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Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics

April 9, 2015

This is long.  Be warned.  If you suffer from short attention span… well, you probably blew this blog off long ago.  So there it is.  

When I hear someone blaring on with the negative stereotypes and generalizations about high fence hunting, I want to remind the speaker that these caricatures were first planted in our consciousness by the likes of Cleveland Amory and Ingrid Newkirk. In a classic demonstration of propaganda, they took the very worst examples of the industry and used the ignorance of the general public to portray them as the norm.

The ironic thing is that while the propaganda was fairly impotent at the time, at least as far as shutting down the high fence industry, the same stereotypes are being leveraged today by hunters to carry on the work that PETA was unable to achieve.

It has been my experience that many of the most vocal critics of high fence hunting are hunters who’ve never actually seen a high fence operation… at least not outside of the television screen. It has also been my experience that most of the commonly expressed opinions about high fence operations are based on ignorant assumptions about what it “must be” like, rather than what it’s really like… because, again, the speaker has never actually experienced it.

Seriously, if you’re opposed to the idea of high fence, that’s fine, but you need to be hyper-aware that you’re opposed to an idea that may or may not have any basis in reality.  If you’ve never experienced a hunt (or even a tour) on a high fence ranch, then the basis of your negative opinion comes from your imagination.  That should be reasonable cause to take a deeper look at your own attitudes, but at the very least, you ought to consider that before you go spouting off your hatred for something you really know nothing about and perpetuating false stereotypes.

The overwhelming majority of the non-hunting public know even less about it than hunters do. A pretty large contingent (maybe a majority) don’t even know there is such a thing as high fence hunting.  And why would they?

However, their total ignorance makes them sponges for information from “reliable sources.” Guess who they think is reliable. Here’s a hint.  The majority of non-hunters I’ve spoken to feel the same about PETA as we do… it’s a bunch of fringe, nut jobs. For the most part, the non-hunters turn a deaf ear to the noise from that front. But when a hunter talks about hunting, then there’s a reasonable expectation that the information is reliable.

Consider that, the next time you or someone you know is involved in a conversation with non-hunters about “canned hunting” or “shooting tame deer.”  Neither of those cliches is remotely close to the reality of most high fence hunting, but not only is your non-hunting audience unaware of that, they’re not likely to bother to go find out for themselves. They’re going to take you at your word. You’re doing the work of PETA and Friends of Animals for them, and you’re doing it well.

This isn’t about ethics. Outside of some vague notions about fair chase, your non-hunting audience really doesn’t begin to grasp the esoteric concepts that wrap around hunters’ ethics. Sure, you can differentiate yourself from the guy who hunts high fence. You can make yourself look “evolved,” and you can be the “exception” to the non-hunter’s general idea of hunters. You can puff yourself up like the perfect peacock by running down everyone who doesn’t hunt like you do. I see hunters do it all the time. That non-hunter is going to have a pretty high opinion of you, because what does he have to compare it to? It’s sort of like convincing a toddler that his dad is the strongest man in the world. They just don’t know any better.

But what did that do to all the hunters who aren’t exactly like you? What does your non-hunting audience think about them? Odds are, he still feels the same about them as he did before. You’re an exception. They are not. Or worse… you’ve made them look so bad in that non-hunter’s eyes that his opinion is lower now than it was before. Have you ever spoken to a non-hunter, and had them say something like, “I’d feel better about hunting if all hunters were like you?”

Here’s the thing. If you got that response by running down other hunters who don’t hunt the way you do, or by perpetuating negative (and wrong) stereotypes about practices you don’t actually know anything about… high fence, bait, tree stands, crossbows, long range… well, I would hope like hell that all hunters are not like you, because you, my friend, are a far larger threat to the future of hunting than any number of high fence hunters will ever be.

I know that image is important.  I know that, regardless of where their attitudes are shaped, non-hunters carry those attitudes to the polling places and vote accordingly.  If they think poorly of hunters, then the poll results will reflect that.  But why do they think poorly of hunters?

What shapes non-hunters’ attitudes about hunting?

Besides personal or family experience, non-hunters derive their ideas about hunting from media sources (including social media).  Of course to us, hunters, we’re pretty sharply attuned so it seems like there’s always something out there, and it’s not usually positive.  But fortunately, from the perspective of the non-hunter, hunting doesn’t make much news and it doesn’t really get all that much coverage in movies or television either.

What’s even more important in the context of my topic, is that non-hunters don’t really spend much time looking for hunting issues in the media.  Unless something really significant happens, like an accidental shooting, the non-hunter is unlikely to even give it a second glance.  It’s sort of like me and the US Cricket Association (and yeah, I had to look it up to see if there even was such a thing).  There could be any amount of uproar and hullabaloo, but I don’t care about cricket.  Why would I follow it in the news?

It strikes me that, when I talk to non-hunters (particularly in urban or suburban settings), they really have no concept of what hunting actually entails.  They’re often shocked to learn that we don’t kill animals every time we go afield.  Seriously, they think we just go out and shoot stuff.  What I find even more surprising is how many of them never even considered that we actually eat the animals we kill, and gawk at me in disbelief when I tell them that we do.  They often have no idea about seasons, limits, or even licenses… much less wildlife conservation or the weapons and methods we use.  (And yes, I know there are many non-hunters out there who are more informed.  My anecdotes are hardly a statistical model.)

And yet, despite the fact that they think we just go out and kill piles of animals with no intent to eat or utilize them, polls show that about three quarters of Americans view hunting favorably (and other polls show even higher acceptance when they know we plan to eat our kill).

