Tuesday, January 04, 2011 2:15 PM
In a recent post, Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman highlighted the increasingly popular occurrence of “canned hunts,” a pay-to-shoot experience, where hunters kill tame animals in enclosed areas. The practice is disturbing to anyone who knows hunters who have respect for the act of hunting and for the animals they kill. Writing for Vermont’s Local Banquet, Robert F. Smith counts himself among such hunters. His exploration into why he hunts is reverent and voices like his are important when you see videos like the one Keith posted, where pseudo-hunters get some sort of thrill out of killing what amount to large pets. “[W]hy hunt?” Smith asks,
Hunting is often portrayed as barbaric and cruel, and hunters are presented as ignorant yahoos with a blood lust… . Some of the televised hunting shows do little to help that image, with their canned hunts on fenced-in game ranches where hunters are driven to a stand and then pick and shoot one of dozens of trophy bucks that are drawn in to special feeding stations. I don’t know that kind of hunting… .
A hunter taps into the very core of what we are as a species. We’re the product of 2 million years of evolution as a genus, a branch off the australopithicenes, and about 400,000 years as the distinct species homo sapiens. We evolved as hunters, and have become the most effective, most adaptable and successful predators on the planet.
Hunters like Smith are of the type I grew up with, so his logic and reasoning are familiar to me. He does take the discussion a step further, though, arguing that the hunter/gatherer system that predated agriculture led to equality, while the farms and labor it takes to keep them up has led us to the class system we find today:
Hunting a deer or antelope or harvesting wild berries or nuts is only a few hours of intensive work for several days’ worth of food, while raising, feeding, watering, and protecting a herd of sheep or goats, or planting, cultivating, and harvesting a field of grain, is unending labor. While the tribal system of hunter/gatherers led to equality and leisure time, agriculture brought in slavery, religion, caste and class systems, and the plight of poor peasants and field workers that continues today around the world.
Ultimately, though, the answer to the question “Why hunt” is elemental for Smith. It’s who we are; it’s part of what makes us human: “Hunting is an ancient dance as old as life itself, written into the very core of what we are as humans.”
Source: Vermont’s Local Banquet
Image by Benimoto, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:04 PM
If hunting is largely about the thrill of the chase, “canned hunts” don’t offer much opportunity for thrill: In these increasingly popular pay-to-shoot events, hunters kill tame or semi-tame animals that have been put in enclosures. Audubon columnist Ted Williams describes the phenomenon in “Real Hunters Don’t Shoot Pets” in the magazine’s November-December issue:
Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the [game farm] proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage.
Canned hunts are hardly new. Williams first wrote about them for Audubon in 1992, but he notes that they have grown more popular, and their critics increasingly include not just animal-rights advocates but also ethical hunters who consider fair chase essential to the sport and its reputation.
Because the general public has scant understanding of canned hunting, it frequently doesn’t differentiate it from real hunting. “If we don’t protect our image, we may not have a heritage,” says the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s treasurer and board member, Kent Ingram, a leader in the recent well-fought but failed battle to ban canned hunts in the state.
Other states have banned them, namely Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. In 2009, Vermont and Tennessee banned new canned mammal hunts but allowed existing ones to keep operating. In November, North Dakotans voted down a proposed law to ban canned mammal hunts.
Of course, bans without firm enforcement and prosecution don’t mean much, as one Minnesota incident demonstrates. Troy Gentry of the country duo Montgomery Gentry shot a docile captive bear named Cubby at the Minnesota Wildlife Connection game farm in 2004, and as the online activist platform Change.org reports:
Gentry was charged with a felony but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of falsely registering the tag from the hunt. He was fined $15,000 and not allowed to hunt in Minnesota for five years. The taxidermied body of Cubby and the bow used to kill Cubby were taken from Gentry.
This isn’t the first time Minnesota Wildlife Connection’s owner Lee Greenly has been in trouble with the law. He has several previous felony charges for wildlife-related crimes under his belt, but avoided convictions. For his role in Cubby’s death, Greenly pleaded guilty to two felony charges—yet somehow walked away with only probation.
