Essay Hunting

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warning graphic photo

Bear “trophy” head at the Kodiak Archipelago ):

Twenty years ago Joy Williams wrote an essay for Esquire Magazine, blasting hunters and hunting. She pulls no punches!

The Killing Game by Joy Williams

October  1990, Esquire Magazine

Death and suffering are a big part of hunting.  A big part. Not that you’d ever know it by hearing hunters talk. They tend to downplay the killing part. To kill is to put to death, extinguish, nullify, cancel, destroy. But from the hunter’s point of view, it’s just a tiny part of the experience. The kill is the least important part of the hunt, they often say, or, killing involves only a split second of the innumerable hours we spend surrounded by and observing nature…For the animal, of course, the killing part is of considerable more importance. José Ortega y Gasset, In Meditations on Hunting, wrote, Death is a sign of reality in hunting. One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrarary, one kills in order to have hunted. This is sort of intellectual blather that the “thinking” hunter holds dear. The conservation editor of Field & Stream, George Reiger, recently paraphrased this sentiment by saying, We kill to hunt, and not the other way around,thereby making it truly fatuous. A hunter in West Virginia, one Mr. Bill Neal, blazed through this philosophical fog by explaining why he blows the toes off tree raccoons so that they will fall down and be torn apart by his dogs. That’s the best part of it. It’s not any fun just shooting them.

There is a formula to this in literature—someone the protagonist loves has just died, so he goes out and kills an animal. This makes him feel better. But it’s kind of a sad feeling-better. He gets to relate to Death and Nature in this way. Somewhat. But not really. Death is still a mystery. Well it’s hard to explain. It’s sort of a semireligious thing… Killing and affirming, affirming and killing, it’s just the cross the “good” hunter must bear. The bad hunter just has to deal with postkill letdown.

Many are the hunter’s specious arguments. Less semi-religious but a long-standing favorite with them is the vegetarian approach: you eat meat, don’t you? If you say no, they feel they’ve got you—you’re just a vegetarian attempting to impose your weird views on others. If you say yes, they accuse you for being hypocritical, of allowing your genial A&P butcher to stand between you and reality. The fact is, the chief attraction of hunting is the pursuit and murder of animals—the meat eating aspect of it is trivial. If the hunter chooses to beethicalabout it, he might cook his kill, but the meat of most animals is discarded. Dead bear can even be dangerous! A bear’s heavy hide must be skinned at once to prevent meat spoilage. With effort, a hunter can make okay chili, something to keep in mind,a sports rag says, if you take two skinny spring bears.

As for subsistence hunting, please… Granted that there might be one “good” hunter out there who conducts the kill as spiritual exercise and two others who are atavistic enough to want to supplement their Chicken McNuggets with venison, most hunters hunt for the hell of it.

For hunters, hunting is fun. Recreation is play. Hunting is recreation. Hunters kill for play, for entertainment. They kill for the thrill of it, to make an animal “theirs”. (The Gandhian doctrine of nonpossesion has never been a big hit with hunters.) The animal becomes the property of the hunter by its death. Alive, the beast belongs only to itself. This is unacceptable to the hunter. He’s yours…He’s mine…I decided to…I decided not to…I debated shooting it, then I decided to let it live…Hunters like beautiful creatures. A “beautiful” deer, elk, bear, couger, bighorn sheep. A “beautiful” goose or mallard. Of course, they don’t stay “beautiful” for long, particularly the birds.Keep shooting till they drop!Hunters get a thrill out of seeing a plummeting bird, out of seeing it crumple and fall. The big pheasant folded in classic fashion. They get a kick out of “collecting” new species.Why not add a unique harlequin duck to your collection? Swan hunting is satisfying. I let loose a three-inch Magnum. The large bird only flinched with my first shot and began to gain altitude. I frantically ejected the round, chambered another, and dropped the swan with my second shot. After retrieving the bird I was amazed by its size. The swan’s six-foot wingspan, huge body, and long neck made it an impressive trophy.Hunters like big animals, trophy animals. A “trophy” usually means that the hunter doesn’t design to eat it. Maybe he skins it or mounts it. Maybe he takes a picture.We took pictures, we took pictures.Maybe he just looks at it for a while. The disposition of the “experience” is up to the hunter. He’s entitled to do whatever he wishes with the damn thing. It’s dead.

