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"Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one."

Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Communion through Killing?

By Barry Kent MacKay

Wow. I did not anticipate the feedback I received from the last edition of "Opinionatedly Yours." Each time I thought about doing a new essay for this series, I would take delivery of still more letters, usually from hunters. I had more mail in response to it than most things I have written.

That essay, published exactly three years ago, is very specific. It deals with the cruelty that is inherent with one particular type of hunting: waterfowl hunting. Put simply, the theme of the article is that it is impossible to hunt waterfowl for any length of time without causing innocent animals to suffer. Thus the argument that it is a humane means to provide meat simply is not true.

Also, leaving aside the contention (which API has consistently challenged, see "A Critical Evaluation of the Proposed Reduction in the Mid-Continent Lesser Snow Goose Population to Conserve Sub-Arctic Salt Marshes of Hudson Bay") that there are "too many" Snow Geese (or Ross's Geese), no North American species of waterfowl can conceivably benefit overall by having huge numbers of its population killed or wounded by hunters (or, until recently, poisoned by lead) each season. The argument that hunting serves to reduce "overpopulations" does not apply to our native ducks.

I called the arguments used to defend hunting -- the arguments the essay challenges -- "myths," as they are, like other myths, untrue, but widely believed by those who want to believe them.

I did receive some illogical letters from people who, instead of challenging what I said, decided to attack me on a personal level. Whatever their motives, I have long learned that some folks resort to name-calling when they have no solid argument. In my opinion their lack of ability to put forth an argument reinforced my views. If they had a valid line of reasoning, I believe, they would have used it.

Some wondered what my credentials were to even have opinions based on the arguments presented. Apparently in their minds lack of degrees precludes us from being able to formulate opinions or express fact, and gave such critics confidence that they need not consider the arguments on merit. If you lack whatever degrees they deem suitable, you are, de facto, wrong. To say I find such an attitude pathetic is an understatement, but it is a way of thinking that I commonly encounter.1

Agreeing to Disagree

And then there is a familiar problem all public commentators face: people who can't speak to an argument will find something else to focus on -- something they feel they can comfortably address. They don't deal with the argument presented, replacing it with another contention that has nothing to do with what was written. One assumption often directed to me (and one that will be addressed in this column) is that I simply lack enough understanding about animals and wildlife and the workings of nature to hold an informed opinion. The other tactic is to employ skewed emotionalism, arguing against facts with feelings that, to the degree I do not share them, demonstrate my own lack of appropriate intellectual facility, not that of my detractor.

But most of the letters from hunters were carefully written, thoughtful, and polite -- agreeing to disagree. Sometimes the writer and I entered into a dialogue that lasted through several courteous exchanges of correspondence. And that is reassuring to me, as I was careful to try to remain with essentially objective argument, generally avoiding passage of judgment. What I was objecting to was the mythology so often used to rationalize hunting. Whether causing suffering in ways that can be avoided is "right" or "wrong" was not the issue in that essay, as it calls upon value judgments and I was trying to avoid value judgments, just challenge the myth that hunting is humane, with very narrow reference to one type of hunting in particular.

I do believe, as the essay indicated, that what makes some people advocates of animal rights while others seek rationales for hurting animals is the degree of empathy for animals that develops. However, whether any empathy is "justified" is a matter of opinion.

That said, the arguments presented by many philosophers, religious folks or legal experts who have championed the "animal rights" movement have challenged the presumption, reflected in law and custom, that there can be no such thing as a "right" for animals. Much such argument focuses on the inconsistencies that exist between how we assign rights to discrete groups of people (too often reluctantly, or not at all, or only after long and bitter battle) and animals. Some such second-class human citizens are, like animals, unable to speak up for themselves (or can, but are ignored for a variety of socio-economic reasons or from tradition, often because they represent an oppressed minority or even because of their sex). The discrepancy between treatment of beloved "pets" and other animals is often discussed within the animal rights literature, and rightly so. The same person who loves her poodle may eat a pig and wear skins from a mink, although poodle, pig, and mink are all equal in terms of their desire to not be hurt.