To see what canned hunting looks like, check out the following two-part video of Gentry’s bear kill. It was posted on YouTube last month after being obtained by the animal-rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness in a three-year lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The narrator’s snide tone is understandable but unnecessary, since the images pretty clearly speak for themselves:
Friday, May 14, 2010 10:56 AM
The 1921 Russian novel Dersu the Trapper “is one of the earliest and most powerfully realized examples of environmentally conscious thought in popular literature,” writes Patrick Evans in Resurgence magazine. The book by Vladimir Arsen’ev became a hit upon its publication, enthralling readers with its purportedly true story of a deep nature-based friendship between Dersu, a hunter and trapper, and Arsen’ev, an army captain:
In the story, the persona of the captain is initially placed firmly in the acquisitive “hunting” tradition of shooting wild game, exploiting wild land for the greater good of the empire, and subjugating the natives to imperial command; yet Dersu’s knowledge of the wild forests is so rich that soon the captain in forced to see things differently. Slowly, the soldier relinquishes his killing instinct, only allowing himself and his men to shoot what they can reasonably eat. Increasingly, he spends his time observing nature and soon he begins to despise the advance of civilization into wild areas, seeing it as highly destructive.
The story has held its power over the decades, and was even made into an Oscar-winning film, Dersu Uzala, in 1975 by legendary director Akira Kurosawa. “Today it survives in thirty languages,” writes Evans, “yet outside Russia it remains largely and puzzlingly unknown.”
I read Dersu about a decade ago, after a hardcover English version was published in 1996 by MacPherson & Co. (it remains in print). I was immediately drawn in by the storyline and the vivid descriptions of life on the Russian taiga, but was even more intrigued by the environmental ethic at the core of the tale, especially since “environmentalism” and “Russia” are not typically associated in my mind. Evans is certain that the book still has wisdom to share:
It speaks of a place most of us will never visit, in a language now outmoded. Yet it is time that a new English-speaking readership evolved to champion a long lost but never fully extinguished cause.
Watch the trailer for Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala here:
Source: Resurgence (article not available online)
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 11:56 AM
If that photo of a snow leopard looks just too perfect to be natural, it probably isn’t, Ted Williams writes in Audubon magazine. Many wildlife photographs, he reports, are now taken at game farms where captive animals are basically hired out as models; that’s even what the industry calls them.
Williams visits one such operation, the Triple D in Montana, which has wolves, cougars, and snow leopards among its talent. While he praises Triple D’s owners for treating its animals well, the muckraking author of Audubon’s “Incite” column nonetheless questions the underlying premise of their enterprise:
Images of Triple D’s snow leopards are proliferating like Internet pop-ups. In 2008 one even received first place in the “nature” category of National Geographic’s International Photography Contest. Animals like snow leopards are in desperate trouble, but why should people believe this when they see sleek, healthy snow leopards every time they walk into a bookstore or open a “wildlife” calendar?
Not all game farms are as ethical as Triple D. Williams notes that life is “hard and brief” for many captive animals, and some of the operations illegally traffic in endangered wildlife. Moreover, plenty of farm operators are happy to conceal the conceit that photographs of their animals are being passed off as amazing shots from the wild.
For publications that feature wildlife photography, the phenomenon means wrestling with ethical issues—or not. Williams cites hunting and fishing magazines, a.k.a. “the vast hook-and-bullet press,” as eager and shameless traffickers in nature fakery:
Battery acid is splashed on captive fish to make them leap frantically. I talked to one genuine wildlife photographer who has quit submitting deer photos to hook-and-bullet publications because he can’t compete with all the photographers who rent or own penned deer bred for freakishly large antlers. One such mutation, appearing on the covers of countless hunting rags, had four owners, the last of which bought him for $150,000. For years the ancient beast was kept on life support with medications and surgeries.
Many other publications that cover wildlife and wish to keep their natural cred—among them Audubon, Sierra, Natural History, Smithsonian, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife, and a more careful National Geographic—either don’t use captive shots or clearly identify them when they do. To Williams’ credit, he acknowledges that even Audubon has a checkered past, quoting former editor Les Line: “The earliest issues of Audubon [circa 1903] tried to pass of photographs of stuffed birds as live ones. That’s minor compared to what’s been happening since.”
The print edition of the March-April Audubon shows a photo of a captive Arctic fox that almost fooled Audubon’s now-wary photo editors, who considered publishing it last year. Among the giveaways in this “anatomy of a fake”: The creature is much heavier than a wild fox and has that “just-shampooed look.”
