Category Archives: hunting ethics

Taboo of the Day: Stay In and Go Hunting?

I received some very pleasant emails the last week or so congratulating me on my return to blogging after a self-imposed hiatus, and for the couple of people who said they like my “lighter writing” (that’s a direct quote by the way) I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is going to be lacking in frivolity.

I was sitting at home nursing a sore ankle that I earned in a soccer collision this week, when a commercial came on for Cabela’s Big Game Hunter video game platform.  Now I’ve played these games (or similar ones before) and before anyone calls me a hypocrite or a Scrooge, or whatever else gamers call people who pointedly disagree with something videogame-related, let me state that I appreciate that this is a game, and I have no fundamental opposition to this game’s existence.  I don’t think first-person-shooter games make people psychotic or desensitized to violence.  Please don’t call me a nerf-herder or something like that (how behind-the-times does that make me sound?)
Now, onto my point, or more accurately, points.  Call me an irrepressible optimist if you will, but I tend to think that marketing has the ability to reinforce positive messages.  Sadly in the commercial I saw, no positive messages were to be had.  In this commercial, a taxidermy deer has been rigged to appear to be playing the game, and with each pull of the trigger it snickers gleefully at “killing” another deer.  The deer shoots four or five I think.  The acts are calculated and methodical, with nothing but a smug, ruthless efficiency being portrayed as the dominant (nay, only) emotions associated with it.  Which I guess is fundamentally okay because it is just a game, or so the argument would be from gamers, advertisers, Activision, and likely Cabela’s.  Again this is okay because I have the ability to delineate between reality and fantasy, as do most other hunters I believe.  Based on the online reviews of the game though, it looks like a gaming public thinks that this is at least a modest portrayal of what hunting is actually all about, which is kind of frightening. 
My first gripe (because let’s not mince words) is that for those not initiated in the tradition of hunting there may not be any realization that hunting is just not like that, period.  But beyond that I made a few other observations that I thought I would lay out more as bullet points to prompt discussion than as arguments in general.  The following items should probably be thought about as we think about digital re-creations of the hunting experience.
·         Hunting involves really killing something, a fact that I bet the vast majority of participants in this game have no stomach, appreciation, or potentially the will for.
·         The video game doesn’t show the work side of hunting (i.e. field-dressing, skinning, transporting game, etc), it just shows the killing and presumably, leaving the animals in the field.
·         There actually are (and I would argue, always should be) a complex network of emotions that a hunter is forced to deal with when they succeed in taking an animal’s life.  The callousness and nonchalance in the product marketing with regards to the simulated ‘deaths’ in the game is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.
·         The pretend killing in this commercial is admittedly “messed up”, but no alternative interpretation of hunting is offered, leaving the public to potentially think that hunters take a “messed up” approach (i.e. remorseless) approach to the act of killing game animals.  But then again I have an almost paranoid concern about hunter representation in the media, so maybe I’m over-reacting….I didn’t really like that sketch on the Muppet Show where the trigger-happy, red-neck hunter stereotypes chased an adorable rabbit around as the rabbit and his woodland friends sang Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound” either.  Maybe I don’t have any sense of humour?  I thought I did.
·         Cabela’s likely only endorsed this for market-share purposes.  At least I hope they did; if not they have a heavily skewed view of the type of hunting their generally good corporate name is being attached to, an equally frightening proposition.
So there you have it.  Go ahead, shout “Bah!  Humbug!” at me if you will.  Tell me I missed the point; call me a pedantic reactionary with no sense of humour.  Do whatever you want, I guess.  But maybe, just maybe, instead of buying a game console and this game, spend some money instead on taking a hunter safety class and buying a hunting license.  And rather than sitting in a basement in front of a flat screen with a miniature assault rifle in your hands shooting at pixelated deer, invest your time by seeking out a mentor that will teach how to really hunt and how to actually conduct yourself when faced with even the imaginary prospect of pointing a firearm with deadly intent at a big-game animal.  Because in the end, fresh air is better than recycled mid-winter household air, walking through a forest or field is much more enjoyable when done for real, and shooting a deer, grouse, bear, turkey, or whatever else you are out hunting is more rewarding when the actual legwork is put in.