Differences

Yes, there are differences between animals and humans, but then there are differences between men and women; between white people and those of color; between middle-aged adults, the elderly, and children; between those who are cognizant and those who are mentally challenged; between people born to wealth and people born to grinding impoverishment.

All such differences have, of course, been used at different times and in different places by one group of humans to achieve advantage at the expense of another. But that does not make such advantages "right." It does not mean that differences, alone, justify the bias that makes one group of humans less deserving of common decency, justice, and compassion than another.

So the issue still remains why is the difference that determines who is human and who is animal so different in kind (and not merely degree) from the differences that separate one group of people from another. Ultimately these differences of gender, age, mental ability, race, color, and so on derive from circumstances quite beyond the control of the individual who is the victim of discrimination. You and I cannot help what race we were born to, but neither can we, or any living being, help what species we were born to. Genes determine such things, and we have no control over our genes.

Where I may part company with some of these very articulate and reasoned animal rights proponents reflects my own background. I am a naturalist, as well as an animal protectionist (or "advocate"). Being a naturalist I am possibly more aware of the dependence life has on death than are many theorists. I am desirous of reducing suffering, but my higher priority is maintaining biodiversity. I put survival of the species ahead of survival of any one individual within the species, something that rankles many animal rights advocates with whom I have discussed such things.

Perhaps because I am an advocate I may be more interested in pragmatic results that move an agenda forward than I am in philosophy and theory. There is often debate, and even acrimony reaching hostile proportions, between those who seek concrete changes that help animals but do not end their second-class status, and those who see such change as welfarist compromise ultimately damaging to the greater goal of ending the bias against animals altogether.

Inherent Rights?

As a naturalist I find I have difficulty accepting a concept of inherent right. Most people on both sides of the debate about "animal rights" seem to imply as a given that there are unequivocal and "inalienable" rights. The only question is who should deserve them, some humans only, all humans, or humans and other animals? But nature seems to me to be singularly devoid of rights. Rights are, as I argued in the first two essays of this series (What Do We Mean by Animal Rights? and How to Achieve Animal Rights), something that must be established in law, or in custom, and acted upon, or they do not exist in any practical form. And I am interested in the practical.

Even if there are such things as inalienable rights, they must be firmly established in law or custom, and that law must be enforced or that custom followed, or they are of no value to victims of human bias and subsequent activity that derives from failure to recognize such rights.

That said, I believe that, as an issue of compassion, it behooves us to establish such rights as fairly as we can. It has been an uphill struggle to do so within the human species. I am old enough to remember the struggle just to allow all Americans to exercise the rights they supposedly had under their Constitution -- a battle not yet ended.

It will soon be old news, but as it happens, when I started writing this long overdue article for "Opinionatedly Yours," there was a sniper (or two) on the loose in the area of Washington, D.C. He fired at what appeared to be randomly selected people -- ordinary middle class people he did not know -- and he (or they; ultimately two people were charged) shot from a distance, aiming to kill.

As a Canadian citizen and resident I have enough problem trying to understand what is, to me, an unhealthy fixation on guns and distrust of gun regulation among my neighbors to the south. Beyond that, when I try to understand why a person or persons would want to shoot people who are no threat to him, I fail. So, obviously, do others. There was enormous fear and outrage over what was happening. When I listened to CNN and other American news outlets, I often heard various experts give reasons, and if there was anything close to a consensus it seems to have to done with the opinion that such serial killers seek control and domination.

If there was another common thread to the commentary on why people do such horrible things, it was that to the shooter(s) it is a game, a contest between them and the beleaguered law-enforcement agencies. Their victims have done them no harm. There is even a name for such psychopaths: thrill killers, and a form of random slaughter known as the drive-by shooting. Whatever the category you place any random murderer in, their victims would rather not be shot, and may suffer horridly or die as a result of being shot. But the killing fulfills needs of the shooter, be they political (upon arrest of viable suspects attempts were made to suggest they were sympathetic to the terrorist organization al-Qaeda) or personal, or a combination of both.

That, of course, applies to the victims, even though they are animals, of hunters. Those victims' deaths also serve some need of the hunter, for sport, fun, food, trophy, pest control or whatever. The victim remains a victim, and remains hurt or dead in the interest of whatever motivated the hunter.

