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.
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 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?