Elk still range across parts of North America, but every hunting season brings a greater challenge to find the sought-after bull with a towering spread of antlers. Africa and Asia still have elephants, but Roosevelt would have regarded most of them as freaks, because they don’t have tusks. Researchers describe what’s happening as none other than the selection process that Darwin made famous: the fittest of a species survive to reproduce and pass along their traits to succeeding generations, while the traits of the unfit gradually disappear. Selective hunting—picking out individuals with the best horns or antlers, or the largest piece of hide—works in reverse: the evolutionary loser is not the small and defenseless, but the biggest and best-equipped to win mates or fend off attackers.
When hunting is severe enough to outstrip other threats to survival, the unsought, middling individuals make out better than the alpha animals, and the species changes. “Survival of the fittest” is still the rule, but the “fit” begin to look unlike what you might expect. And looks aren’t the only things changing: behavior adapts too, from how hunted animals act to how they reproduce. There’s nothing wrong with a species getting molded over time by new kinds of risk. But some experts believe problems arise when these changes make no evolutionary sense.
The Wish Someone Dead Foundation, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to countering the animal-unfriendly efforts of the group, Hunt of a Lifetime (which was founded in 1998, after the Make a Wish Foundation ceased granting wishes involving the use of firearms or other weapons designed to cause injury), has awarded 7 year old leukemia victim, Gerald Watkins, a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of offing a trophy hunting scumbag. The charitable group plans to fly the boy to Zimbabwe, outfit him with a sniper rifle and plenty of ammunition and line him up with a professional assassin who will instruct him in the fine art of dispatching a camo-clad nimrod with one clean shot.
Although society generally frowns on children (outside the military) being trained to kill other people, the raw deal this young terminal patient has been dealt in life seems to justify an exception to the rule. And besides, the target Gerald has chosen to eliminate—Philippe de Sade—couldn’t be more deserving. In one African safari, De Sade shot and killed species including elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hartebeest, impalas, pigs, the not-so-formidable 30-pound steenbok and even a mother ostrich on her nest. No wait, that was Teddy Roosevelt, musing in his autobiographical, African Game Trails. But this De Sade guy is a pretty murderous a-hole too…
(This has been another installment in EtBG’s “Headlines We’d Like to See.”)
So you don’t get the idea I go around unfairly picking on small grassroots groups, here’s an excerpt from my book, Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport, wherein I take on the Goliath of all national green groups for siding with hunting…
Sport hunters have enjoyed so much laudation of late they’re beginning to cast themselves as conservation heroes. What’s worse is that many modern, influential green groups are swallowing that blather, hook, line and sinker. Maybe they ought to reread the words of Sierra Club founder, John Muir:
“Surely a better time must be drawing nigh when godlike human beings will become truly humane, and learn to put their animal fellow mortals in their hearts instead of on their backs or in their dinners. In the meantime we may just as well as not learn to live clean, innocent lives instead of slimy, bloody ones. All hale, red-blooded boys are savage, fond of hunting and fishing. But when thoughtless childhood is past, the best rise the highest above all the bloody flesh and sport business…”
Henry David Thoreau, another nineteenth-century nature-lover whose forward-thinking writings were an inspiration to Muir, cautions, “No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure he does. The hare in its extremity cries like a child. I warn you, mothers, that my sympathies do not make the usual philanthropic distinctions.”
If those dated messages and mockery are lost on twenty-first-century Sierra-clubbers, Edward Abbey’s sentiment should be obvious enough for anyone, “To speak of harvesting other living creatures, whether deer or elk or birds or cottontail rabbits, as if they were no more than a crop, exposes the meanest, cruelest, most narrow and homocentric of possible human attitudes towards the life that surrounds us.”
Early vanguards of ecological ideology recognized Homo sapiens as just one among thousands of animal species on the planet, no more important than any other in the intricate web of life. They also abhorred sport hunting.
