CA News – Dan Richards Out As CA Fish and Game Commission President

August 8, 2012

Well, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone with a lick of imagination, but Dan Richards has apparently been voted out of the office of President of the CA Fish and Game Commission.   I don’t have all the details, but apparently some of the other four board members were able to manipulate the Commission rules to hold a vote and replace Richards with commissioner Jim Kellogg.  The position of President was initially based on seniority, but in a vote in May, the Commission changed the bylaws so that the Presidency would be decided by simple majority.

For those with short memories, Richards was at the center of a crapstorm earlier this year for participating in a mountain lion hunt over in Idaho.  After photos of his success were circulated on the Internet, calls came swiftly from anti-hunting organizations for him to step down from the Commission.  Richards’s reactions to the criticism were, to say the least, not very diplomatic. Whatever support he may have had in Sacramento is certain to have backed off a step or two during the flameout, and odds are very good that when his term expires in six months, Governor Brown will not reappoint him to the Commission. 

The bright side is that, until then, Richards is still a voting member of the Commission.  He and Jim Kellogg are the only voices in the group of five commissioners who have demonstrated any appreciable consideration for the concerns of California’s hunting and fishing community.   His loss may well be the killing blow to any semblance of common sense in hunting and fishing regulation in CA unless the state’s sportsmen get active and lobby the Governor to either reappoint Richards, or find another pro-hunting Commissioner.  Two other commissioners, Richard Rogers and Mike Sutton have demonstrated minimal support for hunters or fishermen on key regulatory issues, including the lead ammo ban (Sutton is the executive director of Audubon California, a strong proponent of the lead ammo ban) and the closures of fishing areas along the coast.  

The newest commissioner, Jack Bayliss, has so far not shown his colors… at least to my knowledge.  But then, I haven’t paid quite as close attention to the FGC since moving to Texas, and haven’t actually followed the meetings (they post the meeting agenda, discussion topics, and videos on the FGC website).   Nevertheless, I don’t think I’m reaching when I suggest that the loss of Richards, without an equally outspoken proponent of common sense, hunting and fishing regulations, will give the environmental and anti-hunting organizations a dangerous level of power in the Commission.  The HSUS has already demonstrated their ability to manipulate the regulatory process and drive their agenda on the backs of CA politicians and lawmakers.

Eternal vigilance, folks.  California hunters, you aren’t going to be able to sit back and expect Sacramento to carry your best interests, and you’re not going to be able to rest on your laurels when you think you’ve defeated the anti-hunting agenda.  As you saw, the hound hunting legislation went right by you while you were celebrating your “victory” only a few days earlier.  The huge outpouring of support for Dan Richards was nowhere to be found at the subsequent FGC meetings, and this ouster came with only one individual on hand to speak in favor of keeping Richards in place.  The agenda of organizations like HSUS will continue to advance if hunters are not providing constant, and vocal, opposition.


Final Chapter In Dan Richards Saga?

March 15, 2012

Just received an email a little while ago in regards to the Dan Richards controversy.  For the sublithic residents out there, Richards is the President of the CA Fish and Game Commission.  He was recently at the center of a great brouha over legally hunting and killing a mountain lion in Idaho… despite the fact that such a hunt and kill are illegal in his home state of CA.

“What’s wrong with that,” you ask?

Well, nothing.  That’s sort of the point.  He did nothing illegal or even unethical.  But, of course, the Humane Society of the US took issue, and tried to say that it was a negative reflection on CA and showed a disdain for CA law.  Yeah, right?  WTF?  How does participating in a legal hunt in one state constitute “spitting in the face” of his CA constituents?

Despite the ridiculousness of the charges, it turned into a pretty ugly situation with several CA politicians jumping on the bandwagon and calling for Richards to resign.  When he told them to pound sand, they started machinations to have him removed.  It was looking pretty ugly.

Well, good news.  Apparently the outpouring of support from CA sportsmen was actually loud enough to make the General Assembly belay their efforts to oust Richards from his post.  Here’s the announcement from the Keep America Fishing website:

The Support of California’s Anglers Helps Retain Dan Richards as California Fish and Game Commission President

Thanks to overwhelming response from anglers and hunters, the state legislature backed off a resolution to remove Dan Richards from the commission.

Your Voice Was Heard!

The California state legislature is no longer considering a resolution to remove California Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards from the commission.

For the past two weeks, California’s sportsmen and women have let their voices be heard speaking out in support of Richards. An avid angler and hunter, Richards had been unfairly attacked by extreme environmental and animal rights organizations for taking part in a legal hunt in Idaho.