Hunters like categories they can tailor to their needs. There are the “good” animals—deer, elk, bear, moose—which are allowed to exist for the hunter’s pleasure. Then there are the “bad” animals, the vermin, varmints, and “nuisance” animals, the rabbits and raccoons and coyotes and beavers and badgers, which are disencouraged to exist. The hunter can have fun killing them, but the pleasure is diminished because the animals aren’t “magnificent”.

Then there are the predators. These can be killed any time, because, hunters argue, they’re predators, for godssakes.

Many people in South Dakota want to exterminate the red fox because it preys upon some of the ducks and pheasant they want to hunt and kill each year. They found that after they killed the wolves and coyotes, they had more foxes than they wanted. The ring-necked pheasant is South Dakota’s state bird. No matter that it was imported from Asia specifically to be harvested for sport, it’s South Dakota’s state bird and they are proud of it. A group called Pheasants Unlimited gave some tips on how to hunt foxes.Place a small amount of larvicide [a grain fumigant] on a rag and chuck it down the hole… The first pup generally comes out in fifteen minutes… Use a .22 to dispatch him… Remove each pup shot from the hole. Following gassing, set traps for the old fox who will return later in the evening…Poisoning, shooting, trapping—they make up a sort of sportsman’s triathlon.

In the hunting magazines, hunters freely admit the pleasure of killing

to one another.Undeniable pleasure radiated from her smile. The excitement of shooting the bear had Barb talking a mile a minute.But in public, most hunters are becoming a little wary about raving on as to how much fun it is to kill things. Hunters have a tendency to call large animal by cute names—“bruins” and “muleys”, “berry-fed blackies” and “handsome cusses” and “big guys”, thereby implying a balanced jolly game of mutual satisfaction between the hunter and the hunted—Bam, bam, bam, I get to shoot you and you get to be dead.More often, though, when dealing with the nonhunting public, a drier, businesslike tone is employed. Animal become a “resource” that must be “utilized”. Hunting becomes “a legitimate use of the resource”. Animals become a product like wool or lumber or a crop like fruit or corn that must be “collected” or “taken” or “harvested”. Hunters love to use the word legitimate. (Oddly, Tolstoy referred to hunting as “evil legitimized”.) a legitimate use, a legitimate form of recreation, a legitimate escape, a legitimate pursuit. It’s a word they trust will slam the door on discourse. Hunters are increasingly relying upon their spokesmen and supporters, state and federal game managers and wildlife officials, to employ the drone of a solemn bureaucratic language and toss around a lot of questionable statistics to assure the nonhunting public (93 percent!) that there’s nothing to worry about. The pogrom is under control. The mass murder and manipulation of wild animals is just another business. Hunters are a tiny minority, and it’s crucial to them that the millions of people who don’t hunt not be awakened from their long sleep and become antihunting. Nonhunters are okay. Dweeby, probably, but okay. A hunter can respect the rightsof a nonhunter. It’s the “antis” he despises, those misguided, emotional, not-in –possession-of –the-facts, uninformed zealots who don’t understand nature… Those dime-store ecologists cloaked in ignorance and spurred by emotion… Those doggy-woggy types, who under the guise of being environmentalists and conservationists are working to deprive him of his precious right to kill. (Sometimes it’s just a right; sometimes it’s agod-givenright.) Antis can be scorned, but nonhunters must be pacified, and this is where the number crunching of wildlife biologists and the scripts ofprofessional resource managerscome in. leave it to the professionals. They know what numbers are the good numbers. Utah determined that there were six hundred sandhill cranes in the state, so permits were issued to shoot one hundred of them. Don’t want to have too many sandhill cranes. California wildlife officials reported “sufficient numbers” of mountain lions to “justify” renewed hunting, even though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the animal is extremely rare. (It’s always a dark day for hunters when an animal is adjudged rare. How can its numbers be “controlled” through hunting if it scarcely exists?) a recent citizens’ referendum prohibits the hunting of the mountain lion in perpetuity—not that the lions aren’t killed anyway, in California and all over the West, hundreds of them annually by the government as part of the scandalous Animal Damage Control Program. Oh, to be the lucky hunter who gets to be an official government hunter and can legitimately kill animals his buddies aren’t supposed to! Montana officials, led by K. L. Cool, that state’s wildlife director, have definite ideas of the number of buffalo they feel can be tolerated. Zero is the number. Yellowstone National Park is the only place in America where bison exist, having been annihilated everywhere else. In the winter of 1988, nearly six hundred buffalo wandered out of the north boundary of the park and into Montana, where they were immediately shot at point-blank range by lottery-winning hunters. It was easy. And it was obvious from a video taken on one of the blow-away-the-bison days that the hunters had a heck of a good time. The buffalo, Cool says, threaten ranchers’ livelihoods by doing damage to property—by which he means, I guess, that they eat the grass. Montana wants zero buffalos; it also wants zero wolves.

