As winter approaches in the Midwest, it’s time to shine light on a practice that’s controversial, even offensive to many. It is the tradition of hunting. Specifically, deer hunting. Each year, men, women and older children enthusiastically take their guns and bows into the wild hoping to bag a deer. Now I don’t hunt, but here’s the thing: I have a hard time harboring negative feelings about it and here’s why.
From providing food (meat) and clothing (fur), to even creating tools (bone), hunting has been an ancient way of being for humans. Many believe there’s no longer a need to hunt animals in America. After all, there are other food sources, artificial and plant-based materials for clothing, and plastics and metals to forge tools. They say hunting is cruel and civilization has evolved beyond the need for such primitive practices. Not so fast.
Hunting taps into the core of who we are as a species. According to Natural Selection, we’re the product of two million years of evolution, with about 400,000 years as homo sapiens species, better known as modern man. We evolved as hunters (and gathers), and like it or not have become the most effective, most adaptable predators on Earth.
I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘sport’ being applied to hunting, but if it is for food, I’m all for it. A hunter’s connection to the earth is often stronger than the average city dweller. You cannot simply stroll into the woods and shoot a deer. The landscape must be read, understood, and listened to. Then again, there’s the increasingly popular business of “canned hunts,” in which so-called hunters stalk and kill animals in enclosed areas. The practice is disturbing, especially to hunters who have respect for the animals they take down.
Hunting is a ritual for some. Whether by stalking or ambush, it’s not so much the killing that drives this brand of hunter. Instead it’s the ‘woodsman’ spirit associated with the tracking, identifying and taking aim on the prey. The kill is the end result of a long process that begins before game is even spotted.
Now to the meat of things: I get antsy when folks claim hunting is inhumane. That’s because many of those naysayers conveniently look the other way when it comes to the way food corporations breed, raise and slaughter livestock. These days, most people who eat beef and poultry purchase it in a form that looks less like food than it does shrink-wrapped Play Doh. In fact, most of us go to the meat counter with no thought to how the animals they consume lived – which typically is in warehouses with no natural light or ground, nor adequate space to roam. In some cases, they’re caged with no way to even move.
Of course, all this fuss about the merits of hunting presupposes that I’m referring to the kind of hunters who take themselves seriously. The ones who study and prepare for the hunt. The ones who take down game for reasons that extend beyond their desire to show off 10-point antlers. It’s understandable the complaints brought against ego driven trophy hunters and the I’m-a-real-man-because-I-hunt types. I’m ardently opposed to killing lions and tigers and bears, etc., for the sake of a congratulatory wall mount. But to never kill an animal for food or clothing?
Nothing is liability free. The environmental and energy price we pay to manufacture synthetic materials for garments (think polyester, nylon and pleather), and to house livestock by the thousands can be significant; in some cases toxic. There are costs associated with every ethical and social position, and it’s helpful to keep this in mind when we think about them.