In Defense of Hunting

I spent the weekend roaming the orange-tinged forests near Bedford in pursuit of whitetail deer, muzzleoading rifle in hand. The weekend meant a lot to me. I have the opportunity to hunt only once or twice a year, and it is one of the few things that has been constantly part of my life since I was little. Also, it gives me a chance to spent time with my Dad, which doesn’t happen all that often anymore.
Still, it feels strange to me that hunting is such an important part of my life. Living with and around a handful of vegetarians, it is difficult not to question the decision to eat meat, let alone take the life of an animal for sport or food. I am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I recycle what I can, and reduce my impact in as many ways as possible. I am one of those crazy people who takes Leave No Trace seriously…just ask anyone who has backpacked with me recently. Yet I will take the life of an animal that frequents the same ecosystem that I try so hard to protect?

I do not need the animal. I am well fed, clothed, and have no need for skins or bones. Of course I use the meat, and when able I tan hides, and make tools and decorations out of the bones. I don’t hunt or bucks….the antlers are of little use to me. What reason then justifies killing that deer?

“…but as I ran down the hill toward the reddening west, with the
rainbow over my shoulder, and some faint tinkling sounds borne
to my ear through the cleansed air, from I know not what quarter,
my Good Genious seemed to say, – Go fish and hunt far and
wide day by day, – farther and wider, – and rest thee by many
brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy
Creator in the days of thy youth.
Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let
the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee
everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no
worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to
thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never
become English hay.
Let the thunder rumble; what if it threaten ruin to farmers’ crops?
That is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while
they flee to carts and sheds.
Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy the land,
but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are
where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like
serfs.”

The answer is not that I need the deer, or that I revel in the sport of killing. Far from it, in fact….it is a difficult decision every time a doe stands before my sights and my finger rests lightly on the trigger. After the shot, when I come across the downed creature, bleeding in the leaves, I kneel and thank it for its sacrifice. What’s more, cleaning and butchering the deer is no pleasant chore. No doubt, it would be considerably less involved to live on beans and bagels.

I choose to eat meat. As a non-vegetarian, I feel that hunting is the most ethical means of procuring meat. The difference in quality of life between a farm raised cow and a wild Pennsylvania whitetail is incomparable. Even more striking: factory-farmed chickens and wild turkeys! I challenge anyone who promotes “free range chicken” farming to say that hunting is wrong.

Beyond the ethical distinction between eating wild game and farm raised meat there are other reasons that hunting is a vital part of my life. By participating in blood sport, I am more deeply connected to the biotic systems that I enjoy and try to protect whilst pursuing other outdoors activities. It is sad to think that people exist who believe that meat comes from the grocery store.

Even more sad is the fact that humans are some of the last remaining natural predators of the whitetail in Pennsylvania. We have exterminated the wolves….coyotes are only now becoming present in the backwoods, and insurance companies prefer that the automobile not be used in population control. As a species, we humans have been preying on deer for some ten thousand years. We have evolved together, and our relationship is not one that can or should end via an emotional plea to “save the animals.”

While my defense of my choice to hunt is not the most eloquent, not perfect, nor free from hypocrisy, nor totally original, it reflects nearly ten years of thought on the matter. If you wish to respectfully disagree with me, email or call and I will give your argument the best consideration I am able. But until you convince me otherwise, I will continue to rise before the dawn, roam the woods, and give due consideration to my Good Genius.

1 comment

1 Phil { 02.28.11 at 11:04 am }

My feelings have changed so little on this topic over the past eight years.

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