The Art of Killing–for Kids

Spencer Lo

In our culture, the moral divide between humans and animals is sharp in numerous areas, but perhaps most consciously so in one: the sport of hunting. Since the activity involves consciously deciding to kill another sentient, sensitive being, the issue of inflicting suffering and death cannot be avoided, at least for the hunter. At some point every hunter will inevitably confront unsettling questions: Is my having a good time an adequate moral reason to deliberately end an animal’s life? Should I be concerned about my prey’s suffering, as well as the resulting loss for his or her family? These reflective questions, and many others, will now be asked by New York youths (ages 14-15) this Columbus Day weekend during a special deer hunt planned just for them. Armed with either a firearm or crossbow, junior hunters will be permitted to “take 1 deer…during the youth deer hunt”—no doubt in the hope that the experience will enrich their lives. A hunting enthusiast once observed after a youth hunt, “I’ve never seen a [9-year old] kid happier…We were all the better for it.”  

Encouraging youths to participate in hunting activities is not new; over thirty states have passed youth-friendly hunting legislation, with many even permitting kids 12 or younger to hunt without adult supervision. This year, Michigan offered a new hunting program “designed to introduce youth under the age of 10 to hunting and fishing.” For some groups like Families Afield, a pro-hunting organization, they wish to see age requirements in all fifty states eliminated, believing that fewer restrictions on youth hunts will result in increased participation. One must wonder, what is it about the deadly activity that avid hunters so eagerly wish youths to experience? Is killing that much fun?

Surprisingly, for many hunters, the answer isn’t so clear—but rather confused. For instance, Seamus McGraw is a hunter who claims to hate killing every time he kills. Recounting an episode where, after he stalked a “beautiful doe” with “guts” and then “mortally wounded” her, McGraw tries to articulate why the “art of hunting” is for him—and probably many others—“more profound than taking trophies.”

It’s about taking responsibility. For my needs. For my family. For the delicate environmental balance of this wounded but recovering part of the country. There is something sobering about hunting for your food. Meat tastes different, more precious, when you’ve not only watched it die, but killed it yourself. There is no seasoning in the world that can compare with moral ambiguity.

Thus the alleged profoundness of the “precious” hunting experience lies in its morally ambiguous nature. Even stranger, although McGraw believes it his responsibility to restore balance to the “staggeringly large” deer population, he refuses to bring about that balance in the most efficient way possible. “I eschewed all the technological gadgets designed to give modern hunters an extra edge over their prey… I wanted a weapon that required more of me, one that demanded all the skill and all the planning that I could muster, a weapon that gave me just one chance to get it right.” McGraw’s tortured reflections are inexplicable, as Professor James McWilliams observed, for they amount to nothing more than rationalizations. [Edit: See another lucid article by Professor McWilliams here.]

Journalist Monte Burke experienced similar emotions and reflections when he went hunting for elk. In his article, “I killed An Elk. Am I A Murderer?,” Burke recounts his adventure in vivid detail, reporting that he “felt an intense pang of regret” after he achieved his kill. “Why had I killed this animal when I didn’t need to? And why had I enjoyed it (well, at least part of it)?” Todd, his hunter guide, offered an interesting answer: “Every hunter I know feels that regret you’re feeling right now… In its own way, it’s part of the respect you have for the animal. The day I don’t feel regret after a kill is the day I stop hunting.” A hunter thus “respects” an animal in feeling regret for killing it, and the more regret one feels, the more acceptable the practice.

But why should hunters feel any “regret” at all for engaging in a youth-friendly recreational activity? The notion of “regret” here is deeply confused—it applies only in situations where one is forced, by necessity, to do something morally unsettling (like kill in self-defense). That’s simply not the case with hunting. Moreover, rather than indicate ‘respect” for animals, feelings of “regret” and “hate” likely signal guilt—knowledge of wrongdoing—which many eager youths experience. As noted in the beginning, hunting requires direct confrontation with unsettling questions, and it’s a deep mystery why many grown-ups are so keen for youths to experience the “profoundness” of “morally ambiguous” answers.

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57 Responses

  1. As both a hunter (more than 30 years now) and a Hunter Education instructor, this entry speaks very much at me, but not really to me.

    Firstly, I note a typically naive, idyllic and, frankly, ignorant view of nature and wild animals. Not to mention, a heavy dose of anthropomorphic projection.

    The most popular game species, and the ones mentioned here, Cervids (various deer species) don’t have “families” in any sense that we would recognize them. A buck deer or bull elk lucky enough to beat the competition for mating rights becomes not a devoted husband or “daddy,” but is more along the lines of what we might consider a chronic serial player, if not an outright rapist.

    But again, that would be projection — so I bring it up not to morally scorn bucks and bulls — but to demonstrate the utter futility of such vain imaginings. They are not us. Their world is not ours. In their context, there is no wrong in what they do. It’s simple, uncomplicated dominance by brute force and species preservation through frantic copulation with as many females as possible.

    Yes, of course, these animals have a sense of connection with each other, and surely notice and feel the loss of one of their number — whether that be to freezing, starvation, disease, a human’s bullet or arrow, or the teeth and claws of a bear, cougar or wolf pack.

    There are no retirement homes, or pleasant ways to die in nature.

    However, they have always been a prey species. And in my part of the world, humans have been among their predators for 10,000 years, at the very least.

    Therefore, if one of their “relatives” being killed by a predator were that dramatically traumatic, it’s doubtful the species could have survived, much less thrived. Rather, they would have probably long ago died off, having been in a constant state of grief and mental breakdown — too miserable to mate, or even eat, for that matter.

    In other words, a Cervid’s, or other wild animal’s, world is not ours, death and loss and killing are in a completely different, far more matter-of-fact context for them. Not to mention, while they might be sentient, they lack the sapience to reflect very deeply upon such things — and not that they would have the time or energy to waste on it anyhow. Such a thing would be of utterly no use to them.

    Therefore, to project upon them how we might feel about somebody we know being killed is utterly ridiculous. it’s completely out of context and, frankly, patronizing toward wild creatures.

    Also, what the author tries to pass off as “rationalization,” is actually sober, honest reflection. Of course, any good hunter confronts and deals with these moral issues. No, these animals do not possess a human mind. But yes, they are capable of suffering pain and terror. Hence, reflection and an ethical approach are in order.

    Thusly, many of us do pare our gadgetry and such things as dependance upon internal combustion vehicles down to a bare minimum. This is not done out of “rationalization,” but rather to make our motives, and the hunt, more real and pure.

    Pushing myself on foot across miles of badlands in pursuit of a small band of pronghorn — and seeing such wonders as colorful spiders, a queen ant and even a rattlesnake along the way — is so much better than roaring across that same land on an ATV ever could have been. So what that I missed the shot when the moment finally came? That’s completely beside the point. It was a great hunt, well, no, it was a fantastic one.

    Are there hunters who are merely killers, lacking any sense of respect or remorse? Of course there are. I won’t suffer their company. I tend to hunt mostly alone anyway.

    But every group has bad examples. And just like any other segment that outsiders might try to stereotype or demonize — Muslims, gays, Republicans, political liberals, Hispanic immigrants (the list is virtually endless) — hunters are not a monolithic group of only one mind.

    Yes, some of us hunt primarily for sport. But for others of us, it still is primarily about food.

    My family is large, my income is modest. I live very close to ample populations of cervids and other game species on easily-accessable public lands. Hunting tags are still relatively inexpensive. And the “high dollar” pieces of equipment I use, such as my backpack and rifle, have been in my family for decades, and paid for themselves many times over, in terms of the meat they’ve helped bring home.

