Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seeing a very different side

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, hunting, advocacy

When I was twelve, old enough to legally go hunting in Utah, my father took me on a hunting trip. It was with a half dozen business associates of his. I didn't carry a rifle, but he did. He and I walked together through the woods in our orange parkas, sometimes silent, sometimes talking quietly. After a few hours we heard a couple of shots. We went back to camp, where one of the men reported killing a bear that had charged him. The men field-dressed it and we packed out as much meat as we could carry, and the skin. The skin was used in a hunting calendar painting that I still have a copy of. The bear made the papers; at 7'-7" it was the largest black bear killed in Utah, up to that date anyway.

While I am at it, I have shot a gun on three occasions. The following summer at YMCA camp there was an afternoon of target shooting 22 rifles. I don't recall doing very well. But three years later my father took me to the Skeet range, and I hit every trap they pulled for me, with a straight 12-gauge. Then forty years later, at a company "team making exercise", I shot half a round of Skeet and hit about 30%. That's it.

I think it safe to say I don't understand hunting culture. So I read Hunting Booger Bottom: Life Lessons From the Field, by Michael Waddell with Mike Schoby, with plenty of interest, to see what I could learn about the allure of "sport" hunting. Michael is the host of the Realtree Road Trips and Bone Collector video series, and as he writes, "Hunting has been part of my life for as long as I can recall." That's understandable enough; you tend to enjoy what you've always enjoyed.

Then he writes, several times, that he loved killing. He makes no bones about it. While the camaraderie, the beauty of the outdoors, and the joy of honing survival skills all draw him, he hunts to kill, and possibly would not if he could not. So while he has become a skilled videographer, he just itches for a chance to put the camera down and go out with a gun or bow.

The first six chapters of the book outline his early life through becoming an established staff member with Realtree. The latter nine chapters range through his experiences all over North America and a few trips to Africa. With his co-author's help, he has produced a very readable book of advocacy. He tells of his time in a school for video production, his first exposure to anti-hunting "liberals", including vegans. Since that time he has had fire in his eye to present his side of the story.

In this country, with few exceptions, I agree that certain species need culling so it makes sense to license (and make a bit of money) from "sport hunting" for them. At the other end of the spectrum, on one hunt in Africa, he went with a partner who had a license to kill an elephant. There may be a few places in Africa where elephants have become weed species and need culling, but I think his report that they were destroying the landscape is just special pleading. Elephant-managed countryside has a certain look because of the way they feed, just as cattle-and-antelope-managed landscapes in the American West have their own special look.

But I take issue with the notion that hunting with gun or bow is any kind of sport. The animal has no long-range weapons. You want to be a sport hunter? Go out there with a knife and a backpack of rations, and kill your deer, turkey or antelope "up close and personal." That's sporting. For elk, moose, or even buffalo, a thrown spear is OK with me, but no Assagai or other muscle amplifying technology. Where there is a genuine need to kill for food (and I consider this very rare in America), I have a different attitude: Use any technology you can afford, but kill only what you actually need.

So to the author I say, I am no liberal. I vote almost straight-ticket Republican. I don't go for the NRA bull crap that the Second Amendment has anything to do with hunting; it is about a Militia, and a well-regulated one at that. But I support the right of anyone to kill for food, as long as they do it legally. I deplore trophy hunting. I don't count as friend any bloodthirsty brute with a wall full of antlers. The thought genuinely makes me ill. You made your case, and I think I got a better understanding of how you think. I view the culling of weed species like white-tailed deer as an awful job, and I am glad someone out there likes doing it.

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