That said, I’m still not hopeful that many will choose real hunting over videogames this Christmas.  But for those of you that do, you’ve got a willing supporter in this crotchety old curmudgeon, and I hope your days afield are all as good as mine are.

Taboo of the Day: A Limit on “The Limit”?

A subscriber from the mid-Western United States emailed me the other day inquiring about why I had not posted anything recently on “Taboo of the Day”; it was a politely worded letter with good humour, they even remarked (jokingly, I suspect) that they hoped that I hadn’t “gotten soft” on challenging issues.
So with that in mind, I’ll now try to excrete out a few words on what I feel is the most challenging issue: bag limits.
“Bag limit”, in my definition,  is a catch all term referring to the maximum number of game animals of a given species that a hunter can harvest in a given period (day, season, and so on).  There are also possession bag limits referring to how many harvested animals an individual can have in their general possession (i.e. in their freezer or on their general person).  Of course I’m sure this is far from a definitive interpretation and you would all do well to clarify any questions you may have about what defines the periodic and possession bag limits for anything you plan on hunting with a qualified local professional (i.e. a state or provincial game warden or conservation officer).
I’m not going to go into the biological or economic aspects of this debate: reams of paper have been written about this by writers and professionals with far, far more expertise than I.  There are certainly many factors at play when it comes to balancing the economic benefits provided by hunting with the obvious necessities of wildlife conservation and management.  (yes, hunters are customers too, and we spend a whole pile of money on conservation through private donation and through the purchase of hunting licenses and game seals, not to mention capital invested in private enterprise in the form of hunting lodges, equipment manufacturers, restaurants and the like) Like I said, I have an empirical grounding in that field (my dear old Dad was a 30 year employee of Ducks Unlimited Canada and, coincidentally, a passionate hunter and conservationist so by the default process of osmosis I picked up a smattering of basic knowledge when it comes to general wildlife biology/ecology) but my professional training in things like carrying capacity, population density, reproductive responses to increased mortality, and the like is basically non-existent so instead of crunching numbers, I’m going to speak instead about the more nebulous philosophical and historical applications of the concept of “limiting out”.  This I know a fair deal about.  A warning off the hop; get ready.  This is going to be pretty long and chances are you’re going to disagree with at least a few of my thoughts.  The important thing is that we’re having this dialogue.
There were heady days in the past when there was no such thing as a bag limit.  Market hunting was a lucrative and widespread practice and the sheer volume of death that professional gunners rained down on all game species was, to a modern perception, staggering.  To paraphrase a far too often cited colloquialism; it was what it was.  When you made your living and fed your family off the money you made hunting it was a matter of course that you be exceedingly efficient.  Again, numerous grainy black and white photos show old salts of the Eastern Seaboard with daily kill number in the high dozens and into the hundreds. Even the most ardent historical apologist cringes at the thought of what that kind of sustained pressure would do the resource.  Not surprisingly, populations of some species at the time were very near to total collapse.  Of course market hunters were not the only factor in depletion; hunters from all areas of the spectrum (from wealthy club owners to subsistence hunters) and from coast to coast were more or less policing themselves.  I have an anthology of hunting stories where in one article an author of that era (i.e. late 19th or early 20th Century) mentions shooting a hawk (or an owl?  I can’t exactly recall) while out duck hunting; presumably because hawks have been known to kill ducks and it was perfectly acceptable at that time to not only shoot any other natural predators of the game you were pursuing but to write about your proficiency in doing so.  Of course the dwindling of the hunting resources could not all be laid at the feet of market and recreational sportsmen; people who had never set foot in a marsh or forest were (and still are for a large part of it) at the very least equally responsible for wildlife destruction through unabated habitat drainage and deforestation, urban sprawl, and general environmental deterioration in the form of pollution and human expansion into rural or wilderness areas, with the wild places almost always coming out for the worse.
So that’s a brief (and wholly glib) historical primer of what life was like before bag limits.  This contributed to the reduction or outright extirpation of many species in North America.  There’s so much more information on this subject, but that is for another time.  I have to get where I’m going with this. 
