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Hunting season

Yesterday I enjoyed a great day with Women in the Outdoors.  It was an all day affair where you choose in advance what events you wanted to participate in.  I chose fly fishing in the morning, and archery in the afternoon.

The instructors for Fly Fishing were fantastic.  They provided all the gear, took us to a stocked lake on private land, and coached us step-by-step starting with the parts of the rod and reel, how to tie the knots, and the basic form for casting.  What I love about fly fishermen is that they have an in-depth knowledge of entomology.  I once took a college course on ‘Pond and Stream’.  We went on field trips and looked at river health and bugs.  Fly fishermen can identify the different insects in their various stages of development and what the fish are feeding on at any moment.  They are magnificent conservationists, because only healthy streams and ponds will have the diversity of insects necessary to support fish life.

After lunch and door prizes for all, archery was on the list.  As a kid I did archery with a traditional bow.  I remembered it as great fun and hard to pull.  The instructors had compound and regular bows for us to try.

Compound bow used for hunting

Compound bow used for hunting

Using a compound bow with sight guides, it was pretty easy to hit a bull’s eye.  Using a traditional bow, they call it ‘instinctive aim’ and requires much more skill.  The woman instructor told me she’d been an avid archer for over 17 years.  She competes with a traditional bow, but hunts with a compound bow.  She showed me her hunting bow.  It was so heavy I couldn’t straighten my arm out.

I asked her how she killed game with a bow in a way that was humane and didn’t let them suffer.  She said she was careful, took her time to aim, and most always could bring down her game with one shot. She practiced a lot and consistently to stay that good, she said.

Hunting season is beginning this month and usually starts with archery.  All this made me reflect on my feelings about hunting.

Personally, I have nothing against hunting.  Men (and women) have been hunting since time began.  We are predators by nature.  And I suppose it’s in our DNA.   But I do have some problems with the whole nature of hunting in the 21st century.

Here are some of my issues with hunting: much of our wild game has been confined to tiny, fragmented islands we call ecosystems but they are not whole nor complete;  we don’t have the numbers of wildlife that we used to when we hunted for survival; many of the weapons used by hunters give them an unfair advantage, such as a high powered rifle way beyond the range that a deer or elk can even smell; many hunters are too lazy to actually walk into the back country, use real skills, and they hunt from the road; too many hunters go for the trophy, rather than hunting for their winter meat, and discard the meat or give it to the outfitter.  In fact, many outfitters say that they actually do all the work–find the game, set up the camp, maybe even point the gun!

Deer and turkeys

Deer and turkeys

Osborne Russell, the famous trapper who went through Yellowstone in 1835 wrote “an eye could scarcely be cast in any direction around, above or below without seeing the fat [Bighorn] sheep gazing at us with anxious curiosity or lazily feeding among the rocks and scrubby pines.”

That is the norm for this ecosystem.  Now, in the 21st century, you have to take your binoculars and hope to catch a glimpse of a Bighorn sheep.  And if you do, maybe you’ll see 2, or 3.  If you’re lucky in the dead of winter, you’ll see 25 grazing together.  Now those numbers have become ‘the norm’ on which to issue hunting tags and judge a healthy population.

Lastly, and maybe the most important in my mind, hunting is no longer a sacred ritual.  There is not an acknowledgment of the sacrifice involved in the taking of life. In the hunt, animals are seen as ‘things’ without consciousness.  It is a ‘sport’, right up there with other types of consumerism and recreation, and thus not placed in its proper context–the sacrifice of one life to give life to another.

Most of us eat meat, fowl, or fish which is farmed then slaughtered and we have no relationship to what we are eating.  Hunting gives us that connection to our food.  Hunting in the 21st century, unfortunately, has become a caricature of what it once was.  For our ancestors, the hunt was a sacred event, shared by the entire community, deepening our awareness of the sacrificial nature of all existence.