    So yes, for many of us in the hinterlands, hunting still is primarily about food. It’s also about skill, patience, physical fitness, respect, understanding and active interaction with nature.

    And I don’t resent the pure sport or trophy hunters I know who hold to those same values. I do resent what we commonly call “slobs,” who are out there for ego, bragging rights, a cheap thrill kill, or to post videos on YouTube of themselves or their buddies picking off animals at ridiculous distances of 800-1,000 yards or more.

    There is also the old stereotype that hunters are ignorant of or cold, distant, or even disdainful toward animals.

    Hardly the case at all. In spending time with dedicated, ethical hunters, one would probably find, we have an unusually deep empathy for and understanding of animals — especially measured against the sanitized, urban and suburbanized existence so common among humans in the industrialized world today.

    It’s no coincidence that many hunters are devoted and caring pet owners. That we have an almost intuitive connection with our dogs, cats, horses or mules. Or, that many of the veterinarians, wildlife biologists and conservationists I know are also hunters.

    Hunting isn’t merely the “art of killing.” How to kill, quickly and humanely, is certainly part of it. And it is a skill every hunter should possess. Know your rifle or bow. Know how to use it. Practice, practice, practice — and never take marginal shots.

    But the kill is only one small part. Often proceeded by hours of hiking, watching and waiting in all sorts of weather conditions. And followed by the long, strenuous process of getting a carcass out of the field and into packages of steak and burger for the freezer.

    In summary and in short, hunting is indeed a fine thing to encourage young people to take up. Especially in this age of mobile devices, X-Box and a thousand other gaudy distractions to take them away from nature, skill, physical exertion, mental concentration and the art of self-sufficentcy.

  2. That is a very sad picture for me, I have been around hunters all my life, so I am far from being a jaded little sheltered tree hugging being,but to me there is just no need for it these days. Not too mention when you really get to know these”hunters” its sad to say the truth comes out, where the real reason for their hunting is to help remind themselves of their “manliness” and help sustain their ever growing egos.

  3. Very cleverly and articulately stated Hal and spoken like a true Cartesian …bullshit then as it is bullshit now! Go read some Derrida!

  4. Kirby.. .what sort of “hunters” have you been hanging out with?

    As far as the “macho” thing — one of the faster-growing segments of hunters is girls and young women. I see this in my H.E. classes, many female students.

  5. Tony,
    Have you anything but bluster to offer? Hunting, ethics, wildlife biology and ecology are among my favorite subjects. I welcome well-informed discussion, regardless of the point of view.

  6. Great photo. I bet the kid and his dad were very proud. I’m sure the boy learned a great deal in his hunt. Congrats to both of them.

  7. A lot of hunters have a certain respect for the animals, just a very different kind of respect than vegans. Hunters, from what I have seen, respect animals in the sense of nature. They see the circle of life and the flow and run to be a part of it. Vegans see the individual, and rather than wanting to a part of the life and death that is nature, they want to avoid the suffering and pain of it. I’ll clue you in right now, I am a vegan and while I appreciate nature as the driving force behind most of our world, and what birthed us, I don’t think that it is all good. In fact, I think many parts of nature are down right bad, such as the whole having horrible, brutish lives and then dying bloody deaths. I don’t think we need to idealize this flow too much. We should understand that it governs many parts of our world, but we shouldn’t decide that it is good because the structure of nature is not good. Nature is competitive, bloody, brutish, and violent. We should look more to try to work together and not against each other, to help each other and not kill each for our own gain. Yes, sometimes it has to be, but many times it doesn’t. And I have to agree, let’s not teach our children that this is the flow of nature, and it is right to kill and hunt and hurt and main, in that name of nature.

  8. Hi HaL,

    Thanks for your perspective. To me, the following beliefs seem to be in deep tension with each other: 1) recreational hunting is morally okay, and 2) recreational hunters should feel regret when they kill their prey. Do you hold both of these beliefs? If so, could you clarify why it is appropriate for recreational hunters to feel regret when they kill?

    The notion of “regret” or “remorse” seems to imply a belief that one did something wrong, which does not square with the idea that recreational hunting is not wrong. I can understand the recreational hunter who derives nothing but pure pleasure or joy from the hunting experience—after all, the purpose is enjoyment, and feelings of regret or sadness would only diminish the fun. But I’m genuinely puzzled by the recreational hunter who insists that feelings of regret be part of hunting. Why should that be if the purpose is enjoyment (as implied by the term ‘recreational’)?

  9. HAL,

    Could you also clarify what you mean by “respect?” Again, the idea that one is willing to inflict stress, pain, terror, physical injuries, and death on an animal—for recreational purposes—seems wildly incompatible with having “respect” for it.

  10. We never consider the rights of the people who enjoy seeing LIVING wildlife around their homes and the suffering they experience watching the animals they loved being picked off one by one or, even worse, suffering from arrow wounds–and we couldn’t do a thing about it. When I lived in a rural area, my neighbors and I experienced this each and every fall. It was heartbreaking.

  11. Oppressors are adept at co-opting language.

  12. Hunting is a major part of our heritage. Getting youth involved in hunting helps make them better conservationists in the future. To discover a unique hunting adventure for all ages visit the learning resource center at http://sciboarhunter.com/

    P.S. Friends and family are always welcome!

  13. Thanks for those links, Ellie. If I decide to do a follow-up post, I’ll be sure to reference them.

  14. Erratus, I don’t completely agree — but I appreciate the clarity, reason and directness of your arguments. Clearly, you understand nature, in all its sometimes brutal glory.

    Elliemaidanado, “Co-opting language?” How about we start with the pejorative use of the term “oppressors?” Textbook example, that.

    19peace80, I know some very skilled and earnest bow hunters. However, one reason I don’t bowhunt, is the increased chance an animal will escape wounded. That can be especially problematic in areas where hunting is taking place near housing developments. Yes, hunters need to be mindful that others enjoy only watching wildlife. They don’t want to see animals being killed, and they most certainly should not have to suffer the sight of a wounded animal.

    Spencelo — I’m not sure either “recreation” or “regret” are the right words.

    Firstly, for me, hunting transcends “recreation,” in any sense that word might be commonly used. I can’t speak for all hunters, but for me, it approaches more a state of being, including intense mental focus, and considerable physical exertion.

    Also, as I noted in my first post, it is, for me and many others, still primarily in the end about bringing home food, not merely going out and having fun. There is an end, or purpose, that directly benefits myself and others.

    Other outdoor pursuits I enjoy, such as mountain biking or skiing, about going to have fun. Hunting is on another level.

    As far as “regret.” No, I don’t think I regret killing an animal while hunting. It’s a perfectly natural and ecologically right thing, to take food from the land. It’s not asking anything unnatural of an animal, to take part in the predator/prey dance. I might be thankful and solemn at the death of one of God’s creatures. But regret or remorse? No.

    “Respect” is a broad range of feeling and actions. Again, I can’t speak for all hunters.

    It might be something as singular as deciding to break of the pursuit of a particular animal or band of animals — because I feel I have already caused them enough stress and exertion. Or, in the off-season, not approaching animals in a way that will stress them, or cause them to flee. Especially in the winter, stress or over-exertion can kill an animal.

    Respect might come in the form of recognizing everything’s place in nature and ecology. Hence, I tend to not be anti-predator. Which, sadly, I think too many hunters are.