Angler response was overwhelming! Thousands of California sportsmen and women sent messages through KeepAmericaFishing™ to the state legislature and the commission in support of Richards. Many anglers also attended the March 7, commission meeting to provide comment and show support for Richards.

Commissioner Richards recently contacted KeepAmericaFishing to express his gratitude to the thousands of KeepAmericaFishing advocates for their support.

Why is Retaining Commissioner Richards So Important?

The organizations leading the charge against Richards have a much broader agenda. As a commissioner, Richards has consistently voted on the side of sound science and proven fish and wildlife management. Richards has been a voice of reason throughout the flawed Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative, a controversial program that threatens sportfishing in California, and the businesses and 20,000 jobs that depend on it, by unnecessarily closing large areas of the ocean to recreational fishing.

If they had been successful in their efforts to remove Richards from the commission, these anti-fishing groups would have been one step closer to shutting anglers out of more of California’s best fishing spots.

KeepAmericaFishing does not believe the attacks are over and expects that the next tactic will be an attempt to unseat Richards as President of the commission. Please be ready to voice your support for keeping angler friendly members on the commission.

As they mentioned above, this may not be over.  It’s important not to become complacent, so keep an eye on the news to see what develops.  It is important for us (sportsmen and women) to continue to show that we won’t sit idly by and allow organizations like HSUS to dictate fish and game policy.


Call To Action – Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Richards Needs Support

February 28, 2012

I don’t often share these “calls to action” and similar emails I receive.  This isn’t supposed to be a particularly political blog, and I’m not crazy about jumping on a bandwagon.  But in the case of Fish and Game Commissioner, Dan Richards, I can’t help sticking my fingers in the mix.  I simply can’t believe how much momentum has gathered since he first came under fire for legally hunting a mountain lion in Idaho.

This morning, I read that CA Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsome is calling for his resignation because he has become a “distraction”.  According to the linked blog post, Newsome wrote:

“While not in California at the time, your actions call into question whether you can live up to the calling of your office,” Newsom writes. “As is stated on the Commission’s website, your actions should be in the “best interest of the resource and truly reflect the wishes and needs of the people.”

What the hell does going on a legal hunt in another state have to do with his actions as President of the California Fish and Game Commission?  Step away from your personal feelings about lion hunting for a moment, and consider the bigger picture.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dan Richards, along with Jim Kellogg, is one of the only commissioners who shows any real consideration for hunters and our concerns.  That’s the reason he’s being so directly targeted by the likes of HSUS and the mountain lion foundation.  If he is forced out, a new commissioner will be appointed by Governor Brown, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for hunters in this state.

Anyway, here’s the alert.  I urge all CA hunters to take a good look, give it some thought, consider the big picture, and take action.


California Sportsmen: Pro-Hunting Commissioner’s Position in Jeopardy Anti-hunting groups are trying to force pro-sportsmen, pro-hunting Commissioner Dan Richards off the California Fish & Game Commission. Why? Because he legally took a mountain lion during a hunt in Idaho.

A. Attend March 7 Commission meeting in Riverside, Calif., and speak in support of Commissioner Richards. The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa San Diego Room1 3649 Mission Inn Avenue Riverside 8:30AM

B. Contact your Assemblymember and Senator and tell them to support Commissioner Richards.

C. Contact Gov. Brown 916-445-2841 and tell him you support Commissioner Richards.

D. Contact the California Fish & Game Commission 916-653-4899 and support Commissioner Richards.

Act today. Under state law, any fish and game commissioner can be removed by a simple majority vote in both houses of the state Legislature.

Currently 40 of the 80 members of the Assembly are calling for Richards to resign. This could easily tip the balance of power on the Commission into the hands of anti-hunting extremists.   Show your support for Commissioner Richards today!



Richards Rejects Resignation Requests Resulting From Mountain Lion Hunt

March 1, 2012

Because I took up this banner, I feel like I ought to follow it through.  The furor over Fish and Game Commissioner, Dan Richards, hunting and killing an Idaho mountain lion seems to be settling a little bit.  Folks are moving on to other things, although I can assure you that the forces aligned against Mr. Richards (and against hunting) are not dropping the issue just yet.  I’ll ask any concerned California sportsmen to keep an eye on this, and keep voicing your support for Richards in this issue. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Richards has issued his official response to the critics.  In a letter penned on Tuesday, Richards addressed the CA General Assembly… specifically Assemblyman Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) who has taken the lead in the calls for his resignation.  Along with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome, 40 of the 80 members of the assembly called for Richards to resign, under the really whacked-out argument that his legal hunt in Idaho showed a lack of respect for California law.  Huh?  Is it any wonder that California has such a screwed up public image with folks from other states? 