Think about that.

That’s an important thing, I think, particularly when we (hunters) start talking about how our ethics are important to shape and manage public opinion… to protect our sport.

I don’t think it’s about our ethics at all.  I think the real threat to our sport today is the people, often in influential positions within the hunting “community” (if it can really be called that), pouring down condemnation on their fellow hunters over arbitrary ideals.  I think it’s about individuals who don’t really know what they’re talking about, spreading PETA’s lies and fabrications as if they were truth.

I’m not completely sure how this ripple became a groundswell, but if we don’t take a step back and pay attention to what we’re doing, it’s soon going to become a tidal wave.

On How We Portray Ourselves In Images

March 10, 2015

This came up today on a Facebook thread, and it occurred to me that:

  1. I haven’t updated the blog this week
  2. It’s a good topic that hasn’t been addressed in a while.

Not necessarily in that order…

First, have a little context.  The discussion came from Hank Shaw’s Facebook page, Hunt, Gather, Cook.  It’s a private page, created by Hank for hunters, foragers, and cooks to share information, knowledge, experience, and so forth.  Members range from basic hunters like myself, to professional chefs who use wild game and native, foraged foods.  The membership also includes vegetarians and non-hunters.

A few days ago, a younger hunter posted up a photograph of a hog he’d killed.  In the picture, the hog was shown bleeding on the ground with two arrows protruding from his head, just below the eye.  Earlier, the young guy had posted up another photo, this time a close-up of a squirrel impaled on an arrow shaft.  Both pictures were fairly gruesome, but common of the type we often (too often?) see shared on social media.  In both cases, his caption was essentially, “look at this animal that I killed.”

When he posted the squirrel photo, a few people, myself included, “gently” questioned his choice to show that particular photo to this particular audience, asking him how he chose to prepare the animal for the table.  No one was particularly vocal about it, though, which sort of surprised me… although this is a pretty respectful group of folks for a social media page.  But then he posted the photo of the hog.  One of the more immediate (and unsurprising) responses was to question his choice of shot placement.  That, of course, put him immediately on the defensive and left him explaining how he came to make those shots (coup de grace after the initial shot in the boiler room).  A few other folks jumped in to defend, while others criticized.  At this point, it was becoming what I’ve come to recognize as a classic social media donnybrook.

The youngster finally jumped back into the conversation, shocked at the responses and apparently upset that no one seems to have paid attention to his explanation of the questionable shot placement.  And that’s where I realized what he was missing… what a lot of hunters are missing when they post pictures of their successes.

I don’t remember who coined the aphorism that a picture paints a thousand words.  I think it’s accurate enough, but the devil is in the details (like how I worked in two clichés in consecutive sentences?) when it comes to this one.  The picture certainly invokes a story, but the words are provided by the person who is viewing it.  The skilled artist or photographer can provide context and clues to guide the tale, but when it comes down to it, interpretation is entirely up to the viewer.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people took one look at the photo of that hog (I sort of wish I could share it here, but it’s not mine to share) and came up with their own story.  I know I did.

I imagined that I saw a post from a young man, proud of what he took to be some excellent shooting, looking for approval/validation from a group of Internet “friends”.  Even further, in light of recent threads discussing head shots (which contained several strong opinions in favor of head shots), I imagined that I saw a young hunter taking what he’d learned from the older, more “experienced” hunters in the group and applying it to his own practice… which of course, is my whole problem with promoting the head shot on big game in the first place.  Within seconds of seeing the photograph, I had concocted this entire storyline in my head.  I think it’s obvious from the rapid degeneration of the thread that I’m not the only one who came up with an unfavorable storyline, except where I kept my response to myself, other people are not so restrained.

That’s how this works… Which brings to mind another cliché regarding first impressions, and the difference between sitting  around a campfire and sitting around the computer.

If a few of us were sitting face to face with this kid, and he pulled out the picture and said, “hey, check out this hog I shot,” we’d look at it and someone would probably question the choice of shot placement.  He’d explain what happened, and that would be that.  He’d put his phone back in his pocket (the portable photo album), we’d talk about hog hunting, and maybe share some coup de grace experiences of our own.

On the Internet, people (especially strangers) are often more critical and reactionary.  You often don’t get the chance to reconcile a bad first impression, and if you do, your argument is likely to be drowned in the background noise.  There’s a tendency in Internet “arguments” for antagonists to stay blind to mitigating information, or to simply miss it when the signal-to-noise ratio goes off the dial.  A lot of people don’t read back through the comments, but just jump in midstream and flail away with abandon.

Like any other mass communication medium, if you put something out on social media, you really want to have it right the first time.  That requires forethought, consideration, and restraint.

It was with this in mind that one of my final comments to the kid, after he’d taken the beating (and still didn’t seem to understand why), was that he step back and think about what story someone might tell about his pictures.  If someone looked at it, without knowing anything else, what would they imagine?

And there’s the bigger lesson, I think, for any of us who might post pictures on the Internet.  If someone doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your background, your motivations, or the context of your photo, what story might they come up with to explain what they see?  What if you don’t hunt… don’t know anything at all about hunting, or wildlife management, or any of that stuff… and you look at a picture of someone sitting on the back of a dead “zoo animal”?  What story might you imagine?

I’m not trying to justify reprehensible behavior, here.  I’m just pointing out where some of it is probably coming from, because it still seems to catch folks flat-footed.  I think the kid in this story was honestly blindsided and befuddled by some of the responses he got.

