Hunting Takes Another PR Hit – Mountain Lion Killed By CA F&G President
February 20, 2012
I first saw the photo show up on my Facebook page on Friday night or Saturday. It was attached to a message from the Humane Society of the US, condemning the hunter and “trophy hunting” as well. I started to reply, but simply couldn’t get motivated enough to respond.
So the story, as I’ve got it from Tom Stienstra’s column (San Francisco Chronicle) is like this. Dan Richards, recently named President of the CA Fish and Game Commission went to Idaho to hunt mountain lions. In itself, this shouldn’t be a big deal. Many states recognize the value in allowing hunters to shoot large predators under controlled conditions (seasons, limits, etc.). That’s no different than the way any other game species is managed.
Of course, there’s a lot of discussion about hunting predators, particularly by people who feel that hunters should only kill what they’re going to eat (well, more particularly by people who think all hunting is an atrocity… but I’m not really interested in them right now). Since “everyone knows” that you can’t eat mountain lion, then this hunt falls right in there with the coyote and ground squirrel hunters. Right?
Except, in point of fact, many people do eat mountain lion and proclaim the quality of the meat. “Similar to pork,” is the most common description. I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to try it myself, although in CA, that opportunity will never legally present itself. Mountain lion hunting is banned in CA, based on a heavy propaganda campaign and misinformation that led people to believe the lion population was endangered. I don’t want to go down that road here, because it’s a discussion in itself… and a futile one at that. The only way mountain lion hunting will ever happen in CA is if the voters approve it. That’s not likely in this state. Instead, the state and federal trappers, as well as landowners and ranchers, are killing lions to protect livestock, pets, and humans on a pace that has far outstripped the number killed by hunters prior to the ban. Most of these lions are killed and discarded, of no use to anyone but a couple of biologists. But hey, as long as those “trophy hunters” aren’t killing them for their hides and heads!
So back to Mr. Richards and the crap-storm of reaction to his photo… and his hunt.
Everything he did was legal (although under CA law, I don’t believe he’s permitted to bring any parts of that cat back into the state… what’s his plan there?). I’m not sure if he planned to eat the lion or not, and honestly, I’m not sure it’s wholly relevant. Oh, of course the HSUS would like people to believe that nobody eats lions, and that hunting things we’re not going to eat is immoral and inhumane. And truthfully, they’ll probably get a handful of self-righteous (and short-sighted) hunters to jump on the bandwagon to condemn the practice. I can practically hear their voices now. “That’s not hunting!” they’ll shout. “I only kill what I’m going to eat!”
And then they’ll go on about how this is the reason hunting has such a bad reputation, and stuff like this is going to be the end of hunting as we know it… how this is a black eye for the sport, and fuel for the antis, and all the other trite and cliched arguments. The thing is, there’s some truth there. When people who are ignorant about hunting see this sort of thing and hear this uproar, they definitely form opinions. If the uproar is negative, the opinions are negative. And why not?
Let’s think about it.
It’s a given that most people recognize that we have to kill in order to eat meat. Eating a steak while the cow is still alive is a bit more challenge than the average guy can stomach, and could you imagine the noise a pig would make if you started grinding sausage while he’s still alive? You’ve got to kill them first. With this in mind, it’s really not a huge leap for the average person to grok the idea of killing a deer or an elk for meat. Even the folks who can’t imagine doing the deed themselves accept the meat hunter.
It’s also not a big stretch for people to accept the need to kill certain pests. Almost anyone who’s ever had an attic destroyed by racoons, or had their wiring gnawed by squirrels can relate to the concept of judicious extermination. Even though these animals may not be eaten (although squirrel and ‘coon are both quite tasty, properly prepared), they’ve got to go. Simply waving your arms and yelling at them isn’t going to do the trick.
But when it comes to pest control and extermination, the common perception is that this is the realm of the professional. You pay someone to come and do an unpleasant job. Some faceless guy in coveralls shows up, sprays some stuff or drops some pellets in out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, and the bad critters just disappear.
It’s difficult for non-hunters to fathom the idea of going out and killing pest species “for fun”. Yet there’s a huge segment of the hunting community that basically does just that, whether they’re out to shoot ground squirrels, prairie dogs, coyotes, or ground hogs (or even feral hogs for that matter). I remember as a kid, growing up in rural North Carolina, the summer evening “rat shoots” along the irrigation ditches to keep them out of the grain bins. A bunch of the neighbors would park at “Buck” Seymour’s barn and line the ditch banks with .22s, .410s, and anything else that was handy. I was always there with my Red Ryder. At the same time, many of my friends and I learned to shoot by popping rats with .22s at the local dump (a pastime so pervasive in parts of the rural culture that it became part of Luke Skywalker’s backstory in Star Wars!).
And I’ll say it right here and right now. It was a lot of fun!
Was this wrong? Perverse? Did all of these people go on to become sociopathic killers, animal abusers, or rapists? I’m pretty sure they didn’t. Research, by the way, actually suggests that hunters are no more likely to exhibit sociopathic or violent behavior than any other segment of the population. We’re just guided by a slightly different moral compass, and every individual takes his or her own heading.
How many people have swatted a relatively harmless insect while outside? I’m not talking about a mosquito or biting fly… just an annoying bug that happened to pass too close and too slow. Does this make you a stone-cold killer? Did you suffer a moral quandary after taking that tiny, buzzing life? Do you shed a tear or mouth a silent prayer everytime a bug splatters on your windshield, or a frog splatters under your tires? Probably not.
Point is, there’s a lot of indiscriminate killing out there and most people don’t give it a second thought. But when the killing is discriminate, such as the hunting of a mountain lion or coyote, it’s suddenly of utmost importance to the future of the human collective psyche? Why is this, and does it really matter if the intent is to provide food or to collect a “trophy”?
I can no more explain the thrill of a lion hunt than I can explain the thrill of reading a good autobiography. Some people get it, and some don’t. Personally, I’m not really excited by either prospect, but I can’t see a good reason to condemn the people who are.
It’s an interesting coincidence, by the way, that even as this discussion is circling the Web, the folks over at the Orion Institute are announcing their second “Hunting Think Tank”. The stated objective of the sessions is to take a look at the body of literature that attempts to define “hunting”, and then to try to come up with their own definition that will make hunting (or the idea of hunting) more appealing to the general public. How they will deal with issues like this one (predator hunting) remains to be seen. I’m interested and curious, but a little skeptical too. Defining such a personal and experiential concept in any meaningful way is sure to be a challenge.