Large predators—including grizzlies, cougars, and wolves

are often the most “beautiful”, the smartest and wildest animals of all. The gray wolf is both a supreme predator and an endangered species, and since the Supreme Court recently affirmed that ranchers have no constitutional right to kill endangered predators—apparently some God-given rights are not constitutional ones—this makes the wolf a more or less lucky dog. But not for long. A small population of gray wolves has recently established itself in northwestern Montana, primarily in Glacier National Park, and there is a plan, long a dream of conservationists, to “reintroduce” the wolf to Yellowstone. But to please ranchers and hunters, part of the plan would involve immediately removing the wolf from the endangered-species list. Beyond the park’s boundaries, he could be hunted as a “game animal” or exterminated as a “pest”. (Hunters kill to hunt, remember, except when they’re hunting to kill.) the area of Yellowstone where the wolf would be restored is the same mountain and high-plateau country that is abandoned in winter by most animals, including the aforementioned luckless bison. Part of the plan, too, is compensation to ranchers if any of their far-ranging livestock is killed by a wolf. It’s a real industry out there, apparently, killing and controlling and getting compensated for losing something under the Big Sky.

Wolves gotta eat—a fact that disturbs hunters.Jack Atcheson, an outfitter in Butte, said, Some wolves are fine if there is control. But there never will be control. The wolf-control plan provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service speaks only of protecting domestic livestock. There is no plan to protect wildlife… There are no surplus deer or elk in Montana… Their numbers are carefully managed. With uncontrolled wolf populations, a lot of people will have to give up hunting just to feed wolves. Will you give up your elk permit for a wolf?

It won’t be long before hunters start demanding compensation for animals they aren’t able to shoot.

Hunters believe that wild animals exist only to satisfy their wish to kill them. And it’s so easy to kill them! The weaponry available is staggering, and the equipment and gear limitless. The demand for big boomers has never been greater than right now, Outdoor Life crows, and the makers of rifles and cartridges are responding to the craze with a variety of light artillery that is virtually unprecedented in the history of sporting arms… Hunters use grossly overpowered shotguns and rifles and compound bows. They rely on four-wheel-drive vehicles and three-wheel ATVs and airplanes… He was interesting, the only moving, living creature on that limitless white expanse. I slipped a cartridge into the barrel of my rifle and threw the safety off… They use snowmobiles to run down elk, and dogs to run down tree cougars. It’s easy to shoot an animal out of a tree. It’s virtually impossible to miss a moose, a conspicuous and placid animal of steady habits… I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. The bull dropped. I looked at my watch: 8:22. The big guy was early. Mike started whooping and hollering and I joined him. I never realized how big a moose was until this one was on the ground. We took pictures… hunters shoot animals when they are restingMike selected a deer, settled down to a steady rest, and fired. The buck was hit when he squeezed the trigger. John decided to take the other buck, which had jumped up to its feet. The deer hadn’t seen us and was confused by the shot echoing about in the valley. John took careful aim, fired, and took the buck. The hunt was over… And they shoot them when they are eating…The bruin ambled up the stream, checking gravel bars and backwaters for fish. Finally he plopped down on the bank to eat. Quickly, I tiptoed into the range… They use decoys and calls…The six-point gave me a cold-eyed glare from ninety steps away. I hit him with a 130-grain Sierra boat-tail handload. The bull went down hard. Our hunt was over… They use sex lures… The big buck raised its nose to the air, curled back its lips, and tested the scent of the doe’s urine. I held my breath, fought back the shivers, and jerked off a shot. The 180-grain spire-point bullet caught the buck high on the back behind the shoulder and put it down. It didn’t get up…They use walkie-talkies, binoculars, scopes… With my 308 Browning BLR, I steadied the 9X cross hairs on the front of the bear’s massive shoulders and squeezed. The bear cartwheeled backward for fifty yards… The second Federal Premium 165-grain bullet found its mark. Another shot anchored the bear for good… They bait deer with corn. They spread popcorn on golf courses for Canada geese and they douse meat baits with fry grease and honey for bears…Make the baiting site redolent of inner-city doughnut shops. They use blinds and tree stands and mobile stands. They go out in groups, in gangs, and employ “pushes” and “drives”. So many methods are effective. So few rules apply. It’s fun!… We kept on repelling the swarms of birds as they came in looking for shelter from that big ocean wind, emptying our shell belts… A species can, in the vernacular, bepressured by hunting (which means that killing them has decimated them), but that just increases the fun, the challenge.There is practically no criticism of conduct within the ranks… It’s mostly a matter of opinion and how hunters have been brought up to hunt… Although a recent editorial inDucks Unlimitedmagazine did venture to primly suggest that one should not fall victim to greed-induced stress through piggish competition with others.