Now we have (for almost every hunted species) a bag limit.  That is to say that we have a government-agency-imposed maximum on how exactly what and how many of something we can kill.  And that is good.  Some consider that to be a gross over-involvement of the authorities in the hunter’s own personal freedoms and choices.  Others quibble over the specific criteria of what data should contribute to defining a bag limit.  Others ignore them outright.  These points are what I’m here to talk about.  Those and what we as hunters at large can do with and about bag limits.
The first thing we can do with a bag limit is respect it.  It is there, if for nothing else, to err on the side of caution when it comes to hunting.  Bag limits are designed for conservation, and if anything every hunter in North America (if not globally) should be intensely focused on conservation efforts above all else.   Respecting a bag limit means many things.
It means having a plan.  Some bag limits are difficult to shoot over, unless of course you intend to shoot over it. For example, if you have a tag to shoot one moose in a given season and you go out and shoot two, you’ve done something wrong.  Ditto when it comes to gender-specificity in tags.  If your licence says “one bearded turkey” and you shoot one without a beard, the onus is on you.  I won’t even begin to go into the mind-boggling idiocy that must exist out there that requires the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to require a primer on the physical identification of the differences between a moose, a white-tailed deer, and an elk (the latter being recently restored to Ontario for limited hunting).  But I digress; back to having a plan.  Other limits are a bit tricky.  If you’re party hunting waterfowl, thing can get a bit interesting as you approach a bag limit.  After all, shotguns have been known on occasion to take multiple birds with one shot and sometimes not everyone is clear on how many birds have actually come to hand.  This is where being rational and exercising some judgment can be indispensable.  The best way to avoid over-shooting a limit (especially in a group situation) is to put your weapon away when you have personally hit the individual bag limit.  That is simple enough, but it does not control others from going over, and by default putting your whole party into illegal territory.  Another approach to think about is to stop and do a physical count.  Works every time, but it too requires a plan.  Count how many ducks and/or geese you have shot and see how close to the limit you are.  If you are three or fewer birds from a limit, put a plan in place.  Some hunters I’ve talked to just pack it in there (more on that in a minute) and thus avoid even the slightest risk of over-shooting.  That’s a very effective plan.  Others institute an order and volume in which hunters can shoot; this generally works too.  For example, if a group has three birds left until they limit out they may institute a “singles only” approach where groups of birds that number more than three are not shot at.  They may say only one person at a time can shoot at the waterfowl, and so on.  The act of being aware of the limit is a good defense to staying within it.  Sometimes even planning can be tricky, in the case of party hunting pheasants, rabbits, or even deer.  For this reason some (my deer-hunting group for example) use short wave radios to stay in touch.  For my group, if we only have one antlerless deer tag, we want to let everyone in the party know if one is down.  Short wave radios tuned to a private channel achieves this more or less seamlessly.
But as I mentioned above, why even risk it sometimes?  Think about this for a second.  In fact let’s do a brief thought experiment.
In Ontario, limits on Canada geese are ‘liberal’ to say the least.  In some periods of the season (in certain parts of the province) you can kill ten geese a day per person, up to a one-person possession limit of twenty-four birds.  For snow geese the limit is twenty a day up to a possession of sixty.  I don’t care who you are, either way that’s a stack of goose meat.  Now on any given day I’m usually out goose hunting with at least three other hunters (it is just that labour intensive that going alone is usually too much of a baffling ordeal, what with blinds, decoys, and other paraphernalia).  So let’s just say the four of us go out and we can shoot ten Canada geese each (for the sake of using round numbers).  Max limit is forty for the day.  A couple of hours later we’re sitting with 36 birds.  No one has individually limited out, and things have slowed down.  Then a group of geese appears as a thin line on the horizon, before we know it they are barreling into the setup, well within range.  We haven’t spoken at all about a plan of attack.  If you’re with me, do we shoot them and go for the limit, or do we stand up, spook them off and just pack it in?
