How To Sell Hunting And Shoot It Down In One Simple Article
March 14, 2012
My friend, Dave, sent me a link yesterday to an article in Mother Earth News. At first glance, it looked like a good piece, in which one hunter explains why he eats wild meat and finds it preferable to eating the factory-farmed stuff that makes the diet of most Americans. As I skimmed through, I found myself nodding in agreement to some of the passages.
But then I read it closely.
First of all, I should have known what to expect from the author, David Petersen. Petersen is a self-acclaimed “mountain man” who lives in the Rockies in a cabin he built himself, primarily eating foods from his own garden or meat he has hunted. I’ve read some of his stuff before, and to be honest, I find him to be a pompous and self-righteous ass. This article did not change that opinion.
Petersen’s article is an extended apologia, justifying his choice to hunt (and to enjoy hunting) based on most of the standard arguments. Hunting is essential for game management. Wild meat is healthier for us and the environment than factory-farmed meat. Hunting is natural, and allows game animals to live and die “naturally”. And so on…
Not a lot to grab hold of there. I’ve made many of the same arguments myself, and they’re sound enough for what they are… an effort to explain the inexplicable. Sure, they fall short in many cases, especially when challenged by the bigger, moral question… how can you continue to hunt when that behavior is no longer required for your survival? But they do provide a quantifiable basis for debate.
But Petersen isn’t content to stop there. He feels the need to set himself apart from the general mass of hunters, and to place himself and his ethics on some unassailable pedestal. It’s not enough for him to argue that hunting is OK because it provides healthy meat and good excercise… he goes on to say that some hunting isn’t OK at all.
The doctrine of fair chase from the Boone and Crockett Club, founded by Teddy Roosevelt, is a widely embraced sportsman’s rule of personal conduct afield that mandates “the ethical, sportsman-like and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.” Clearly unethical activities that nonetheless are legal in some states include baiting, driving deer, and shooting bears or mountain lions from trees after they’ve been chased there by hounds.
Specifically, he’s talking about hunting that doesn’t meld with his personal ethic. And while he first seems to espouse the Boone and Crockett fair chase doctrine (which is a set of rules for acceptance into their record book… NOT for all hunters to live by), he goes even further.
Even so, many of the criticisms of contemporary hunting are valid. “Outdoor gear” catalogs clog our mail. Television is crowded with “outdoor” (I call them “outhouse”) channels and their plethora of heroes hungrily hawking flashy killing toys, skills-crutches and other cheater technologies accurately targeted at contemporary wannabe hunters who don’t wannabe real hunters badly enough to invest the time, energy, learning, sweat and heart required to do it right. To quote Abbey yet again: “Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about.” Why learn to read a map and compass when I can buy a GPS? Why walk when I can buy an ATV? Why incorporate “the Zen of archery” into my life through regular practice so that I can kill humanely and consistently with a simple bow and arrows when I can buy an arrow-launching device complete with sights and pulleys to make drawing the “bow” easier; or when I could go all the way and buy a 21st-century crossbow that shoots steel bolts and has more in common with a rifle than with a real bow and arrow? Why bother to scout and learn how to follow tracks and to “read” wildlife signs when I can buy a digital “game cam” that will show me who is doing what out there and when, 24/7? Why and why and why?
I’m sorry, but those criticisms are decidely IN-valid and perpetuate dangerously inaccurate stereotypes. The elitist attitude here oozes all over like pus from under the scab of a festering wound.
True, there are some hunters out there who rely on technological crutches more than they should… and for many, various reasons. And true again, the hunting industry is doing its level best to sell us even more stuff guaranteed to “kill bigger bucks” or “fool the wiliest (creature of choice) in the woods.”
But for every one of the indolent, unskilled Nimrods out there, there’s a highly skilled counterpart who knows the game and the outdoors as intimately as his own bedroom (in fact, Petersen would like us to believe he is in this camp). And in between the extremes fall the majority of hunters who use varying combinations of skill and technology as part of their hunting experience.
Due to circumstances of available time, location, mentoring, and finances, etc., every hunter cannot live off the land in the Rocky Mountains, or hunt solely for subsistence. Sometimes “shortcuts” are simply pragmatic. While the hunt is about more than just the kill, the truth is that most hunters do want to take the occasional animal. Likewise, wildlife management depends on a level of success, so the laws and regulations must be designed to facilitate that success… hence, you have legal baiting, hound hunting, and even night shooting for destructive species.
There are also valid arguments that some technology improves the ability to consistently make clean, humane kills. Bow sights, laser rangefinders, and good rifle optics all have a place in the gear bag of the ethical hunter. While Petersen may be living his dream in the Rocky Mountain backcountry, a great number of American hunters find themselves living in urban and suburban environments where you can’t always take for granted things like the opportunity to constantly hone your shooting and woodscraft skills. And even the most experienced archers misjudge distance in the field… resulting not only in missing, but in wounded animals.
Coming back to the article, what Petersen has accomplished here is to sell HIS idea of hunting as good, all the while tearing down the reality that ethics and motivations run the gamut of variation. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with living by his ethical standard (as long as he actually practices what he preaches), that level of ethical and moral commitment simply doesn’t apply universally… and more importantly, they shouldn’t! It’s an unreasonable expectation to hold, and a crippling standard by which to hobble the hunting community (and the industry). If much of Petersen’s audience buys what he’s selling, and believes that the only “good” hunting is hunting that aligns with his standard, then what happens to their support of hunting when the reality shows that very few hunters actually live up to that standard… or worse, that few actually want to?
The article, by the way, stands in particular contrast to my recent reading of Tovar Cerulli’s book, The Mindful Carnivore. Cerulli also takes a deeply philosophical look at his personal hunting ethics, and makes some discoveries that guided his growth as a hunter. In many ways, I think that he is pretty closely aligned with Petersen. However, the big difference is that Cerulli doesn’t preach his own gospel or judge other hunters who don’t share his belief or approach. Instead he teaches by example. Even as he fully acknowledges that his motivations and values aren’t universal. What’s more, they are constantly evolving.