Whether hunting is "right" or "wrong" can be a matter of opinion. But with few exceptions the victim has done the hunter no harm, and would rather not be shot or suffer as a result of being shot. Surely that is something that cannot be denied.

Power Is Important

As for the motives, a casual perusal of hunters' websites, and hunting magazines (particularly back when there were a lot more of them) certainly leaves me with the opinion that for some hunters that power is important. That is all subjective, and hard to prove. Indeed, while not saying that some hunters might not agree that killing things is okay precisely because it does give them a sense of something they yearn for, even including power, most understand that the majority of us do not agree that a need to feel the power bestowed by deadly weapons is a good reason to kill innocent and harmless creatures. Therefore, hunters seek other rationales -- ones that reflect widely held social values, such as protection from disease or the conservation of species -- and I, in turn, believe that these argument often fail to stand up to critical scrutiny.

Which brings us back to the hunters who did not address what I said in the previous installment in this series, but changed the subject.

For example, one hunter wrote to me, "I have perhaps some of my own myths that I don't think were addressed in your article that I would share. I am a fisherman and I hunt. I would state for casual conversation that hunting allows me to be in nature and I can't imagine another activity or method by which I or other hunters could better familiarize themselves with their prey and nature."

I would say that this person's imagination is rather impoverished, but let us hear more. He went on to say, "Generally 'hunting,' as opposed to killing in an enclosed game farm, is an activity that requires that the better you know the animal and its environment presumably the more successful you will be. Hence not only does one get a chance to sit in wetlands at the crack of dawn or listen to the quietness of the forest for hours on end but more so you spend a lot of time thinking if I were a deer would I spend the afternoon on this side of the pasture or over towards the orchard. A hunter wants to know how the animal sees the world and he feels he better understands the world from this part of his sport."

I wrote to my correspondent that unlike the vast majority of us who advocate on behalf of animals, I used to collect zoological specimens, which means that I "hunted" animals, with a gun, although never did I do so for pleasure or enjoyment. I did not like to kill things, but I was taught that humans have the right to serve their interests by killing animals, so long as it is done legally (I required special federal permits) and humanely.

I realize from such firsthand experience that when you set out to kill something there is need to know enough to put yourself in a position to kill the animal, but I find that does not generate the level of involvement and knowledge that comes from direct observation of the living animal.

As an artist specializing in bird painting and illustration and other wildlife art, I have a professional need to understand the animal and examine it in the hand, familiarize myself with its structure and anatomy and preserve it for future use. However, there is nothing inherent to finding and killing that animal that requires more such understanding than is true of photography or art or field research (such as the life studies done by field biologists, or population surveys done to monitor the fates of given species and their environments) or use of existing specimens.

On the contrary, I find that hunters are, speaking generally, very narrow in their focus, often having little or no experience with the majority of non-game animals, vegetation or the environment as such things may be in non-hunting seasons.

No one person can know everything but people like me can be in the forest at the crack of dawn, and can also face the challenge of being close to a deer, moose, family of White-throated Sparrows a singing Gray Treefrog or whatever assembly of species share our environs. There is nothing stopping me from enjoying being in the woods during a spring night of cold rain when the spotted salamanders are mating, or hearing the autumn nocturnal migration of small insectivorous birds or finding the nests of bluegill sunfish at the edge of a marsh or watching a mantis laying her foamy egg case, soon to harden like a rock.

I used to also do wildlife rehabilitation work, and there the challenge to save animal lives is much the greater than any challenge inherent in simply killing animals.

A Broader Understanding of "Deerness"

To the degree that we don't experience each other's world it may be hard for either of us to understand the other's perspective. I have never hunted deer to kill, but I have searched for them, not just in the fall but in all seasons, to see and understand, sketch and take photographs. I think that it gives me a broader understanding of "deerness" than if I only was a hunter seeking to kill, and thus only seeing deer in the context of trying to kill one.

