By: Bert Rico
I had an interesting interaction this week that really shaped this week’s blog. I asked neighbors on an app we all use to stay in communication with each other to look at my website and blog and give me their honest opinion and something incredible happened. A debate happened before my eyes between avid and ardent hunters and ardent anti-hunters and even some in the middle who support hunting but refuse to hunt themselves. This got me thinking. Why do I hunt really? It’s the most common question we are asked and it’s always asked in varied intonations and with varying agendas. Some are genuinely curious, and perhaps have fantasized about hunting one day themselves. Others are aimed with pointed accuracy and have the weight of a thousand elephants in the room. I do my best to answer both as honestly and unabashedly as possible, but it is a tough one to answer. It seems strange how something I feel so passionately about could be so difficult to answer. As I ponder it though, I think the reason it is so difficult is because there is not just one answer to that question.
I have been known to spout off the benefits of conservation, which I absolutely believe in and feel that our North American model of conservation is the best in the world, but that is a justification and not a reason. I have said that the animals live a better life in the wild before they are hunted than they ever would in a ranch or farm. Again, another justification. I can even say it is the most natural, organic, and pure way to feed my family, but that feels more like a rationalization. As I thought about it I realize that why we hunt as a community is difficult to define because it is so heavily based on emotion and that emotion is so different from one hunter to the next. Similarly, our ethics on hunting are so varied as a community for the same exact reason. If you ever want to see a hot and heavy debate, ask hunters about their hunting ethics.
Also, as we do as an individual, our ethics evolve as we grow and gain more experience. I have solely been a rifle hunter since I started. I would feel unethical if I tried to hunt with a bow today without practice or training. The risk of an errant shot wounding an animal would be too high for me to feel comfortable. I do know bowhunters who have a set number of repetitions a day that they do for practice which increases as the season gets closer. They can comfortably and confidently take a 50 to 70 yard shot with minimal risk of mistakes.
Now, before I attempt to explain my true reason for hunting, I do still believe that the benefits of hunting on conservation are too important to not discuss. One of the biggest arguments given against hunting is that meat is now readily available in neatly packaged in supermarkets. While true, and I won’t get into how that meat got there in the first place as that topic has been beaten to death (pardon the pun) by documentaries like Food Inc.*, it is important to discuss the role hunting plays in managing Deer populations. The Nature Conservancy performed a study that proved that overfeeding by an overpopulation of whitetail deer have directly impacted the local ecosystem by lowering forest productivity significantly and asserting the dominance of the non-preferred white spruce**. There were also notable impacts on other wildlife such as a decline in the numbers of forest songbirds. These effects are most notable in areas east of the Mississippi, where coincidentally there are fewer hunters than out west. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service also performed a study that shows that the number of hunters today is about 5% of the population in the United States. That’s down from 9% in 2001 and 15% in 1996.*** Hunter decline coincides with this growth in population. The north American model of conservation is still the only one of its kind in the world and is proven to be successful in managing wildlife and maintaining the delicate balance of our public lands. The numbers continue to show its efficacy. In 1950 there were only 12,000 pronghorn, the “American antelope” and only surviving member of its family in the world, today there are more than 1.1 million. Also, whitetail deer which is perhaps the most hunted animal in the country were at 500,000 in 1900 and today there are 32 million.**** Those statistics go on and on, proving with numbers that the model is proven and successful.
If I am really being honest with myself, that isn’t why I hunt. I learned all of that after my first hunt. I hunt because it makes me feel connected to something I think we lost as a society. It’s not this innate “bloodthirst” I am trying to quench which is usually thrown around as a disparaging way to describe hunters, nothing even remotely in that realm. It’s a connection to the natural order of things. It’s a connection I feel with varied degrees of intensity, and that I feel whether I am successful or not. It’s a connection you feel just sitting out in the woods watching the flora and fauna go about the business of life. No technology, no cars, cell phones, urgent emails, back to back meetings, but just… life.
When reading this explanation as words on a screen, I realize it is as difficult to comprehend as it is to describe. There are those reading though, who are hunters and can fully understand the emotion that washes over you. The emotion that ebbs and flows in ups and downs throughout your hunt. It’s not about pulling the trigger. It’s not the taking of a life. It’s not even about the meat. It’s about all of that as well as this invisible connection you can’t explain but can only experience.
What are your hunting ethics and thoughts on how hunting impacts conservation? Leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you. You can also sign up for our newsletter in the footing so I can keep you updated on future blog posts.
* Food Inc. can be streamed on Hulu at https://www.hulu.com/movie/food-inc-1beef04f-564c-444f-bcc2-a483eb610975.** A. Pursell (August 22, 2013) Too Many Deer: A Bigger Threat to Eastern Forests than Climate Change? retrieved from: https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/*** Scientific American (November 10, 2009) Does Hunting Help or Hurt the Environment? Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-hunting/**** Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. 25 Reasons Why Hunting is Conservation. Retrieved from: http://www.rmef.org/conservation/huntingisconservation/25reasonswhyhuntingisconservation.aspx