Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the "Sport" of Hunting

Cross-posted at "Women On..."

This morning, I left for work just after dawn. I poked my head out my front door, and was greeted by the staccato pop! pop! pop! of shotgun fire from across the channel: Sportsmen taking potshots into the great flocks of game birds wintering in the wetlands on and surrounding Sauvie Island. That sound never fails to grip my heart and squeeze.

I hate guns.

My dad owned a pair of pistols and a rifle. They weren’t loaded, they weren’t kept at the ready in case some hoodlum broke into the house in the middle of the night intent on murdering us in our beds. In fact, the pistols were locked up in a metal strongbox.

Dad was brought up with guns; he grew up in a small town in Oregon where guns and hunting were part of the culture. He spoke proudly of earning enough money on his paper route to buy his first rifle when he was twelve years old. He treasured his guns as a connection to his roots, a memento of a time and place far away and fondly remembered.

But he respected their potential to create mayhem in the wrong hands…knew they really had no place in the sleepy, mid-century exurbs of Chicago. Dad’s guns lived in the back corner of my parents’ bedroom closet. We girls were sternly threatened never, ever to touch, look at, or interact with those guns in any way. Ever. So sternly that I don’t remember even being tempted to burrow into their hiding place to look at them. So began my hate affair with guns.

I’m no longer that frightened little girl, totally cowed by the demonic presence hiding in the dark reaches of my parents’ closet. But even in adulthood I have not acquired any love for or acceptance of the role of firearms in 21st century society. “Guns don’t kill. People kill.” Small comfort, really, when you think about it.

Today, with the sound of shotgun fire echoing in my ears, I wondered about mankind’s fascination with guns. And with killing.

We kill the animals over which, our religious tradition tells us, we were given dominion. We kill each other. For the hell of it.

What is wrong with us? Why must we kill? Why are we the only species on earth that has constructed such an elaborate ritual around the senseless killing of other animals? We call it “hunting.” We do it for sport. Not because we need the food. Not because these animals are capable of, or interested in, killing us if we don’t kill them. They don’t come looking for us. We take it to them.

We kill because we can. Because we want to. Because it gives us some kind of perverted feeling of power.

How sick is that?

Fall is my favorite time of year to walk on the dike. I go to see those stunningly huge flocks of birds flying in shifting waves across the marshes to the island. I go to hear their chaotic barking and honking. That sound always stirs up something wild and restless in me.

And when I think of some idiot dressed in camo with his designer dog at his heel, pointing a blunderbuss into those great wild flocks and blowing the life out of bird after bird for sport…for the fun of it…

I wonder where to hand in my resignation from this race that is truly beyond hope.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Question: Are you a vegetarian? Do you oppose all killing of animals?

I'm a meat eater, and I hunt. I suppose you could say I don't "have to" hunt to get the meat in my diet. But to all the non-hunting meat eaters out there, I say you don't "have to" buy shrink-wrapped meat at the grocery store, devoid of flavor because it was raised on unnatural food, contaminated with bacteria because the animal was slaughtered and processed in disgusting conditions, filled with hormones and antibiotics because that's the only way you can raise commercial meat animals on a large scale.

And yes, I enjoy hunting, but not for the bloodlust reason so many non-hunters assume - and it is such a shame that assumption is out there, because it's just wrong.

Hunting is a joy because reunites us with nature - not as a viewer of a TV program, not as an observer perched on a hiking trail, but as a full-on participant in the cycle of life. Hunting reminds us that life sustains life, period. All life on earth needs the flesh of plants and/or animals to sustain itself.

Hunting imbues us with respect for animals - we quietly mourn the lives we take, we tip our hats to those that are wily enough to elude us (and they are many), and we do our best to ensure the health of species overall.

I'm sorry it upsets you to know animals are being killed out there. The kill makes me wince too.

And I'm sure it's no consolation to you to know that the primary reason we have as many wetlands in America as we do is that hunters have devoted millions of hours and dollars to maintaining and restoring habitat. Unfortunately, most environmental organizations put their dollars into lawsuits and lobbying - helpful, yes, but herons can't nest in a courtroom.

I know not all hunters are thoughtful - there are some real troglodytes out there. But the vast majority of us are not the stereotype you've bought into - despite the fact that we all wear that same uniform. The clothing just comes with the territory.

Lisa :-] said...


I conclude by reading your profile that you are not the typical American hunter. I'm glad you've put so much thought into making a case for what you do, if not necessarily into the act itself...

I am not a vegetarian, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that hunting one's own meat might well be preferable to consuming the offerings available at the local market.

But while you claim that I've bought into some kind of stereotype of the troglodyte hunter, I will respond by saying that the typical guy in camo stumbling around in the woods shooting at anything that moves has not spent as much time analyzing what he does as you did just posting this comment. And please don't tell me that those guys are the minority...

