March 4, 2014
How to begin?
I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of the Center for Humans and Nature before today (or maybe I have and didn’t remember), but from the sounds of it, it’s kind of intimidating. It sounds like a place full of lofty thinkers and deep conversations about Leopold, Audubon, and Thoreau. So when these guys announce an open conversation about hunting, and bring in writers like Mary Zeiss Stange, I felt a little hesitant to toss in my two cents.
There is little doubt that hunting played a decisive role in our species’ evolution. But with the spread of agriculture and the domestication of animals, eventually the necessity of hunting diminished. This raises the question: Does hunting still contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to nature? Do we need hunting for that purpose? In many different cultures, hunting has inspired an ethic informing hunters’ engagement with prey, arguably one of the foundations of modern environmental ethics. But is the hunter’s ethic still a necessary component of broader environmental ethics? Should it be? We invite you to join the conversation and return as new responses are added each week.
But then, it’s the Internet and my two cents didn’t cost a penny… so of course I couldn’t resist. The conversation is essentially a blog format, so it’s not too hard to jump in with your comments. However, as you may expect, my comments ran a little long. And since I sort of needed an easy post today, I figured I’d just add them here… for those of you who don’t want to go read the whole conversation (but you really should, as there are several excellent writers involved, including our friend, Tovar Cerulli).
Here’s what I had to say:
I’ve thought a bit and decided. It’s not so much that hunting necessarily makes us human. I think the more important reality is that hunting reminds us humans that we are animal.
I am neither scholar nor philosopher… biologist nor anthropologist, but I have some ideas about the sorts of things that make us, “human.” Lay aside the basics of taxonomy, as there’s not much to add there, and think more about the concepts of self-awareness and the ability to rationalize. Consider the determination expressed by much of human culture and society to distance our species from the rest of nature… to set ourselves above all others. That conceit? That’s what makes us human.
Throughout human history, for as far back as we can really look, the general thrust of humanity has been to drive us further from our “animal” nature. That drive is, arguably, responsible for the formation of society and culture as we set laws and mores that inhibit the “savage” tendencies and enable us to live together. You don’t fight, you don’t kill, and you don’t breed with your neighbor’s mate. The Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins… social controls all, and intended to set us humans apart from the beasts.
The tale is long and convoluted, but it brings us to a time when the most “civilized” societies are also the most separated from nature… and more importantly, from their natural selves. The animal part is still there, of course, as evidenced in everything from our business and political practices right down to our children’s games (what are Tag and Hide-and-Seek if not basic training for little predators?). Still, how many people recognize it for what it is? How many would celebrate it if they recognized it?
And how many, seeing it, try to squash it?
Squashing the animal out of our very nature…
It’s an exercise in futility, of course, but exercise builds strength. The more we distance ourselves from the animal, the more we divide ourselves from nature. Too many civilized humans already think of nature not as a vital part of ourselves, but as some nebulous construct… as some abstract state that is different from us. It is “other”.
I think, thankfully, that there’s always been a subset of the population that recognizes that nature is not separate, but it is integral to everything that we are. Outdoors-folk, naturalists, environmentalists… we all recognize (and some of us evangelize) the importance of interconnectedness. And we recognize this because we choose to be part of it… even if we don’t all perceive our parts to be the same.
Of all the participants in that subset, hunters connect at the most basic level. We actively participate in the continuum of life and death… predator and prey. Put aside the confounding cloak of modern trappings and technology, and look at its bloody essence. When we hunt we feel ourselves, even for those brief moments in time, animal.
Good or bad?
I don’t know. Value judgments are easy when you’re judging someone else. They’re not quite so simple when you’re looking in a mirror. I can’t speak for anyone else.
Personally, I feel it is a blessing to recognize the animal in my humanity. It’s grounding. I embrace it. I think it’s absolutely important to understand that at the most base level; we’re not that different from the other creatures… and no more or less vital to the world around us either. Each of us wants life, but none of us really has much say in the matter. It’s bigger than the rabbit or the deer. It’s bigger than me.
And when I stand with bloodied hands over the carcass of my prey, I know that his blood is my blood too. Our origins are the same. We defy genealogy. For a moment I am wild… I am untamed. I understand more than ever the meaning of Whitman’s barbaric yawp.
