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?
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.
January 22, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
November 12, 2014
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.
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.
September 8, 2014
I’m really not a big “joiner”.
I’ve been a part of a handful of organizations of course, over the years, but I don’t really spend a lot of time looking for new causes. When it comes to conservation and hunting organizations, I’m particularly cautious about throwing my hat in the ring until I understand a little better what I’m getting tied up with. For example, I’ve been a member of Ducks Unlimited since childhood (my dad bought my first few memberships, and I sort of kept it going from there). I know the work that DU does, and I really like their focus. It’s the same reason I joined California Waterfowl when I was in CA. They do good work with minimal, overt political agenda. A few years ago, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to send a few bucks a year to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation… mostly on the same grounds. RMEF is focused on elk and elk habitat, and that’s what I want my donations to go toward.
Recently, I’ve been looking into a fairly new organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. When I first became aware of this group, I was pretty sure it was something I may want to join… at least inasmuch as dropping the annual membership fee, and maybe attending the annual “Rendezvous” when I could.
It sounded like the organization shares a lot of the same values as I do. In particular, we share a passion for the backcountry and wilderness areas, as well as a desire to protect them. Even though I don’t spend as much time hunting and wandering public lands as I used to, I am a strong believer in the need to keep those lands open and accessible… not just for hunting and fishing, but for everyone.
Here are the key points from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission:
- ORV Abuse: BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. While we recognize that Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are useful tools used by many people, BHA works to protect fisheries, clean water and wildlife habitat from excessive motorized traffic and abuse. BHA educates the public on proper and legal use of ORV’s and the importance of enforcing fines and regulations for illegal use that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and breeding.
- Gas, Oil, and Mining: Oil and gas leasing is important economic activity, but America’s hunger for energy must be balanced with our responsibility to pass on healthy land and water for future generations. BHA will address energy development projects that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision-making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders. Mining: We all use minerals in our daily life and mining is important. However, if done irresponsibly, mining can leave lasting scars that pollute water and degrade habitat. BHA will address mining projects that will impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders.
- Education and Outreach: Part of BHA’s mission is to educate people about safe, enjoyable and sustainable backcountry hunting and fishing. In particular, we educate the next generation about this ancient tradition. The Backcountry Journal, our quarterly publication available to all members, and our national gathering, the North American Rendezvous, are our main educational activities. The Backcountry Journal is a 16-page glossy magazine with educational stories, hunting and fishing tales, project updates, and public land issues updates. The Rendezvous is a weekend of camaraderie, hands-on seminars, speakers, banquet dinner and auction. BHA also visits numerous sports shows around the country to visit face to face with local sportsmen about the issues they are facing and the work BHA is doing in that state.
- Backcountry: BHA’s members greatly value the remaining undeveloped, natural areas of our national forests and other public lands. We work to maintain the backcountry values of solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife. We work to deploy a variety of legal and administrative tools to maintain those values, including the Wilderness Act, where appropriate.
I can’t find much to argue with there. I “Liked” the BHA on Facebook and started following the discussions. For the most part, I appreciated what I was seeing. There seemed to be a mix of folks sharing backcountry experiences and some discussion of important issues, such as the movement to handover ownership of Federal public lands to the states… or worse, to privatize public lands. The very idea that the states can, or will, manage these huge public lands is naïve at best, and generally ridiculous. That’s a cause that seems, to me, to be pretty damned well worth fighting for.
So I started fondling my checkbook.
But then the conversations took a different tack… the conversations turned to contentious, ethics topics like high fence hunting, banning drones, and long-range hunting. And, as with any discussions of ethics, the holier-than-thou, elitists showed their true colors. I put my checkbook away. This was going to require some more consideration.
I read some of the BHA leadership’s comments in regards to these topics with some dismay. It isn’t so much that these guys express their opinions. I value that, even if I don’t agree with them. What bothers me is that the organization appears to be willing to leverage the power of its membership (and the members’ dues) to influence laws and regulations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with the focus on backcountry hunting and angling… or with the protection of the backcountry. Drones, for example, are an issue about which the BHA has been quite vocal. They have lobbied legislators and state governments to enact bans on the “use of drones for hunting.”
