On Hunting…

Lookout, I’ve pulled out the soapbox.

Recently, I’ve come upon more than a few people who are expressing a general dislike for hunters and hunting.  It gets my hackles up right away, of course, being married to a very responsible, passionate hunter.  The arguments I hear are usually quite uninformed, and unfairly prejudiced.

Over the last month, I’ve heard about how *all* hunters are supposedly only after trophies, running around willy-nilly with machine guns, madly through the woods killing Bambi and any other living creature that crosses their paths with no respect or remorse, tromping over sacred wilderness destroying all that is in their paths.

Wow.

Many people are unaware that hunting is a highly regulated division of wildlife management.  Yes, management.  Hunters pay a fee to apply for a license in a specific area of the state.  Apply.  As in, they may not get the license they are applying for.  But the Division of Wildlife gets that fee no matter what.  The DOW gives out so many licenses per area (all the applications go into a drawing).  So many licenses are for males, and so many are for females.  How many?  Well, the DOW actually keeps tabs on the herds in all the areas of the state.  They determine how many animals can thrive on the land (all this counting, as well as the land management itself, is mostly paid for by those application fees from hunters).  The DOW  keeps track of how many licenses were filled the previous year, and how many weren’t.  They keep track of how hard the previous seasons were – was there too much snow for all the animals to find food? Was the summer too dry and the vegetation low?  They make sure that there are not more licenses given for an area than the herds in the area can afford to lose.

For example, in years past, Rick and his brothers and uncles and grandfather would all get licenses, usually at least one deer and one elk license each, for the area they hunt near Kremmling.  But last year (2008) hardly anyone had a license.  One person in their whole group had a deer license, and every one else got either one elk license or nothing.   The total number of animals killed last year for the family: zero.

This year, the herds had increased (due to the break they got last year).  Rick had two elk tags and a deer tag.  He filled his deer tag, and so did two other hunters in his group.  But a friend of ours, who hunts a neighboring area, got no licenses at all this year.  But he paid all the fees.

Also as with other applications in this country, you have to give information about yourself.  You have to give your personal information (like SSN, proof of residency, etc.), prove that you’ve taken and passed a two-day hunter safety course.  You can’t be a felon, and the types of guns/calibers used for hunting are regulated.  Not every one can just shoot a deer.

I encourage anyone to visit their states DOW website (here’s Colorado’s) and view the many rules and regulations surrounding hunting.

It is illegal to kill an animal without a license.  It’s illegal to kill a different animal than you have a license for.  It’s illegal to kill an animal outside of the season determined by the DOW (the seasons are one to two weeks long).  That is called poaching.   Hunters truly detest poachers.  Poachers steal and/or waste the meat, hurt populations, destroy habitat, and make hunters look bad.  They are generally selfish and hurtful to the image of hunters.  They are the ones people think of, running willy-nilly through the woods, shooting whatever they feel entitled to.

Poachers are not punished with a  simple wrist slap.  When they are caught, generally their guns are confiscated, their hunting privileges revoked for life, and they are saddled with huge fines and sometimes jail time.  My friend’s father (an avid hunter) helped catch someone poaching a bear near his home in Allenspark this summer.  The DOW awarded him $500 (he could have chosen instead to have Preference Points – points that give him an advantage in next years license drawing).

So what about trophies?  One of the recent argue-ers (unsolicited at a bookstore, after I made H put a video of  Disney’s Bambi back on the shelf) informed me of how terrible hunters were because they always took the biggest and the best animals, only hungry for trophies.  Well, as you can see with the license system, it’s harder to pull a tag for a male deer or elk than just wanting it.  And most “trophy worthy” animals (the ones with the big antlers) are older.   They’ve been around for a few years, spread their seed, and yes, hunters often look for them.  They have more meat because they are bigger. And killing the old male, and passing over younger fork-horns, will let those young bucks grow their own big antlers, and give them a chance to start their own herd.  The young ones are the ones that you don’t want to see on the table… like with beef, you kill the older, fully grown steer, and let the yearling grow up a bit.

But many hunters are a bit more like Rick.  They view the animal they killed to feed their family as the trophy.  The meat in the freezer is the prize after a few days hunting.  It doesn’t matter how big the antlers were (or if they even had any).  Having kids with full bellies all year-long is trophy enough for them.

Besides all of this, hunting is spiritual, sustainable, organic, natural, and an important tradition for many families.  Rick says ‘thank you’ to each animal whose life he has taken to sustain our own.  When he shot the grouse with H, we taught H how the grouse died so we could eat.  How to treat it with respect, and how the grace said at dinner means something…

The animals on a hunters table is free-range, organic, and healthier than anything commercially raised.  It’s sustainably “produced” by nature.  And thankfully most of America has overcome the greed that decimated the bison on this country.  Most hunters are conservationists.  Rick’s uncle loves to hunt ducks.  So he belongs to clubs and organizations that preserve duck habitat.  The DOW works with land owners to preserve and maintain wildlife habitat, as well as conduct outreach and education for the public, such as Georgetown’s Big Horn Sheep festival in November and youth hunter mentoring.  And, by the way, Rick is a volunteer for the DOW for these kind of programs.

There was a great short series of articles called Thoughts on Eating Venison posted on Field & Stream’s blog yesterday:

The Obligation
The Ritual
The Manifesto
The Plea
The Tribute

The blogs, along with the comments, can be quite enlightening as to how hunters around this country think.

For me, I sleep easier knowing that my food never placed a hoof in a feed lot.  There are no antibiotics or hormones to contend with.  I know it was slaughtered humanely, and processed in a clean facility.  And it’s quite tasty too.