    Death and blood are part of nature. Being pursued and possibly killed as prey is, again, nothing unnatural or out of context for, say, a deer. Being kept in a cage would be both unnatural and completely out of context for that animal. And therefore, IMO, cruel.

    Respect could manifest in making sure the kill is made as quickly and painlessly as possible.

    Four-legged predators tend not to do that, and, indeed, will often begin to eat their prey while it’s still alive. But that’s no excuse or rationalization for a human hunter to drag out an animal’s death.

    Or, for that matter, to make it some flippant display of supposed prowess and skill. Such as in the case of the afore-mentioned extreme range “hunting” (sniping, really) videos one can find on YouTube.

    In that case, the animal is not a source of food, carefully taken from nature’s bounty. It is, rather, a mere object to facilitate essentially trying to shout to the world, “Gee, look what I can do!”

  15. Hi HAL,

    Thanks for your thoughts. You say that hunting is natural, as opposed to keeping an animal locked in a cage—which is cruel. Thus you appear to link “natural behavior” with “morally okay behavior,” and vice versa. But then you say four-legged predators tend not to kill their prey “as quickly and painlessly as possible,” implying that that behavior—eating prey while alive—is natural. If so, then *not* killing prey “as quickly and painlessly as possible” is *more* natural than doing so, in which case “respecting” an animal—in the way that you do—would be unnatural. This strikes me as contradictory.

    On one hand, hunting is okay because it is natural, but on the other, prolonging the death of a deer is not okay even though it is natural (to use your words, that wouldn’t be “out of context” for the deer). So as a hunter, why have “respect” for prey at all? What would be unnatural with prolonging the hunt and the kill?

  16. Spencelo.

    Hunting is “natural” insofar as it can be done in a way that does not violate the context of nature — as keeping a wild animal in a cage would.

    To be clear, I don’t fault animal predators for doing what they do. There is no crime, evil or wrong in a pack of wolves, for example, eating an elk alive, from the hindquarters up. It simply is what it is.

    I, however, have the awareness, choice and an available tool (rifle), to kill quickly. Why would I not make that choice?

    You’re correct, by nature’s code of conduct — which is basically, get what you need, any way you can — I would not be violating the code by prolonging the death of an animal.

    But that’s not my choice. I don’t want to cause the animal prolonged pain or terror. Again, because I have both the awareness, and the means not to.

    Also, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, it makes more sense for an animal to fall over dead in its tracks, than to have to pursue a wounded and struggling animal across the landscape, hoping to sooner or later finally get in a killing blow.

  17. Hi HAL,

    Just as you have the “awareness” and “choice” to kill quickly, you also have the awareness and choice not to kill at all. Why not make *that* choice?

    You say you don’t “want to cause the animal prolonged pain or terror,” but isn’t it true that you *want* to cause the animal some non-trivial pain or terror? I guess I’m wondering where, for the hunter, the line is between the acceptable and unacceptable in terms of suffering. Can a rational distinction be made? As you acknowledge, even prolonged pain and death—or nonrespect—doesn’t violate “nature’s code of conduct.”

    It seems to me that the sport hunter who prefers not to “respect” his prey—by prolonging the hunt and kill—does nothing wrong from your pov.

  18. You’re welcome for the links, Spencer :-)

  19. Hal, hunters and animal producers have co-opted the word, “respect”; just as some animal groups have co-opted the words, “welfare” and “humane”; and utilitarians — from eugenicists, to animal controllers, to Adolph Hitler — have co-opted the word, “euthanasia” — and yes, all were/are oppressors, because they use their power or authority in a cruel and unjust way.

    Nature is about survival — something you and most hunters don’t even come close to emulating. There’s nothing natural about killing an animal for an unnecessary food, and living beings shouldn’t have to die to accomodate some fantasy that hunters have about nature and their imaginary place in it.

    Another distinction between human and natural predators is the chase. When animals are chased by natural predators, their brains release endorphins and other chemicals that relieve pain. Even if they’re “eaten alive”, as you said, they are numb. But unless human hunters are chasing animals to the extent they have to run from them, that doesn’t happen. Human hunting is far more cruel, and almost always unnecessary.

  20. Spencelo,

    Correct, I have the choices to not hunt or meat eat at all. I choose to eat meat. Therefore, as I see it, the next logical choice it is best go get it myself, directly from the land, rather than eat the flesh of captive animals, killed by proxy.

    The “line” you speak of, can vary, person to person. As I’ve explained to you, I don’t think I’m “asking” (if that’s the right word) an animal do do anything outside of the context of its existence, to be pursued and possibly killed by a predator.

    Each person has to live by a moral/ethical code. I acknowledge, that can vary. The manner in which I hunt violates neither my personal moral code, or the tenants of my religion (Baha’i.)

    I don’t think your last statement is accurate. My observation is, it would not be wrong from nature’s point of view, for a hunter to deliberately prolong death. Nature knows no “wrong” in that regard. It knows, simply, the strongest, or luckiest, creature wins, and gets what it wants or needs. The suffering of the creature on the losing end means nothing to nature.

    From my point of view, it would be wrong.

    Not to mention, I’m fairly certain it would be in violation of game laws, to deliberately and knowingly torment and animal.

  21. Also, Hal, check out the naturalistic fallacy, the mistaken idea that what is natural is therefore good. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy

    Even if hunting were natural, that wouldn’t make it moral.

  22. HAL,

    Following your logic, the sport hunter can also say he isn’t “asking” his prey to “do anything outside of the context of its existence” by prolonging the hunt. So I’m still not sure why his actions would be wrong from your pov. The sport hunter simply chooses to inflict more terror than you do, which implies some moral line between the suffering you inflict and the suffering he inflicts. Where is that line, and how is it established? As you say, the ‘line” can vary person to person—so isn’t it ultimately a matter of personal preferences? “Respect” seems entirely optional.

    To make a provocative suggestion, “respecting” prey seems to enable hunters to feel good about hunting—a coping mechanism, as it were—because they understand, as you do, that the practice *does* involve doing morally unsettling things like inflict pain and terror on animals. (Recall Seamus MGraw’s “moral ambiguity” comment.) This explains why the notion of “respect” can get pretty complicated in the hunter world, often illustrated by elaborate stories and tales, but as Tom Regan said, that’s simply part of the rationalization process.

  23. Spencelo,

    Now, you’re starting to wander into the murky territory of trying to guess others feelings and motives, which is neither advisable, or particularly rational.

    As I’ve made clear, no “rationalization” is needed. Only reflection, and the application of ethical actions. I don’t need to “feel good” about hunting. I don’t need permission or approval from you, Tom Regan, or anybody else.

    I have to answer to myself, and to God. I have every confidence, I’ve done my homework on both those accounts. If my answers or reasons do not satisfy your opinions or ideas, that’s none of my business, and does not concern me in the least.

    In the hypothetical example of a sport hunter deliberately tormenting an animal, you keep trying to mix up my personal point of view, with nature’s obvious and completely cold and hard utilitarian ways — even though I’ve already corrected you on that point.

    That nature would regard no wrong in a man deliberately dragging out the death, pain and terror of an animal is irrelevant.

    My personal, moral objections to it are also irrelevant. That man has to answer first, to himself, and then to God. I am neither him, nor am I God.

    If I were there, I could chastise or try to stop him, of course. Indeed, I would probably be obligated to do so.

    But that’s an exception of instance. In general principle, again, nature’s code or my personal code are irrelevant.

    However, what could be relevant, are game laws against the deliberate torment or prolonged suffering of an animal.