I know my answer.  My gun would have been cased long before we reached thirty birds, and that is because I don’t require the validation of “limiting out” to define successful hunting.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a rational person out there who would consider forty dead geese a more successful hunt than thirty-six( or even twenty for that matter), and I’m both not interested in risking going over the limit and not fulfilled by any chest-slapping machismo associated with shooting the highest legal number of geese available to me.  It does not make me a better or worse hunter, or person in general, and I hold no negative judgment for anyone who needs or wants to shoot the limit.  All I’m questioning is the necessity of that act.  But go over the limit, and I definitely have a problem with that.
Likewise (and again I’m using Ontario examples here) a hunter can, in some areas, purchase additional white-tailed deer tags above the one provided with your licence purchase.  At one time (I don’t hunt in one of these areas, so I’m not certain what it is currently) hunters could shoot six (!) additional white-tailed deer.  That means seven white-tailed deer in total for those of you who (like me) are intermittently math-impaired.  Which again begs the question, is this really necessary?
Now I know that bag limits are effective both in species conservation and in species control, and this glut of tags (like the high bag limits on Canada and snow geese) fall more on the “population control” side of the equation, but when I first heard about the multiple deer tags years ago, and subsequently read some of the reports and comments from hunters who had actually taken multiple deer I was disappointed to say the least.  Some people are just ‘yee-haw’ hunters (as I call them) who really had no interest in doing anything other than killing…one said in a chat room that he didn’t even really care for the taste of venison; this in a caption below a photo of his garage where five gutted deer hung from a cross-beam.  Others, notably a couple I speak to regularly, shot multiple deer and rather sheepishly confessed that they ended up throwing out venison by the summertime because it had become freezer-burnt.  They literally shot more than they could eat.  I wonder despairingly how many bungs of goose sausage or vacuum-sealed bags of moose pepperettes meet the same fate across the nation?  Not to mention game animals that are killed and left simply to rot by wasteful, irresponsible, clumsy, or scared hunters.  And I’m not being an alarmist or a pessimist; I’ve seen it reported and I’ve seen evidence of it in the field.
High bag limits offer limitless good; they provide opportunities afield, they allow more people to access and fall in love with the tradition of hunting, and they are a sign of wildlife abundance that gives credence and validation to the good work and conservation efforts of millions of men and women nationwide.  In almost all cases the ecology is closely monitored to ensure that it can sustain the pressure exerted by hunting, so high bag limits or no bag limits in the case of some super-abundant species (like coyotes in some areas of Ontario, for example) do not pose a threat to the existence of any animal species. 
But what I’ve outlined above is the ugly side of high bag limits, and we have to look at it and discuss it.  A head buried in the sand or immediate, irrational, and violently defensive reactions both seem exponentially counter-productive.  But even more than dialogue about it, in my mind, is that we have to synthesize a remedy for it.
That is because we as hunters, more than any other group of outdoor enthusiasts, are judged by the outcomes of our actions.  There is no ‘catch-and-release’ in hunting, and in my humble opinion, there never should be.  While we walk  many of the same trails as recreational hikers and share the land with bird-watchers and equestrian enthusiasts, we are permanently and perhaps justifiably labeled as some of the only true human ‘consumers’ of the wilderness resources.  For every fellow-hunter who is impressed by the photo of the limit of mallards you and your friends managed to take, there is another person who wishes to abolish hunting outright using your example as an evidence of excess.  It seems that this is just the way of things in this age, and that is fine, but that ultimately means that we have a responsibility to ensure that the outcomes of our actions align with our goals.  If the goal that we are aiming for, and telling the non-hunting world that we stand for, is truly resource conservation, protection, and long-term hunting opportunities for all, whether it is for self-interested reasons or for the goal of population rejuvenation, we have to behave responsibly.  I don’t want lower bag limits; I want common sense (in some cases the rarest of things) to occasionally intervene. 