Something else I suggested in my effort to be helpful, was that he consider the images that are used in magazines and on TV.  Those images are reasonably sanitized, and are composed to tell a fairly specific story.  I think they provide a pretty good guideline for what we, as amateurs and hobbyists should follow.  And I’ll repeat that suggestion here, for anyone else.

We can’t all be professional-level photographers, but consider whether the photo you want to share would appear in a magazine?  Is it too gory?  Does it show really questionable shot placement?  Does it represent the story you want it to tell?  Or do you need to tell the story before you share the photo?

We have to think these things through.  None of us should ever be surprised by the reaction to a photo we share.

I can’t leave off without including this.  I know there is a faction of folks out there who will be offended by any photo depicting a dead animal.  There is a faction that is offended by the fact that we’re out there making animals dead in the first place.  I can’t fix that, and I’m not really concerned this minute with trying.  That’s another issue for another day.

 

Federal Upland Bird Stamp?

March 5, 2015

So this just came into my mailbox this morning, and I’ve been sort of pondering it.  It’s a plea for action and a link to a survey/petition, asking hunters to support the creation of a Federal Upland Bird Stamp.

Here’s the opening salvo:

American landscapes are forever changing as we face the loss of some of our most iconic game bird species. Grassland birds are among the fastest and most consistently declining bird populations in North America and grassland and prairie habitats are the fastest disappearing habitats in the US.  Last year, the Gunnison sage grouse and Lesser Prairie-chicken were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Sage Grouse, Greater Prairie-chicken, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Bobwhite have experienced a 40% rate of decline in the last 40 years. Scaled Quail and Sharp-tailed Grouse are also showing steep declines with loss of habitat being the primary cause and ultimate solution.

I’m not a hardcore, upland bird hunter.  Even though quail is probably my favorite wild game meat (from a pretty long list), I just don’t spend a ton of time or money to pursue them.  I am happy to see that the work I’ve done on my little place has resulted in an apparently successful covey up on the ridge, although they’re a long ways from being “huntable”.  I just want to wake up on a warm, sunny morning and hear, “bob white!”  That’s a song from my childhood that I dearly miss.

I guess that a lot of folks across the country are missing similar songs these days.  Even though I don’t often seek out articles or columns about upland birds, I can’t help reading about the fact that these birds are struggling in a lot of places.  Bobwhites are definitely taking a beating throughout their range.  I read that native grouse are also struggling in a lot of places.  With habitat loss and constantly changing agricultural practices, as well as ongoing budgetary threats to programs like CRP, it’s easy to understand how this is happening.

The question is, “what do we do about it?”

There are a number of conservation organizations hard at work out there, and most states have implemented upland game stamps or tags.  There are efforts actively  underway to restore and improve habitat, and to study the birds and learn more about why they’re challenged.  But it’s a tall order.  Coming back to Gentleman Bob for an example, despite years of decline, there is still no consistent explanation for why their numbers have been dropping so drastically.  Studies cost money, and wildlife does not recognize man-made boundaries, such as state lines.

In 1934, waterfowl hunters and conservationists recognized that ducks and geese were in serious decline, so they collaborated to introduce the first, Federal Duck Stamp.  Since then, money from the sale of these stamps (combined with Pittman-Robertson funds) has been put to work to restore and maintain waterfowl populations.  As with any story of wildlife management, there are many factors, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Duck Stamp has played a significant part in funding the recovery of waterfowl, as well as providing increased opportunities for American sportsmen to pursue these birds.

Is now the time to do the same thing for America’s upland game birds?  And are upland hunters ready and willing to pick up the tab by paying for a Federal stamp?

Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind.  If a stamp were implemented, I would certainly buy it every year, just like I buy my waterfowl stamp.  I probably wouldn’t complain.  But I’m still not sure if I want to join the call for such a thing, especially given my lack of  knowledge and involvement in the topic.

What do you guys think?

Selling Our Ethics

February 17, 2015

I just read a really good piece over on BowhuntingNet, by the founder of Bowhunting magazine, M.R. James.  In the piece, James shares his thoughts about long-range bowhunting, and makes his arguments for why it’s a bad practice.  He writes:

I’ll concede that a hunting arrow with a sharp broadhead can kill a game animal at any distance if it hits the vitals. But there’s the rub. Animals are not foam or paper targets. They can and do move. Taking 100-plus yard shots at a browsing buck or bull is not the same as shooting an unmoving 3-D replica of the same animal. No matter how good you are on the latter doesn’t mean you can consistently hit the kill area of live animals at great distances.

Personally, I couldn’t agree more, and I’ve made similar arguments, not only about bowhunting, but about long range shooting with firearms as well.  Modern weaponry has come a long ways, and there’s no question that some of it enables the average hunter to perform feats that would have seemed virtually miraculous a few decades ago.  There are new bows that sling high-tech arrows at remarkable speed.  There are new broadheads that fly as true as field points, with blades that come out of the box as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel.  And there are sight systems that make it easy to consistently place an arrow at ridiculously long distances, as well as electronic rangefinders to eliminate the guesswork and essentially tell you which sight pin to use.

But as we overcome the mechanical challenges, we still have to face the variables of nature, not the least of which is the simple reality that live animals move.  Consider that an arrow from a top-end bow begins its flight at about 300 fps.  At 50 yards, (a distance that many modern bowhunters don’t consider “long range”), it takes a full half second for the arrow to arrive on target.  Knowing that the arrow is shedding speed as it travels, it takes over a second to reach a target 100 yards away.  An animal can do a lot of things in one second.  It can take a couple of steps.  It can lie down.  It can turn 90 degrees or more.  With this in mind, no matter how skilled the archer, or how technologically advanced the gear, there is a point at which a successful shot hinges on nothing more than luck.