Image by MacJewell, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 18, 2009 10:52 AM
To many non-hunters, hunting is a mysterious and macabre pastime, and the mere sight of a camouflage-clad individual carrying a gun brings to mind all sorts of unpleasant associations. But even among the urban-based, sustainable-eating, co-op-shopping crowd there’s an increasing awareness that hunting can be local, sustainable, and humane—certainly more so than eating a domesticated animal raised in a crowded barn, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and killed assembly-line style in a slaughterhouse. If you’re going to eat meat, the thinking goes, at least kill and butcher the animal yourself after it’s lived a natural life in the wild.
So I was intrigued to come across an interview in Sierra Sportsmen with a hunter who defies many hunter stereotypes and addresses these sorts of issues head-on. Holly Heyser is a Northern California-based writer who blogs as NorCal Cazadora and writes for some of the Utne Reader staff’s favorite foodie mags, including The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, and Meatpaper. (Coincidentally, she’s also an ex-editor at a newspaper where I once worked, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.) Her blog is a mixture of hunting stories, gear reviews, and intelligently opinionated commentary, and this excerpt from the Sierra Sportsmen interview offers a glimpse into the world of this self-described “huntress”:
What do you think women bring to the “traditional” world of hunting?
A lot. One of the most important things right now is credibility. Hunting’s biggest problem right now is that the non-hunting public doesn’t know much about hunting, and has terrible stereotypes of hunters—like we’re all drunken, lawless poachers who go on shooting rampages in the forest, cut off trophy heads and leave the rest behind to rot. Like all stereotypes, this one obviously has real-life examples, but it does not represent who we are. I live in a world of non-hunters—journalists and university professors—and when I tell people I hunt, their first question is almost always, “Do you eat what you kill?” Well, no shit, Sherlock. Do you think I’m going to spend eight hours shivering in a marsh to bring down a few ducks and not eat them? …
So why are women important? Here's why: It’s easy to stereotype a male hunter, because once he’s in his camo, you can’t tell if he’s an insurance executive or an unemployed alcoholic. But when you see a woman out there in the field, it’s immediately difficult to categorize her, because she doesn’t fit the mold. Women are nurturing. Can you imagine a woman going on a shooting rampage in the forest and leaving everything but the racks to rot? No way! In fact, research by Responsive Management in Virginia shows that meat is the No. 1 reason women hunt, and hunting for meat has the highest level of acceptance by the general public.
This stereotyping issue is obviously unfair to men, but it presents a great opportunity for women hunters to be positive ambassadors to the non-hunting world.
Another thing women bring to hunting is our style of relating to one another. When I hunt with men, they’ll always rib each other for missing shots. When I hunt with women, we really cheer on each other’s good shots, and we coo soothingly about the missed shots. “Oh, that was a tough one—I don’t think I could’ve gotten that.” …
What are some of the things you learned about yourself while hunting?
The first thing I learned is that all that play I did as a child had purpose. When I was a kid, we lived on five acres near an irrigation ditch in the San Joaquin Valley, and I would spend my free time prowling around the property, examining plants and animals, hiding, seeing how close animals would get to me if they couldn’t see me. The very first thing I thought when I started hunting was, “Wow, this is just like play!” Not that taking animals’ lives is a game, but that my play as a child had a purpose, just like it does with puppies and kittens. This is what I’m wired to do.
I’ve also become much more aware of the food chain, and my place in it. On that five-acre farm, my family raised animals for meat, so I was no stranger to slaughtering and butchering, but going out and doing it myself makes it much more real. I actually eat less meat now than I ever have, and I never, ever waste it. I have so much respect for it. And I also see animals much more as equals. Anti-hunters think we’re animal haters, but we’re really not.
Being an active participant in the food chain makes me understand we are all equal occupants of this earth. Before I started hunting, I never apologized to a hamburger, but I almost always apologize now to the animals I’ve shot, and I express gratitude for the sustenance they give me. Vegans have told me that this is a sign of my guilt and I should just stop eating meat, but I disagree with that because I accept that I’m an omnivore whose body needs meat. What it really is is a sign of my respect for the life around me, and a reflection of my understanding that killing should never be taken lightly.
Read the full interview here.