We had once shot a six man limit of Canada geese, on a day when the limit was only three birds each (two weeks earlier it had been eight birds each and we had not even come close to half a limit).  It was a perfect day.  Day broke sunny and cool (but not too cold) in the east, and we had great flights of geese coming from all directions and almost all were dropping in to our spread as if they had never seen decoys so real or heard calling so sweet.  We reached the limit in 45 minutes and the birds were so keen on our set up that they were cartwheeling out of the sky and trying to land around us while we picked up decoys and took pictures.  I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t seen it since.  It was truly a memorable day and looking around I could tell that a small part of all of us just wanted to keep gunning.  I personally could have eaten more than three geese in short order (i.e. two weeks or less) and my freezer could have held more.  But of course, we packed it in.  It had been a good day, and taking even one bird too many would have been a blemish on the stories, whether we got caught or not.  We laughed, made some remarks about the rarity of days like the one we had just experienced, and then went and had a hot breakfast where we re-lived the whole morning.  We could have gone on shooting and it is likely that no one would have known.  But we’d have known and it would have made it a bad experience.  And that is the sacrifice it takes to not be part of the over-shooting minority whose actions can tarnish the good name of the majority.
No one should be lauded for just doing the right thing; unfortunately when it comes to bag limits sometimes the right thing and doing what the law says you can do are not necessarily congruent.   There are days, like the one above, where you shoot the limit and want to keep going.  There are other days when the limit is an unattainable goal.  And then there are days when you have to take that approach that just because something is allowed, it does not mean you need to do it.  Which sometimes means putting the gun or the bow away and only taking what you can reasonably consume, and sometimes it means taking even less than that.  Go ahead and shoot the limit if you want to, but do so after some consideration.  Thinking only takes a few seconds, and you may conclude that today you just a little meat for the larder, and not a full limit.  Other times you may feel the limit is not enough and you complain that it should be higher.  It happens, and you have to make a decision.  Only you, and sometimes a warden, can determine if you made the right one.
I’m fairly confident that we are not going to wake up tomorrow and find all of our historical rights and privileges wiped out.  No agency, in North America at least, would do to dispense with the literally billions of dollars that hunters pour out of their wallets and into conservation and ancillary businesses; there is strength in our numbers in this respect.  Because of this, for you and I there will be other days to hunt.  But a little self-control when it comes to shooting the limit will only go to ensuring that there may always be ‘other days to hunt’.

Taboo of the Day: Hunting for Fun?

I’ve been an avid soccer player for over 25 years, and have played the game at a reasonably competitive level since I was about nine years old.  I’ve played on regional travel teams, in provincial and international tournaments, and was once even judged to be skilled and fit enough (which is hard for some to believe now) that I was once considered as a varsity athlete by some universities in both Canada and the United States.  Of course, like most young athletes, my ambitions and my dreams overreached my body’s durability and a combination of injury and just not having as much tangible skill as I thought I did relative to others that I was competing against relegated me to the bench, and ultimately out of varsity sports.
Now this is not some sort of lamentation about missed opportunities, far from it.  Soccer (or football, as I and my European readers prefer to call it) made me dozens of long-term friends, provided me with hundreds of memories, taught me how to cope with failure and loss, showed me how to properly behave in victory, and ultimately became an inextricable part of who I am as a person.  In this way, my soccer experiences mimic my hunting experiences in many ways.  Hunting has given me perspective on my place in the natural order of the world, taught me respect for the wilderness and the importance of hard work and diligence, and most importantly has imbued my life with memories and camaraderie that I would not of otherwise had.  Not to be too clichéd but in this respect, playing soccer and participating in hunting have legitimately been blessings in my life.
So once more we are led to the question of where am I going with this?
My son is not yet two years old but in my neck of the woods there is a program called Tiny Tots Soccer where two and three year old boys and girls get to come together, chase soccer balls around aimlessly, learn a modicum of teamwork and sharing, and generally get some exercise.  All these are good things and those with the vision to implement this program at Cambridge Youth Soccer deserve some kudos.  My son certainly seemed to have a fun time last Saturday, and the key philosophy of the program is for kids to have fun and get positive reinforcement for participating.  All things I can certainly be supportive of.
