vehicles for my use, in addition to Cath’s Subaru Impreza. (We got away with a single vehicle between us for years, but with where we’re living and what we’re each doing, that’s just not an option right now.) Hmmm….

                  • Ingrid says:

                    Tovar, believe it or not, I’m in a similar position right now. In our regular lives, Hugh and I do our best not to use the car. Quite easy in the Bay Area. But for rescue and transport of animals, sometimes you can’t avoid it. It’s that rotten paradox we’ve all been talking about, and something Josh alluded to in his latest post (death as a tragedy or statistic).

                    We have a 10-year-old Civic that the two of us share, and at some point soon, we’ll need to replace it with something a bit bigger for gear. But it goes against my every grain to move in that direction. In my ideal world, I’d have a solar charged house with enough juice for an electric car (manufacturing issues understood), and still sell energy back. But in my real world, I’m contemplating similar choices to yours. What are you leaning toward?

                    • Josh says:

                      Ooh! Ooh! My opinion on this (I love cars, ain’t that horrible?):

                      Subaru’s factory is a zero-waste facility:


                      So if you go that route, you are doing okay. Sadly, their “truck” is not a good car or truck…

                      If I were able, I’d buy a Ford Escape hybrid 4wd, and not look back. I’ve driven them, they are great, comfy, roomy, their 4wd works very well, and I got between 32-87 mpg. No joke, in San Francisco, I drove 10 miles and averaged 87 mpg. You will quickly realize, when driving this thing, how important road and community design and planning are to effective impact reductions. I’d worked in that concept for a year, but it wasn’t until I rented and drove an Escape hybrid from the Bay Area to Sacramento that it hit me, and it was bleeping revelatory.

                      Check out the Escape, with a small trailer for hauling garden stuff. I just wish Ford would come out with the Explorer in hybrid…

                    • Tovar says:

                      Yeah, the solar-charged house and car sound great, Ingrid. But it ain’t happenin’ for me anytime soon either. I don’t have a strong leaning yet. Having had a pickup for so long (bought this one used in 2000), I’m still sort of stuck on the idea. But the idea of some kind of trailer—behind a more efficient vehicle with more usable interior/passenger space—appeals too.

                      What you said about the Escape is interesting, Josh. I think I’m prejudiced against SUVs (that stands for Suburbanites’ Unnecessary Vehicle, right?) and have seen their hybrid MPG numbers not being much better than a regular gas-powered car. Plus, they’re so darn expensive, especially as hybrids.

                      I’ve never had any real complaint with Subarus. Cath’s AWD Impreza gets about 33 MPG on the highway. They’re just a little pricey to fix.

            • Josh says:

              Ingrid… onslaught, from this clique of emotionally ambivalent eaters? I’m willing to bet the vast majority of folks commenting here have attempted to heal an injured animal, and have safely escorted a bug from their premises.

              Seriously, the point Tovar was making in this post is absolutely vital for us hunters to continue to grapple with. At the same time, the sadness I felt at my realization when watching a harvester in the field helped galvanize my hunting as an ethically preferable decision for acquiring food (okay, those of you who’ve hunted with me can now stop laughing).

              Tovar’s point about how we measure deaths is absolutely spot-on. A couple years back, I blogged a post titled, “What is your Calculus of Death?”, in which I directly confront this concept.

              We all rail against the unnecessary harm caused by industrial ag. But here, I’m even going beyond that. I’m saying that, since death is unavoidable, then all killing cannot necessarily be immoral.

              You then draw the line between doing all you can to avoid causing death, and that line is a reason why I hunt. My problem isn’t with that position of yours (I share it), it is with the notions that: being removed from the actual killing absolves one of responsibility for the death; if one tries to avoid causing death, but still causes it, then one is absolved of having caused death.

              When people think that they are not responsible for death just because they don’t, themselves, kill, they may then stop understanding death as a sad, but definite, part of our world, and begin to equate death with immorality, and then they equate killing (of charismatic megafauna, not flies) with immorality. This cheapens the natural world, relegates it to the status of theme-park or television, and creates a horrible illusion of human separateness from the natural world.

              I’m not saying you are there at all, not in the least. But I’ve met far more of the people I describe, and their children, than I have slob hunters.