But hunters are piggy. They just can’t seem to help it. They’re overequipped… insatiable, malevolent, and vain. They maim and mutilate and despoil. And for the most part, they’re inept. Grossly inept.

Camouflaged toilet paper is a must for the modern hunter, along with his Bronco and his beer. Too many hunters taking a dump in the woods with their roll of Charmin beside them were mistaken for white-tailed deer and shot. Hunters get excited. They’ll shoot anything—the pallid ass of another sportsman or even themselves. A Long Island man died last year when his shotgun went off as he clubbed a wounded deer with the butt. Hunters get mad. They get restless and want to fire! They want to use those assault rifles and see foamy blood on the ferns. Wounded animals can travel for miles in fear and pain before they collapse. Countless gut-shot deer—if you hear a sudden, squashy thump, the animal has probably been hit in the abdomenare “lost” each year. “Poorly placed shots” are frequent, and injured animal are seldom tracked, because most hunters never learned how to track. The majority of hunters will shoot at anything with four legs during deer season and anything with wings during duck season. Hunters try to nail running animals and distant birds. They become so overeager, soaroused, that they misidentify and misjudge, spraying their “game” with shots but failing to bring them down.

The fact is, hunters’ lack of skill is a big, big problem. And nowhere is the problem worse than in the new glamour recreation, bow hunting. These guys are elitists. They doll themselves up in camouflage, paint their faces black, and climb up into tree stands from which they attempt the penetration of deer, elk, and turkeys with modern, multiblade, broadhead arrows shot from sophisticated, easy-to-draw compound bows. This “primitive” way of hunting appeals to many, and even the nonhunter may feel that it’s a “fairer” method, requiring more strength and skill, but bow hunting is the cruelest, most wanton form of wildlife disposal of all. Studies conducted by state fish and wildlife departments repeatedly show that bow hunters wound and fail to retrieve as many animals as they kill. An animal that flees, wounded by an arrow, will most assuredly die of the wound, but it will be days before he does. Even with a “good” hit, the time elapsed between the strike and death is exceedingly long.The rule of thumb has long been that we should wait thirty to forty-five minutes on heart and lung hits, an hour or more on a suspected liver hit, eight to twelve hours on paunch hits, and that we should follow immediately on hindquarter and muscle-only hits, to keep the wound open and bleeding, is the advice in the magazine Fins and Feathers.What the hunter does as he hangs around waiting for his animal to finish with its terrified running and dying hasn’t been studied—maybe he puts on more makeup, maybe he has a highball.

Wildlife agencies promote and encourage bow hunting by permitting earlier and longer seasons, even though they are well aware that, in their words,crippling is a by-product of the sport, making archers pretty sloppy for elitists. The broadhead arrow is a very inefficient killing tool. Bow hunters are trying to deal with this problem with the suggestion that they use poison pods. These poisoned arrows are illegal in all states except Mississippi( Ah’m gonna get ma deer even if ah just nick the little bastard), but they are widely used anyway. You wouldn’t want that deer to suffer, would you?

The mystique of the efficiency and decency of the bow hunter is as much as illusion as the perception that a waterfowler is a refined and thoughtful fellow, aromantic aesthete, as Vance Bourjaily put it, equipped with his faithful Labs and a love for solitude and wild places. More sentimental drivel has been written about bird shooting than any other type of hunting. It’s a soul-wrenching pursuit, apparently, the execution of birds in flight. Ducks Unlimited—an organization that has managed to put a spin on the wordconservation for years—works hard to project the idea that duck hunters are blue bloods and that duck stamps with their pretty pictures are responsible for saving all the saved puddles in North America.Sportsman’s conservationis a contradiction in terms (We protect things now so that we can kill them later) and is broadly interpreted (Don’t kill them all, just kill most of them). A hunter is a conservationist in the same way a farmer or a rancher is: he’s not. Like the rancher who kills everything that’s not stock on his (and the public’s) land, and the farmer who scorns wildlife because “they don’t pay their freight”, the hunter uses nature by destroying its parts, mastering it by simplifying it through death.