So as with Mr. James, when I hear about a bowhunter shooting big game at distances of  80, 90, or 100 yards, I cringe inside.  It’s such a huge risk, not simply of failure… of missing… but a risk of a crippling shot.  And I recognize that, truly, whenever we attempt to cleanly kill an animal with a bow and arrow, we’re already stacking the odds against ourselves.  But, at some point, I believe it’s simply bad practice to intentionally amplify that risk.  And when I talk about why I don’t like long-range shooting on game, this is my primary rationale.

Of course, I have personal ideas about bowhunting that drive my own actions.  Mr. James does as well, and he articulates some of them pretty clearly in the article.  I find that I agree with everything he says, and expect that a lot of other bowhunters do too.  We share an appreciation for the idea that the thrill of bowhunting is about getting close to game.  To me, and I think to James, that’s the whole point of bowhunting… the challenge of getting close, drawing, and making a clean shot.

Mr. James writes:

Equally important to me is the satisfaction that I derive from being a hunter and not just a shooter. I prefer looking back on a successful hunt and crediting my hunting skills as much or more as mostly relying on luck and the bow I’m holding to put the animal on the ground.

And, as far as it goes, that’s awesome.  I read and enjoyed James’s column as someone of similar mind.

But what if I didn’t think that way?

What if I bowhunted for the sole reason that it gave me an extra four to six weeks of hunting season?  What if the only reason I picked up a bow was so that I could access places where I’m not allowed to use my rifle?  What if the single most important measure of success, for me, was dead meat on the ground… as much as I can get?

I think that we too often forget that every hunter is not wired to the same frequency as those of us who have made a spiritual (for lack of a better word) connection to the hunt… and especially bowhunting.  For a lot of people, the hunt is merely the means to an end.  More challenge does not always equal more fun… the value of the prize is not necessarily elevated by the difficulty of attaining it.  I know, from experience, that there are hunters out there who barely notice anything beyond the absence or presence of the game they seek.

How do you sell that person on the idea of what bowhunting should be about?

Even more importantly, how do you sell that person a set of ethics based on that point of view?

To be blunt, you can’t.

I think that’s the key weakness in most discussions (or arguments) about hunting ethics.  You’re not starting from the same philosophical foundations.  For a person who doesn’t make that deep, spiritual connection to the hunt, you’re never going to be able to play on that connection to convince them… because the connection isn’t there.

It seems simplistic when I write it here, but then I watch some very intelligent people bashing their heads against this basic, brick wall.  It’s not selling ice to eskimos.  It’s selling ice to someone who has no concept of hot or cold.  Or… and I’ve made this analogy before… it’s selling religious fundamentalism to an agnostic.  You can’t force these ends to meld, no matter how deeply you may believe.

So when you tell someone, “the reason long range bowhunting is bad, is because it goes against everything that bowhunting is about,” you have to consider that maybe it’s not at all what bowhunting is about to that person.  It’s like telling someone who’s been hunting a certain way his whole life that the way he hunts “isn’t hunting.”  That’s just ridiculous.  It doesn’t compute.  And it challenges the credibility of anything else you may have to say.

What do you do?  How do you convince the person that you’re right… that you are only trying to show them the one, true way?  How do you convert them?

You don’t.  You shouldn’t.  And that’s the point I’ve tried to make over and over again.

If the best argument you have against a practice is esoteric or aesthetic, then it really isn’t a good argument… no matter how deeply you believe.  You aren’t going to convince someone that your beliefs are right and theirs are wrong on the simple basis that their actions conflict with your interpretation of, “the hunt.”  If someone hunts over bait, or high fence, or long range, then in their mind they have “hunted.”  You can’t argue that away.  Why would you even think you could?

After saying all of this, I want to point out that I think Mr. James did a great job of articulating his position without really appearing to “preach” his “gospel”.  I think it’s the right approach. He challenged some opposing viewpoints (the folks who argued in favor of long range shooting), but he didn’t challenge their validity as hunters.  He started his discussion with a tangible truth… shooting at long range reduces your odds of a clean, humane kill.  And the desire for a clean kill is fairly universal… whether you’re deeply committed to the ethics of the clean kill, you’re deeply opposed to missing, or if you hate the idea of following a tough blood trail for hours through rugged country.

But there are folks who are going to do it anyway, because when the moment comes, they are in that moment.  They’re not thinking as much about failure as they are about success.  It’s something deeply ingrained in our psyche, I think… that momentary lapse of reason where we push aside doubt and go forward with blind certainty, even when we should (and do) know better.  Few hunters have the self-awareness to recognize it when it comes, and fewer still have the discipline to restrain themselves if they do.

So we get those 120 yard bow shots, or the 900 yard hail, Mary with the rifle… and there’s really nothing M.R. James or I can do about it but cringe.  And maybe use it as fodder for a column or a blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now This Is Just Stupid

January 22, 2015

Moronic might be a better word.

From The San Francisco Chronicle:

Two grisly sightings of the head and skin of a dead wild boar dumped near a pair of vegetarian restaurants in Berkeley are raising questions about how the remains came to be there and what, if any, message was intended.

So someone left a “message”?  Here’s the message I get.  “Hi!  I’m a moronic asshole who really thought it would a.) be funny or b.) make a profound statement by leaving my hog carcasses on the street to freak out the vegans.”