  24. Hi HAL,

    In an earlier comment (7:58 pm), you suggested that the sport hunter who appeals to nature in order to prolong the hunt engages in “rationalization,” so wouldn’t it follow that other hunters who make a similar appeal engage in “rationalization” as well? I’m wondering why you choose to hunt in the first place when doing so isn’t necessary for food. If you say it’s because your choice aligns with “nature,” then it seems your position is vulnerable to the same “rationalization” charge directed at the sport hunter.

  25. Spencelo,
    Carefull, I never suggested our hypothetical sport hunter is “rationalizing.”

    I’ve not ascribed any motives to him. I would not venture to guess what would make a person do that. As I suggested in my last post, that’s between him, his own self, and perhaps God (provided he even holds any theistic beliefs.)

    Still, I think, you’re blurring what I thought I made clear. From the point of view of nature — not you, not me, not him — but nature alone, there’s no wrong in his actions. Nature, frankly, does not care. The code of nature, again, is the winning creature gets what it wants or needs, the suffering of the loser means nothing. He doesn’t need to “appeal” to nature. Nature is what it is.

  26. HAL,

    Let me quote the relevant part of what you said: “Four-legged predators tend not to do that, and, indeed, will often begin to eat their prey while it’s still alive. But that’s no excuse or rationalization for a human hunter to drag out an animal’s death.”

    I understood your remarks to mean that the sport hunter who appealed to nature in order to justify prolonging the hunt is making an “excuse or rationalization.” Am I misinterpreting?

  27. Spencelo,

    My meaning there was, from my perspective, or the perspective of my moral/ethical/religious code, a human hunter can’t use the example of wolves eating their prey alive as an excuse or rationalization to drag out the death of an animal he or she is hunting.

    Still, I can’t ascribe motives to others. I could assume, perhaps, that to a hunter who would deliberately torment an animal, my moral/ethical/religious code would not have meaning. And such a person might, indeed, use the rationalization or excuse, “well, wolves do it, so why can’t I?”

    But again, that would be speculation on my part. Until that person came right out and said such a thing, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

  28. Thanks for the clarification, HAL. Question: why do you choose to hunt when you do not need to do so for food?

  29. Spencelo,

    I thought I already clarified that, from the “food” angle. If I am to eat meat, I consider it better to go get it myself, directly from the land, and from wild animals that have a chance of escape — than to buy it in the store, from captive animals that were killed by proxy.

    I also hunt because I enjoy it. And because it plays in to wildlife and land preservation and conservation, and ecology.

    Those last factors will vary — by the methods of hunting, and the setting. What might make sense for hunting deer in Wyoming, for example, might not for hunting them in suburban New Jersey.

  30. Hi HAL,

    I guess I’m asking why choose to eat meat in the first place when you don’t have to—this is a central question animal advocates have for hunters. Any answer along the lines of “I enjoy it” would not seem ethically satisfactory, but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

  31. Spencelo,

    For somebody who sees intrinsic wrong in killing animals or eating meat, perhaps no answer from a hunter’s perspective will seem ethically satisfactory.

    But then again, for a person who bases his or her theology only on a literal interpretation of the KJV Bible, no religious principle or idea that falls outside of that context will ever be satisfactory.

    The point being, some ideals are rigid and black and white — and might take a dim view of those who don’t agree. But that in no way obligates the rest of us to adhere to them.

    Be that as it may, I have no personal quarrel with people who have made the personal ethical/moral choice to not eat meat — because they do not wish to kill animals, or have animals killed for them.

    Likewise, I have no personal quarrel with people who choose to express their relationship to and with God through KJV Biblical literalism and strict adherence to Nicean theology.

    My only problem, per se, would arise in either one trying to evangelize me, or go out of their way to scorn me for being “wrong.” That’s not their place, or their call, IMO.

    Homo sapiens evolved as an omnivore. A diet that includes some meat is perfectly healthy. The problems in today’s society — in terms of environmental degradation, public health and mass animal cruelty — arise from the consumption off too much meat, the wrong kind of meat, and industrialized ways of raising and slaughtering livestock.

    And, in the greater sense, I expect humanity to become increasingly vegetarian. Current dietary practices common in many areas are simply unsustainable — in terms of ecology, ethics and public health.

    Anyway, back on track, because homo sapiens in an omnivore, there is no intrinsic wrong in him consuming meat.

    And going into nature to hunt — even if one lives in a manner at least somewhat detached from nature (as we in the First World all do these days) — does not violate any function or basic principle of nature. In other words, it does nature no harm.

    Please be mindful, the idea of it doing no harm rests in general principle. In many examples of specific instance, human hunting has done horrible damage to nature. The mass slaughter of American Bison on the plains as the white man pushed westward — is but one example of that.

    But again, in general principle, humans hunting does not violate or harm nature. In my area of the world alone, we’ve been doing it for at least 10,000 years.

    Furthermore, for an animal, such as deer, that has always been a prey species, and has had humans among its predators for thousands of years — there is nothing unusual or cruel about being pursued and possibly killed by a hunter. The animal is not being forced to do anything it might not otherwise do. Having to evade, and possibly be killed by, a predator is completely within the context of a deer’s existence.

    By contrast, for example, forcing a bear to live in captivity and ride a bicycle for people’s entertainment could be considered cruel, because the animal is being taken completely out of its context of existence, and being made to do things it would never otherwise do.

  32. Hi HAL,

    When you say consuming meat isn’t wrong because humans are naturally omnivorous, that’s like saying assault isn’t wrong because humans are naturally aggressive. Appeals to “natural behavior” can’t ground judgments of right and wrong, for that commits, as Ellie pointed out, the naturalistic fallacy. Nothing follows ethically from claims about what’s natural for humans to do (otherwise, actions like rape would be justified).

    I’m also puzzled by your claim that hunting (generally) “does nature no harm”—but surely the animals hunted down and killed are harmed? Perhaps you see a difference between “harming nature” and “harming prey,” in which case I’d say it’s the latter we’re concerned about. Why is “harming prey” morally okay? The answer doesn’t seem to follow from claiming that hunting doesn’t harm nature.

    Lastly, you say there is nothing “cruel” about hunting deer because that is “completely within the context of a deer’s existence.” Of course, the sport hunter who prolongs the kill can say the same thing, so it would follow on your view that he does nothing “cruel.” That, to me, seems obviously false. Cruelty isn’t a matter of how frequently some harmful action happens—that rape is pervasive doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel. Rather, cruelty is a matter of how much suffering and pain some being experiences.

  33. Spencelo,

    Comparing the consumption of meat, as part of a healthy diet, to rape or assault seems like a stretch. It also strikes me of the evangelizing and attempts at moral chastisement I made reference to.

    Furthermore, farming grains or raising fruit for food also causes harm, there’s no way around that. Animals are displaced, or even killed, to make room for, or to protect, crops and orchards to feed humans.

    Agriculture requires taking land away from nature, and in a forcible manner.

    Not to mention, we still need roads and transport to get that food to the greater bulk of the population. All that effects wildlife, often negatively.

    In short, if you wish to eat, but cause no harm to wildlife, you’re basically out of luck, on this planet, at least.

    Also, if one lives in a dwelling — most especially in a city, suburb or housing development, one must grasp the fact that land was also taken forcibly from nature, and at a cost to wildlife.

    Indeed, development “sprawl” in my part of the world — the Rocky Mountain West — is one of the biggest destroyers of wildlife and habitat there is.