But on my way out I saw something that seemed hypocritical in all this.  On a large whiteboard directly inside the entrance to the facility (as this first session was indoors at a soccer fieldhouse) was a large capitalized message regarding tryouts for youth soccer teams.  I can’t quote it directly, so to paraphrase the message, it ran something along the lines of:
REP TEAM SOCCER TRYOUTS ARE NOT AN ACTUAL GAME.  THERE IS TO BE NO CHEERING, CLAPPING, SHOUTING, OR COACHING FROM SPECTATORS ON THE SIDELINES
This apparently stands in stark opposition to the “have fun and be positive” ethic of the program my son is participating in, although both programs are ostensibly run by the same organization: Cambridge Youth Soccer.  Apparently soccer is only fun up to a competitive point or age level, at which time all positive vibes and joy must be extirpated from the game so as to instill some sort of deranged ethic of austerity.  I still play at a (reasonably) competitive level, and most of the actual fun comes from performing for spectators and your team-mates, just not apparently if you want to tryout for youth teams in Cambridge.
I’m sure (or at least I hope) this is just the mandate of some deranged coach or league administrator on a Napoleonic power trip and not the stance of Cambridge Youth Soccer at large, but really?  No clapping or cheering?  No words of parental encouragement?  And this was the first thing you saw written in red ink on a five foot whiteboard upon entering the COM-DEV Soccer Dome.
Fine, I guess.  When it comes time for my son (if he chooses) to try out for rep soccer, I’ll take him half-an-hour out of the way to play in Guelph…I’ve had exposure to that league as well and at least they seem to put participant enjoyment ahead of competition.  I really can’t think of a reasonable explanation for this policy, so I’m just going to cease my business with CYS (after this year, I’ve already paid and can’t get a refund…believe me I asked) and put it out of my mind after that.
But seeing this drivel posted publicly at the entrance to a youth soccer centre did give me pause to think about my other passion, which is of course hunting.
Unlike soccer, hunting actually does have a “life and death” aspect to it, and in a lot of ways it carries more gravity than a kid’s soccer game.  After all, weapons are designed to kill and the purpose of the hunt is to take game for consumption as food.  Perhaps soccer would be more interesting to the North American audience if the losing teams were eaten…but I digress.
But still, in every commercial hunting DVD, every television show on the subject, and in innumerable hunting camps, cabins, farms, fields, forests, and marshes men and women are having fun hunting.  That is to say, there is a sense of joy associated with a pastime that has the ultimate intent to take an animal life as prey.
Are we sick?  Maladjusted?  Psychotic?  Should the concept of “fun” actually be one that is used when describing hunting wild game?  Surely this is gravely serious business.
The answer in my eyes, and in opposition to much of the more virulent, unsubstantiated, and flawed impromptu psychoanalysis posited by those opposed to hunting, is that no we’re not the potential serial killers with a nasty streak of animal cruelty that some would have us made out to be.  I think this because I have not met many hunters who actually relished in the act of killing.  Sure I’ve met some who had no respect for the game they just took the life of, that had vile names to call the animals they hunted, or showed no deference or respect to wildlife at large, but I can say they were an unsavoury minority.
Most understand (without too much moralizing) that to hunt for your food means that at some point you’ll have to pull the trigger and take a life.  It is a granular, dirty-hands approach to being carnivorous and it is a sight better in this observer’s opinion than just getting the antiseptic, flavourless stuff that is wrapped in plastic at the grocery store.  So in that respect, yes, hunting is serious business.  But in knowing this, most hunters (while they may be excited at a successful outcome to a hunt) don’t actually triumph or whoop up the act of the kill.
I’ll admit that the first time I shot a wild turkey I was excited and yes, I cheered out loud.  This immediately gave way to calmness where I thought reflectively about the life I’d just taken.  When I first harvested a whitetail deer, all those years ago in 1995, I likewise pumped my fist and grinned, but I also had to look pensively with a sense of sadness at the body of an animal that mere moments before was living and breathing but that now was destined ultimately for the freezer in my parent’s basement.  Even animals that were considered pests and varmints (think groundhogs or coyotes) or that were, or have become so abundant as to be commonplace and accepted as generally simple to hunt (Canada Geese for example) were still to be viewed in terms of something that had a life of its own and that life should be given respect if a hunter takes it away.
I can’t help but feel strongly about this.  It was how I was raised.  My father, uncles, and grandfather were very firm that I have a respect and an understanding for all of the visceral and emotional aspects of being a hunter, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had that upbringing, even if sometimes in my own hunting excitement I need to be reminded of it.  I also consider myself fortunate to be able to share this opinion with you the reader, and hopefully in a few years, to be able to teach it to my son.