If the cops are looking for links, they should probably start by linking this to alcohol consumption.  It’s a factually baseless assumption on my part, of course, but no matter how I piece this together in my mind, it involves the line, “here, hold my beer.”

I mean, look, I get it.

It’s “Berserkely,” California.

There are vegans there.

Somewhere in that mix are some people who will probably have a strong, adverse reaction to the sight of a bloody, dismembered carcass right out in the street… especially in such close proximity to vegan restaurants.  Whatever idiot(s) did this probably imagined no end of hilarity at these reactions, even though it’s highly unlikely that the perpetrator(s) had the cojones to stick around and watch.

As far as reactions go, by the way, I also expect there’s at least one person there who probably thought that cape would make a kick-ass costume for next year’s Burning Man. 

In the big picture of the modern world, this isn’t that big a deal.  It’s just stupid.

 

B&C Club Releases Position Statement Decrying Game Farms

January 15, 2015

The Boone and Crockett Club (yeah, the guys who publish that record book for trophy hunters) has released yet another Position Statement, this time criticizing wildlife breeders.  I could almost have ignored the message, if it weren’t for the fact that the criticism appears to be based on the notion that breeding deer and elk is somehow equivalent to privatizing wildlife. (I do a lot of cutting and pasting in the following post, so if you’re concerned about context, I recommend that you read the statement yourself on the B&C Website.)

The argument starts with a “Situational Overview” which is largely founded on ridiculous drivel, like the following nonsense:

The captive-cervid industry uses selective breeding, artificial insemination, regimented feeding, and pharmaceutical drugs to achieve unnaturally large antlers. Such intensive manipulation of the natural characteristics of a wild deer and elk is a major departure from what occurs in nature, and it challenges our common understanding of the terms wild and wildlife.

Maybe some folks at Boone and Crockett are a little less sophisticated than I, because I have no problem understanding the terms, “wild,” and “wildlife.”  The fact that some breeders are using science to engineer “Frankendeer” has no impact whatsoever on that understanding.  I also understand that Monsanto is engineering crops to withstand drought and repel insects, but that doesn’t blur my ability to differentiate between a corn field and a mountain prairie.

It’s also worth pointing out that breeding and manipulation for Frankendeer is hardly the only thing the captive breeders are doing.  There is a fairly large market for venison, as well as deer antlers, hides, and urine.  So it would be much more accurate to have written that, “Some captive cervid breeders use selective breeding… etc.”  Why rely on hyperbole if you think your position is sound?  Is this ignorance, or is it intent?

They go on, in the same paragraph to lean on blatant and biased speculation (and more nonsense):

It does not appear that breeding and shooting operations considered the ethical implications of how far they should go in manipulating wildlife to satisfy the desires of a few. Nor did they think about the value the rest of society places on wild creatures and natural systems. The sole purpose for vastly exaggerating antler size to reach proportions that could never be attained in nature was commercial gain. The decision to drug wild animals also raises a valid question if this meat is safe to eat.

Any time you have to start your argument off with, “it does not appear,” you are already on shaky ground.  Credibility dissolves even further when the purpose of the statement is to speculate on the motives of a third party.  So, tit for tat, it does not appear that the good folks at Boone and Crockett actually have any clue as to what breeding and shooting operations have considered.  Moreover, it doesn’t seem that they have an adequate grasp of logic if they really think the value placed by “the rest of society” on wild creatures or natural systems has anything at all to do with the breeding and captive shooting industry.  Obviously someone in “the rest of society” places significant value on commercial venison, Frankendeer, and high fence hunting, because the industry is doing pretty damned well.

And the last sentence there, about the safety of the meat…   Isn’t that a whole new argument?  How, exactly, is it relevant in context?

But they’re hardly done, and go from speculation to blatant misrepresentation, such as this statement:

In recent years, the deer breeding industry has lobbied for white-tailed deer to be reclassified from wildlife to livestock, with the objective of privatizing a public resource and transferring regulatory authority from fish and game departments to departments of agriculture to obtain oversight more favorable to their industry.

Here’s a tip for the semantically challenged.  Farm bred, genetically manipulated, supplement-fed deer and elk aren’t “wildlife”… at least no more so than a Hereford, a Friesian, or a Rhode Island Red.   By the very definition, these deer and elk are livestock (hoofstock is the industry term, but the meaning is the same).  Most people recognize this, and in fact, the concept of “hunting” livestock (as opposed to “wild” game) is a primary source of ethical conflict whenever this topic comes up.

So, no, raising cervids (native or otherwise) from conception to harvest is not remotely the same as privatizing wildlife.  The breeding industry is not lobbying to have all white-tailed deer reclassified as livestock.  They are lobbying to have their livestock classified as livestock.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I recognize the self-serving nature of lobbying by any industry, and I’m aware of the risks to native wildlife and habitat if the breeders are allowed to minimize regulation and oversight.  I’m also aware that, at least in some cases, the state agriculture departments tend to be more lenient than state wildlife departments.  I’m not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to the breeders’ activities, and in fact, I strongly support efforts to implement and enforce strict regulations on these operations to ensure the safety of our natural resources… regardless of who administers and enforces the regulation.

But, again, we’re talking about livestock here.  We’re not talking about wildlife.

The second part of the document is the “Position, and buried in here are some more real zingers, including arbitrary statements like this one:

The practices of deer breeding and shooting operations should not be accorded the same level of public acceptance as the ethical hunting of wild, free-ranging game that is the foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and forms the tradition of the Club and the majority of hunters.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t even know where to start with this statement, especially as it pertains to deer breeding.  If you keep your farmed deer contained (high fence), manage for disease (as we do with most other livestock), and treat them humanely, then the existence of those deer has nothing whatsoever to do with the NAMWC.  They’re not wildlife, they’re stock.