    There would be a wry irony in a vegan living in a freshly-built subdivision on what was prime wildlife habitat, getting upset at me for shooting a deer. Though unwittingly, he’s probably just contributed to killing more deer than I ever will.

    I understand, vegetarianism or veganism might cause less harm, certainly, than mass beef and pork consumption.

    But, unless the vegetarian or vegan is growing all his own food, and living in no more than the smallest and most spartan of huts, using no electricity and certainly never using any form of internal combustion engine — then the “harm” he does, compared to the modest, ethical meat hunter — will probably come out as about an even wash in the end — in terms of the effects on ecology and nature. One’s “footprint” on the earth, so to speak.

    Also, you seemed to be focused on “harm” on a very specific level, that of the individual creature.

    My claim is, hunting does not harm nature in the general sense.

    How does a deer being killed for food harm nature? The answer is, it simply does not. To say that it would, displays a blatant ignorance of nature.

    I grasp your argument, but it seems to me to be couched in sentimental concern over the fate of every particular individual creature. That’s not how nature works.

    Likewise, ecology and conservation need not hinge upon sentimentality over the fate of each individual creature. In fact, that would be incredibly counter-productive — as any wildlife biologist could tell you.

    No, from my standpoint, there is nothing cruel about hunting and quickly killing a deer, and I explained why. True, it might not work by your ethical code. I don’t expect it to.

    My conscience remains perfectly clear on the matter. Any offense to an ideology you might hold means nothing to me in that regard.

    As for our hypothetical slow-killing hunter, again, how he might justify his actions would be up to him. Yes, indeed, as I already mentioned, he might try the “wolves do it, why can’t I?” argument.

    That’s been dealt with. I’m not sure why you keep bringing him up.

  34. Life is always better than death. Compassion is always superior to killing.

  35. Life is always better than death. Compassion is always superior to killing.

  36. Hi HAL,

    You say hunting doesn’t harm nature, but I’m focused on a different issue: the harm that hunting causes to prey. Your ethical defense of the latter rests on a logical mistake, IMO. In particular, you appeal to the notion of acting within “the context of a deer’s existence,” from which you think it follows that hunting—and therefore harming prey—is justified. But this inference is an instance of the naturalistic fallacy: you invalidly infer that a behavior is ethical from the fact that it is natural. Such an argument would allow all sorts of harmful behavior to be justified—such as rape, assault, and sport hunting (which you oppose).

    About my comparison, I was comparing an argument for meat consumption premised on natural behavior with arguments for rape and assault that are also premised on natural behavior. The form of the arguments is the same: P is permitted to do X because it is natural for P to do X, where X can be “eating meat,” “committing an assault,” “raping,” or “sport hunting.” I believe this demonstrates that your appeal to natural behavior can’t justify hunting.

    But rather than put all the burden on you, I’ll offer a positive argument for why hunting is wrong. (1) Animal cruelty is wrong; (2) hunting constitutes animal cruelty; and (3) therefore hunting is wrong. I assume you agree with (1) but not (2). To prove (2), consider an instance of animal cruelty: holding a cat by her tail to cause her pain for fun. Even though the cat will recover, my act is cruel because the infliction of pain was deliberate and it was undertaken for a recreational purpose. It seems to me that there is no difference between what I do to the cat and recreational hunting, where the deliberate infliction of harm is far greater. So, if what I do to the cat is cruel, then what recreational hunters do to prey is also cruel. It would follow then that you ought to accept (2), and therefore the conclusion.

  37. Spencelo,

    Again, you’re over-reaching, and trying to make false comparisons.

    Firstly, I thought I made it clear, many posts ago, I don’t appose purely sport or trophy hunting. I’ve known pure trophy hunters who are among the best, most ethical hunters there are. And even they don’t simply throw the meat away. They eat it themselves, give it away to the poor. Or, if hunting in another land, give it to native villagers.

    What I oppose is unethical hunting — regardless of whether the ultimate end for the hunter is a trophy on the wall, or meat in the freezer. By way of example, that could include such things as chasing animals with ATVs or trucks, deliberately shooting an animal in such a way as to wound it and drag out its suffering and death, “hunting” essentially tame deer over a pile of corn bait on a high-fence game ranch, or using what basically amounts to sniper equipment, to sit back and pick off animals at 800, 1,000 yards or more.

    Your example of swinging a cat by its tail to get sick jollies is a bad comparison. First of all, a cat is a domestic animal, and essentially helpless and dependent upon humans.

    Likewise, your comparisons using rape or assault, by way of the naturalistic fallacy, fail. Rape and assault, though they might be driven by base — or “natural” urges — are wholly harmful, and serve no greater purpose or end.

    Hunting wild animals in a natural setting can serve purposes and ends of getting food — for oneself, one’s family, or the poor in one’s community. (And yes, I’ve given game meat to the less fortunate, and plan to continue doing so.) Hunting also contributes to wildlife and habitat preservation.

    Also, meat consumption, while you might not like it, is, when done in moderation and properly, perfectly healthy for the omnivore species homo sapiens.

    Nobody has to rape or beat people to get through the day, or their lifetime. But we all have to eat. And as I explained to you in a previous post, any form of eating will involve taking from the bounty of the earth. And any form of taking will negatively affect something else. Whether that is the deer which is shot for food, or the deer that loses its habitat when humans move in to plant a crop or orchard to feed vegetarians and vegans.

    As beings with higher awareness, we humans are arguably under a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of our partaking of the earth’s bounty to feed, clothe, transport and shelter ourselves. In other words, because we have the capacity, we must be mindful of how we go about doing those things.

    You do it your way, I’ll do it mine. We might not agree on all things, but I think we both agree, mass animal agri-industry, and factory-style slaughterhouses aren’t the best of options — for people, for animals, or for the environment.

    You keep getting hung up on “cruel,” because an animal is hit with an arrow or bullet and dies. But by trying to equate that with tormenting a helpless domestic cat — for no reason other than sick thrills — you’re both missing the point, and displaying a keen ignorance of how nature works. Not to mention, you’re ignoring the distinction between a human-depenant tame animal, and a wild, free animal in its natural habitat.

    My argument has never been that hunting is okay, because it’s “natural” to go kill and eat animals — as a means to gratify base instincts — as it might be “natural” for a man surrender control to his most base urges, and rape a woman, or pummel another man.

    To clarify what I’m trying to say, let’s replace the term “nature” with perhaps the more accurate term, “ecosystem.”

    My point is, it does not harm or violate nature — as in the ecosystem — to go into it and kill an animal, such as a deer. Deer dying, in various ways for various reasons, is a basic part and function of the ecosystem. Therefore, trying to argue that a deer being killed “harms nature,” or is cruel, is like trying to say miscarriages make the universe murderous.

    My other point is, a deer is completely within the context of its very existence to be hunted, and possibly killed, by a predator. A deer is not a helpless, domestic animal. The example of deer on high-fence “game ranches” notwithstanding. (And yes, such operations do exist.)

    A deer — or elk, or pronghorn — is a wild, self-sufficent creature with instincts and attributes — such as sight, hearing, smell, fleetness of foot — that allow it a chance to evade predators, be they two or four-legged. In other words, they are far from helpless. So, there is nothing cruel in killing one. This is especially true of killing one in a quick manner.

    In the ecosystem, that animal doesn’t really have any options for a quick, relatively painless death. Common causes of death for cervids or pronghorn might include, freezing, starvation, dying of thirst, disease, suffering an injury and dying slowly from infection, or being mauled and likely eaten alive by an animal predator. Measured against those, a high-powered rifle bullet through the chest cavity is hardly a bad option.