George (“We kill to hunt and not the other way around”) Reiger, the conservationist-hunter’s spokesman (he’s the best they’ve got, apparently), said the “dedicated” waterfowler will shoot other game “of course”, but we do so much in the same spirit of the lyrics, that when we’re not near the girl we love, we love the girl we’re near.(Duck hunters practice tough love). The fact is, far from being a “romantic aesthete” the waterfowler is the most avaricious of all hunters…That’s when Scott suggested the friendly wager on who would take the most birds…and the most resistant to minimum ecological decency. Millions of birds that managed to elude shotgun blasts were dying each year from ingesting the lead shot that rained down in the wetlands. Year after year, birds perished from feeding on spent lead, but hunters were “reluctant” to switch to steel. Theyworried that it would impair their shooting, and ammunition manufacturers said a changeover would be “expensive”. State and federal officials had to weigh the poisoning against these considerations. It took forever, this weighing, but now steel-shot loads are required almost everywhere, having been judged “more than adequate” to bring down the birds. This is not to say, of course, that most duck hunters use steel-shot almost everywhere. They’re traditionalists and don’t care for all the new, pesky rules. Oh, for the golden age of waterfowling, when a man could measure a good day’s shooting by the pickup load. But those days are gone. Fall is a melancholy time, all right.

Spectacular abuses occur wherever geese congregate, Shooting Sportsmannotes quietly, something that the more cultivated Ducks Unlimited would hesitate to admit. Waterfowl populations are plummeting and waterfowl hunters are out of control. “Supervised” hunts are hardly distinguished from unsupervised ones. A biologist with the Department of the Interior who observed a hunt at Sand Lake in South Dakota said,Hunters repeatedly shot over the line at incoming flights where there was no possible chance of retrieving. Time and time again I was at the behaviour of hunters. I heard them laugh at the plight of dazed cripples that stumbled about. I saw them striking the heads of retrieved cripples against fence posts.In the South, wood ducks return to their roosts after sunset when shooting hours are closed. Hunters find this an excellent time to shoot them. Dennis Anderson, an outdoors writer, said,Roost shooters just fire at the birds as fast as they can, trying to drop as many as they can. Then they grab what birds they can find. The birds they can’t find in the dark, they leave behind.

Carnage and waste are the rules in bird hunting, even during legal seasons and open hours. Thousands of wounded ducks and geese are not retrieved, left to rot in the marshes and fields… When I asked Wanda where hers had fallen, she wasn’t sure. Cripples, and there are many cripples made in this pastime, are still able to run and hide, eluding the hunter even if he’s willing to spend time searching for them, which he usually isn’t… It’s one thing to run down a cripple in a picked bean field or a pasture, and quite another to watch a wing-tipped bird drop into a huge block of switch grass. Oh nasty, nasty switch grass. A downed bird becomes invisible on the ground and is practically unfindable without a good dog, and few “waterfowlers” have them these days. They’re hard to train—usually a professional has to do it—and most hunters can’t be bothered. Words are easy to tumble…Canada geese—blues and snows—can all take a good amount of shot. Brant are easily called and decoyed and come down easily. Roughed grouse are hard to hit but easy to kill. Shark tails are harder to kill but easier to hit… It’s just a nuisance to recover them. But its fun, fun, fun swatting them down… There’s distinct pleasure in watching a flock work to a good friend’s gun.

Teal, the smallest of common ducks, are really easy to kill. Hunters in the South use to practice on Teal in September, prior to the “serious” waterfowl season. But the birds were so diminutive and the limits so low (for a day) that many hunters felt it hardly worth going out and getting bit by mosquitoes to kill them. Enough did however, brave the bugs and manage to “harvest” 165,000 of the little migrating birds in Louisiana in 1987 alone. Shooting is usually best on opening day. By the second day you can sometimes detect a decline in local Teal numbers. Areas may deteriorate to virtually no action by the third day… The areadeteriorates. When a flock is wiped out, the skies are empty.No action.