              Death is sad, and it weighs heavy on the hearts of those who contemplate it. I don’t think we are worrying about the deaths of others, however, as much as we are worrying about causing undue suffering in life. In this respect, I’m willing to bet that, in the course of one year, the suffering caused by growing and harvesting so far outpaces that caused by hunting that we aren’t even talking about the same thing anymore. In fact, I think we all start to suffer from that horrible, horrible Stalinism, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

              • Tovar says:

                Back to the main subject of this discussion: Great comment, Josh. Yep, like you, I’ve tried to rescue injured animals—even a starling once—and would rather get moths and spiders out the door alive.

                I appreciate your thoughts on absolution, the equation of death with immorality, and the illusion of human separateness. They resonate.

                If you want to email me a link to your “Calculus of Death” post, I’ll paste that into your comment.

      • Holly,
        I won’t say what I’m thinking (“This looks like a job for a man!”), but actually it might be best coming from a man, since we’re the ones who have to model this particular set of values to our (90%+) peers. As well, there would be little opportunity to set it aside as feminist or PETA type rants, so I understand why it makes your skin crawl. When Phillip posted the article you wrote, and the comments that went along with it, I was pretty ashamed, and yet fascinated at the same time, because there were some people who gave what you said some thought, even if they were way off base, or outright crude about it. I do believe that the discussion that followed was an example of what needs to be done, on a large scale basis, so that we can’t be accused of being a “self-selected” bunch of intellectuals locked in an ivory tower, preaching to the choir. I once again salute you (I just like the term, never was military) in your courage in expressing your mind, and going where many angels fear to tread. Keep your chin up, and if your skin does crawl, make sure you check for ticks later. ;<)B

        • I don’t mind doing it once in a while, but I don’t want the only face I show at F&S to be the provocative one. I have lots to say – hopefully stuff that’s worth hearing – that isn’t necessarily inflammatory.

          • Holly,
            I tried to make it as obvious a “tongue in cheek” proposal as possible, and I agree. Women are investigating and joining in many activities that were once the exclusive province of men; whether for their betterment, who’s to say. I pledge to start posting there, but I have little “hunter cred,” while you’re already published there, and have been subjected to much of this debate for longer than this “nube.” However, I’m no young sprout, so I should be able to purvey some important ideas, in the forums, and I’m definitely willing to put forth the efforts to help the younger set. I appreciate being taken seriously here, so I expect that I can weather the storm of potential criticism elsewhere, for the sake of a “good think.” Glad to make it to your conversation. Much better than going begging on some of the forums for information on where to hunt. That has now taken a back seat to this discussion.

  17. Ingrid says:

    Quick note to everyone here. As always, thank you for entertaining diverse perspectives on potentially contentious subjects. From a non-hunter’s perspective, it’s gratifying to see this type of response. I’ve been chatting with some of you for a while now, it seems. So your sensitivity to these issues isn’t exactly news to me. It just makes me feel more hopeful that there is, indeed, room to find some philosophical consensus on things that all of us find appalling. Practical resolutions are obviously more complex than ruminations. But I agree with Richard and others here who think this discussion deserves to transcend the bounds of the “converted.”

  18. Hi Ingrid,
    It is different to see people who are diametrically opposed to be having a civil conversation, and respectfully admitting that nobody seems to have an exclusive righteous duty to convert the others. I think that’s what most attracts me to this forum.
    Also, as to a vegetarian diet, (joke coming, sorry), I have heard that vegetarians are kind of bland, and that curry is a good spice to give them some flavor. Having eaten many bunnies, I would tend to agree.

    • Ingrid says:

      Without going Soylent on everyone, I’ve sometimes contemplated the role of vegetarians in the food chain, since many don’t possess the predator drive I hear hunters talk about. Never had it, don’t believe I ever will. It could be that I’m destined for a nice curry after all.

  19. Ingrid says:

    Josh — no more nesting possibilities, but thanks for the car info. I didn’t know that about Subaru. The Sub option is high on the list.

  20. I’m not nesting anymore! To nest in response to the conversation I’ve missed so far today would just tax my little pea brain too much. So, some random thoughts:

    Vehicle recommendations: Trucks are pretty important if you need to haul things. Hank and I are hoping a hybrid truck with some actual huevos will come out one of these days. Meanwhile, my Toyota Rav4 has suited my hunting very well – but the gas mileage ain’t all that – 26mpg at best, if I max out at 70 mph (which is way too slow for me). In practice, it’s 23 mpg. Better than an F150, I guess.