That is certainly true of birds, where I have worn both hats. I never "liked" killing, even though I was very careful to preserve the birds for future study, eating meat from the larger ones so as to minimize "waste," and taking pride in my ability to do what I did. I stopped when I realized that the benefits of having the birds in the hand did not weigh as heavily, in terms of understanding them, as did the benefits of being a careful observer, and depending on museum specimens, sketches, field notes, and photographs for my detailed work. I stopped when I asked myself if my "need" for specimens was greater than my victims' need to live, and discovered that it was not. I stopped, too, when the hypocrisy of caring for sick, injured or orphaned birds on one hand, and killing the odd one for a "specimen" on the other, caught up with me. I stopped when I realized that the might of my shotgun and my permits did not convey any inherent moral right. Most importantly I stopped because I did not want to kill or hurt, and when I challenged my rationales from a position of compassion, I found them very sadly wanting. I had been raised thinking certain things that derive from the hubristic attitude from which we humans tend to regard all other living things, but consideration and empathy made me challenge what I had been conditioned to think, and to change as a result of that challenge.

My correspondent went on to say, "In the case of casual conversation, this explanation of enjoying hunting is generally more than enough towards claims that killing the animal is inhumane. These generally being people without similar experiences with or an understanding of the animal's existence."

But clearly I have had "similar experiences" and I don't agree. I don't agree that I have not experienced the nature of animals when I was not killing them. While I understand that we all suffer and we all die, I don't like to be the agent of suffering or death in others, to the degree that I can avoid it. I fully comprehend that I do have a negative impact on others. For example, I have little or no control over where or how the electricity that runs this computer was generated (although I do act politically to mitigate damage caused by such social needs) and so may certainly benefit from suffering to animals caused by some form of power generation, but I can certainly choose not to pull a trigger or bowstring, not to set a trap or bait a hook; not to be the direct cause of such destruction.

"The Experience of Killing"

My correspondent then said, "The reason hiking, photographing, or reading a book for that matter, are lesser substitutes for the hunting experience is because of the experience of killing. Killing is an experience that allows one to better understand life and perhaps better appreciate the value there is in a creature."

That, of course, does not make much sense. An animal's behavior ends once it is dead. Its death teaches nothing to those interested in how animals live. I feel that in hand-raising a woodchuck I learned far more about woodchucks than I knew prior to that experience, and thus I could turn my critic's words around and say, "Hands-on helping of animals is an experience that allows one to better understand life and perhaps better appreciate the value there is in a creature." There is, in observing the same animal through the cycles of its life, "experience that allows one to better understand life" and so on.

Killing abruptly ends the kind of communion that I have felt during prolonged observations, such as is required in sketching preening postures in a Green-winged Teal, or photographing the various stages in the growth of a clump of Dutchman's breeches, or doing grid survey of trees while noting all vertebrate animals in a study plot deep in the forest. I have felt the slightly oily texture of the breath of a breaching whale, something you cannot know from a corpse. I have seen how the light shines through the bases of the primary feathers of a soaring Red-shouldered Hawk, in a way I could not do if it was a lifeless body. The song of a Wood Thrush, the squeak of an Eastern Chipmunk, the way a flying fish glitters as it skims over tropical seas could not have been perceived by me if those animals were dead.

Hunters often refer to people eating steak as hypocritical.

I am sometimes inclined to agree if those people oppose hunting. Inherent to my challenge to my brief practice of collecting specimens was my challenge to eating animals, and I became a vegetarian.

Perhaps anticipating me, my critic went on to say, "By having watched a large mammal take its last bloody breath in order to be served on a plate, I think I better understand the value not only of the deer but the steer. The problem with vegetarianism is that it can never serve as a complete answer because we kill all sorts of creatures by just about everything else we do from building subdivisions, tilling acres, driving cars."

So? Surely this hunter does not think it is logical to say that because we cannot stop all such forms of destruction, we should not try to avoid any? To me that makes no sense. I understand that life depends on death, and I agree that it is pretty difficult to do much of anything without having negative impacts on others (humans as well as animals). If I light my fireplace on a cold winter's night I might inadvertently trigger my neighbor's child's asthma. But that does not mean that we can't reduce the carnage and seek to step more lightly on others (and if I knew I was hurting my neighbor's child, I would stop).

No, vegetarianism is not a complete answer, but it is part of an answer, for those in a position to practice it.