If you sell your stock to another operation where the animals are kept and managed under the same constraints until they are harvested by paying customers, then there is still no conflict with the NAMWC.  The one simply has nothing to do with the other.

I’m going to stop with the snip-and-paste now, and just take a run at what I see as contradictory statements in the position.  On the one hand, B&C is saying that they don’t want to dictate the choices made by hunters (high fence hunting), but on the other hand they actively support state efforts to prohibit game farms and high fence operations, and to restrict the industry itself.

I find it interesting as well that the statement references the actions of anti-hunting organizations who misrepresent hunting with caricatures, misinformation, and stereotypes, yet this is basically the same approach used to divide hunters on the issue of high fences and game farms.  As I pointed out already, Boone and Crockett does the same thing right here in this position statement, when they misrepresent the efforts by the cervid breeding industry to categorize white-tailed deer as livestock (when they’re only trying to re-categorize the captive animals), and again when they project breeders’ motives for conducting business.

In fact, the only thing in this position statement that I could get behind was the concern over the threat of CWD and the potential impacts on wild herds of deer and elk.  And even there, I’m only in agreement that there’s a risk that needs to be better understood in order to be properly managed.  I have yet to see convincing arguments that captive cervids are the source of CWD.  So far, the best case that can be made is that they are particularly susceptible due to the typically dense population within a captive facility, and that transportation from one facility to the next makes them a likely vector for transmission.

In the end, what I was left with from all of this is that the organization best known for maintaining and publishing a record book for trophy deer and elk is complaining about an industry that produces trophy deer and elk… in part because the focus on these “artificial” trophies detracts from the traditional values of the hunt.

There are a lot of folks out here, myself included, who think that the glorification of the Trophy has done as much or more damage to the sport, and to the NAMWC than anything else.  It’s given rise to a whole new class of poachers (some of whom commit their crimes with the sole intent of getting into the record books).  It’s driven poor wildlife management decisions, and reduced the effectiveness of good management programs.  It’s led private property owners to high fence property in order to manage for “trophy quality” animals.  It’s caused hunter vs. hunter conflicts on public land.  It’s provided a powerful, negative stereotype for the antis to leverage, of hunters who only kill the finest specimens and then take only the antlers or horns.  If there is a true anachronism left in this sport, it is the “trophy”.  And, oddly enough, the quest for a trophy is a major factor in driving the advent of the Frankendeer breeding operations.

So, here’s a thought.  Boone and Crockett, abolish your record book.  Take away the focus on “Trophy” and put your money where your mouth is.  Then, based on the membership you maintain without the incentive of a prize (getting your name in “The Book”), you can gauge the real motivations and commitment of your members to these other issues.

As far as ethics, anti-hunters, and the public opinion of hunters, I’ll have more to say on that pretty soon.

 

Brand New Year, Same Old Topics – Hunting Ethics (Ban This – Ban That)

January 7, 2015

I don’t know that the discussion of hunting ethics ever gets “boring”, but it certainly does get repetitive.  I’ve distilled my own argument to a couple of key points, and I’m pretty sure I know what the other guy is going to say before the words ever even appear.  As a result, my involvement in any such conversation is increasingly foreshortened.  Sometimes, I don’t even bother anymore, because it always ends in stalemate (or someone virtually stomping off in a huff).

But disengaging can’t be the solution.  Once the dissenting voice is silenced, the voice that remains attains the appearance of truth.

It was with this in mind that I read and responded to Pat Wray’s current column in the Albany Democrat-Herald.  In the column, Wray calls for a ban on high fence hunting, and also on the use of drones.  His argument for the bans, however, was a clear demonstration of all the worst elements of this debate.  For example, his points included baseless, generalizations about strangers, when he suggests that people who would use drones, “care nothing about the hunt,” or that they’ve, “lost respect for their prey and an appreciation of the sacredness of the hunt.”

First of all, he can’t possibly claim to know the hearts and minds of the folks who might use drones as hunting aids, much less their moral and ethical foundations.  That’s like arguing that someone you’ve never met has no respect for his body because he ate a candy bar.  As far as the “sacredness” comment… when you start to dictate behavior in terms of religious or spiritual concepts, you’re crossing onto unstable ground.  And you lose credibility.  You may as well call for a ban on any hunting practice that isn’t halal.

Likewise, in his indictment of high fence hunting (and hunters), he proclaims the nonsensical statement that, “people who would kill a pen-raised animal in a small enclosure are immune to the ethical sideboards true hunters accept,” and that the practice will, ” crumble the foundation of fairness, respect and tradition upon which our hunting heritage is built.”

Again, I point out that Wray obviously doesn’t know any of the hunters he is judging so harshly.  He is ignorant, apparently, of the fact that many people who are ardent backcountry hunters also enjoy the experience that can be found inside the fence… not to mention the fact that few high fence operations actually employ the “killing pens” that are so often portrayed in anti-hunting propaganda.

His ethical ideals are lovely, lofty sentiments, but they are based on little more than his own opinions which are in turn blinkered by his ignorance. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong for Wray, or anyone, to abhor high fence hunting, or to decry the use of drones as unsporting.  By all means, live according to your principles.  Speak your mind.  We’re all entitled to opinions.  But there’s a line between expressing your opinions and making a blatant demand to ban a technology and an industry on the strength of caricatures and generalizations… that’s not cool at all.  This is the strategy of the anti-hunting zealots… leveraging half-truths and misinformation to manipulate public opinion.  It’s shameful, in my opinion, to see hunters turn those same tools against other hunters.