    Hunting close to home: Tovar, how I envy you. The closest I can hunt is a 35 minute drive from my house (in non-rush hour) and I can only hunt waterfowl there. Every other place I can hunt is at least 45 minutes from my house. Some of the best hunting is four hours away. Hank and I want to buy a farm and one reason is so we can let a bunch of land revert to nature and occasionally hunt it (rabbits, doves, turkeys, maybe a deer). But with negative net worth, that ain’t happening soon, so I am an urban hunter, for whom driving is a necessary evil.

    Rescuing bugs: I’ve become somewhat nuts about this lately. Black widows die, but everything else gets all the assistance I can give, whether it’s getting a mosquito hawk back outside, or pulling a spider from the hopeless pit of the bathtub during a shower.

    The willfully ignorant: I kinda understand them. All of them. It is impossible for any of us, or even every conscientious one of us, to reverse the damage wrought by humans over the last 10,000 years. Perhaps we can try to escape it, but withdrawing from the complex world we’ve created isn’t an option, because we’ve devastated the habitat of human hunter-gatherers. But even contemplating what we’ve done to life on this planet is just too much – to open your mind to feel the devastation is just unbearable.

    I also understand why some hunters want to believe that animals don’t feel pain, or don’t have souls or whatever. It’s a convenient way to dismiss the difficult thoughts. I tell you, I empathize with animals – the ones I kill, especially – as much as do many vegans I’ve met on the Internet, and opening my mind that way isn’t easy. But I feel obligated to do it, because if I can’t be comfortable with what I do while considering all the ramifications, I shouldn’t do it.

    All right, back to work now.

  21. Ingrid says:

    Hi, Holly, I appreciate the thoughts. I will say that I wish empathy transcended just the kill. Because a big chunk of what wildlife rehabbers see (not just from hunting) is orphans. So it’s one thing to be present with the animal you’ve killed, and another to have an awareness for the greater ripple effect of that kill.

    Sure, to the best of my knowledge, hawks don’t consider this when they take a mother bird as their daily meal. We get into that consciousness and necessity argument again. I do appreciate that many [human] hunting seasons are outside of breeding season for that reason.

    But there are plenty of baby-season and year-round hunts that result in untold numbers of orphans: bears, wolves, rabbits, non-game animals, etc. One may or may not care about that, particularly if they see those animals as varmints or pests. But those are the types of considerations that changed for me once I got into wildlife rehab — seeing intimately the greater and tragic toll that one action has, beyond the immediate.

    There are so many points of suffering that result from our recreational activities. I just wish more people would measure the potential effects (and suffering) against their enjoyment — be it hunting, or letting children run wild and trample ducklings at the local park, as I’ve seen happen too often. I have a canned speech when parents will actually let me talk to them or their kids (a rarity).

    • Tovar says:

      Hunting deer, I have had opportunities to shoot either a doe or her 5-month-old fawn, when they were together. I have always passed up such shots.

      Biologists tell me that the survival rates for either individual would not change much if the other died. And they also tell me how important it is for a sufficient number of does to be killed here in Vermont each year, lest the population grow and overburden the available winter-yard habitat, resulting in habitat damage and ill-health and starvation among the deer.

      Yet I can’t quite imagine taking either shot. I’ll have to do a post about it sometime.

    • Tovar says:

      Your story and the comments are heartbreaking, Holly. Thanks for the link, as that was several months before I entered blogland.

    • Ingrid says:

      Yikes, Holly. Pear Jack is a tough story. Keep in mind, Holly and Tovar, that I speak not so much from the “babies are cute” standpoint but, rather, as one who’s been physically and emotionally involved at the receiving end, dealing with the repercussion. I know what the scientific standpoint is on population control. It’s tough to give that priority when you’re presented with a box of emaciated young cottontails, if you know what I mean. Sometimes, things happen, you can’t help it. It’s just that when it’s a choice, it’s tough for someone like me to rationalize it. Rabbits will always be that for me, I suppose, since they breed year-round. And part of their year includes being hunted. Well, jackrabbits, all of their year.

      • Tovar says:

        That’s okay. I do cute. 🙂 And that’s a sweet story, Ingrid.

        Aesthetically and emotionally, I would rather read and watch that kind of stuff than think, for example, about the baby robin that Cath and I saw snatched out of a nest by a hawk a year or two ago.

        On the other hand, I am definitely wary of the Disneyfied illusions that can be spawned by depictions of inter-species cuteness: that not much eating happens or needs to happen in nature, that the lion and the lamb really can lie down together in the broader sense, that predation is merely a learned behavior, that ecological balance and species survival could be maintained if predation suddenly stopped, that the leopard wouldn’t gobble a baby monkey if she was hungry, etc. To get an accurate picture of nature—which is, perhaps, as complicated and confusing as human nature—we need to balance those depictions with others.