The Importance of Habitat

Predictably, my anonymous correspondent went on to say, "Hunter groups invest in habitat because they understand how important it is to the animals they hunt."

I have had animal rights advocates say things to me that convince me that they, as individuals, know little about wild animals and really do not understand the importance of habitat, but within that group of people, such ignorance is, I have found, among the minority. I believe naturalists, on the other hand, even better understand habitat needs as they focus on all wildlife, not just a select type because it is important as a "game" species. Some naturalists are hunters, most are not, but either way they appreciate the importance of habitat and tend to protect it for all species, not just for the few that are classified as "game" species.

This is not to say that hunters have not saved habitat; they have, very much to their credit, and started doing so long before there was an organized "animal rights" movement. But one can save habitat without the incentive of wanting to hunt. Right now I'm helping to protect an alvar that hosts a variety of species, mostly plants, some reptiles, one or two birds and no "game" animals, that are more or less at risk in my province. My motivation is not to have game to hunt, since the only game species that frequent the alvar are common elsewhere (that would include Wilson's Snipe, Ruffed Grouse, Snowshoe Hare, White-tailed Deer and the occasional Black Bear), but rather, the Loggerhead Shrikes, Upland Sandpipers, Clay-colored Sparrows, and other species that are there, are provincially rare, and have a high degree of dependence on that habitat.

But if we do want to protect habitat, I think it should be realized that the meat industry in general, and the beef and pork industry in particular, are among the major threats to the integrity of much habitat on land, not only in terms of the amount of land given over to produce food (and water) to feed these animals (it would be far more effective to grow high-protein vegetable crops and make them directly available for human consumption) but also the problems of excrement disposal. Commercial fishing has destroyed whole populations of fish species with devastating results for other species, including humans.

The most benign societies (and I've personally seen some, such as Canadian Inuit or Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana) are the quickly vanishing "primitive" gatherer-hunter societies. But if everyone were to eat "wild" game at the rate that the average American eats meat, then of course still more species would be exterminated because that level of take is not sustainable. Indeed the "bushmeat" trade in Africa is a tragic real-life experiment currently proving the fact -- by making wild meat commercially available to market demand, entire species are being destroyed, lost to all, including the "primitive" gatherer-hunter, not to mention those of us who can cherish and value animals even though they are alive.

But at the same time, human meat consumption isn't sustainable when the animals are domesticated and factory farmed in huge numbers because it taxes the carrying capacity of the environment to produce such enormous amounts of meat, which is why those who reduce or eliminate meat consumption also contribute to the protection of the environment by virtue of doing so. They require fewer units of land per unit of food produced than do the heavy meat eaters.

Two Different Issues

My critic continued his argument by saying, "A duck hunter spends a lot of time thinking about what a duck looks for in a place to land. They get it. A vegetarian may save an animal from the plate but honestly what about the leather shoes or salmon species still being swapped for cheaper electricity."

I responded that those are two different issues. Personally I wear no leather, but most leather is a by-product of the meat industry. No one raises cattle for the leather. On the other hand, trade in "exotic" leathers has led to the significant reduction of such species as pangolins -- a group of Old World mammals being driven to endangerment and possibly, if the trade is not soon stopped or at least controlled, extinction, because the scars left on their skins when you pull away the scales are deemed attractive in cowboy boots.

The concerns salmon face are too varied for simplistic summary, but in balance the resilience that is built into large population sizes was destroyed by over-utilization, none of which was done to supply food for vegetarians (or wildlife that eat salmon). This reduction in population size makes the remaining fish all the more vulnerable to other concerns that should be addressed, ranging from clear-cutting to, as my critic wrote, hydro-electric generation. Admittedly sport anglers' take would have been too small to be significant when populations were at or near primal sizes, but in a depressed or declining population, any harvest might be regarded as unsustainable. Certainly that is the argument made against piscivorous animals, such as sea lions, who were never a factor in the initial declines that led to precarious endangerment. However, they, at least, have not the choices that people clearly have and can exercise.

The hunter continued, "I don't think they believe they are going to convince people to stop eating meat and killing things and I don't accept them as being better people for having killed a few less of thousands of creatures that die at their hands in some way or another."