What about you?  Thoughts on hunting?  Personal experiences?

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Categories: Food, Hunting, Sustainability | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “On Hunting…

  1. Growing up in Iowa, I am a daughter of a hunter. I’ve have eaten many squirrel and venison in my day. My father was a passionate hunter and respected the land and animals. I do know about the “willy-nilly” hunters that give hunting a bad name. Great post.
    Katie Jean

  2. I don’t have a problem with meat hunters and the majority of people I know hunt. But at the same time I’m a vegetarian who’s growing most all my own food in the yard and don’t see it as necessary. I dunno. What can you do :)

    It’s just another one of those subjects most people feel very strongly about. But then there’s me wishy washying around in the middle…lol.

  3. Anisa

    Thanks KJ –

    Viggie – we too try to grow most of our own food, but as omnivores, we feel that hunting is a responsible, sustainable and affordable choice, since we can’t raise birds for meat (let alone a cow or pig!) in our urban backyard. Though we’ve considered the meat rabbit thing, we’ve heard you shouldn’t keep rabbits and chickens in close proximity since they share diseases. So, well, there you have it.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Amen, Anisa! My husband is on currently his 3rd day of deer hunting this year, still waiting for the right opportunity to make a safe and humane kill. His time sitting in the cold woods is appreciated by our family. Every time we have a dinner that includes some of the venison we say a special gratitude for the animal and for the wonderful, free-range, hormone/antibiotic-free meat.

  5. Tracy

    As a child living in Iowa and Colorado, my father would hunt deer and elk. What he shot was more often than not the only meat we ate that year. Although I have been interested in hunting for years, it’s only this year that my husband and I completely our hunter’s safety class. Now to get the gear we’ll be for next year more than likely. We are responsible hunters though – we will not be hunting this year due to the fact we have not had time to practice with our weapons – and neither one of us is comfortable in shooting at something we’re not confident we can kill with one shot. I was actually surprised (and happy) to learn how regulated the whole thing was.

    Unfortunately for animal populations, the more the human population spreads, the less place it has for its own herds….as we in Iowa City witness all too frequently seeing high numbers of dead deer in the ditches along the roads – and if you think you can change the patterns of human spread, well, good luck! Hunting provides money for studying and preserving animal populations, so we can at least all try to live together without “unnecessary” deaths to animal populations.

    Our view is that we want to be as close to our food sources as possible – we raise a lot of our own veggies and next year hope to hunt a large amount of our own meat. Being so far removed from a food source is more of a problem than whether you eat meat or not in my humble opinion.

  6. Tracy

    Oh yeah, and meat eaters who think hunting is bad – at least these hunted animals had the chance to be free and roam unlike most of their factory farm cousins.

  7. Anisa

    Thanks Tracy – I agree with your completely that being so far removed from a food source is more of a problem than whether you eat meat or not. I totally respect people’s choices on being omnivorous or vegetarian. I just think people should be connected to their food and eat responsibly/sustainably.

    Way to go on your hunter’s safety. I am due to take the course (hopefully this coming year) as it’s my goal to go hunting before my ’101 in 1001′ runs out. So in 2010, I’ll be on the mountain. Thankfully I’ve been shooting much of my life at the gun ranges with my dad and with Rick.

  8. Anisa

    By the way – my hunter friend who caught the poacher made both the Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera. The Camera’s article is much more detailed.

  9. Another wife of a hunter here! Years ago before I married him, I was not a big fan of the sport. Yes, I viewed it as a sport.

    But last year this “sport” enabled us to have two deer in our freezer during a year when we really needed that meat.

    This year he didn’t shoot one.

    I complain about all the applications (and fees) on the years when he doesn’t bring home a turkey, deer, duck, etc.

    But I am so grateful when he does!

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  12. kat

    I grew up in a Suburban area in the Northeast and the parks that have hunting seasons are well known to be covered in trash, shell casing and beer cans and bottles. For me, the irresponsible hunters who go out and drink with guns (obviously this is not allowed when you apply for a license) scare me and tend to generalize how people in my area view hunters. As always you can have 20 responsible hunters, but everyone remembers the one “hunter” out there getting drunk, littering and shooting stuff at random.

    I wish there were more enforcement of responsible hunting in my area. If that viewpoint of hunters in general could be changed, more people would allow hunters onto their land to control the deer population, feed the hungry using the meat. Being that in the Northeast we have a major Lyme’s/deer tick problem, encouraging controlled hunts to keep the herds free of disease and at a manageable size should be more important. Last I heard, there are still some crazies who go out and rings loud bells in the parks during hunting season in an attempt to “save” the deer. Nevermind that more are killed by cars and their meat is wasted, along with sometimes killing people in those cars as well.

    So keep fighting the good fight and informing people that most hunters are respectful and well informed about the environment!

  13. My husband is a Wildlife Biologist and avid hunter. He prefers traditional archery and black powder during gun season. And is very critical of the “stereotypical hunter”, aka trophy hunting. He hunts to put food on the table, and honestly the younger they are the more tender the meat. When people say they don’t like venison because it’s too gamy…It’s probably because they’ve only tasted the big buck. The older the deer, the tougher the meat. The only thing we use old deer meat for is stew.
    In Northern VA, where we use to live, the deer population is too high for the area, so with your licenses they give you 3 buck tags and 3 doe tags, but you can purchase additional doe tags throughout the season. Our current County in Central VA is a dog county, which means during the “appropriate season” you can run deer and bear with dogs (much like with fox). He doesn’t like or agree with this method of hunting either. So, for as many different types of hunting there is, there are also different types of hunters – and they’re all not equal!

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