        I’m sure we all know that young creatures—moose, deer, grouse, and so on—provide a large percentage of predators’ meals and are far more likely to be the victims of predation than are adults. As I understand it, there’s growing evidence that at least some black bears (which I, like many, tend to think of as gentle nut-and-berry-eaters, not at all grizzly-like) specialize in hunting young deer and moose, just after fawning and calving time. Some of the predation that’s long been blamed on coyotes may actually be done by bruins.

        Yes, that’s my clumsy attempt to bring us full circle to the post that started this delightfully meandering discussion. I seem to recall a photo of a black bear somewhere up there.

        • Ingrid says:

          Yes, you see? It’s just psychically unmanageable for me. This is why nature gives us 100 percent agave tequila and the lost coast forest crops of Humboldt County (wink).

        • Phillip says:

          This thing’s gone all over the place, and I’m not even gonna try to catch up at this point. I’ve read all the posts, but no way to consolidate a single reply.

          So jumping to the end, in reply to Tovar’s comment about black bears. In North Carolina, black bears have been one of the biggest impediments to the elk recovery program. They learned, quickly, to target the young elk during the calving season. It got so bad that the NC Wildlife Resources Commission trapped and relocated most of the bears out of the area in advance of the calving. The elk have adapted also, and are apparently hiding the youngsters better, but the whole thing serves as a pretty good reminder that black bears are every bit the opportunistic omnivore.

          It’s also a reminder that of all the predators, we’re really the only ones who hold the strong compunction against killing youngsters. Why is that? I suppose it’s because we are, by and large, driven as much by our emotions as by practicality.

          Does this support Ingrid’s contention that this ability to empathize and rationalize imbues us with an additional responsibility to constantly enhance our ethics? I think it’s partially so, but I also think that brings us back to the individual choices of just how much we “owe” the wildlife, and how to balance that against our own needs and desires. And there, again, is the rub…

    • Ingrid says:

      Ouch, now there’s another story I could have done without (she says, as she knowingly clicked through to something potentially bad). I have never witnessed that. The poor doe! I’m going to ask around the wildlife hospital, see who may be familiar with this behavior. There’s a supervisor I have yet to stump with any esoteric wildlife questions.

      There’s no getting around it, predation sucks. I’ve chosen not to be an active predator for obvious reasons. Although Josh reminds me that I’m a passive predator. I realize it’s a slippery slope from accidental vole death, to harvesting my own monster buck. So, maybe I’ll be calling you in the fall, Holly, to help get fitted for duck season. (We do get voles in the hospital, btw. Not usually salvaged from harvesters.)

      Holly, I didn’t respond to your comment about spiders. To actually prove Josh’s point about death, I put up a birdbath years ago. But when I’d go to clean it, I’d find a few dead bugs along with the living ones I was able to save. I was providing water for the birds but slaying insects in the process (even though some of the birds who came to the bath were flycatchers so there persists the predation conundrum). Anyway, I quickly learned that a rock (with good traction) in the middle of the bath allowed the bugs to swim and crawl out. In the years since, I’m happy to say there have been NO dead bugs. So, I hear you on the bug love.

      • Ingrid says:

        (Again with the post-haste commenting. It sounds like I put up a bird feeder specifically to prove a point to Josh. Too funny.)

  22. Tovar says:

    Images: Ingrid getting outfitted for duck season. Ingrid tracking a monster buck. A birdbath put up to prove Josh’s point about death.

    I am literally sitting here laughing out loud. 🙂

    Thanks, friends!

  23. Ingrid says:

    Well, I got some work done. But I have this fear that I sent off a half-cocked manuscript. Must . . . stalk . . . buck.

    (Tovar, a few of my friends, knowing my feelings about hunting and predation, enjoy some schadenfreude over the fact that I actually own some “hunting” gear. There’s some overlap in tools between animal rescue, wildlife photography, and hunting. But I don’t like handing over dollars to Cabelas. :))

    • Ingrid says:

      Ha! I’d love to have a Ghillie suit. That would really mess with people. I’m puttin’ it on the Christmas list.

      It’s awfully ominous when it’s armed, though, don’t you think? We have a version of the suit at the wildlife hospital. We use it to limit human face time with some bird species.

