Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Birder's View on Hunting

Recently, when reviewing Pete Dunne's Arctic Autumn and I mentioned it contained "the most well thought out, logically written, and both intelligently and emotionally engaging essay on hunting ever written."  This subject has remained forcefully in my mind.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's personal challenge this year of only eating the meat of animals he himself kills has also been running in my consciousness as I ponder this subject.  Back when I was a Boy Scout, my Scoutmasters instilled in me the principle, "If you kill it, you eat it."

Below are some excellent thoughts and discussion points shown as quotes or paraphrases from Pete Dunne, taken from Arctic Autumn.  Thought I don't focus on it here, in his book, Pete Dunne shows a deep understanding and respect for those who chose to be vegetarians on principle.  Paraphrasing and taking quotes out of the context of the full story makes them a bit less powerful (so buy the book and read it!) and I hope not to skew any of Pete's intended message:

Our modern system "reduces humans from predators to carrion feeders" (carrion being defined as food killed by someone or something else).  Most of us are dependent upon "store-bought subsistence".

Look at the "cumulative energetic price tag" of meat and food.  Getting as much food as possible directly from nature avoids the mass-production, slaughter, packaging, preservatives, shipping, etc. Deer are abundant enough - more economical pound-for-pound than beef.  More energetically efficient and environmentally friendly than meat (or even produce) in the store.  Modern agriculture has wiped out millions of acres of prairie and forest.

"I find, when I sit down to a meal of grilled venison chops, supported with vegetables purchased from the local farm-stand two miles from our home, that I feel just a little bit better about my place on this planet.  I feel a little more honest and a little more directly connected and a lot more ethical at such times than I do when I'm eating out of the store."

Sophie the vegetarian: "Do you respect the animals you kill?" 
Dunne:  "Respect is the moral foundation of hunting.  Without it, hunting is just killing animals."  He then explains his hunting preparations, selecting the hunting location, not making mistakes, etc. which he does out of respect for the animal whose life he takes.

"So I hunt in order to eat? No.  That's as wrong as saying I hunt in order to kill."  

"Hunting is not 'playing' predator. Hunting is being predator."

Why Pete hunts:  "I'm actor in the drama."  "It is the most real thing I do."  "Communion." "The communion between predator and prey does not die with the dying." "The animal who gave its life will become part of our body."

Below are some passages of scripture that have greatly influenced my opinion (much more so than my personal practice unfortunately) of hunting and eating meat:

"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance."

"...the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;  Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment;  Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;  Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.  And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess."

The key words from the above scriptures, even for the non-religious, are "thankfulness", "use sparingly", and "used with judgement, not to excess."

Here are my concluding thoughts:

Uncles on both sides of my family are avid hunters, but my dad isn't a hunter, so I never became one.  I've never been opposed to hunting for food.  Killing for the sake of sport or trophy greatly disappoints me.

There is a real joy and satisfaction that comes from eating that which you have grown in a vegetable garden or from fruit bearing trees, plants, vines, etc. I felt this deeply as a kid working the family garden. That joy and satisfaction is not felt when the produce is simply purchased from the supermarket.  I imagine that a similar experience is felt when eating the meat provided by your own skill, with thankfulness for the life given to sustain your own.  Perhaps there really is something to Thomas Jefferson's wish for a strong agrarian society...connecting man more deeply to nature somehow makes us better people.  I recognize the economic benefits and the wonderful increases in technology due to our society's ability to "specialize".  But shouldn't "specialization" have reduced the overall "cumulative energetic price tag"?  What if every family, regardless of occupation, still had a garden and hunted for a bit of sustainable food? That would allow us all to be a little more self-sufficient.  I see that providing endless benefits and solutions to many of society's and nature's ills.

It is time for me to stop being a hypocrite when it comes to what I eat, how I get it, and how I live what I believe.  Pete Dunne may have convinced me to become a hunter... and a gardener too.  I want to commune more deeply with the earth and with God.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with many of your sentiments. But, as a wildlife photographer and rehabilitator who spends a lot of time in the field, sharing space with hunters, my experience is, unfortunately, not as pristine as many hunters like to describe the endeavor.

    I've seen a lot of inelegant and greedy wing shooting, poorly placed arrows and bullets and shotgun pellets, sky busting waterfowl hunters and many other dubious ethical practices. I've seen the suffering and injury with the high crippling rate in duck hunting -- and in the extremely slow deaths in archery hunting when the animal is even retrieved.

    After a time, I went from someone who respected hunters for, as you suggest, walking their talk and subsisting by their own wits ... to someone with great ambivalence and now sometimes disdain for the practice.

    In theory, I may agree. I have known decent hunters my entire life. But, In practice, I've found so many violations of what I would deem to be humane and civil behavior, my opinion about hunting has changed radically for the worse. The standards by which those who heal wild animals abide are so much stricter than those charged with taking the lives of those same animals. It's an inequity and disparity I find very difficult to reconcile.