I'm sure there are hunters out there who find something very spiritual about the experience. THAT is as it should be.

But do not insult non-hunters by claiming that hunters have some kind of lock on "reuniting with nature." I can be--and am- spiritually connected with the natural world without feeling the compulsion to go out into the woods and kill something.

You make a very eloquent case...but you do lose a bit of credibility when you cite that feeble fallback position that hunters pour tons of money into wildlife preservation. That is the first "justification" that dedicated hunters come up with--that THEY pay to preserve the wildlife. Following that logic, every car owner in the country could brag that they pay to maintain highways and control litter.

If you told me you were donating thousands to organiztions like "Ducks Unlimited" above and beyond what you pay in license and permit fees, you might have some credibility. I strongly suspect that if most hunters didn't have to pay for licenses, they wouldn't pony up voluntarily to preserve wildlife habitat.

When I first posted this entry, no one commented for the longest time. It was like I was breaking some kind of sacred trust. There are a huge number of people in this country who value hunting as a tradition, as a right, as something their family has always done and by god they're just going to keep on doing it because they can... But the fact of the matter is, people who go out into the woods to shoot at things go because they WANT to. Not because they need to do that to survive. It's entertainment. It's sport. It's elective.

And, in my opinion, it is more than slightly...sick.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good response, Lisa. But:

There's a reason I don't respond first with the conservation spending argument - because I know it does nothing to mitigate concerns about wanton killing. But it is important. Most of the wetlands I see would not be here were it not for hunters. And yes, I easily drop $1,000 a year into California Waterfowl's pockets, and because I can't give more, I donate thousands of dollars worth of volunteer service as well.

And I can't deny what kind of hunters you've come across, because that's your experience. All I can talk about is the hunters I come across, which I've done honestly here. It is my experience, and it cannot be denied. Perhaps we live in different worlds; perhaps it's just that I actually talk to a lot of hunters and participate in a lot of hunting forums, so I know the conversations that run between them and the thoughts that go through their heads. Most don't articulate the feelings I do, but then again, most aren't writers. I can tell you that a hell of a lot of them read what I write and say, "Wow, that's exactly what I've felt." If I didn't have these interactions with them, I know it would be very easy to judge them differently. Most people aren't as awful as first impressions would have you think.

In terms of enjoying nature, please note that I did not say you have to hunt to connect with it. But as someone who just started hunting two years ago - making the experience of hunting a vivid change in my life, rather than something I grew up with - I can tell you that a nature walk or photography - the two favorite proposed alternatives of people who oppose hunting - are not close to the same. For me, interaction with nature on this level will always provide a deeper connection than walking through it.

I would never propose that everyone hunt, because many people - particularly women - don't have the stomach for the kill. As a meat eater, though, I've concluded that it's the only honest and responsible way for me to partake of this diet.

I guess my big fault is I get a little tired of all those callous dirtbags stumbling through the grocery store tossing shrinkwrapped packages of meat into their carts without so much as a single thought about the life of the animal that the meat once was, or the sobering act it took to get that meat on the polystyrene tray. Not because they have to, but because they've chosen to abdicate responsibility and concern for their dietary choices. It's elective.

Remo said...

Since this is my first visit here, I'll just add my vote for responsible hunting as a legitimate means to control indigenous populations of animals. Most hunters ARE responsible stewards of the outdoors and people (such as yourself) will never be dissuaded from their own perceptions, regardless of our actions or intentions. I must also state that a single elk can provide a family of four with enough meat to last six months; meat that is free of antibiotics and hasn't been dipped in disinfectant and re-packaged to make sure it sells in the meat case.
On a lighter note - I enjoy your writing.

Tressa Bailey said...

Lord I hate commenting after writers who have such command over prose.

Remo and Norcal are right about why I buy meat in the supermarket. I really don't want to think about it. However, I certainly do understand it. As you know Lisa, my family is Native American and we do things differently. We use nearly every scrap of every animal that is killed and what little is left is buried to renurture the Earth that once nurtured it.

The guys are also right about the attitudes of the hunters they have come in contact with. I would venture to guess that they have come in contact with rural hunters and that what you may be experiencing is city-boys trying to prove themselves with some weekend unskilled and unnecessary murder. There is a difference in the upbringing of the boys to men. Most of the hunters I know are the rural kind, but I've known a few of the others too... I only wish the animals could shoot back.

I hope I didn't ramble too much...but the truth is, in some areas, if we didn't have hunters, the animals would starve to death. That is a much slower and more painful way to die than a well placed arrow or bullet.

As for me, I can't kill. It just isn't in me.