Many aspects of hunting could be defined as “fun” on their own esoteric value.  Observing game at close range, pursuing wildlife on their own terms where all the advantages of nature and evolution are stacked in the animal’s favour, actually “talking” to animals through the medium of game calls and observing their reaction, and ultimately sharing the small and large intricacies of the natural world independently or with family and friends are all moments that measured individually would be more than enjoyable.  The fact that the kill is the inevitable conclusion to some hunts is, while important, not the defining aspect of what it is to be a hunter.
To combine them all together through the hunting experience is nothing short of being (and, again, this is just me) the simplest and purest way to experience all of the tragedy and, yes, all the joy and exultation of being a participant in the natural world.  It is no wonder that emblazoned on the huntsman’s shield in the medieval age were the Latin words “In Venatio Veritas” translated (as my limited knowledge of Latin would have it) as “In hunting is truth”.  There is just so much to experience as a hunter, both empirically and emotionally that to simply be glum or grave the whole time seems to be silly at best and pompously arrogant at the worst.
Having fun while you’re out hunting is okay, really.  Laugh, tell a joke, share with your friends, and enjoy being alive.  But with that in mind, just don’t lose sight of the life that the game animal has when you call yourself a hunter.  Show some respect and for the love of God don’t be one of those slob yahoos that the rest of us are constantly apologizing for.
And lastly and most seriously…cheer for your kids at their sports tryouts, no matter what sport it is and regardless of what the coaches writing on the whiteboards try to tell you.

Taboo of the Day: Does Language Correlate to Behaviour?

Readers that have been with Get Out & Go Hunting since the beginning may well remember an earlier reference made in the course of my pointless and esoteric blogging to “academic jerks”.  This reference at the time was made partially in a tongue in cheek fashion, since I do have some friends in the academic realm that are exceedingly polite and normal.  But this post is not about them.

Others in the academic sphere draw a fair amount of ire from me; self-styled “philosophers” in particular.  Generally it is their aloof, dogmatic, detachment from objective reality that I find especially maddening.  So it is with the inaugural edition of the Journal of Animal Ethics.  In the foreword to this scholarly journal, and by scholarly I mean based in academia…not that it is necessarily scholastically sound; that argument is best left to other self-important philosophers, one Oxford academic posited the notion that we, that is to say humanity at large (because why make small, incremental suggestions when you can righteously propose a paradigm shift for global society?) ought to rethink and adjust our terminology, or to use the oh-so fashionable academic term, our “discourse” when it comes to referring to our relationships with animals.
How you ask?  Here are some REAL EXAMPLES gleaned from the media reports and my actual perusal of the article.  My thoughts are an accompaniment in italics.
  • The word “pets” denotes a master/slave relationship and should be replaced with the term “companion animal”.  Imagine, a world where the structure of the relationship does not change (I don’t imagine pets will start buying owners anytime soon) nor will this squelch the market on roadside giveaways of free kittens…or should I say free companion felines?  Think of the costs and effort associated with renaming PetsMart to CompanionAnimalsMart.  No longer will you buy fish food…you’ll purchase chum for your icthyo-chum.  And so on…
  • The term “wild animal” will change to “free-living animal”.  They’ll need to change the constitution of a number of countries globally as well since this redefinition of the word “free” will take some getting used to…get the Webster’s people on adjusting their definitions of “free” as well.
  • All anthropocentric terms designed to cast animals in a lesser stature than humanity should be discarded including “dumb animal”, “beast”, “vermin”, and even “animal” at large to name a few.  These are considered “insulting” to non-humans by the animal ethicists as a group.  Yes…they actual refer to animals as “non-humans”…talk about reverse arrogance, why should animals be re-defined in nomenclature via a relation to their divergence from humanity?!  Are we the “standard”?!  Humanist clap-trap I say.
