Tuesday, March 07, 2006

On Hunting

My last post got me thinking.

The whole hunting issue is divided into two camps. People who love hunting and will defend every part of it, even if it’s wrong, and the anti-hunters, who think killing ANY animal is wrong and a crime against nature.

Basically, it’s a loaded issue (Please pardon the pun). Both sides tend to be extreme in their views, and there’s very little  middle ground.

I think I have a rather unique perspective on this, in that I come from England, a gun-free country, and to be honest, I USED to think that hunters where indeed cruel, trigger happy maniacs. Then I moved to America, in fact, the SOUTH of America, where hunting is an extremely popular sport. I listened, I learned, I changed my mind.

If you’re either pro or anti-hunting, read the following with an open mind, you might find it interesting.

The first and most common misconception about hunting, and one that I used to hold myself, is that hunters kill animals purely for pleasure or for the trophy. I learned later that most hunters actually eat what they hunt. Yes, they may mount the deer head on the wall, but they eat the rest.

This made me think. I’m a meat eater, and if hunters actually eat their kill, for me to be anti-hunting would be hypocritical. What’s the difference between a hunter killing a deer and eating it, and me buying venison cutlets at the supermarket?  

When your meat comes in pre-butchered, shrink-wrapped packages from the supermarket, it’s not too difficult to forget that that package of prime rib used to stand in a field and moo.

I thought a little more, and now I believe that there’s a case to be made that hunting is actually less cruel to the animal than it is to breed cattle.

Think of it this way. A deer lives a perfectly normal life, but for a few months out of the year is in danger of being shot and killed by hunters. It spends its life out in the woods, doing what deer do, and there’s a chance that one day, it will be given a quick death from a bullet. (To be as fair as possible, a hunter may miss and only wound an animal, leading to a slow death, but accidents can happen in abattoirs as well.)

Cattle, on the other hand, are bred and raised in captivity. In the case of veal, raised its entire life in a small cage and force-fed corn. Cattle spend their entire life in a cage, then are loaded into a truck, taken into a slaughterhouse and given a bolt through the brain.

I’d have difficulty stating that hunted animals are better off than cattle, but it’s a close run thing.

The other majoy point made by anti-hunters is the unrealistic notion that all animals should be left alone to ‘run free’.

The truth is, however, that we humans are also animals, and are also part of the food chain. The food chain helps to balance nature, it’s NECESSARY that we hunt or kill other animals. That sounds like a ridiculous statement, so let me explain.

I had a conversation once where a woman, who shall remain nameless, was shocked and appalled that hunting was allowed on a nearby nature ‘sanctuary’.  I tried to explain.

A sanctuary means that there are no natural predators, meaning that the animals that live there don’t have to worry about being attacked. It sounds nice, in a Disney like way. Bambi’s mother wouldn’t have been shot and lived a full and happy life with her son.

Unfortunately, no natural predators means one thing : Population explosion.

So the animals reproduce, and all the offspring survive. Within a few generations the number of animals far outstrips the food supply, and this leads to mass starvation.

So then you have to ask yourself, what’s the more humane option?

Hunters are given a limit of how many animals they can kill. This is simply to stop a species from being hunted to extinction, while ensuring the numbers stay at a manageable level. So the choice boils down to a pre-determined number of animals being dispatched with a humane bullet, or allowing thousands of animals to slowly starve to death.

There are also hundreds of other reasons why I could say hunting is a good thing for the environment, but you’ve probably heard them all before, and I don’t want to bang on for 50,000 words.

Of course, there are bad things to say about hunting as well.

For example, I don’t agree with hunting that is just for the trophy, or hunting species that are endangered or potentially endangered. For example, hunting lions or bear hunting.

I also think hunting should be fair. For example, many hunters choose to hunt bear by setting up an area filled with food. Bears are attracted to the food, and you shoot them when they approach. Where is the sport in that?

The main downside, however, is there are hunters who simply shouldn’t be let anywhere near a hunting rifle. This comes down to hunting ‘ethics’, which summed up as simply as possible is that hunting should be fair and you should cause the animal as little pain as possible.

Like I mentioned in my last post, if I’m shooting the groundhogs that destroy the railroad embankment behind my house, I only pull the trigger if I’m as certain as possible that I can kill it with my first shot.

A good hunter knows how good he is with his rifle. He’s technically proficient enough to know where the bullet will land over a specific distance. He knows his limits.

For example, I make sure that my rifle scope is ‘zeroed’ for the distance I’m shooting at (This means the bullet will land at the center of the crosshair at a particular distance, and not above, below or to the side), and know my own limits. Basically, I know I can place a bullet within a one and a half inch circle at 100 yards. This means that I will only shoot at a living creature up to 100 yards, or very slightly beyond.

Of course, not everyone is this sensible. There are numerous horror stories of people turning up at a hunting camp without first sighting in their rifles, or attempting shots at three hundred yards, when they have no business shooting at more than 50.

The downside to this is that rather than kill an animal, they wound them. Best case, this means an animal is hit in a non-critical area, and slowly bleeds to death, or an animal is given a superficial wound that gets infected and kills the animal over a period of months.

The ‘rules’ of hunting are simple, but not everyone chooses to follow them.

I think I can best sum up my argument as this:

Hunters are a largely misunderstood group of people. Hunting isn’t perfect, and isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t the evil most people assume it to be.


Miz S said...

Ah....You have listened and learned well, Grasshopper.

Well done!!!

MC Etcher said...

If a nature sanctuary were properly designed, it would include predators, wouldn't it? Predators other than humans, I mean.

Don't misunderstand me - I love meat.

mistyforeverlost said...

How can it be a sanctuary if there were predators?

Then again, my house is classified a sancuary and someone keeps letting children in.

Great post btw--says the one who banned the dead dear head from the living room in favor of more grown up decor.

(I linked to Sunny and she sent me here)