February 25, 2014
I was feeling pretty bad about the infrequency of my blog updates, until I went surfing around my blog roll. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s dredging the bottom for content ideas or for motivation (although I’m glad to see the Suburban Bushwhacker is back at it). I guess it should make me feel better …
So, because I’m lacking and for those who want something of substance on the site, here’s a little literary deconstruction for you:
February 21, 2014
Sorry folks, for the dearth of posts and activity over the past week. I was travelling for the day job, and it turned into a very busy week indeed. Usually, I try to pre-load a couple of posts but it didn’t pan out. So there ya go. I’ll refund your subscription fees.
I also owe an apology to Bruce Cherry, my pal in Hawaii, for not getting back to him on his great idea… an idea I’m turning into a post today.
Bruce mentioned that he spends a lot of time online doing research and reading on topics like reloading, ballistics, recoil calculation, and several other topics. He’s got some favorite sites of his own, and thought it would be interesting to open things up here so you readers could also share your favorites. So let’s hear them… what sites have you come to rely on for solid info on shooting, hunting, reloading, or other related topics? Feel free to share the URLs in your comments.
Note, if your post doesn’t show up, send me a note. It’s possible that my SPAM blocker saw too many hyperlinks in your message and flagged it.
Oh, and stand by. I’ve been following an interesting thread regarding a proposed ban on lead ammo use in the Olympics. It’s an almost timely topic for sure, but I need time to do some real research.
That’s it! Have a great weekend!
February 16, 2014
It’s only fair to follow up on last week’s post in regards to comments made by Fish and Game Commission President, Michael Sutton. If you didn’t read that post, or other articles on the topic (it was hardly mainstream news), Sutton said in a web conference, hosted by the animal rights organization, HSUS, that legal hunting in CA might be a bigger problem than poaching.
Along with some other outdoors writers, and (hopefully) many CA sportsmen, I took Sutton to task here on the Hog Blog. I also sent a harshly critical email to the Fish and Game Commission. In response, Sutton wrote a letter to Sonke Mastrup, Executive Director of the CA Fish and Game Commission that purports to “set the record straight” about Sutton’s views on legal hunting. You can read Sutton’s official statement on the Fish and Game Commission website, but I’ll save you the effort and copy the body of it here:
Earlier this week, my quotes in a press account of a webinar in which I participated on the illegal wildlife trade gave rise to confusion regarding my attitude towards legal hunting in California. I’m writing to set the record straight.
I fully support legal, well-regulated, science-based hunting in California. As you know, I’ve been an active hunter and fisherman most of my life and I recognize the vital contributions hunters make to wildlife conservation. Further, I believe that hunting in California is well managed by our Commission and the Department of Fish & Wildlife, using the best available science. I am unaware of any legal, managed hunting today in our state that contributes to the decline of our native wildlife. Both the Commission and the Department continually strive to improve our stewardship of wildlife in California.
Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my position and clear up any misunderstandings that may have arisen as a result of my comments during the webinar earlier this week. I apologize for the confusion and hope that this letter serves to forestall any misinterpretation of my position on hunting. You are welcome to circulate this to anyone who may inquire.
How you interpret Sutton’s words here is up to you. But what I see is… well, nothing. There are three paragraphs of empty words, none of which either explain or excuse the statement he made in the conference. In fact, what he says here is in direct contradiction to what he said in the conference. So which is it, Mr. Sutton?
Michael Sutton has demonstrated an antagonistic attitude toward CA sportsmen since he was named to the Commission in 2007. In fact during one of his first interviews as a Commissioner, in Cal Waterfowl magazine, Sutton explicitly stated that he doesn’t care much for big game hunting.
Sutton: My stint as a federal game warden soured me on big game hunting. Today I’m involved mainly in wing-shooting and fly-fishing. Each year I hunt chukars in Idaho, pheasants in South Dakota, and fish trout, steelhead, and salmon throughout the American west.
Now I suppose you could take that in other ways, but given the negativity and even comptempt he has shown in dealing with hunters and fishermen through discussions about the MLPA, the lead ammo ban, and the railroading of former Commissioner Dan Richards, it’s pretty obvious to me that Sutton’s negative attitude is reflected in his actions on the Commission. When you combine this with his questionable (at best) role in the passage of the MLPA regulations and the lead ammo ban expansion, it seems clear that this man is not suited to be part of the CA Fish and Game Commission.
