The Super Slam: Ethics and the Trophy Hunt

It has been a busy news cycle.  Our economy continues to tank, the conflict in Gaza continues to rage, an unarmed man lying face down in police custody in Oakland is shot dead.  The list goes on.  Much other news, both good and bad, permeates the airwaves, print, and ether.

Faced with all this, I turn to the sports pages of the NY Times for a little distraction and find this story about a group of bow hunters whose goal is to kill 29 North American species.  It used to be 28 but just last summer the Pope and Young Club (the keeper of records relating to this quest) announced the inclusion of the Tule Elk, bringing the grand total to 29.  Killing all 29 is known as the North American Super Slam.

The Times story breathlessly relates the way the men (they seem always to be men) stalk the animals.  One of the hunters profiled described it as “a personal goal” of his to “harvest all 28 species… now 29.”  Those pursuing the Super Slam must adhere to a rigid code of conduct.  Among other things, they cannot kill an animal helpless in a trap, in deep water or snow and they cannot shoot from powered vehicles or boats, use night lights, tranquilizers, poisons.  They seek intimacy: “That’s the advantage of bow hunting,” according to a surgeon from Anchorage.  “You’re forced by the equipment you’ve chosen to spend more time with the animal.”

The code seems to contain a normative component – one cannot kill an animal in a non-sporting way.  Yet nowhere in this code, which encourages people to kill 29 different animals, is there any discussion about whether the killing itself has any moral relevance.  I find this curious.  A code mandating that one not kill animals in certain ways would seem to require antecedent consideration about whether it is right to kill the animals at all.  Certainly, no necessity exists here (one of the hunters interviewed estimated that he had spent over $400,000 pursuing the Slam).  The term “harvest” seems misplaced since the animals do not get eaten.  The entire point of the endeavor (other than fueling the taxidermy industry) appears to revolve around killing for no other reason than fun.  This raises some pressing moral questions.

I believe it safe to assume that Slam seekers would agree that the animals they hunt are sentient (otherwise, why the code of conduct?).  They would probably also agree that the animals can experience fear and suffer.  Why then would it be ethically neutral to kill them for no other reason than fun?  Does the infliction of unnecessary pain and/or ending the existence of these animals rate no consideration at all?   If so, why does the Pope and Young Club call itself a “conservation” organization?  What does it hope to conserve and why?

The club’s mission statement declares that it is dedicated to “protect[ing] the future of our bowhunting heritage” (parsing that little syntactical chestnut must wait for another day…) as well as the “conservation and welfare of habitat and wildlife.”  Should we infer then that the club views bowhunting as the sole reason for conserving nature?  And does sponsoring a quest to kill dozens of animals dovetail with a conservation ethic even thus described?

The ethics page of the P&Y website offers no answers to these questions.  It quotes Aldo Leopold’s adage that “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers.”  The P&Y page does not mention that Leopold also said: “[T]o acquire a reputation for killing limits is a doubtful compliment, at best.”

Leopold believed that “think[ing] like a mountain” involves understanding that animals exist for purposes other than hunting fodder.  Most memorably, he declared that: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  In the aggregate, I read Leopold to be saying that hunting has a place in the scheme of things but that killing for its own sake or purely for fun seems per se wrong no matter the species of the victim.

For my part, I would add that writing a puff piece about the people who do it seems little better.  And that leads me to a related issue currently awaiting cert before the Supreme Court and about which I will post in the near future: Are depictions of animal cruelty protected speech?  Stay tuned.

David Cassuto

15 Responses

  1. Excellent Blog. I’ve been reading along and just wanted to say hi. I will be reading more of your posts in the future.

    – Jason.

  2. This guy is crazy man. There was a study done once where some people that didn’t believe in hunting had a population of deer inside a high fence with no predators and no hunting allowed. After a while the deer were not doing well and were malnurished so they introduced predators into the high fence area. Their condition improved but the deer population did not thrive until they allowed hunting to take place. The reason that the population began to thrive is because the hunters and predators thinned the deer out some so that there was not so much competition for food.

  3. I am not suprised to see only two people have who have read your blog posted in over a year. Hunting has been used for thousands of years for managing wild animals. And the Pope & Young club encourages, protects, and promotes wildlife, wildlife conservation and our bowhunting/outdoor heritage. When people like you ban hunting animals, the only thing left to hunt will be stupid fuckers like you

  4. “In the joy of hunting is intimately woven the love of the great outdoors. The beauty of the woods, valleys, mountains, and skies feeds the soul of the sportsman where the quest of game whets only his appetite. After all, it is not the killing that brings satisfaction; it is the contest of skill and cunning. The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport.” Dr. Saxton Pope, 1923

  5. The fair chase concept does, however, extend beyond the hunt itself; it is an attitude and a way of life based in a deep-seated respect for wildlife, for the environment, and for other individuals who share the bounty of this vast continent’s natural resources.

  6. Components of the Club’s Conservation Program include wildlife research, education, pro-bowhunting activities, partnerships, wildlife conservation projects and kids programs. The Club provides monetary and moral support through awarded grants. The conservation committee is responsible for soliciting and investigating proposals and recommending them to the Board of Directors on an annual basis. Recent Conservation Program budgets have exceeded $100,000 annually. Through their three biennial conservation awards, the Club recognizes achievement by individuals and groups in doing conservation activities and, thereby, encouraging others to do the same.