      Yeah, as if they buy it. I’ve often thought the poor birds will be forever imprinted and traumatized by the animated tree, like the old Disney films. (I’m not permitted to publicly use photos or blog about my experiences on hospital grounds, unfortunately. That’s a facility-by-facility preference. But I have a great shot of Hugh posing in a tree suit with a raptor who was on to him.)

  24. Ingrid says:

    Bye, Holly, Tovar, everyone. Thanks for the insights and the laughs. I wonder if any newcomers will make it to the end of these tangents?

    • Bill Koury says:

      Well, I for one followed the discussion – I had to! I was curious and had no idea where it would go. When my mail was inundated, I was tempted to remove the “Notify me…” check, but am glad I didn’t.

      I think a great summary point was made by Phillip when he said “…I also think that brings us back to the individual choices of just how much we “owe” the wildlife, and how to balance that against our own needs and desires…”.

      Ciao – ’til next time.

  25. Ingrid says:

    Darn it, Bill, I thought I was through here. 🙂

    But you inspired a thought. Your comment: “…I also think that brings us back to the individual choices of just how much we “owe” the wildlife, and how to balance that against our own needs and desires…”.

    Yes, I do see your point here, derived from Phillip’s. I guess because I see the effects we humans have on wildlife every single day — sometimes some pretty wretched and deleterious effects — I tend to believe more strongly in our debt to our earthly cohabitants.

    It would be one thing if we were, as Holly mentioned earlier, living in a more sustainable hunter-gatherer society where our impact was, indeed, part of a robust and natural cycle. But, we humans have transcended that possibility with overpopulation, habitat degradation, and with such massive amounts of environmental damage, I believe we need to give wildlife a break wherever we can.

    Wild animals face so many assaults, from cars to windows to poisons to shooting to habitat destruction to outright malice and ignorance, I can’t help but sometimes have a protective and visceral reaction which informs my actions toward them.

    Holly mentioned empathy in hunting, and that’s the best way I can describe it from my POV. When you see an animal come into the hospital maimed by humans or our technology, something inside you wants to scream “stop!” Please, just look at what you’re doing and stop.

    I can’t say for sure, but I think the experience of working in a hands-on environment — with animals most people never get close to — or only touch after they’ve been hunted and killed — is life changing for most. I volunteer with two ex-hunters who have told me that, as well. At the very least, seeing anyone’s suffering and turmoil up close tends to remove the usual barriers to emotional connection and sympathy, if not empathy.

    • Bill Koury says:


      I commend you and all the other compassionate folks who work to relieve pain and suffering. That includes on the human side as well, the doctors, nurses and care-givers. It’s possibly the most altruistic and beneficial work on the planet.

      I just know that when I see a maimed or injured animal, my first reaction is to come to its aide. The next day, I may go out to kill a turkey. I just know that there are cycles in life that I cannot change. Coyotes chew baby birds, wolves kill fawns being born, etc. Humans by their existence cause pain as well. But I can only help the animals I come across or try not to harm them directly. (e.g. It irritates me to watch as wildlife camera men standby while a helpless fawn is torn to bits by wild dogs.) But it’s the way nature works. Animals see other animals as food, not as we see them.

      Hence, for us, I think Phillip’s point says it well.

  26. Ingrid says:

    (e.g. It irritates me to watch as wildlife camera men standby while a helpless fawn is torn to bits by wild dogs.)
    Bill, I joke with my friends that I make a lousy wildlife photographer. Because I’m not out there for the predator money shot. Sadly, as with many endeavors, carnage can be commercial. And again, there tends to be a double standard for how viewers see a fawn getting ripped up on film, versus how we’d feel about a kitten in the same circumstances.

    I think that’s why I tend to recoil from the “it’s just nature” argument for all manner of predation. Not because it’s erroneous. But because it’s been used to justify massive amounts of bad behavior. In general, I think making money through exploiting any living thing brings with it a huge set of ethical problems.

    Personally, I do document issues like oil spill damage (while I’m waiting for the animal to be rescued and transported). Or I’ll photograph animals killed by pollution, or finning, or other human hand — issues I can effectively address through photography and education.

    I find no enjoyment whatsoever in human or non-human suffering. If I’m out shooting photos and I see an injured animal, and I’ve assessed the situation as one that needs my help, I drop my gear and go help, detangle, transport, whatever.

    I wrote a little rant about wildlife photography ethics in my blog. I’ve seen wildlife put in jeopardy by overzealous people, most of them with point-and-shoots, actually, stalking, chasing, harassing.