It’s up to you, CA hunters and fishermen. Turn your back, get on with your own affairs, and let this fall where it may. Hell, it’s just politics, right? But if you take that path, you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves when you see one hunting or fishing opportunity after another stripped away. The CA Fish and Game Commission is almost completely made up now of bureaucrats with little or no involvement in hunting or fishing (the exception being Commissioner Jim Kellogg). They have no stake in the future of either pursuit, and as such they are subject to the constant ministrations of HSUS, Audubon, and other animal rights/anti-hunting organizations.
Or you can take an active role. Contact Sonke Mastrup, Executive Director of the CA Fish and Game Commission. Use email, phone calls, and snail mail. And contact your state representatives in Sacramento. Demand fair representation for hunters and fishermen on the FGC.
February 13, 2014
… with a 9-pound sledge.
I’ve mentioned before how California’s wildlife management decisions are falling more and more victim to the influence of animal rights organizations, like HSUS. The lobbying group has gone beyond just showing up at occasional meetings, and has managed to embed itself in both the legislature and the Fish and Game agencies (Fish and Game Commission and Dept. of Fish and Game). And the venom is slowly seeping in… infecting the whole organism.
To the uninformed, the whole thing probably seems fairly innocuous. In fact, on the outside it looks like HSUS is doing good things, such as working with the DFG to enhance their abilities to fight poaching. They even convened a nice little showcase of their efforts recently in a web conference on the topic. The panelists in the conference included representatives from DFG and the Fish and Game Commission, notably, Commissioner Michael Sutton. And, of course, they said all the right things to show what a huge problem poaching is in CA, and how their mutual efforts to apprehend and punish the perpetrators are paying off.
But Sutton let something slip that wasn’t the “right thing” at all. Here’s a snip from from independent public television station, KCET’s coverage of the conference:
As Fish and Game Commission president Mike Sutton pointed out during the panel, California’s wildlife face other threats in addition to poaching. In some cases, said Sutton, actual legal hunting or harvesting of wildlife may cause greater overall problems. “I actually believe legal hunting that’s not sustainable may be a more pervasive problem in California,” said Sutton.
Now, I’m just not even sure where to start with this.
First, and to be as fair as I can, I didn’t participate in the web conference and I haven’t spoken to Mr. Sutton to find out what he meant by that statement. As far as I’ve been able to find, no one else has either. Maybe he was misquoted. Maybe he didn’t mean that to come out the way it did. Those are possibilities.
But if we take this at face value, which I think is as fair as anything else, it looks pretty bad.
First of all, let’s look at the argument that there might be unsustainable, legal hunting in California. What does that look like? I think that, with the exception of anti-hunting organizations, it’s generally recognized that regulated sport hunting is, by nature, sustainable. In fact, I’d argue that it’s better than sustainable… it presents a net benefit for the resource. If it’s true that CA allows unsustainable hunting practices to continue under the law, then there is a problem. And that problem lies at the feet of the CA Fish and Wildlife Commission. They are, after all, the rule-makers. And Michael Sutton is the Commission’s president.
But, if this were the case, then I’d like to clearly understand what those unsustainable, legal practices are. What proposals are in place to curtail them, and ensure that the Golden State’s sportsmen aren’t unwittingly (or not) doing more harm than poachers?
But, since this is my blog and I get to hypothesize, my money says the “unsustainable” practices trend more toward those activities with which HSUS tends to take issue… bear and bobcat hunting, the use of hounds, etc. There’s no question someone in the Commission has bent a sympathetic ear to Jennifer Fearing and Co., and Michael Sutton is one obvious choice.
The problem, as I see it, is that Sutton’s comment was more reflective of his personal antipathy toward sport hunters than any quantifiable wildlife management challenge. It was an antagonistic statement, and in light of it, I think it’s valid to question his objectivity in the decision-making process. Given previous challenges to his impartiality, including allegations of conflict of interest in both the lead ammo ban regulations and the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) regulations, it’s worth arguing that Sutton’s continued presence on the Fish and Wildlife Commission would only serve as a distraction to the completion of business from this point forward.