Of course he would think no such thing. If he did he would have to face his own culpability in the killing of far greater numbers of animals and none of us wants to do that! Nevertheless the percentage of Americans who are vegetarian is probably equal to if not larger than the number who hunt, and their impact on the land and its animals are, per person, significantly less.

Many vegetarians, and particularly vegans, will eat only organic food, and that generally means direct or indirect involvement of animals, something those same vegans sometimes like to pretend does not happen (they have their own myths to believe, their own desire to avoid facing their own culpability). But the negative impact on both land and animals is still far less than when we utilize factory farmed animals. Wildlife can only sustain a fraction of the human population.

Vegetarianism and veganism are not the final answer ... as long as the numbers of humans increase, so will the share of the world's biomass they consume, and the decline in so many edible species, the rise in the bushmeat trade, collapse of so many of the world's once-major fisheries, all are symptoms of the degree to which we, as a species, are overwhelming the environment.

But just as I can't get into my car with 100 percent confidence that I won't be killed as a result of driving somewhere, I can take precautions to reduce the likelihood. That's what vegetarianism is; a step toward reduction of the negative impact we are having on the world's ability to sustain us all.

A Subjective, Homocentric View

My critic also wrote another familiar refrain, "The big picture really is that humans generally just use animals for their own ends whether it be to eat or to take pictures of until the hillside seems better fit for grapes than trees. Trout, deer, ducks, cougar, we kill these animals constantly. A hunter knows this. It takes bravery to kill an animal outright. Afterwards, one can breathe easier knowing that these animals are beautiful things but do not, thank god, lead as meaningful of existences as a human beings."

That last point is, of course, a subjective, homocentric view. To the more intelligent animals I suspect their own lives are as meaningful to them as ours our to us, and perhaps if we could be objective, we'd say more so. We value what is human because are human, but humanness has not been good for the environment overall. No other species is responsible for as many exterminations as we are. No other species is responsible for the development of vast arrays of toxic chemicals; no other species has laid waste to the ozone or depleted the great fish stocks or introduced radiation poisoning or obliterated entire forests or prairies. That is what we have done, through the application of human characteristics, specifically our mastery of technology. It is only a small percentage of humans (and human culture) responsible for such things as zoos, vivisection, factory farming, sport and trophy hunting, making animals perform in circuses, and so on, but from such activities comes mass pain and suffering.

We can, however, govern ourselves and our behavior. There are many things we do that cause suffering or hurt that we don't have to do, and that includes turning that hillside from a forest to a vineyard ... it is up to us, through the way in which we regulate ourselves.

"Better Than the General City Slicker"

My critic continued, "I understand the elk better than the general city slicker, much of this being that I know the elk knows things about the forest we'll never get. I only get a glimpse and only because I'm searching for a way to get as close as possible. I understand that there is real meaning to an elk's life, however the elk still has a more simple reality.

"Yes, I better understand this by having watched the animal die. It is also why I might be okay with the occasional clear-cut for elk feed but please not so near the salmon stream."

In trying to convince me that he knows the wilderness and nature better than I, by virtue of not hunting, ever could, my critic betrayed his bias. There are more species than elk and salmon but it is typical of hunters to fixate on game. We had a situation here in Ontario, a few years ago, where Ducks Unlimited took an old field and planted it in corn for the sake of feeding ducks, such as Blue-winged Teal and Mallards, both very common species. What didn't occur to them was that this was one of the last known nesting sites of the Henslow's Sparrow, a provincially endangered species.

Not too far from where I live, in the southern fringe of the Precambrian Shield's boreal forest, studies have shown that Red-backed Salamanders (which most hunters never even notice) form the largest biomass, by far, of any vertebrate animal ... possibly of any animal! There were about 12,000 of the animals per acre. So perhaps this gentleman should be asking what the effect of that clear-cut might be on the salamanders?

If Red-backed Salamanders do not count for hunters, they do for animal rights advocates (who probably also have never seen one) and naturalist-conservationists (who are probably familiar with the species and cherish it even though they cannot or do not utilize it except as something subject to their appreciation).

"In any case," wrote the hunter, "I feel that hunting is an enlightening experience and warrants being permissible and taken [seriously] by those that hunt. Our lifestyle these days is apparently so clean some of us believe hunting is an unethical activity."