    It blows my mind how many people seem to have no understanding whatsoever for our relationship to wild animals. I’m not talking about hunters, btw. Usually weekending families. I’ve been shocked by the sense of entitlement I’ve seen and heard . . . as if these animals belong to us to do as we see fit. I agree with the points I hear many hunters articulating — about how our disconnect from nature has produced a new variety of cluelessness.

  27. I wasn’t sure where to get a comment in on all the nesting, so I figured I’d just pile on here at that end re: Ingrid’s comment that she has yet to meet a hunter who dreads hunting season.

    I decided to hunt because it seemed to me to be a prudent use of resources and a way to ensure that the animal I eat lived a decent, animal-appropriate life. I will kill a deer on principle. I am dreading it.

    • Tovar says:

      For you, Tamar, what constitutes a “lucky” first season may be a toss-up. It was for me. In retrospect, I’m glad it took me a few years to get a deer.

      Now, I find I do enjoy certain aspects of the hunt. Killing is not one of them.

      • Bill Koury says:


        Being unsuccessful early-on raises an excellent discussion point. Being unsuccessful at my first outing for turkey this year seems to have increased my desire to learn more about their habits, habitat, and life cycle. I’ll be back out again first hunting day in May.

        I found the same happened to me when I went four years without a deer and as a child, a number of years without catching a trout (lots of other species, but not the one I was after).

        I guess after a failure (or several of them) it causes you to either drop the activity or go at it with a renewed (more comprehensive) approach.

  28. Joshua says:

    Ingrid, I’m flattered at my ex ante abilities to get you to build a better birdbath!

    This has been a great set of comments. I’m glad I read ’em.

    I think we all can go out now and fight the good fight, against the clueless life!

  29. Swamp Thing says:

    Let me tell you, from watching 12 straight years of (fading) anti-hunter sentiment in the Northeast……

    The only (ONLY) time the anti-hunters carry ANY favor with the legislators is after a hunting “incident” in which someone was injured, someone poached game, or a harvested animal was not dealt with legally/ethically.

    When we lose hunting rights, we – the hunters – are to blame. Nobody’s listening to the anti’s. It’s our responsibility to make these things right.

    • Ingrid says:

      As one who’s long been on the non-hunting side, thank you for articulating this. We have much less power to change the entrenched structure regarding hunting than people tend to believe, even coming those individuals and orgs intimately acquainted with the health and well-being of wild animals.

      Furthermore, the funding structure of our game departments favors hunters. The numbers of people participating in non-lethal wildlife activities far outnumbers hunters. And yet there are no fees levied on binoculars or other products and activities that would allow us as viable, respectable and as strong a voice.

      It’s a rare wildlife “refuge” in this state where I don’t share the ground with waterfowl hunters in the winter and have to witness what to me, is very disturbing activity — the rampant and often irresponsible slaying of the birds. I’ve seen far too much of that behavior, unfortunately.

      This is why I have tried to state over and over that change will only come from within the hunting community. It’s why I value the topics Tovar and Holly and others here are opening to general discourse, difficult though that self-assessment of hunting may be. I don’t think it’s a slippery slope from internal policing to abolition. On the contrary. It’s the worst practices that tend to bring on the external policing.

  30. sam says:

    I read the comments and I think perhaps there is some misunderstanding about what an “anti” really is. There is the “anti-hunter” and the “anti-hunting”. The “anti-hunting” folks are the stereotypical HSUS types. They don’t like to kill things, etc. The “anti-hunter” folks are generally landowner types who don’t like the baggage that comes from having people freely hunt their property. They aren’t against hunting, but simply don’t want to be a participant, want to limit use, or don’t want to be treated poorly. (It would also appear this group includes the hunter like the one mentioned in the blog as he wants to opt out as well) This group is the one which is driving the increase in the amount of posted property. The anti-hunting sentiment might be fading, but the increase in volume of closed land suggests the anti-hunter sentiment is increasing. This is the reason why the “anti” crowd has no legislative traction. The anti-hunter people don’t care about broad based changes. They are not part of the “anti-hunting” group despite usually being mislabelled as anti-hunting.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sam.

      There are, as you say, multiple “anti” stances. Lots of people are okay with the concept of hunting (at least for food), but are less comfortable with hunters, either as a result of stories and stereotypes they’ve absorbed or as a result of personal experience.

      And it’s true: even hunters have mixed feelings about hunters. My opinion of other hunters depends heavily on their attitudes and behaviors.

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