Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What's Good About Hunting?

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where it appeared on January 13, 2014. Image credit: SandJLikins at Morguefile.com.)



I've never had to hunt animals for food, and I'm grateful. My part of the world is rich in plant food, including protein-rich nuts and edible mushrooms; it's possible to survive in the woods for months without killing a fellow mammal. (Unfortunately it would probably be necessary to survive without killing a fish, since there aren't many fish worth pulling in left in local streams except where people have stocked the streams with trout.)

When I was growing up, many animal and bird species were threatened. For years my parents banned hunting at the farm now known as the Cat Sanctuary. They wouldn't keep a dog or cat, because those animals hunt and kill endangered creatures. (They tried to use poison to control mice...that didn't work too well.) If they knew someone liked to hunt, they would lecture at the person about how many valuable animals were facing extinction. One year someone brought us a deer quarter. Mother fried part of it since the deer had been "murdered" anyway, and my brother ate his share, but Dad and I refused to eat fresh venison on principle.

That was forty years ago. If deer, bear, raccoons, groundhogs, etc., were still endangered species I'd still feel the same way about them that I did then; I don't feel less sympathy for the animals. However, in my part of the world these species are becoming overpopulated again. While some "lower" animals have a healthy internal mechanism that inhibits reproduction when populations reach optimal density, most of the lovable mammal species are more like humans, with a long life cycle and a majority of individuals continuing to produce more than one or two offspring until famines and plagues set in. 

Even as a child I'd been warned about this. My parents travelled a lot during the first ten years of my life, and in some places deer populations were already increasing above optimum. I attended one school where a teacher read to us about the need to re-legalize hunting, because humans didn't want to live with large populations of predators big and fierce enough to kill deer, and the deer were starting to destroy their habitat and become sickly, hungry animals. Deer do not live in monogamous family groups; males bully each other and dominant males mate with several females in any case, so there's no biological reason for humans not to hunt male deer. Older males with impressive antlers are the ones the species can do without, the ones likely to be killed anyway.

I still don't like watching a deer die...but I expect I'd start to feel different about that, too, if chicken and turkey meat weren't so cheap. I do live with cats, who must eat some meat every day. At one time the Friends of the Cat Sanctuary supplied the cats with canned meat for dinner and dry kibble for breakfast, so I could afford to be a vegan at home. Now that canned cat food (which is manufactured further away) costs more per pound than cheap cuts or processed chicken and turkey, I try to cook some human-quality meat with my rice and veg every day and share with the cats. The day may come when I have to cook deer instead of chicken. Or rabbit. Or bear. I would rather eat a bear than live with the fear of the bear eating me.

My opinion about the ethics of hunting definitely varies from place to place. In the U.S. game wardens are authorized to issue licenses to kill as many of any given game species as the local ecology can definitely share, and they're trained to err in favor of wildlife. If you can get a license to kill an animal legally, your neighbors are probably hoping you'll do it, and any objection to hunting on their property will be because they're concerned about accidental damage. If you can't get the license, or can get a license only for "the season" which may last only a week or two each year, there's probably a valid reason for that. 

I still hate poaching, though, as much as my father used to hate hunting. Poachers may not think I'm likely to do what they used to imagine he was likely to do, about poaching, but in fact I have done and will continue to do what he actually did.