I’m proud to say I’m not a former hunter. I never had to kill an elk or a bear or a swan or a goose to know how bad I would feel about it afterwards. My “problem” might be too much empathy; I could readily imagine the sense of self-loathing that should come with destroying such beautiful and noble beings.
When in my youth I had to put down a wounded buck deer I’d hit with my truck, I found myself apologizing to him even as I made the cut that put would him out of his misery. I knew I’d never want to go through that in the name of sport.
The only time I hunted for food was during a brief live-like-an-Indian phase. I had enrolled in an “Aboriginal Life Skills” course— the same one that the author of “Clan of the Cave Bear” later took to learn how Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal man may have lived. I carved a bow out of a young juniper tree and with this mighty weapon, I shot a harmless chipmunk. The arrow didn’t kill the poor soul outright, but knocked him to the ground, wounded and trembling.
As I dealt the creature it’s death blow with a club, I felt no ancient, sacred pact with nature; no mystic bond with the great chipmonk spirit; no connection with the circle of life. I felt only an overpowering urge to end the suffering I had caused this individual.
One of this blog’s regular readers posted the following quote to the comments section of “Honor Thy Father and Mother, Except When They Misbehave.” I don’t know who made this statement, but I can relate to it. If I were a hunter, this is just the kind of conclusion I could see myself coming to:
“I hunted for 30 years. For various reasons, mostly because my father did, and my grandfather did. Yes, we ate what we killed, but I never felt I was hunting TO eat, after all, I had food whether I killed anything or not.
I never felt I was hunting for “wildlife management”. I never picked up my rifle and said “Well, I am off to do my duty for wildlife management by killing an animal”.
I never did hunt for “trophies”. Whatever one describes that as.
I didn’t even consider my “milenias old roots”, though I occasionally did use one of my grandfather’s rifles, now 100 years old.
I guess I hunted just because I did. At first, killing was thrilling, then anti-climactic, then distasteful. Then you begin to wonder why you are doing it.
After pursuing elk for 7 years in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I got an easy shot at a 6 point bull and passed. If he could elude me for that long, what business did I have to kill him and hang his head where people who had never experienced his world could look at him…..not in his magnificence, but in an artificially posed mount, supported by premolded styrofoam. Would I have gained anything from the experience? Who would gain? Who would be better off had I ended the animal’s life?
I began to look at hunting differently. It certainly isn’t needed by anyone or anything…….most animals are not hunted at all, and do just fine. Hunters continually harp on deer overpopulation…..but deer make up less than 2% of what they kill. And there are now alternatives to hunting deer.
In November 1989, I was shot by a deer hunter, while on my own property. The irresponsible hunter left me for dead, and my twelve year old son loaded me in a truck and drove me 40 miles to a hospital. That didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, though, and is not the reason I quit, but it did give me a solid taste of what the animals endure.
I guess I just started to understand that the animal I was looking at through a scope was not just a target, but a living thing. A thing that suffered when shot, a thing that I had no right to kill, though I had the privilege to do so, by virtue of paying another person a fee for a license. Think about that. The animal is minding his own business when you go into a store, pay a fee and walk out with a license to kill the animal, what a deal.
I shot the last animal that will ever fall to my gun in November 1992. I hunted until January, 1997.
In five years, I discovered I could love the outdoors, and it’s experiences, which I still dearly enjoy, without killing. The guns stay at home when I take to the field now, though I keep the rust off them by frequent trips to the range to break clay targets or make little groups of holes in paper, and I have turned more to shooting competition for satisfaction and achievement.
Is hunting worse than factory farms? No. Does that make hunting right? No.
Am I responsible for the death of animals, even though I am a vegetarian, don’t use leather or fur? Sure. One only need observe the bugs on my truck grill to see that. But I have decided to minimize my impact on animals and work to help them, rather than kill them.
I have a lot of making up to do.”