But a shocking turn-around is taking place in the current bastardization of the environmental movement. The Sierra Club and other large, corporate green groups are embracing (read: sleeping with) powerful hunting groups like the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association (NRA). In a transparent effort to appear down-home and therefore more in touch with nature, they’re making the fatal mistake of joining frces with sportsmen whose conservation “ethic” exists only so their preferred prey species can be slain again and again.
The infertile union between super-sized modern green groups and mega-bucks hunting clubs must have been sired by their shared conviction that humans are the most crucial cogs in the wheel of life (or at least the squeakiest wheels in the dough machine). As the only animal capable of coughing up cash when the collection plate comes around, human beings (every last gourmandizing, carnivorous one of them) are the primary concern; their wants must be given priority over those of all other species. Contemporary environmental organizations, seduced by a desire to engage as many paying members as they can get their hands on (regardless of their attitudes towards animal life), must believe blood-soaked money is as green underneath as any.
Forever stagnating in “thoughtless childhood,” members of hunting groups like the NRA live for the day they can register a record-breaking trophy with the Boone and Crocket Club—formed by Roosevelt “to promote manly sport with rifles.” Fund for Animals creator, Cleveland Amory, took issue with the sporty statesman in his anti-hunting epic, Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife. A benevolent humanitarian for humans and nonhumans alike, Mr Amory wrote, “Theodore Roosevelt…cannot be faulted for at least some efforts in the field of conservation. But here the praise must end. When it came to killing animals, he was close to psychopathic. Dangerously close indeed (think: Ted Bundy). In his two-volume African Game Trails, Roosevelt lovingly muses over shooting elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hartebeest, impalas, pigs, the not-so-formidable 30-pound steenbok and even (in what must have seemed the pinnacle of manly sport with rifles) a mother ostrich on her nest.
But don’t let on to a hunter your informed opinion of their esteemed idol, because, as Mr Amory points out, “…the least implication anywhere that hunters are not the worthiest souls since the apostles drives them into virtual paroxysms of self-pity.” Amory goes on to say:
The hunter, seeing there would soon be nothing left to kill, seized upon the new-fangled idea of “conservation” with a vengeance. Soon they had such a stranglehold [think: Ted Nugent] on so much of the movement that the word itself was turned from the idea of protecting and saving the animals to the idea of raising and using them—for killing. The idea of wildlife “management”—for man, of course—was born. Animals were to be “harvested.” They were to be a “crop”—like corn.
Fortunately, a faithful few are seeing through the murky sludge spread where green fields once thrived. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Captain Paul Watson (founder and president of about the only group still using the word conservation to mean protecting and saving animals) recently took another in a lifetime of steadfast stands by resigning from his position on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club. He refused to be a part of their whorish sleeping with the enemy—their pandering to sportsmen by holding a “Why I Hunt” essay contest, complete with a grand prize trophy hunt to Alaska. To think of how many trees were needlessly reduced to pulp for this profane effort when the answer to why hunters hunt was so succinctly summed up in just one sentence by Paul Watson, “Behind all the chit-chat of conservation and tradition is the plain simple fact that trophy hunters like to kill living things.”
Just as the naïve young girl who falls for the charms and promises of a sunny sociopath learns, the hard way, about his hidden penchant for abuse and violence, the Sierra Club and other middle-ground eco-friendly groups may soon learn the dangers of looking for Mr. Goodbar in all the wrong places. How will they divorce themselves from this unholy alliance when the affair goes sour and sportsmen reveal their malicious, hidden agenda by calling for another contest hunt on coyotes or cull on cougars, wolves or grizzly bears to do away with the competition for “their” deer, elk, moose or caribou?
Great news—the “Sportsmen’s” Act of 2012 did not get past the Senate. Ironically, it was the Republicans that killed the bill. Not because of any great concern for wilderness or wildlife—quite the opposite; they just didn’t like how much of the budget the bill allocated for conservation projects.