That is, of course, a value judgment. Some people, rightly or wrongly, are more concerned about the suffering they are responsible for causing than are other people. There is no law that says you have to have the empathy or compassion that is felt by those of us who can experience a depth of involvement with wildlife without killing for sport.

"Killing Things Is Part of Being Human"

The hunter continued, "Skinning a deer is what our ancestors did and is pretty much the same as what the butcher does. Killing things is part of being human and people that hunt have a very realistic claims."

Once more, the logic of the argument escapes me. Surely the act of not killing is also a part of being human. I can't think that my correspondent, by virtue of being a killer of animals, is more human than, say, Gandhi, or Schweitzer or George Bernard Shaw, all of whom were adamantly in favor of protecting animals. I don't think hunters are less human, either, only that within the broad category of "human" there is room for a lot of variation. Whatever moral high ground one may wish to claim, it can't be done solely as a result of being human.

If a small number of people want to kill things, that is one fact, but there is no need for them to do so for fun or (with very few exceptions) for food. Our ancestors did a lot of things that we don't do, and so the fact that they wiped out species, took land from aboriginal people, enjoyed gladiatorial combat, kept slaves, used children for dangerous labor, baited bears, or whatever, does not, in and of itself, justify such things.

Returning to his central theme, my critic wrote, "I think the animal 'activists' pretty much need to spend a little more time outdoors and refocus their efforts towards making the world a better place -- perhaps deliverying [sic] oscar meyer's [sic] to hungry kids or planting an orchard."

For the same amount of money they could deliver more food of better quality to hungry kids than a wiener that is filled with transfatty acids and preservatives deemed deleterious to human health by the medical profession.

I think I do spend a lot of time out of doors, not just in hunting season (when, indeed, in some places it's made dangerous or off limits precisely because it is the hunting season) but year round. However, that observation does not address the specifics I presented in the essay to which he objects. The fact is that, for reasons described, and that he did not refute, hunting causes animals to suffer. I know he is okay with that; but I'm not. Most people are not, which is why hunters invent myths (like that of the instant kill) to justify their activity.

My anonymous correspondent did not reply. His arguments were familiar to me, and essentially were subjective, the very thing I was trying to avoid in the previous installation of Opinionatedly Yours. One cannot say with certitude what happens within the mind of another. He, and the many hunters who mount similar arguments, claim that killing teaches them about animals. There may be some way, obscure to me -- perhaps through some failure in my own brain's wiring -- to appreciate how an animal better demonstrates its nature as a dead body than as a living creature, or how brief encounters as prey during hunting seasons are more informative than prolonged observation over time. As a former collector I'd concede that if hunters at least weighed and measured, studied stomach contents and gender ratios or degrees of maturation, and presented their findings in an accessible manner there might be at least some modest contribution to trivial understanding of some minor aspects of the biology of the animals they purport to know better than I. But, except to the relatively trifling degree that they must present game at check points where biological data may be garnered, hunters tend not to do that, at most securing atypical specimens as "trophies."

In a future "Opinionatedly Yours" I hope to present, with at least a modicum of objectivity, the view that not only are hunters still fooling themselves, and attempting to fool the rest of us, in asserting that the act of sport hunting significantly contributes to their understanding the natural world, but that it is inimical to such understanding. Indeed, it is inimical to the natural world itself, all too often, for reasons I will address.


1. For the record, I am, in fact, a '60s high school dropout. My youthful plans were to take a degree in ornithology, the study of birds, but also continue as a professional bird artist and illustrator, perhaps in the footsteps of such ornithologist/artists as George M. Sutton, T. M. Shortt and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, a tradition dating back to the time of Wilson, Audubon, and Gould, among others. But at age 16 I contracted encephalitis and was knocked out of schooling while I fought to recover from the disease, and after-effects that have lasted all my life. That did not stop me from learning, nor did it prevent me from spending much time both in the field and in libraries and museums, learning what I could about nature and wildlife. It is the reason why I prefer that arguments be presented and debated on merit, and not simply dismissed (or accepted) because of some extraneous circumstance, such as the presence or absence of a degree.

 

 

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