    I define animal cruelty as doing something exploitive or out of context to an animal, or causing an animal to suffer gross and needless pain, boredom, stress or terror. Swinging a helpless, human-dependent cat by the tail would be an example of that. Keeping a bear captive and making it ride a bicycle for a hooting crowd of spectators would be another example. Raising a deer on a “game farm,” and then coaxing it with corn bait to walk in front of a fat man’s rifle would be yet another.

    You seem to define animal cruelty as anything that might result in the creature’s death or suffering — no matter how brief the episode of suffering might be

    Firstly, I simply don’t agree, any more than I agree with a KJV Biblical literalist that Jesus of Nazereth is the one and only way to God.

    And secondly, by that standard, the ecosystem itself is the worst animal abuser in all of history.

  38. Hal wrote: “In short, if you wish to eat, but cause no harm to wildlife, you’re basically out of luck, on this planet, at least.”
    ————————

    I realize this is on every talking-point list for hunters these days … because it works until people realize it’s an intellectual trap. The mission is to convince vegans they are as complicit in animal bloodshed as are hunters, thereby raising moral relativism to preposterous heights.

    First, as hunters, you deliberately set up and try to lure non-hunters into a debate where they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If they’re not vegans they’re told they have no ethical basis from which to criticize hunting. Almost all hunters rip this one off the keyboard as their first rebuttal to criticism.

    Oh, but if a person is, indeed, vegan and committed to compassion toward animals, they can’t criticize hunting either because some animals are killed in the context of other human activity. And, we are humans, therefore we are all equally culpable.

    It’s a false and flawed premise. First, there is no human in existence that can live an entirely harm-free life in the context of modern civilization. But, that does not mean that deliberate violence toward other species, most often enjoyed and celebrated by the participants, is an acceptable facet of moral behavior in the context of an imperfect world. This is particularly true in our country where a preponderance of hunting cannot be remotely construed as desperation-level subsistence.

    Hunting and inadvertent harm are two separate issues — and hunters these days are conflating the two to divert attention away from their practices which are almost always only defensible by way of Biblical interpretations, flawed anthropology (recent studies show that early man was most likely a scavenger, not a hunter), the fallacy of tradition (it’s always been this way so it’s “right”), and constructing an erroneous paradigm for what constitutes natural predator-prey interactions between nonhuman animals … suggesting that what humans do to wildlife is no different. It is. Dramatically different.

  39. Very well stated,Ingrid; sounds like you have been reading your Derrida who tried, for years before his death, to use his deconstruction of many of the presumptions of western philosophy to show how prevalent and dominant these “erroneous ” paradigms about animals really are…and how they have affected all of western thought; Derrida insisted on making the distinction of what constitutes “reaction” as opposed to genuine “response” when looking at what is the essence of animal or non-human being; with human “reaction” the element of responsibility is non-existent and most often replaced with such rationalities such as you mention, namely tradition, culture, or even art form and spirituality but on closer inspection always involve power, control and dominance of the other or non-human; whereas, and in stark contrast “response” involves human responsibility and accountability and recognition of the treatment and suffering of the animal other regardless of situation or circumstance…which more often than not is one of human making in the first place.

  40. Tony, you bring me way back to some hair-pulling days of old, trying to argue against the tenets of Foucault who exasperated me to the core. I think I actually threw one of his books in frustration, after reading a particularly annoying paragraph. ;) I hadn’t read the analysis you provided from Derrida, interesting, and thank you. On a slightly different tack, I recently picked up a book by Marti Kheel … Nature Ethics, An Ecofeminist perspective. Her basic contention is that so much of conservation is framed from a patriarchal perspective and, as such, focuses on abstracts like species and stats instead of concerning itself with empathy for individuals of that species (as part of that greater whole). It’s a powerful and disheartening argument, considering how many of our environmental constructs are framed this way. In fact, it’s particularly relevant to hunting since “species” conservation is so often used to justify cruel practices toward individuals within that species.

  41. Ingrid,

    You seem to labor under the misconception that I think it’s wrong for others to be vegetarian of vegan — or that I even care. I don’t, and, I don’t.

    I was merely pointing out, if one partakes of the earth’s bounty, then something else will be affected. That’s unavoidable.

    I’m simply responding to instances of those lifestyle choices (vegetarianism and veganism) being used to justify lectures about how hunting is somehow morally wrong or destructive. I’ve already stated, several times, it certainly can be. Just about anything can be, when done the wrong way.

    But I’ve stated before in this forum, I’m not interested in sermons. If I wanted to hear a sermon, there are several churches within easy walking distance of my home.

    I also notice, after cherry-picking one statement I made, you went on to protest arguments I never really made in the first place.

    Again, my key points are, being hunted, by another animal or a human, isn’t outside a cervid or pronghorn’s context of existence. Indeed, it’s woven right into that animal’s entire paradigm of existence. Therefore, trying to argue it’s “cruel” is a stretch, at best.

    And of course, I’m well aware homo sapiens might have started out as a scavenger, but in many places and instances, we went on to become hunters.

    As I’ve pointed out, on the lands where I tread and hunt, homo sapiens has been hunting for well over 10,000 years. And the wildlands and wildlife here continue to thrive.

    It’s worth noting too, Ingid, I don’t see many animal rights vegans on the front lines of ensuring these lands stay that way. I’ve yet to meet a serious, in-the-trenches conservationist, wildlife biologists or ecologist who was anti-hunting.

    And yes, I’ve had face-to-face contact with some of the best and most respected in the world.

    Which dovetails into my second central point — hunting in general principle does not harm the ecosystem. (Yes, there are instances of poorly-practiced hunting harming the ecosystem, as I already pointed out.)

    I wish and try to live mindfully. I’m well aware, “hunting” in many instances these days is basically a high-dollar farce, and over-blown form of entertainment for the lazy and crass.

    I don’t hunt that way, and that’s not why I hunt.

  42. Hi HAL,

    You say “being hunted, by another animal or a human, isn’t outside a cervid or pronghorn’s context of existence.” I don’t know what that could mean other than that it’s natural for a deer to be hunted.

  43. Hal, done this dance before. I know the drill. If I take issue with one of your comments, you say that I haven’t address the whole of your commentary — that I’m “cherry picking.” You realize how much you’ve written in this thread, and that to respond (again, same arguments) to every single one of your points would necessitate a dissertation on my part, which I have no inclination to force upon other readers here. But sure, if you wanted a response to every single one of your points, I have adequate refutation for each. Considering they are the same arguments used in many previous posts here, I’m sure that at one time or another, most of your points have been addressed.

    As far as this comment of yours — “It’s worth noting too, Ingid, I don’t see many animal rights vegans on the front lines of ensuring these lands stay that way. I’ve yet to meet a serious, in-the-trenches conservationist, wildlife biologists or ecologist who was anti-hunting.”

    You’ve stated this previously as well. I don’t doubt that this is true from *your* experience. Because I would suspect that you spend a lot of your time with hunting-friendly people.