  7. Ah, Austin, so much self-righteousness, so little time. First, you conflate hunting in general with trophy hunting. The blog post is about trophy hunting (you may want to read it again). Second, your argument, if one can understand it, is that killing 28 different species, solely for fun, ´encourages, protects, and promotes wildlife, [and] wildlife conservation.´ The illogic speaks for itself. Last. if it is just the cunning and skill you cherish, then why the trophy pictures and taxidermy? And, more importantly, why kill at all?

  8. If there is nothing wrong with just hunting then what is wrong with challenging yourself by trying to kill a “trophy”

  9. First off, being at the top of the food chain it is our duty to hunt we are the dominant predator. Also, as for yes these guys are going for trophies why the hell not. You pay thousands of dollars wait years to get a tag. If you came across a herd of caribuo would you not shoot the biggest one. Also, “hunting for fun” yeah you guys have never froze your ass off all day sitting in a deer stand waiting for a deer to walk by yeah that part sucks ass but when the moment comes and you make the KILL!!! Nothing makes me feel better and yes it is fun.

  10. 1. Mankind is an apex predator. I invite the author to lecture other apex predators like lions, grizzly bears, and great white sharks on the morality of their menu.

    2. The author said that the animals on the Super Slam list are not eaten. He’s lying.

    3. Concerning conservation: Hunters have accomplished many times more in regard to preserving and restoring endangered species than all the veggie-hippie-leftists in the world combined.

  11. Seriously, if you want to see the humpbacked whale thriving, start selling whale tags. There will be no shortage of wannabe Captain Ahabs who will give you all the funds needed to police the seas, stop the Japs, and restore balance to the seas.

  12. Unless the author of this blog is a subsistance hunter/gather I dont see how he/she has any right to pass judgement on people attempting the north american super slam. Thousands of acres of wildlife habitat are destroyed so that farmers can provide vegetables so “nature loving vegetarians” can have their salads. Any member of modern society is part of an unsustanable way of life that is leading to the destruction of the planet as we know it.

    Atleast hunters are passionate enough to protect what they love for future generations. You may see a hunters love of the outdoors and nature as hypocritical but their hypocrisy is nothing compared to yours.

    Its real easy for you to sit there sipping a latte, whining about how hunting is cruel on your mac book (which was made by strip mining rare earth minerals out of the ground by a slave labor force in china), while wearing your gap clothes (that were made in sweatshops fyi). Its sad to me that you dont realize that you and people like you are responsible for more of the problems our planet faces than a hunter who, in order to get a super slam, has spent more money for conservation, and spent more time in the great outdoors doing what god designed us to do than you ever will.

    So please do us all a favor and stick to blogging about the new style of berkenstoks, or how the bridge and tunnel crowd ruined your last weekend, and leave discussions about hunting to those of us who arent ashamed of what we are, or in denial about our role on this planet.

  13. Hmm, it’s been a while since I checked the comments on this post and I see I haven’t missed anything. Just looking at the last one: the transparent silliness of the commenter’s argument speaks for itself (paraphrased: “there will be some suffering no matter what you do so there’s no point trying to cause less”) but his tiresome, ad hominem assault is almost interesting in spite of itself. He clearly wishes desperately to be regarded as a “real” hunter and that desperation leads him to launch these attacks. It also makes me think he is likely not from a rural background (most rural folk don’t feel like they have anything to prove on that front). Since urban people generally tend to own their upbringing proudly, my guess is that he is from the suburbs, and grew up going on expensive hunting trips with daddy. He wants badly for all that to give him the credibility he seeks but sadly. . . It just makes him the type of guy who posts semi-literate rants that have little to do with the subject matter.

  14. David, I commend your ability to write with such passion and outstanding use of the English language. Your knowledge; however, is rather limited and quite biased. The human race was put here as the top of the food chain, hence the opposable thumbs and ability to reason. A balance is entirely about management. You have to have a good and healthy mix of hunters and gatherers or there is a risk that the ecosystem will collapse until corrected (note the highlands of Scotland where there have been no moose for over 2000 yrs. and heather and other invasive plant species cause havoc amongst the hillsides). I ask you this, what is the difference between trying to achieve the perfect apple tree and attempting to harvest a trophy animal? Nothing. In both matters, you are reaching for the goal of perfection. Whether you are harvesting apples or animals, you are trying to ensure that you only harvest the best. This allows those of lesser quality to come into their own and hopefully move up the ranks of inferior to superior, otherwise, they’ll be culled from the herd by the natural order of things. Kindly keep in mind, P & Y is a powerful force in assisting hunters to remember the reason why they hunt. It is to kill and to do so in the most humane and ethical way possible. All of the animals taken in the Super Slam were done so in an honorable method and not just for sheer sport but in a way that our ancestors have carried out for thousands of years. There is a saying that couldn’t be more true… Any animal taken with your bow is a trophy. Try it sometime, I dare say that it is addictive and absolutely more rewarding than rifle hunt.

  15. Again, it’s been a while since I’ve visited here and what do I find? Apparently, my knowledge is limited and biased b/c I don’t think killing for fun is the same thing as growing apple trees. Thanks for the heads up, Kate.

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