Sources: Sierra Sportsmen, NorCal Cazadora
Image courtesy of Holly Heyser, © Holly A. Heyser 2009.
Monday, July 27, 2009 4:04 PM
You’ve probably heard about Alaska ex-governor Sarah Palin’s support for aerial wolf and bear hunts—and along with it the conventional wisdom that she was simply doing what gun-totin’, predator-hatin’ Alaskans wanted. In the July-August issue of Audubon, contentious veteran columnist Ted Williams deflates this notion, noting that Palin’s brand of predator control was guided more by an anti-science stance and pressure from the trophy hunting industry than by the will of Alaskans.
In making his case, Williams notes the natural resistance of Alaskans to opinions from “away,” but talks to several well-informed Alaskans who hunt, fish, and consider Palin’s wildlife management ideas to be ill-founded at best. For instance, here’s Mark Richards, co-chair of the Alaska chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers:
“Never has political meddling been so blatant and detrimental to the future of our system of wildlife management as it is under the Palin administration. I have a letter from Palin shortly after she took office, claiming she wanted to manage wildlife based on sound science. It’s complete bullshit. What she is doing is not even close to science or sound management.”
Williams surely would have been cheered to know as he wrote his column that Palin would soon resign. Unfortunately, it will take Alaska longer to roll back her predator policies than it took her to derail the McCain campaign.
Image by peupleloup, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 20, 2009 8:26 AM
If there can be such a thing as an artisan octopus killer, Jack Whitten is it. In an essay for the quarterly Art Lies, he starts with a lesson in evolution:
“Millions of years ago the octopus had a shell, but they lost it. Since then, the octopus is always looking for a home. They occupy the abandoned shells of other sea creatures, cans and car tires or make their own houses, which I call ‘octopus architecture.’”
From there it’s an experts guide to hunting the “Houdini of the sea” where it hides: “They are addicted to the color white, like a bull is to red,” explains Whitten. “They can’t control themselves. Thus, I always keep a white handkerchief tucked into my wetsuit, which I use to seduce them from their lair.”
Once he’s done that, well, you really ought to just read Whitten’s essay. Here are the crib notes: stab or bite the nerve between the eyes; don’t lose your cool in the cloud of squid ink; and beat your catch at least 100 times against a rock to tenderize the flesh.
Whitten is ruthless. He closes out his piece with this chest-beater of a boast: “I remember once finding two octopuses locked in mortal combat. They were literally eating each other. I caught and ate them both.”
Source: Art Lies
Image by Stuart Horodner.
Monday, November 10, 2008 1:00 PM
The NRA came out forcefully against Barack Obama during the campaign, warning its members that he would be “the most anti-gun president in American history.” And though the group's endorsement of Obama’s Republican rival was criticized by some gun rights and conservation advocates in the hunting community (as we blogged about a couple months ago), Obama clearly took the threat of the NRA’s vitriol seriously, going out of his way to reassure voters that he didn’t plan to strip them of their firearms.
But recent infighting among gun owners shows many vocal Second Amendment supporters remain unconvinced. Dan Cooper, co-founder of Cooper Firearms of Montana, was forced to resign from his post as the company’s president when word leaked that he was an Obama supporter, a scandalous revelation that “led to calls on pro-gun Web sites to boycott the company's products,” according to Real Clear Politics.
Cooper told USA Today that he had voted for only Republican presidential candidates since Nixon, but would be crossing the aisle this year because of the war and what he saw as the Republican Party’s shift to the far right.
Like Cooper, most in the firearms community have been voting consistently Republican for some time, a reality that Hal Herring says should make Democrats consider abandoning gun control. In an article for High Country News, Herring writes:
Single-issue gun-rights voters are especially destructive when it comes to environmental issues. Year after year, Republican politicians swear allegiance to the Second Amendment, an act that costs them nothing, but guarantees the gun vote. Then they support measures to exploit, degrade, and even sell off the public lands and waters that hunters and fishermen depend on. Neither the NRA nor the gun voters themselves do anything to protest this. The gun vote has gone to anti-environment politicians for so long now that millions of non-hunting American no longer associate hunters with conservation, despite the fact that sportsmen have painstakingly restored wildlife and habitat, rivers and lands, with their gun and ammunition tax dollars, their license fees and waterfowl stamps. This will eventually backfire on gun owners — and on conservationists. In a society increasingly disconnected from nature and hunting, with places to shoot growing increasingly scarce, fewer citizens grow up in a traditional gun culture. That means fewer hunters will fund assets like the Federal Wildlife Refuge system, and fewer shooters will respond to future, inevitable challenges to the Second Amendment.