In short, Richards tells the Assembly and his other critics to go pound sand.   Here’s the last part of his letter. 

I would suggest the Legislature stop cutting the Fish and Game Departments budget every year while increasing the demands upon it.  This lack of concern for the resources we manage, the Wardens who are put in harm’s way daily, and Department and Commission employees who are over-burdened and under-funded is shameful.

In the meantime, I will continue to hunt and fish wherever I please, as I have always done, ethically, licensed and proudly associating with the true conservationists who daily fund, protect, enjoy and enhance our bountiful resources while not trying to limit others enjoyment of same.

There is ZERO chance I would consider resigning my position as President of the California Fish and Game Commission and it is my sincere hope that you and your colleagues reassess your request and instead work positively with our Commission and Department for the betterment of the resources we’re entrusted to manage.

I’ll lift a glass to that! 

Here’s a link to the entirety of Mr. Richards’s letter.  It’s worth a read:  Richards-Letter


Follow Up – Michael Sutton Issues “Apology”

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.

Lead Ban Chronicles – CA Statewide Lead Ban Back On The Table

February 20, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesI’d heard some whispers about this, but I don’t usually like to run with rumors.  I know, sometimes it puts me a step behind when news breaks, but it also keeps me from looking like a damned fool when a hot topic turns into a cold splash of nothing at all.   

Point is, it looks like CA hunters are looking down the barrel of a fresh effort to ban lead ammunition across the Golden State.  According to this article from today’s Mercury News (San Jose), a coalition of organizations including Audubon and HSUS are again pressuring the CA legislature and the CA Fish and Game Commission to ban lead ammo statewide, for all hunting.  The argument would appear to be that, since the lead ammo ban in the condor range doesn’t seem to be working (condors are still getting lead poisoning), then the ban needs to expand beyond the condors’ range. 

The state already bans lead ammunition for hunters in the range of the endangered California condor, but environmentalists say a statewide ban is needed because overwhelming scientific evidence shows condors, bald eagles and other birds are still dying from lead poisoning when they eat dead deer and other animals shot by hunters.

The groups are sponsoring a bill in Sacramento that is expected to be introduced by Friday. They are also asking the state Fish and  Game Commission to pass a lead bullet ban.

“Countless wild animals suffer and die needlessly every year from the continued use of lead ammunition,” said Jennifer Fearing, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “It is put in the environment and stays there. It’s toxic, and it’s cumulative.”

I don’t hold out much hope that either the Fish and Game Commission or the State legislature are going to push back very hard against this new effort.  It’s really going to be up to the hunting community in California.  We’ve already seen the depth of influence that HSUS has in the CA government.  CA hunters have absolutely got to organize a cohesive and agressive response if you want to continue to have any voice in the regulations that impact you and your sport. 

The potential is there.  We saw brief flashes of the strength of the hunting community during last year’s fiasco with Dan Richards, and with the hound hunting bill.  The efforts were not enough, unfortunately, but that’s largely because the efforts weren’t sustained, and in some cases they were just too late to make any difference.  Simply showing up, en masse, for a single State House protest won’t do the trick.  It will take persistence, education, organization, and money.  Remember, HSUS comes into this thing with nothing to lose, much to gain, and very deep pockets.  Jennifer Fearing and others have been working for years, chiseling away to make inroads throughout Sacramento.  

I would strongly recommend looking at an organization like California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA), and building the strength and influence of that group through both membership and money.  With the proper resources, this group could present a significant challenge to the influence of HSUS and other organizations.  But just buying a membership and sending donations isn’t enough.  Hunters have got to be actively involved, whether it’s through letter-writing and phone campaigns, rallies, or through working inside the organization to focus the message and push it through.  The worst possible thing you can do is just join the group and then wait for them to do the work for you. 

At any rate, this promises to be a tough fight.  The stakes are not unsubstantial either.  A fair number of CA hunters stand to be pretty soundly screwed if they’re no longer able to use lead ammunition. 


Cool Story, Big Adventure – Shikarcamp Blog

March 27, 2012

I haven’t linked out to any new blogs in a while.  True, I’ve hardly had time to spend reading the blogs I already link to.  But I still pop around from time to time to see what everyone’s up to.

It was while doing some of this “popping ’round” that I caught up a bit on the Suburban Bushwacker’s site.  As always, good stuff to read there (sorry, Sten, I didn’t leave any comments).  One of the posts was an introduction to “Shooter”, a UK resident of Indian descent who apparently does quite a bit of hunting.  Shooter’s blog is Shikarcamp (Shikars are Indian hunter/trappers).  It’s still fairly new, but it did have some real promise.  The writing is good, the humor often subtle, and the stories were fresh.  One I found of particular interest and timeliness was his account of a mountain lion hunt in the Utah wilderness, The Lion of Zion.