I’ve said it ad nauseum, and I’ll do it some more… California hunters need to take the CA Fish and Wildlife Commission by the horns. The animal rights concerns are gaining ground because they’re doing what CA sportsmen haven’t done… getting directly involved in the process, making noise without stop, and never giving up. They’re putting their money on the line, funding poaching hotlines and rewards, and the non-hunting public is buying it all with wide-eyed ignorance. Hunters and fishermen need to start doing the same.
A good start would be to contact your representatives, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and demand that Sutton be removed from the Commission altogether. Then stay involved, and make sure that his replacement is someone who CA sportsmen can count on to support their interests. That’s not enough, but it’s a start.
Hat tip to Jim Matthews of the Outdoor News Service (ONS) for alerting me to this topic.
February 12, 2014
OK, so in lieu of a new Blogger Spotlight this week, I’ve got something else on my mind. And, as usual, I’m gonna get to it the long way around.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about blogging is the interaction with readers via comments, and sometimes through email. I believe the real value and knowledge that comes from a site like The Hog Blog isn’t the information I share, but the discussions that ensue about that information. I am definitely not a font of all knowledge, and I can pretty much guarantee that no other blogger out there is either (no matter how some may like to think they are). I believe there’s something to learn from every dialog, and even a rank neophyte can bring a new and valuable perspective to the conversation. I have stood corrected more times than I can recall over the past several years, and I lay good odds it’ll happen again. While I prefer not to be wrong, I do appreciate being educated when I am.
I also appreciate comments because they can help me see what content is of interest to readers. I get ideas for topics and gear to review. I’m often surprised by the responses to posts that I thought would be fairly inconsequential, and by the lack of comments to posts that I expected to generate some heat. It’s good to get a feel for that sort of thing (although I still can’t figure out the secret formula for consistently generating extended conversations).
Of course, I’ll add that getting comments on a post strokes the ego of the blogger. Blogs are nothing if not vanity outlets… our own little soap boxes where we can publish whatever we think is worth saying. We’re validated when our posts generate comments. It’s nice to be heard, and even nicer to be appreciated for our efforts.
And I think that’s a two-way street.
I believe commenters also need a little validation and appreciation. They have, after all, taken time out of their lives to respond to our blog posts. In my opinion, they deserve some sort of response, even if it’s just a hasty, “thanks for the comment!”
And there’s my pet peeve… bloggers who don’t bother to respond to their readers’ comments.
I mean, I’m not perfect. I know there are times when I just don’t get back to the comments. Regardless of my excuse, I feel like I’ve let the reader down when that happens. So I do try to consistently acknowledge feedback, whether positive, negative, or neutral. I believe every blogger owes their readers the same level of respect.
Sometimes, my response is commensurate with the effort the commenter made. So, for example, if I see a simple, “good post,” or (god forbid), “ditto,” I’m a little less inclined to respond at length. But even then I feel like I should spend 10 seconds to write a thank-you. If the comment is more substantial, my response generally is a bit more robust as well. And as some folks know, I do love a debate.
I’m aware that many bloggers, like myself, have lives outside of the blog. We have families and day jobs and obligations. There aren’t many of us who make a living from WordPress or Blogspot, so sometimes this little corner of the Interweb gets shoved to a back burner. I totally understand about conflicting priorities.
But I can’t understand how someone who can take the time to post a blog entry can’t take the time to read and reply to comments… at least most of the time.
At any rate, I know I’ve got a lot of blogger “friends” out there who have fallen into this habit and I don’t mean any of this to be taken personally, but really… tend to your comments. Respond to your readers. Let them know you appreciate that they’re taking the time to read what you’ve written. Blogs are social media. Be social.
February 11, 2014
It’s funny that a few weeks ago I was sort of bemoaning the fact that all of my hunting has been right here at the ranch. I haven’t been anywhere in ages. And suddenly, I have to start making choices about which hunts I can manage and which I can’t. Just this coming spring there’s the opportunity for hogs in Mississippi, turkeys somewhere between here and CA, hogs in CA, and an exotics hunt here in TX with some of my friends from CA… and the spring hunting fever is only just cranking up.
It sounds great, of course, and I’m sort of stoked. But somewhere in that mix I have to work the day job. I have to pay for all this. No sponsors are kicking out for me to load up the truck and burn fuel hither and yon. There is, truly, only so much time in a day… a month… a year. And even more truly, there’s only so many ducats in my bank account. This seems to happen every year, along with the realization that I probably can’t do it all.
I know, I know… “oh, poor, pitiful Phillip.”