Now, generally, that doesn’t seem all that bad. To the general, uneducated public, it seems like the use of drones for hunting would be a bad thing. But the truth of it is that drones are a non-issue. I’ve written about it before (here and here, at least) so I’ll spare the extended discourse… but in short, the drones available to the general public are barely useful as hunting tools in any way that would provide a meaningful advantage to hunters in any setting. In the real backcountry, they’d be about as useful as tits on a boar hog, since you’d have to carry the damned things in, deal with limited battery life and range, and manage the additional challenges of operating a line of sight system in rugged country.
What’s worse is that most of the legislation is vague and barely enforceable. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money… and it has almost nothing at all to do with the concept of backcountry hunting and angling. (I do, however, agree with certain restrictions on these devices in national parks and other places where the thoughtless and inconsiderate operators are negatively impacting the experiences of other visitors… not to mention harassment of wildlife. But that’s really a different thing… more akin to problems associated with OHV use and mountain biking.)
And then there are the divisive topics like high fence hunting. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the discussion. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, one way or the other. But unless the BHA can make a damned, solid argument about how this debate has any real bearing on the backcountry, I question the value of the organization’s involvement. Let the individual members hash it out to their hearts’ content, but is it really in the best interest of an organization to segregate itself from a fairly significant potential constituency by taking some arbitrary, moral/ethical position? Where are these guys headed, in the longer run? Do I want to give my money or my name to that organization?
Don’t get me wrong. These organizations absolutely should be involved in issues that are relevant to their mission statements, no matter how controversial (as long as their positions reflect the will of the members). For example, RMEF has been very active in the discussion about delisting wolves and hunting them to control their numbers. It’s a hot and divisive subject. But it makes sense that RMEF would take a stance, because failure to control the wolves could very well upset all of the progress RMEF has made in restoring elk and elk habitat… not to mention the impact these predators would have on other species. This is right in line with the organization’s Mission Statement.
And I have no issue when organizations like the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett want to take a strong position against practices like high fence or long-range hunting. They can set their ethical standards as high as they like, because they are using those standards as rules for inclusion in their record books. In this case, it makes sense to draw firm, ethical parameters (because that’s what rules are, isn’t it?). And if you join one of these groups, you know what you’re getting into. That’s why I am not involved with either of these organizations.
With Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I get the feeling that they’re stretching a little too far. Maybe it’s because there’s a perceived need to make a splash, and hot topics like drones and high fence hunting get a lot of attention (and thus, drum up more membership). Or maybe it’s that some of the BHA leadership want to follow their personal agendas and drag the organization along with them. So they take a popular position on a hot issue, and it plays well with the general, knee-jerk activists on social media. It gets people talking.
But what I see, standing here with my wallet in my hand, is a bad case of scope creep (or mission creep, if you prefer). I see a message at risk of being diluted. And I see an organization that may not be quite clear on where it wants to go… or even where it wants to be right now.
And so, here I am.
I recognize some basic realities… not the least of which is that my individual membership in BHA really isn’t going to amount to much one way or another. I’m not some mega-rich patron with the potential to fund big programs. I’m not a widely read outdoors writer with an audience willing to go where I point (and spend their money while they’re at it). I’m just some guy… albeit, some guy who really likes the idea of a conservation/environmental organization founded and directed by hunters and fishermen that is dedicated to the protection of our wild places.
But I also recognize that, to borrow from Tyler Durden, I’m not a unique and beautiful snowflake. If I’m thinking these thoughts, then someone else is probably thinking them too.
August 26, 2014
There’s been some interesting discussion going on lately amongst a couple of the gun writers I follow, as they delve into the hotly debated question of “enough gun”. Although Dave Campbell comes at it one way, his fellow gun writer and author, Richard Mann takes a different tack.
Now both of these guys know their stuff. That’s pretty much beyond question, and they have the masthead credits and bylines to prove it. Whenever I read anything they’ve written, I seldom come away without gleaning some nuggets of valuable information. So, of course, this topic got my attention because it’s such an active conversation.