In light of the recent Dan Richards controversy, this story should challenge the preconceptions of anyone who thinks hunting lions with hounds is a simple matter of sitting in the truck drinking a beer, while the dogs tree the lion.  Then you just walk over to the tree and shoot the cat.  It’s not generally like that, as this tale will tell.  Hre are a couple of snippets, but you really should take the time to read the whole thing.

This was getting nowhere. I told Jake that I didn’t want to shoot the lion. I told him to take the shot and keep the lion. I would return to the UK, get fit and come again.

“You will do it” said Jake. “You have come here all the way from the UK investing so much time and money. It’s your lion and no one else is going to shoot it but you. Just think if you can’t get this one, you will have to do the same thing tomorrow.”

That did it. There was NO way I could have done a similar trek the next day or even for the next week. He was right; it had to be done today. I realised one way of saving on walking and running was to roll down hill. The knee high snow would cushion my fall and I could cover half the way really fast.

I knew from my antics in the hill stations that rolling down on snow covered slopes deposits snow in ones backside but since I was wearing bibs and parka, I wasn’t worried about that. So off I went but what happened was that my trouser legs tucked into my boots became un-tucked and snow went into my boots from the top. This small inconvenience, ignored then was going to have a bearing on the later part of my story.

I again crossed the river and started the climb uphill. This time the slope wasn’t very steep and I tried to press the pace as much as my weak body would allow. I finally reached where Jake stood ready with the rifle. I took the rifle and was just looking into the scope when the lion jumped again!

I knew this was all the punishment that my body could take. I sank to my knees, my face in my hands.


“No matter what what you do, do not fall asleep, otherwise you could freeze to death. I will come back to rescue you. I just need to find a way of getting back”

“In case you can’t make it by the morning, my passport and driving license will have the contact details for my family”. I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just keep the fire alive. Do NOT let it die. I will come as soon as I can.”

It’s a hell of a story, and having followed the hounds for hogs and for bears, I know the physical effort it can take… even on relatively flat ground.  Sure, the final act of shooting a treed or bayed animal is simple.  But getting the animal to bay, and then getting to it for the shot… there’s the challenge.  Of course hound hunting still isn’t for everyone, but it’s a disservice to the folks who are passionate about this sport to write it off as “lazy” or “easy.”

Oh, and one more aside that I can’t help but offer… note in the story that after the kill, when they process the animal they take the MEAT as well as the skin.  People DO eat mountain lion.


It Just Gets Weirder… or… Sometimes It May Be Best To Keep Your Mouth Shut

March 2, 2012

It’s no secret that I totally support Dan Richards in the hullaballoo over his mountain lion hunt.  The stupidity and irrelevance of the “charges” against him leave me, in a word, flabbergasted.  This is what our state legislators have to bicker about?

Anyway, earlier this week, Dan Richards fired off an angry and defensive letter to the General Assembly (specifically assemblyman Ben Hueso).  It made his case, more or less, but it also didn’t come off as a very mature response.  He obviously allowed his emotions to overrule his logic there, and you can bet some folks are going to use this against him.

Personally, I think it would be a great time for Richards to hush for a second, and maybe work with the hunting and fishing community to campaign in his behalf.  But he isn’t.  Instead he went on radio, making some strong accusations (which may be accurate), and came across sounding bitter and a little juvenile.  Again, at this point it probably doesn’t matter so much whether he’s right (for the most part, he is).  It’s more about winning over the undecided, and he may not be helping his case much at all.

He did raise a couple of salient points… namely that the Humane Society of the US is at the root of this donnybrook, and that Gavin Newsom’s motivation for being involved may have more to do with placing his father (William Newsom, former President of the Mountain Lion Foundation) on the Fish and Game Commission.  He also verified the important fact, that even though he refuses to resign his position voluntarily, the General Assembly can remove him by a simple majority vote… an action that is very likely at this point.

If you’ve got a couple of minutes, listen to the radio interview (embedded at the bottom of this linked article), and see what you think.

Regardless, I strongly urge all CA hunters and fishermen to get involved in this discussion, and to contact Governor Brown and your state representatives to show support for Richards and oppose his removal from the Commission.  His loss would be a serious blow to hunting and fishing in this state.

Hat tip to Jesse at Jesse’s Hunting and Outdoors for bringing this radio interview to my attention.

Hunting Takes Another PR Hit – Mountain Lion Killed By CA F&G President

February 20, 2012

This isn’t news.  It’s all over the Internet, and making the pages of newspapers and editorial columns as well.

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.