I can hear your empathetic moans of commiseration, and the sentiment is honestly appreciated.
So are donations.
But I digress…
Actually, I’m not sure I can digress if I didn’t really know what point I was trying to make in the first place. It’s just one of those crazy times… famine to feast… and like pretty much any other hunter, I only wish I could take advantage of every opportunity that arises. Alas.
Oh, and no donations, please. Hold onto your money. Go hunting.
February 5, 2014
Back up to Spokane again, and boy howdy what a week I picked to come up! Woke up to temps below 0, with a wind chill in the neighborhood of -20.
I know, I know, those of you who live in really cold places may scoff and say, “ah, that’s nothing!”
Well, to you I say scoffing goes both ways. You’re the damned fool who lives in a place like that. Give that a ponder.
Anyway, looks like it’ll get colder tomorrow.
January 29, 2014
No… there’s no snow at Hillside Manor this week. It got cold, sure enough, but what little precipitation there was stayed to the east of my little piece of paradise.
On the other hand, the folks back home around Wilmington, NC sure got a nice taste. I spoke to my brother, Scott, earlier in the week and they were already making big plans. His seven year-old grandson, Damien, was practically bouncing off the walls with anticipation as the weather report kept promising the white stuff, “any time now.” I can’t blame him, of course. The boy got a new dirt bike for Christmas, and everybody knows that riding in the snow is the ultimate thrill… or so it is in the mind of a youngster living in southeastern NC.
It puts me in mind of my own younger days, hanging on every word as the TV weather guy hinted at a fall of the white stuff. Back in that part of North Carolina, snow is a rare enough thing. Any threat of accumulation is enough to shut down the schools, as well as many businesses. For the young’uns, when the weatherman announces a chance of snow, the only thing left to do is wait and hope. Will it really happen? Will it stick? How long will we be out of school?
Snow during the hunting season was always extremely unusual. I fantasized for years about deer hunting over a blanket of fresh snow. In my mind, I could see the possibilities… tracking a big buck through the pines, and the final, brilliant red of blood on snow. It never occurred to me that, since snow in that area was so unusual and so short-lived, the deer tended to bed down until things started to thaw. Even if I’d known, it wouldn’t have stopped me. I was out there… numb toes and soaking wet boots be damned.
For waterfowl, on the other hand, snow was a true blessing. It was even better if it came on the heels of an arctic front that had pushed down across Maryland and Virginia, freezing the waters around the Chesapeake and driving the birds south. I didn’t have many opportunities to hunt under those conditions, but when I did it was, without exception, epic.
Growing up, the salt marsh always provided a reasonable number of teal and buffleheads (as well as both common and hooded mergansers), and even the prized black duck. Late season might show us a few rafts of canvasbacks and bluebill that had somehow pushed south of Mattamuskeet and Pamlico. A couple of geese might even get our hearts racing (the resident flocks of Canada geese hadn’t become established yet). But boy, let that Chesapeake area start to ice up, and suddenly it was like something from a old-timer’s stories! Our decoys would suddenly be drawing in birds we’d never even seen before… widgeon, northern shovelers, oldsquaw, and even some eiders out in the inlets. The ponds where we jumped wood ducks would be covered in mallards and gadwalls, and even the occasional pintail.
If I close my eyes and think about it, I can still feel the thrill.
January 27, 2014
What kind of Monday would it be if I had something worth while to write about?
And Monday is almost over, and I nearly missed the opportunity to say… well… to say very little. That’s Monday.
But for what it’s worth, things are shaping up for the coming months. Heck, I’ve got travel to Spokane next week. That’s something, right? And heck, the office is only five minutes from Cabela’s in Post Falls, ID. That’s sort of like a hunting trip, if a hunting trip doesn’t require actually hunting… or live animals… or getting outdoors. At least there’s guns and gear.
On the other hand, I just spoke to my friend Rick, at Dark Timber Lodge, and set the wheels in motion for an elk hunt in September. I made the decision back in the fall that 2014 would see me on an elk hunt, or I’d die trying (or something else would come up… but let’s not focus on that right now.) Planning the elk hunt got me stoked enough to pull the bow down and sling a bunch of arrows into the back yard. Some of them even hit the targets I have scattered at various ranges from 20 to 45 yards.
But when I got done, it was still Monday.