It is not too late for a new vision, one as unique as the nation itself. If the Democratic Party would recognize the Second Amendment as the Supreme Court has interpreted it in the Heller decision, and reassure gun voters that the years of backdoor maneuvers to promote gun control are over, the Republican deadlock on the gun vote could eventually be broken. It seems a small price for the Democrats to pay. All they have to do is recognize the Constitution.
Photo by Marion Doss, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 29, 2008 4:16 PM
When it comes to conservation, all gun rights advocates are not created equal. And according to Pat Wray at High Country News, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is the worst of the worst.
Wray, a life member of the NRA, is running for the organization’s board of directors to try to change that. Wray is a hunter who wants his right to bear arms protected, but he also wants wildlife habitat protected, and at this the NRA is failing miserably, he says.
“The NRA’s ability to take money from hunters and use it in ways that will ultimately ruin hunting constitutes one of the most dishonest public relations campaigns ever perpetrated on the American people,” Wray writes.
Wray goes on to describe politicians the organization has supported, like former Rep. Richard Pombo, Sen. Larry Craig, and President Bush, who have sold off public lands to private companies or removed protections for roadless areas. As a member of the board, Wray says he would “Require the organization to work with politicians who care about the environment, wildlife and wild lands in addition to their support of our Second Amendment rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
While Wray tries to change the system from within, the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) is competing with the NRA from the outside, but with some of the same complaints.
At New West, Bill Schneider calls the AHSA “the bane of the NRA because it’s not just pro-gun but unlike the NRA, also pro-hunter.”
The NRA will spend up to $40 million to defeat Barack Obama this election season. Meanwhile, the AHSA will be throwing its weight—however much that is—behind Obama and emphasizing conservation in its message. As AHSA president Ray Schoenke stated, “Senator Obama’s commitment to conservation and protection of our natural resources and access to public lands demonstrates to us his commitment to America’s hunting and shooting heritage.”
For his part, Obama told Montana voters, “There is not a sportsman or hunter in Montana who is a legal possessor of firearms that has anything to worry about from me.”
Image by Richard Bartz, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 11:52 AM
Outdoor retailer Cabela’s inspires an almost religious following among hunters and anglers who make pilgrimages to its humongous shrinelike stores filled with taxidermied trophy game. But New West magazine reports that Cabela’s lost some of its flock in Montana by acting like an 800-pound gorilla.
In New West’s premiere issue, writer Bill Schneider cites two reasons for a revolt among some Cabela’s customers. For one, Cabela’s got involved in a real estate business, Cabela’s Trophy Properties, that could reduce access to land used by hunters and anglers. For another, the store threw its weight around with “aggressive subsidy requests” from local governments in places where it wanted to build new locations. (The magazine’s affiliated website, NewWest.net, has covered the controversy online.)
The real estate blunder seems to have been the biggest misfire. After word got out, “The Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s largest sporting group, told its 7,000 members to return or burn Cabela’s catalogs,” writes Schneider. “And they did.” Cabela’s backed off and started making concessions to its critics, but not before taking a shot to the flank.
I’ve long wondered how any truly conservation-minded hunter or angler could give money to Cabela’s. Not only does the store seem to glorify the worst elements of the hook-and-bullet crowd by focusing on spectacle and trophies over subsistence and conservation, it has strong ties to the environmentally destructive Bush administration. (The environment, it should be noted, is where game fish and animals live.) As Slate has reported, the Bush-Cheney campaign made a string of campaign stops in Cabela’s stores, and founders Dick and Mary Cabela “maxed out as donors to President Bush’s 2004 campaign and [have] given thousands of dollars more to other Republican candidates and organizations.”
Cabela’s may be seeing the limits of its influence, however. Bush is now a very lame duck, Cheney has distanced himself from any hunting affiliations for obvious reasons, and, Schneider reports, Cabela’s has announced a dramatic cutback in its store openings—including one proposed for Billings, Montana.
of lion at Cabela's licensed under Wikimedia Commons.
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