    But, I’ve worked, boots on the ground, with people who everyday, devote their lives to habitat restoration, to preserving land trusts in perpetuity, putting their livelihoods on the line to save stretches of land from mall development, rolling up their sleeves in muddy wetlands to ensure that that these lands exist into the foreseeable future for native and migrating species. Some are vegans, some are anti-hunters. But, to counter your point (two can play this game), I can’t think of one time I’ve personally met a hunter in any of the habitat restoration or wildlife rehab efforts in which I’ve personally been involved. Ex hunters, yes. That’s because hunters, if they devote their resources at all, contribute to groups that ensure a personal payoff for them: hunting land and game animals to hunt. So your personal experience is just that, as mine is mine. Each is filtered through our expectations of what an “environmentalist” or a “serious” conservationist looks like and is not representative of the whole.

    btw, Mark Bekoff was one serious-in-the-trenches biologist who studied predators for years and does not support the cruelty and irrational policies that tend to prevail where predator “control” is involved. There are many more examples. Beyond that, there are “serious” people in “conservation” or birding or other ecological pursuits who are afraid to speak their personal truth to hunting because the financial system is totally skewed toward favoring hunting interests. Others have been indoctrinated to believe that if they are anti-hunting, they are anti-conservation, an argument you appear to be making. It’s an entrenched power to which many don’t speak, even if their personal ethics abhor what happens in the hunting field. It takes courage for guys like Bekoff to challenge that paradigm because the perspective is sometimes met with ridicule by those who haven’t bothered to question the overarching model and it’s ethical flaws.

  44. Spencelo,

    In means it’s part of the normal course of life and existence for them, and therefore, not terribly traumatic for them, in some deeply horrifying sense.

  45. In other words, Ingrid, you don’t have any solid refutation of hunting in general principle, but rather, only in specific instance.

    Good, so do I. I can think of numerous examples of instance when hunting is a bad idea, or done in a terrible manner. There’s instances in which I’m more anti-hunting than anti-hunters are.

    You boldly express a supposed ability to refute my points, but other than reflecting a personal distaste for hunting (which you are more than welcome to, again, I don’t care), I’ve found your arguments predictable.

    And nice broad brush, hunters are interested only in “hunting land” (whatever that means) and specific animals to be hunted. Sounds to me, you need to spend more time around hunters. We’re not a monolithic group.

    That could also be a function of area too, Ingrid. I don’t know where you live. But where I’m from, the Rocky Mountain West, (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado), oftentimes some of those pushing the hardest for wilderness and/or roadless areas are hunters.

    True, some of those pushing for more, and more, motorized access are also hunters.

    The man who is the leading expert on Yellowstone National Park’s wolf population — and himself a strong advocate for wolves — is a hunter.

    Other hunters have an almost reactionary distaste for wolves.

    Like I said, we’re not a monolithic group.

    “Hunter” and “ecologist” are not oxymoronic terms. And if you think they are, then again, I strongly suggest you widen your social circle.

    And I never said all the people I know — in terms of ecologists and conservationists, are enthusiastic about hunting. Many of them have a strong dislike for the hunting status quo, and even might not care for the vast majority of hunters, such as they are. I said, I’ve yet to meet one who was against the principle of hunting, period.

    As for predators and predator “control,” that’s an entire other ball of wax. I happen to be very pro-predator in general, and quite pro-wolf in particular.

    That doesn’t mean I’m against the principle of predators, including wolves, being hunted. But I have deep issues with the way much of the hunting community regards those animals. Chances are, I would agree with Mark Bekoff in ways that might surprise you. I certainly agree with what Aldo Leopold wrote in “The Green Fire” — if you’ve ever read that essay.

    And if you’ve not read it, you should, I think.

    You’re right, hunters and their allies don’t have a monopoly on ecology, but neither do vegans and anti-hunters have a monopoly on ethics, or caring for nature in a holistic manner.

    Just because you don’t think “X” because you’re not fond of hunting, well, likewise, I don’t automatically think or feel “X” because I’m a hunter. I don’t have to justify distaste for ATVS and my fondness for wolves to good ole’ boy hunting status quo, any more than I have to justify or apologize for my killing of deer and consumption of venison to PETA.

  46. Hal, human predation is far different from predation from other predators. I spend countless hours with wildlife, in the wild, watching these cycles I’ve used this example before, but last year (as one for instance) I was photographing over a field where, unbeknownst to me, there were hunters hanging out in trenches, waiting for geese. The violent assault on the geese was loud, constant and horrifying when they flew over. It was nothing close to what the geese experience by way of eagle predation or mesopredator stalking. It was multitudes of hunters raising up at once, firing into the flock, dropping goose upon goose. Of course, the geese were lured there by decoys and calls and crops. And, wingshot, injured geese could move well enough to evade capture, but not well enough to rejoin their flock. They were condemned to prolonged agony in that field.

    This happens everyday during hunting season, in the counts of millions. There are estimates that one in four (or more) birds escapes injured by unretrieved by hunters. There is no way a wild animal can evolve to respond to the technological artifice of human predation, not to mention the magnitude of it, a microcosm of which happens at fields across the country like this one. It’s a false equivalency to equate the two forms of predation.

    A short time later, after hunting season was over, we returned to the same area, same fields, same flocks. The difference was dramatic. There was silence, except for the occasional technological intrusion of small plane. There were definitely eagles as primary predators, but as is common in my wildlife viewing, the alert system began with crows and other nearby sentries to which the geese responded by confusing the eagles, flying up in mass. They would then return to their spot to graze, each time anticipating possible predators. The myth of nature being in a constant state of fearful predation is erected by humans who wish to justify their own effect on wild animals. It’s not that prey animals live without some trepidation. But the interaction between prey animal and predator animal (except for human) is intermittent and nothing close to the types of hunting pressures humans put on animals through mass shooting, wildlife drives, hounding and so forth. It’s not even close.

  47. Hi HAL,

    It appears you are arguing that because it’s normal to hunt deer, doing so isn’t cruel. But that’s fallacious: a practice can be cruel whether or not it’s normal.

  48. Spencelo,

    No, I’m not saying anything about “normal.”

    I’m saying, it’s not a violation of a deer’s basic existence to be hunted, or to see another of its number to be taken down by a predator — two-legged or four. It’s simply part of the way things are for them.

    Locking deer into a corral and continually screaming at them and hitting them with sticks would be cruel, because they have no context for such a thing happening to them.

    Do you understand the distinction I’m making there?

  49. Ingrid,

    Firstly, when have I ever said human predation and four-legged predation are the same?

    I haven’t. And I don’t think that.

    Secondly, that’s an extreme example. Sounds to me, you live in a densely populated area, where “hunting” is more like the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan.”

    I’ve never hunted in such a context, nor would I want to. On most of the hunting trips I go on, I’m out there all by myself, and the only hunter in the immediate area.

    The one rare time I did find myself in what I would consider a crowded situation, I didn’t even load my rifle. I just stood there and laughed, it was so ridiculous to me.

    I don’t know how to mitigate hunting in crowded areas, where it starts to approach warfare. I’ve heard of mass shooting situations, both for birds and big game. I don’t think I could support such practices.

    Also, natural predators do sometimes wound animals and have them escape from them, to die lingering deaths. Or, conversely, a smaller predator, such as a coyote, will take advantage of a wounded or weakened animal and finish it off, slowly.

    Primitive human hunters, with weapons such as bows or spears, were also more likely to merely wound animals, than modern hunters with firearms.

    Be all that as it may, that’s no reason or excuse for modern firearms hunters to allow wounded animals to escape, as happened with the geese you watched.

    Modern human hunting is seasonal, so differs sharply from animal predation in that aspect. That is why predators such as wolves are so vital, from an ecological standpoint.

    This is illustrated in the change the return of wolves made in elk behavior here in this part of the world. Wolves actually DO instill a constant lingering fear in elk, which causes them to scatter out and move around a lot more. That, in turn, gives the landscape a break from elk bunching up and congregating in smaller areas, stomping and eating the crap out of them — which is what elk tended to do when they were hunted only seasonally by people.