Dave’s blog column takes a look at whether or not the .223 (5.56) is a valid deer cartridge. This is a controversial argument (.22 caliber firearms are not even legal for deer in every state), and one that has grown with the increasing use of the AR platform as a hunting tool. There’s not a lot new in Dave’s piece, at least not to anyone who’s ever participated in this particular discussion. It boils down to the conclusion that yes, the .223 can be a viable choice for deer under the right conditions (range, bullet construction, shot placement). What I inferred, whether or not it was implicit, is that Dave still doesn’t necessarily think it’s a great choice.
I don’t know about the intent, but Richard Mann’s blog reads like a rejoinder to Campbell’s commentary. As he rightly points out, there is no definitive answer to the question of, “what is ‘enough gun’?” Unfortunately, while it’s hard to argue with any of his points, he boils his commentary down to the banal and badly abused argument that it’s really a question of shot placement and penetration.
It’s absolutely true, of course. A bullet that penetrates well and hits the vitals will kill. Disconnect the central nervous system, upset the cardio-pulmonary functions, or deflate both lungs, and the majority of animals will expire post-haste. And there’s no doubt that a .223 with a good bullet can deliver these goods on deer-sized game at appropriate distances. Hell, a .22 magnum can deliver these goods… all else being equal.
But now I’m going to repeat something I’ve said so many times I’m sick of it… but I bet I’ll be saying it again soon.
It is NOT all about shot placement.
Yes, of course we all strive for perfect placement every time we shoot at game. Yes, of course, a little deviation from perfect is, usually, still adequate. But until we start hunting with self-guided, smart bullets that always find the heart from the ideal angle, we’re not always going to make perfect shots. It just doesn’t happen.
Sure, we practice. The most conscientious of us practice a lot. We hone our skills, tune our weapons, and remove as much of the element of chance as we can before we hit the field. That’s great. It’s the right thing to do. But here’s the caveat…
There’s no one out there teaching that buck to freeze, slightly quartering away with his near-side leg stepping forward to expose the “pocket”. Nobody taught the brush to move aside, or instructed the wind about the appropriate time to gust. Nobody hipped you to the possibility that, despite the near-religious ritual drills of the top three offhand shooting positions during every range session, your shot opportunity will take place as you balance flat-footed on a 40-degree, rocky slope with the animal appearing at approximately five o’clock behind you.
There are a handful of hunters with the restraint and composure to pass all but the ideal shot opportunity. I don’t think I know any of them.
We take chancy shots… too far, no rest, bad angle, off-balance, nervous, breathless, and so on. We get excited. We over or under-estimate range and wind drift. We blink and flinch and jerk the trigger. These aren’t just my observations of other people… I’ve done all of these things myself.
While I may not have the experience of some of the widely-published gun writers, I’ve done a lot of hunting. I’ve shot a lot of animals (and shot at some as well). I’ve accompanied scores of other hunters as they took their shots too. Beyond that, over the past couple of years working in the processing house, I’ve disassembled more than my share of game animals. So trust me when I say, unequivocally, that for every perfect heart/lung shot I’ve seen, there are at least five or six marginal hits (probably more, but I don’t keep records). I would estimate that at least two thirds of the animals brought in to be processed required multiple shots to bring them to hand. If it really were all about shot placement, many of these guys would be eating tag soup.
Enough rambling. The point is, hunting is not an exact science where you can perfect a formula and get identical results every time. The perfect shot happens, but it’s not something that I think a hunter should count on. The better bet is to prepare for the imperfect… and part of that preparation includes selecting a caliber that provides a little extra leeway. There’s nothing wrong with a little bigger wound channel, a bit more kinetic energy, or that extra oomph to pass through a hindquarter and still plow its way to the vitals.
Like Dave Campbell and Richard Mann, I cannot define “enough gun,” because the truth is, almost any gun can be “enough”. But if nothing else, consider this. With all of the quality, proven options available on the market these days, why would any hunter purposefully handicap himself with something that is, at best, adequate?
In sport fishing, I understand the allure of fighting big fish with little tackle. It’s challenging. It’s exciting. Likewise, I recognize the challenge and expertise required to consistently kill big game with a little bullet. Kudos to the marksman who succeeds unfailingly. But when the fisherman loses, the fish swims away, little the worse for the experience. This is not the case when you shoot an animal.