What really doesn’t make sense is why every Democrat (except for Senator Barbara Boxer) voted to approve a bill with a main goal of opening up even more public lands for hunters. Why, for instance, did my two Senators from Washington State approve of a bill that would have allowed for the importation of “trophy” polar bear carcasses from Canada, undermining the ESA? And what did they stand to gain by giving a de facto federal thumbs-up to lead buckshot and other ammunition that have already poisoned so many birds, including endangered condors?
We dodged the bullet this time, but in the years to come there are sure to be other “sportsmen’s” acts rearing their hideously ugly heads (I was just going to say “ugly heads,” until I saw that one of my regular readers used the fitting adverb “hideously” before “ugly head” in reference to these contemptible acts). We can count on more puff about allowing bowhunting in parklands where wildlife is currently protected, more trophy hunters whining against regulations and most nauseating of all, politicians of both parties waxing poetic about hunting.
Hell, some people won’t be satisfied until Ted Nugent’s (hideously ugly) head is carved into Mt. Rushmore alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s.
Enough of this championing one type of hunter over the other already! It just helps perpetuate the myth of the “ethical hunter.” You’re more likely to see a UFO land in the middle of a crop circle than to meet a hunter who is truly ethical to the animals he kills. How can tracking down an inoffensive creature and blasting it out of existence ever really be ethical anyway? No matter how a hunter may rationalize, or claim to give thanks to the animal’s spirit, the dying will never see their killer’s acts as the least bit honorable.
I’m sure Ted Nugent considers himself an ethical hunter. Hell, Ted Bundy likely thought himself an ethical serial killer. But to their victims they’re just murderous slobs. Likewise, Teddy Roosevelt—who, in his two-volume African Game Trails, lovingly muses over shooting elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hartebeest, impalas, pigs, the not-so-formidable 30-pound steenbok and even a mother ostrich on her nest—considered himself an exceedingly ethical hunter.
All hunters, whether they call it an act of sport or subsistence, eat what they kill (or at least give the meat away to others). Would Jeffrey Dahmer be considered ethical just because he ate those he murdered? Though some get more pleasure out of the dirty deed of killing than others, no hunter would even be out there doing it if they didn’t get some joy out of the act of stalking and “bagging” their prey. But there are less destructive ways to get your kicks and healthier, less costly sources of nourishment than cholesterol-laden, carcinogenic rotting flesh.
Though they may not take trophies or photographs of themselves with their kill, nearly everyone who hunts gets some kind of a thrill when boasting about their conquest or sharing the spoils at the neighborhood barbeque.
In the book, Exposing the Big Game, I quote Farley Mowat, the sagacious naturalist and author of the 1963 trendsetter, Never Cry Wolf, whose firsthand insight into the hunter mindset should lay to rest the myth of the “ethical hunter:”
“Almost all young children have a natural affinity for other animals…When I was a boy growing up on the Saskatchewan prairies, that feeling of affinity persisted—but it became perverted. Under my father’s tutelage I was taught to be a hunter; taught that ‘communion with nature’ could be achieved over the barrel of a gun; taught that killing wild animals for sport establishes a mystic bond, ‘an ancient pact’ between them and us.
“I learned first how to handle a BB gun, then a .22 rifle and finally a shotgun. With these I killed ‘vermin’—sparrows, gophers, crows and hawks. Having served that bloody apprenticeship, I began killing ‘game’—prairie chicken, ruffed grouse, and ducks. By the time I was fourteen, I had been fully indoctrinated with the sportsman’s view of wildlife as objects to be exploited for pleasure.
Farley Mowat, is his eloquent and sometimes verbose way, goes on to tell of wounding a goose who yearns to join her fast disappearing flock. You can read the entire piece in my book or in his foreword to Captain Paul Watson’s Ocean Warrior, but to make a long, sad story short, he ends with:
“Driving home to Saskatoon that night I felt a sick repugnance for what we had done…I never hunted again.”
Now that’s what I call an ethical hunter.