    So, sorry for getting long-winded, but again, you are citing an example of how hunting might be done — which ironically enough, I agree with. Massed hunters blasting away at geese all day is a far cry from me tromping down to some spots I know by my local river, to wait and possibly get one shot at a passing flock of geese.

    So, in sum, yes, human hunting is different than four-legged predator hunting, always has been. But that doesn’t mean it’s always bad.

    Again, it all depends on how its done.

  50. Hi HAL,

    I’m afraid I don’t see the distinction. You said that being hunted is “part of the normal course of life and existence” for the deer, which was your clarification of the claim that being hunted isn’t “outside the context of its [the deer’s] existence.” But that’s just another way of saying that hunting deer is a normal/natural reality for the deer. And from this, you earlier inferred (fallaciously, IMO) that hunting was therefore not cruel.

    And I of course agree that continuously hitting a deer is cruel, but the behavior being cruel has nothing to do with whether it occurs “within the context of deer’s existence.”

  51. Hal, I will make this my last response since you were generous and gracious in conceding a point that I made and I appreciate that. Although, as you know, I do not support hunting, based on much personal experience in the field that turned my perceptions in irreversible ways … I’m the first to say there is a difference among hunting practices. What you describe in your hunt is, as you know, is dramatically different from what happens, generally, on public lands during waterfowl season … and over planted fields during dove season.

    I’ve seen, too many times, birds flapping to no avail after being bloodied by shot, hunters having left them behind because they can’t catch them or don’t care to catch them, despite wanton waste laws. I’ve seen dead and injured ducks floating downstream in heavily hunted areas, like the Delta back in California. I’ve heard these same hunters casually write off the injured bird by uttering, “oh well, coyote food.” Yes, right, coyote food in water-immersed tulles where coyotes rarely go. Rescuers can’t always help hunt-injured animals myself because of, 1) hunter harassment laws that prohibit interference in a hunt, 2) the difficulty of capturing an animal that is impaled with a bow, as one example, and 3) they can often move fast enough to escape capture, but cannot function well enough to survive join their flock. I’ve seen downed geese, for example, call out in futility as their flock flies away in panic.

    So, yes, there are important differences in how I’m sure you conduct yourself, as a lifelong hunter with a connection to the land and with some measure of thoughtfulness. The problem is, I’ve had many discussions with hunters I consider among the most ethical I’ve met in the sport, however ethics is to be construed in bloodsport. And no one — to this day — no one is willing to advocate for restraints on any type of hunting, even the most brutal. They view it as a slippery slope and the most common response, ultimately, is — who am I to say how someone else hunts? I may not like it, but it’s legal. We all know that legality is a poor rationalization for morality, based on legal practices throughout history that were anything but moral or ethical.

    My argument then becomes that because these various practices are, indeed, tolerated and not policed internally nor even condemned all that often, we non-hunters are left to judge hunting as a whole. If hunters say it’s acceptable because it’s legal, then I say, well any sport in which those types of practices are acceptable and legal needs to be judged in its entirety as a travesty to wildlife. If you were to ask me, do I have ask much difficulty with the ethics you describe as your own, I do with what I’ve seen out there, I’d answer honestly, no. You seem circumspect on many of these issues, despite our dramatic differences of opinion. But, it’s impossible accept the sport when those within the ranks, those with power to actually advocate against the worst practices, don’t. They defend. Those of us on the outside see this obstinance as confirmation that self interest is what rules the agenda. And self interest rarely if ever promotes the well-being of nonhuman species. I guarantee you that ethical mandates (not options) are a huge facet of working with wildlife in a rehab or medical context. Medical personnel work with the very same animals hunters hunt, and yet the disparity in what a civilian is permitted to “do” to that animal versus what a hunter can do, couldn’t be wider. To me, that is unacceptable.

  52. (meant to write “arrow,” not bow)

  53. Spencelo,

    Of course, shooting an animal to death could be seen as brutal, in the immediate sense. But I don’t consider it a grossly cruel act — such as swinging a cat by his tail, or screaming at and hitting captive deer for a prolonged period.

    In the larger sense, against deer as a species, and the ecosystem as a whole, there’s no cruelty or wrong in it. Deer die all the time, and usually in ways that, again, make taking a high-powered rifle bullet through the vitals quite easy and humane by comparison.

    In other words and in short, the ecosystem, and the species that inhabit it, have a much more matter-of-fact acceptance of blood and suffering and death than we might.

    I repeat, we all take from the earth, in some way, to feed, clothe, transport and shelter ourselves. Not to mention communicate with computers via the internet. All of that affects wildlife. If nothing else, the truck driving the vegetables you and I eat to market might hit a deer — or two are three — along the way. It perhaps might even strike one a glancing blow, and leave it to limp off with a broken leg or shattered hip.

    My view is, I’m taking a much more direct cause-and-effect approach, when I go out on the land and take a cervid or pronghorn as prey to eat.

    Be that as it may, I also understand your objections to it. You don’t like animals being killed.

  54. Ingrid,

    I see nothing in your post I fundamentally disagree with. As a group, I think hunters are poor at self-reflection and internal debate over ethical issues. Be mindful, I’m speaking in general terms. But I understand, where outsiders’ views on hunting and hunters come from.

    Yes, I sense there is some fear that, “If I criticize that hunting practice — no matter how repulsive I find it — and it gets banned, then my hunting practice will be the next to be banned.”

    Also, the overall attitude toward predators among hunters — again, speaking in general terms — is ignorant and miserable, IMO.

    And finally, as with just about everything else in our societies these days, a lazy sense of entitlement has to a degree permeated hunting.

    I too often hear comments along the lines of — If I have to walk more than 50 yards from my ATV or truck to recover a game carcass — that’s “too much work.”

    Talk about missing the point!

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

  55. [...] October 18th & 19th, the two days prior to the deer and elk season opener, are designated Youth Hunting Days (deer hunting only for kids 12 to 15, though some aged 11 can participate depending on birth date) and coincide with the state’s no-school teachers’ professional development days. Kids 12 to 17 purchasing their first hunting license don’t actually have to raid their piggy banks–the license is given to them, a gift from the state, perhaps in a bid to cultivate youth ambassadors  for hunting’s declining numbers. (See a previous discussion of youth hunting elsewhere at Animal Blawg.) [...]

  56. I recognize this post is dead nearly 2 months, but much of the discussion was really thought provoking. Below are just some background and thoughts I had while reading your posts. Thanks for the thoughts…

    I am neither vegan, nor vegetarian. I am both a farmer and hunter with a recognition that I am yet another animal in nature. Instead of using an astute sense of smell, blinding speed, finely-attuned hearing and eye sight, or sharpened claws as tools to obtain sustenance, I use animal biology, husbandry, behavior, and tools usage (farm/gun/bow/trap).

    There are extremes in all types of people and points of view. Unfortunately, politics and policy deals mostly with the extreme behavior instead of a sense of normalcy.

    I feel neither elation, nor remorse over the culling of animals. Instead, I thank God for providing. Providing me the skill to farm and hunt (to gain sustenance/provide).

    All animals are wasteful in the light over-abundance; humans are no different. Abraham Maslow would suggest that we would do nothing else if our most basic needs (food, safety, sleep; food being most basic of all) were not amply satisfied. We simply have the ability to respond instead of react (the apex of the hierarchy; self-actualization). We have no other special ‘nature’ about us.

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