In a recent and fairly lengthy discussion on Facebook, Tovar Cerulli and I sparred a little over the idea of hunters “circling the wagons” when it comes to contentious topics like high fence hunting or hunting contests (e.g. coyote tournaments).  Tovar was challenging what he perceives to be efforts by some hunters to silence dissent within the hunting community… even to the point of accepting questionable or “unethical” practices in the vague name of unity.

It gives the appearance that nobody wants to point out the emperor’s nakedness.

But I don’t think Tovar gives enough credit to his opponents.  I know there are hunters out there who would prefer that never a negative word be spoken against any hunter or hunting practice for fear that it will publicize some dirty, little secret. In my experience, though, the majority of folks who speak up in defense of activities like high fence hunting aren’t trying to shut down debate.  They are only disagreeing with the contrary position.

I argue that it’s not only perfectly OK, but absolutely imperative that we (hunters) do step up to counter voices like Wray’s.  Here’s that redundancy again, but I believe that attacking hunting practices from a position of ignorance (as Wray does in his column) is far more damaging to the future of our sport than any anti-hunting campaign will ever be.  Casting personal aspersions on strangers and perpetuating negative stereotypes divides and alienates the community.  It creates a culture of elitists, despite the arbitrary parameters required for ascension into the elite.

By all means, let’s debate ethics and morals and sportsmanship.  I think it makes us all better, because even if it doesn’t change our individual behavior, it exposes us to diverse ideas.  There’s value to that. But if the only basis for your call to abolish a hunting practice is your distaste for it, then do us all a favor and at least make the effort to understand what you’re attacking.  Stereotypes and misrepresentations cannot be allowed to stand in place of fact and logic.

Friday Foolishness

December 5, 2014

Another damned argument about banning drones came up on FaceBook today, and the same general groundswell of “that ain’t hunting” and “that’s not fair chase” overwhelmed any opportunity at coherent discussion.

I just don’t think folks get it, that the “fair chase” argument is seriously flawed.  If you really want to follow that white rabbit, you’re going to have to go the whole distance… until, sooner or later, you have to realize that it’s all in your mind.  Predation is always about getting the upper hand and leveraging advantages.  If you eliminate one advantage on the grounds that “it’s not fair,” then where does it stop?  More importantly, who gets to decide where it stops?

So this popped into my head and I scratched it down real quick. I dunno why, but I couldn’t help myself.  (Hat tip to Meghan Trainor… and, seriously, I love what she did there.)

Ultimately, I was gonna make this a video, but as hard as I try, I can’t sing this worth a flip.  Seriously, it comes out so bad it’s not even funny.  So you’ll have to hear it in your head.

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no fences

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no baiting

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no trail cams

I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

 

[Verse 1:]

Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no mountain lion

But I can hunt those deers, you know that I ain’t lyin’

Don’t use no boom boom, high powered rifle shit

Just give me a loincloth, and a heavy stick

I see the magazines working that Photoshop

New gadgets every day

Come on now, make it stop

If you’re a Luddite hunter, just raise ‘em up

‘Cause every inch of you is perfect

From the bottom to the top

 

[Pre-Chorus:]

Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about the kill

She says, hunting should be about the challenge and the skill

You know I won’t be no techno-dependent Elmer Fudd,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into

Then go away and pound some mud

 

[Chorus:]

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no tree stands

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no scopes

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no rifles

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

 

[Verse 2:]

I’m bringing the Stone Age back

Go ahead and tell them rifle hunters that

No, I’m just playing

I know you need those tools,

‘Cause those animals ain’t fools,

Every predator has advantage from his eyesight to his teeth

[Pre-Chorus:]

 

Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about the kill

She says, hunting should be about the challenge and the skill

You know I won’t be no techno-dependent Elmer Fudd,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into

Then go away and pound some mud

 

[Chorus x3:]

Because you know I’m all about fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase ’bout fair chase, no bullets

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no broadheads

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase, no camo

I’m all ’bout fair chase,

‘Bout fair chase

The Deer Feeder Argument Redux

November 12, 2014

Who needs the expense of filling a feeder when the oaks are dropping acorns right in the driveway?

Who needs the expense of filling a feeder when the oaks are dropping acorns right in the driveway, just outside my office window?

Every year at about this time, almost like clockwork, you’ll start hearing the fuss about hunting over bait.  The arguments get hot, and they almost always break down into a couple of contingents.

First of all, you’ve got the guys who are trying to defend the use of feeders.  You’ll hear all sorts of justifications and rationalizations, ranging from the argument that, “it’s the only way you’ll see a deer in ‘X’ habitat,” to “it allows you to be selective and take a clean shot.”  I think there’s an element of truth to much of this, although I can certainly understand that some of it probably sounds a little weak to the uninitiated.

On other side are the guys who argue that, “that’s not hunting.”  To these guys, the prevalent impression is that baiting deer creates the target-rich environment that you see on some hunting shows, and that it takes all the skill out of hunting.  If you dig a little, you’ll find that most of the baiting opponents come from a background where baiting is (or was) illegal and many of them have never actually hunted over bait.  They are arguing solely on the strength of their prejudices.

