My job as a non-game wildlife biologist allowed me to work with a diverse group of young people from a variety of backgrounds. Most university students in Wildlife programs today are city kids that do not come from hunting backgrounds. Most don’t even know how to change a tire. Over the years of working in the field with these people the subject of hunting always came up. For the most part, these city kids just don’t understand the hunting culture, but how could they if nobody ever took them hunting?
I have learned after much trail and error and mostly error, the right to hunt argument with non-hunters can never be won using biological necessity, historic president, economic benefit or constitutional law. A quote I heard many years is applicable:
“A person convinced against their will is of
the same opinion still.”
-Attributed to Ben Franklin, Sir Walter Raleigh, Samuel Butler
and Dale Carnegie, so who knows?
Hunting is Not Just Killing
I always try to stress the importance of hunting to me is not just about killing. Hunting includes everything from the anticipation of buying or drawing a tag and the preparation for the hunt. Preparation that includes hundreds of hours of scouting, target practice and logistical planning for finding, getting into hunting areas and packing the meat back out. For most of us hunters, it is not all about the kill despite what you might see on many of today’s hunting shows, especially as we hunters get older and hopefully get wiser. My goal when talking to the average non-hunter is for them to understand the respect I have for the natural world, whether I carry a gun into that world or not.
Pulling the trigger is just an instant out of what could be years of preparation. Shooting and killing an animal is ultimately the culmination of any hunting trip, but it is not the entire purpose, it is only the the final destination of the entire journey.
Humans are social creatures and we like to share our favorite experiences with our favorite people. Our links to our grandfathers started with the stories they told of hunting trips and “the way things were” before our fathers were born and these bonds were strengthened when we were old enough to go hunting and fishing with them and started making our own stories. One of my proudest moments as a teenager was when I heard my Grandfather tell one of our hunting stories to my younger cousins.
Non-hunting families have similar stories to ours, but our family stories include hunting and theirs don’t. We can no more take hunting out of us than they can take memories of their Mom’s apple pie out of themselves.
I convinced one of my non-hunting field techs to take (and pass) the hunter safety course. He bought a tag, borrowed a rifle and he went on a solo spike elk hunt. He was unsuccessful, but I could tell he was a changed man as he excitedly told me about how he almost got into position for a shot on a spike bull just before dark at a water hole. There is absolutely nothing like watching elk at pond, unless it’s watching elk at a pond during the hunting season with a tag in your wallet.
Not a Fan of Killing for Sport
We will never change the minds of all non-hunters. To some, all hunters are nothing but mindless killers and the concept of a true sportsman has never been allowed to penetrate their extremely narrow view of the world.
We have to treat hunting with some respect. I cringe when I see full-grown men laughing hysterically and fist bumping all around after blowing up a hapless prairie dog or ground squirrel. Yes, I thought that was very cool stuff when I was 12 years old, until my grandfather disapproved. Were these guys really that excited about hitting their target? No, they were excited because they caused a small animal’s head to exploded. The height of human endeavor. Just the kind of thing to turn someone that is ambivalent about hunting to anti- hunting. We are always being watched.
I know prairie dogs can be destructive on private property and landowners should be able to control them, but I have problem with killing them simply for entertainment. I would feel better about it if they were eaten. In my opinion, prairie dogs and ground squirrels should be left as prey base for raptors and other predators on public land.
No Turkey for You!
The understanding for our hunting traditions that took months for me to cultivate with my non-hunting crew was nearly wiped out in an instant. We had just finished setting up nets to catch birds one morning that happened to be opening day of the Spring turkey season. About an hour after sunrise, a couple of local “hunters” drove up and without even a “hello”, one of them approached one of my field techs and demanded to know: “Where can we find some turkeys?” The field tech lied and said they didn’t know. I walked over and told the truth. I did know, but that knowledge had to be earned and it wouldn’t be fair to the other hunters that had been out scouting for the last month for me to tell them where to go. I told them they were too late anyway, the other hunters were already set up. They were setting out decoys about the same time I was setting up nets that morning. I don’t think they liked my response, but they didn’t say anything else, they just drove off and we never saw them again. I hope they found some turkeys.
As soon as they drove off, my young tree-hugging companions started asking questions about these two characters. They hadn’t made a good first impression and I had to agree with them. “I thought you said hunting was supposed to be about scouting and learning about wildlife and habitat and getting ready and getting to know an area all that stuff”. Yes it is, but I can’t control everyone. I have to admit, I am tired of making excuses for some hunters.
Hunters are as diverse as any group and there is much disagreement about what is ethical and what is not. There are mindless killers and poachers among us, but there are also many very dedicated, conservation minded sportsmen. I happen to think that most people lean towards the sportsman end of the spectrum, but we all should strive to show more respect for all species and their habitats and not just the species we hunt.
Some good discussions about hunter ethics can be found here:
Photo Credit: Turkey