Monday, November 27, 2006


(December, 2001) “You got the day off for what?!”
Yes, once again I had to explain to someone not of this area why I get a day off to chase deer through the woods (if the school district and state hadn’t crossed wires this year).
I have mixed feelings about this business of hunting down Bambi’s extended family. On the one hand, I don’t have a lot of personal interest in hunting. The prospect of getting up early in the morning so that I can go out and crouch in the woods, cold muscles bunched up and cramping, waiting for the small chance to blow a hole in a furry woodland creature that is about as threatening as Big Bird—well, I can’t say that the whole thing has a lot of appeal for me. On top of that, I’m not a big fan of veal (though deer baloney is pretty tasty stuff when prepared properly).
Of course, I’m not the one to point fingers at odd recreational activities. I spent the summer getting up early so that I could start the day by seeing how fast I could run a few miles in order to end up, sweaty and sore, exactly where I started. Really, there are plenty of sports that don’t hold up well under close, rational observation.
I don’t buy the “logical” arguments in favor of hunting. My favorite is the old “thinning the herd” idea. Not that I disagree with the need to control the deer population, but if that were really our goal, there are better ways to pursue it. A few well-placed patrols of off-season snow-plows could control the herd size pretty efficiently.
No, “controlling deer population” is an argument designed to appeal to city folks. It encourages them to think of deer as giant rats, or cockroaches, only with big round eyes.
City dwellers reject arguments like the idea that hunting is a sport that brings humans into a sort of connection with nature. How can that be, they ask, when the whole object is to kill an animal?
That’s the kind of question that you get from folks whose understanding of nature is based on the work of that great naturalist, Walt Disney. In nature, violent death followed by the chewing and digesting of one’s fellow creature is a fairly normal occurrence. In fact, oddly enough, the novel that Disney’s Bambi is based upon features violent death in the animal kingdom prominently.
At least some animal rights activists are consistent. People who oppose the “brutal and barbaric” sport of hunting but still enjoy chowing down on a hamburger confuse me. What exactly is the belief system here? Killing a captive animal is more humane than killing one that has a chance to get away? Beef and pork are okay because they come from animals that are not very cute? Perhaps they just don’t know better, and assume that Big Macs come from a happy tree somewhere. After all, we’ve never actually seen Ronald McDonald butcher a cow.
But even though other animal rights supporters are more consistent in their opposition to eating anything that ever had a pulse, I still can’t really get on their side of things. Animals are not people; people are not animals. This seems pretty simple to me. And while I’ll admit that, philosophically, I’m not quite ready to say exactly where that line between human and animal should be drawn, I have no doubt that I’m on one side of it and Bambi and Bossie are on the other.
I like the idea that hunting cuts the middleman out of the food chain. So few of us actually gather our own food any more. Once upon a time, collecting enough food to avoid starvation was a major human activity. Nowadays too many humans don’t even know where their food comes from. So I think hunting keeps an important chunk of human experience alive and in the world, like continuing to perform the works of Mozart long after his death.
Yes, I know. Some “hunters” misrepresent the sport terribly. When I think about hunting in its best sense, I’m not imagining a dangerously drunk city dweller with a firearm in his hand. Not everyone plays Mozart well, either, but that doesn’t mean his music stinks.
Animal rights activists seem to accept the modern misconception that humans are not part of nature. I think hunting in some small way helps correct that misconception. My grandfather was a hunter. Late in his life, hunting for him meant traveling to places accessible only by seaplane, hunting animals bigger than SUV’s, guided by men who had only vague knowledge of things like indoor plumbing. Seems to me that it was better tonic for him than any trip to Disneyland would have been.


BillyD said...

I agree that hunting is a connection to human past. It's probably the biggest reason most people hunt - a quasi-religious feeling, somehow commuting with our ancestors by hunting food like they once did. It's seems romanticized to me though- a kind of "noble savage" thing.
Most hunters desrcibe the experience as a feeling that those who don't hunt can't understand. I seriously doubt that the 'reptilian brain' is stirred to activity when one hunts deer and exposes great truths of reality. But we put more signifigance than warranted to activities all the time. Look how seriously we take football.
-Bill Dummett
ps As a former student, I was afraid to post a comment to a former english teacher. I can make the caveat, however, that I really wasn't in class much.

Peter A. Greene said...

I'd go along with the connection to the past thing-- though sometimes it's as simple as generations of family tradition. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years if the Pennsylvania game herd is, as many claim, being managed into oblivion.

And Bill, you remain a useful reminder to me that the slackers of today can become the successful grown-ups of tomorrow.

From my Flickr