Some of my own independent thoughts on the matter?  Why yes,, here you go.  I suppose the term “Kingdom”, that is in its use as say ‘animal kingdom’ or ‘wild kingdom’ is phallocentric and most certainly denotes imperialism and class division within the animal community at large so I guess it ought to be discarded as well….Mutual of Omaha is going to have to re-brand a lot of old television shows.  I imagine they’ll be getting right on that.
What about our biblical sins?  Will we have to re-name the sloth?  I suggest freaky-assed looking tree mammal that does nothing all day long aside from existing.
Can I still call the unpleasant, offal consuming types of people in my life (lawyers, bankers, televangelists) vultures?  Mildly insulting to vultures I do admit but still apt.
On the plus side, my wife will have to stop calling me a pig.
This is the of course me taking this to the ad absurdum realm to show how silly this could become.  Yet, this is the proposal designed (I’m quoting the journal now) to “discipline ourselves to use more impartial nouns in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them”.  Read: unless you think and speak the way we suggest you think and speak, you’ll be an outcast in our culture of defined language and philosophical boundaries.  I love how free-thinking academics can be when dealing with their realm of self-anointed expertise.
Basically, to my mind…and I’m not an animal ethicist so I’m sure my argument will be attacked for the locus from which it springs as opposed to any attack on its potential (and likely numerous) flaws…this journal sets out to do three things with this inaugural issue.
First it is looking to lay down a ground work of jargon, industry-speak if you will, that is intended to identify those who belong and ascribe to a set of beliefs from the infidels who do not, in this way asserting the group’s individualism and demonstrating just how dang superior they are morally and intellectually to you and I, the unwashed and unenlightened layman.  For some it will certainly make them seek this group’s approval and endorsement.
Second, instead of laying down a mission statement for the journal’s approach to the scholarly, legal, and social issues surrounding animal ethics, as a foreword ought to do, this is what we get.  This leads this (again completely outside-the-fold) reader to believe that this paradigm shift in the language of animal relations is their primary mission…in which case, our society is clearly doomed to inaction at the expense of quibbling over semantics.
Lastly, and this is the most likely, this foreword and the surrounding attention it has gathered (and admittedly not only am I late to this party, I’m just validating the sheer lunacy of it all) is really just a mechanism that serves the actual (i.e. cynically intended) purpose of generating attention for this movement and its adherents.  Which is not a pejorative statement in any way, after all we all need to make the rent somehow and speech is (for the most part) free, a principle which as a writer I endorse.
For the hunter?  Animal ethics are an important issue, in fact in my mind from a hunter’s perspective they are arguably the most important issue (although I’d also rank habitat conservation as at least equally important…perhaps a debate for a future Taboo of the Day?).
How we relate to animal life as active, visible consumers is a topic that for many reasons (guilt, ignorance, lack of interest, and so on) is given short shrift by the hunting community.  That death and a modicum of suffering is part and parcel to the hunting experience is not up for debate.  It is, period.  Justification is a good start, but it is not reconciliation.  I can justify my hunting activities in a way that satisfies myself and a good lot of others but for the most radical animal ethicists, vegans, and naturalists.  No, I won’t go into it here, but if anyone ever wants to have this debate in a civil, respectful way over a cold post-hunt beer, I’m not opposed at all to that.
Still, I fear that the introspection necessary to actually reconcile any and all harm caused at the hand of humans at large (and that includes hunters) to wild animals…I’m taking back the term…is sorely lacking.  Occasionally it is just flat-out ignored at the behest of defining our own cultural identity, but it is usually covered up in some sort of neo-Darwinian, survival of the fittest, law of the jungle argument that inevitably falls into the anthropocentric patterns that the likes of the Journal of Animal Ethics seems to be opposing.  Most of these arguments require heavy revision if the definition of “fittest” and “evolved” and would take up far, far more space than I could give them in this forum (even if I wrote a lifetime of these types of posts) so I’ll just close with this panacea of advice.
Everyone, from animal ethicists to hunters to the policy makers that inevitably are drawn into these debates ought to consider action and tangible improvements on the microcosmic scale before making far-reaching goals to shift the way people think, talk, and relate.  After all a law is much easier to change than a mind, and actions (in both the positive and negative camps) will always speak louder than any words…no matter who thinks the words are apt or not.