The truth, as usual, falls somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, baiting definitely can make hunting easier.  For the meat hunter, shooting over a well-managed feeder can be a lot like harvesting crops.  A timed feeder can condition the animals, and lots of does and younger bucks will show up like they’re punching a time clock when that feeder goes off.  Under the right conditions, you can wait until ten minutes before the feeder goes off, climb into your blind or stand, and just whack the one you want when they come out.  A feeder doesn’t make them tame though (although you can certainly condition them to accept a level of human proximity if you have lots of time and patience), and in areas where there is other hunting pressure, they’ll get downright skittish once the seasons are open.  But there’s no doubt a feeder or bait pile will bring in animals consistently and make it easier to see and shoot them.

On the other hand, baiting does not automatically equate to easy hunting, especially if you are targeting mature bucks.  Big bucks have been around the block a time or two, and to perpetuate an irritatingly true cliché, they don’t get big by being stupid.  The hunter can up the challenge as well by selecting close range weapons, such as a bow or muzzleloader.  And even the does and youngsters tend to catch on pretty quickly, once the hunting pressure is on.  Scent control, concealment, and being still are all pretty critical if you want to be close to wild deer… feeder or no feeder.

For my own part, I used to refuse to hunt over bait, but I also didn’t judge folks who did.  Like hound hunting, it’s just not the way I wanted to get it done.  A lot of that had to do with the hunting terrain and opportunities I had at the time.  Most of my hunting took place on public land in NC, so even if baiting had been legal on public land (it wasn’t then… not sure about now), all I would have accomplished would be to bait up deer for other hunters.  Instead, I learned to locate and pattern deer, and then set up my stand to optimize my chance at spotting and shooting them.  Once you learn a little bit about the deer and the ground you are hunting, this isn’t really all that difficult.

Over time, my attitude about hunting over bait has changed, for a lot of reasons.  I think using bait definitely changes the nature of the hunt because it allows you to determine where and (sometimes) when the animals are feeding.  This is certainly unnatural, and I can understand how this upsets the aesthetics of some hunting purists.  But I also think it can be a practical approach, especially for the hunter who has limited time or limited property.  We can’t all spend 90 days of a 100 day season in the field, and we don’t all hunt big country that allows us to scout and locate core areas.  We’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got, and have to make the best of it… and sometimes making the best of it means hanging a feeder, spreading corn, or planting a food plot.

Nature runs feeders all the time, throughout the year.  This summer, after a little blessed rain, it was agarita berries, followed shortly by persimmons.  Now it’s acorns.  In the photo at the top of this page, those deer have been coming back to my driveway pretty much every day for the past week.  The live oaks are dumping acorns this year.  Meanwhile, about 200 yards or so from where these guys are gorging themselves right beside the road, there are about 25 pounds of corn just scattered around the hillside… in good edge cover, no less.  And these deer haven’t even bothered to go up there and get it.

Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to have these natural feeders running on your place in a huntable location, then good on ya!  But if you don’t, or if drought or other conditions shut those feeders down, then sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.

High Fences Again? Really?

October 23, 2014

I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here.  And I know that what I’m about to write will repeat a lot of what I’ve already written.  But really, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I’m being redundant, because the thing that’s bothering me is also pretty damned repetitive.

It’s this whole, vehemently negative reaction to high fence hunting.

It’s not just the fact that a lot of people are opposed to doing it.  I’m fine with that.  We all have different appetites and tastes.

What really bugs me is the fact that so many people feel the need to disparage not only the practice, but the participants.  They not only judge total strangers (we all judge, we’re human), but they vocally denigrate them.  They want to run these strangers down and essentially take away their pleasure and happiness because that pleasure and happiness conflicts with some preconceived notions and personal ethics.

Some of this comes from the anonymity and meanness inherent to the Internet.  I get that.  It’s the place where you can say whatever you want to say with impunity… where being an asshole carries no real-life repercussions. But the sentiment that’s coming through is real enough.

And it sickens me.  It really does.  It makes my stomach tighten up, and I get a nasty taste in my mouth.  That can’t be healthy.

Maybe I’m the stupid one here, but it seems to me like people would demonstrate a little more self awareness.  Instead, what I see them demonstrate in discussions about high fence hunting is a total willingness to surrender common sense or benefit of the doubt in favor of preconceived notions.

At the very least, folks should recognize the recurrent memes that come up in conversations about high fence hunting.  The “canned hunt” trope and various stereotypes and caricatures related to high fence hunting were all initiated and perpetuated by anti-hunting organizations such as PETA and HSUS.  That so many hunters have eagerly adopted these memes as their own should be cause for alarm throughout the community.  Instead, rallying under this anti-hunting flag has become some sort of badge of honor among certain elitists, and demeaning total strangers for hunting behind a fence is tantamount to counting coup on an enemy.

How did we get here?  Why did we get here?

What kills me is that none of this behavior changes anything.  It doesn’t stop people from high fence hunting.  The industry is booming.  It certainly doesn’t address any of the real or potential problems inherent to raising captive game animals.   Instead, it shuts down debate and constructive discussion.  It turns the opportunity for learning and sharing ideas and ethics into a senseless donnybrook.

If you don’t like the idea of high fence hunting, then don’t hunt high fence.  If you feel strongly that high fence hunting is wrong and should be eliminated, then at least educate yourself and understand exactly what high fence hunting is really all about before you start spouting off ignorant myths and cliché stereotypes.  There certainly are some questionable and troubling aspects of the high fence and game farming industries, and they should be addressed (although I, personally, think they can be addressed without shutting down the industry).  There are some operations out there that fit the stereotypes, although they’re hardly the norm.

But above all else, don’t start running down people you don’t know for doing something you don’t understand.  The name-calling and intolerance is just… well, it’s moronic.

 

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