Teal declined more sharply than any duck species except mallard last year; this baffles hunters. Hunters and their procurers—wildlife agencies—will never admit that hunting is responsible for the decimation of a species. John Turner, head of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, delivers the familiar and litanic line. Hunting is not the problem. Pollutionis the problem.Pesticides, urbanization, deforestation, hazardous waste, and wetland destruction are the problem. And drought! There’s been a big drought! Antis should devote their energies to solving these problems if they care about wildlife and leave the hunters alone. While the Fish and Wildlife Service is busily conducting experiments in cause and effect, like releasing Mallard ducklings on a wetland sprayed with the insecticides ethyl parathion (they died—it was known they would, but you can never have enough studies that show guns aren’t a duck’s only problem), hunters are killing some 200 million birds and animals each year. But these deaths are incidental to the problems, according to Turner. A factor, perhaps, but a minorone. Ducks Unlimited says the problem isn’t hunting,  Ducks Unlimited says the problem isn’t hunting, it’s low recruitment on the part of the birds. To the hunter, birth in the animal kingdom is recruitment. They wouldn’t want use an emotional, sentimental word like birth. The black duck, a very “popular” duck in the North East, so “popular” in fact, that game agencies felt that hunters couldn’t be asked to refrain from shooting it, is scarce and scarcer. Nevertheless, it’s still being hunted.A number of studies are currently underway in an attempt to discover why black ducks are disappearing, Sports Afield reports. Black ducks are disappearing because they’ve been shot out, their elimination being dreadful example of game management, and managers who are loath to “displease” hunters. The skiesflyways—of America have been divided into four administrative regions, and the states, advised by a federal government coordinator, have to agree on policies.

There’s always a lot of squabbling that goes on in flyway meetings—lots of complaints about short-stopping, for example. Short-stopping is the deliberate holding of birds in a state, often by feeding them in wildlife refuges, so that their southern migration is slowed or stopped. Hunters in the North get to kill more than hunters in the South. This isn’t fair. Hunters demand equity in opportunities to kill.

Wildlife managers hate closing the season on anything. Closing the season on a species would indicate a certain amount of mismanagement and misjudgment at the very least—a certain reliance on overly optimistic winter counts, a certain overappeasement of hunters who would be “upset” if they couldn’t kill their favourite thing. And worse, closing a season would be considered victory for the antis. Bird-hunting “rules” are very complicated, but they all encourage killing. There are shortened seasons and split seasons and special seasons for “underutilized” birds. (Teals were very recently considered “underutilized”). The limit on coots is fifteen a day—shooting them, it’s easy! They don’t fly high—giving the hunter something to do while he waits in the blind. Some species are “protected”, but bear in mind that hunters begin blasting away one half hour before sunrise and that most hunters can’t identify a bird in the air even in broad daylight. Some of them can’t identify birds in hand either, and even if they can (they are likely to bury unpopular or “trash” ducks so that they can continue to hunt the ones they “love”.

Game “professionals”, in thrall to hunters’ “needs”, will not stop managing bird population until they’ve doled out the final duck (I didn’t get my limit but I begged the last one, by golly…). The Fish and Wildlife Service services legal hunters as busily as any madam, but it is powerless in tempering the lusts of the illegal ones. Illegal kill is a monumental problem in the not-so-wonderful world of waterfowl. Excesses has always pervaded the “sport”, and bird shooters have historically been the slobs and profligates of huntingDoing away with hunting would do away with a vital cultural and historical aspect of American life, John Turner claims. So do away with it. Do away with those who have already done away with so much. Do away with them before the birds they have pursued so relentlessly and for so long drop into extinction, sink, in the poet Wallace Stevens’s words, “downward to darkness on extended wings”.

“Quality” hunting is as rare as the Florida panther. What you’ve got is a bunch of guys driving over the plains, up the mountains, and through the woods with their stupid tag that cost them a couple of bucks and immense coolers full of beer and body parts. There’s a price tag on the right to destroy living creatures for play, but it’s not much. A big game hunting license is the greatest deal going since the Homestead Act,Ted Kerasote writes inSports AfieldIn many states residents can hunt big game for more than a month for about $20.It’s cheaper than taking a little woman out for lunch. It’s cheap all right, and it’s because killing animals is considered recreation and is underwritten by state and federal funds. In Florida, state moneys are routinely spent on “youth hunts”, in which kids are guided to shoot deer from stands in wildlife-management areas. The organizers of these events say that these staged hunts help youth to understand man’s role in the ecosystem.(Drop a doe and take your place in the ecological community, son…)

Hunters claim (they don’t actually believe it but they’ve learned to say it) that they’re doing nonhunters a favor, for if they didn’t use wild animals, wild animals would be useless. They believe that they’re justhelping Mother Nature control populations (you wouldn’t want those deer to die of starvation, would you?).They claim that their tiny fees provide all Americans with wild lands and animals. (People who don’t hunt get to enjoy animals all year round while hunters get to enjoy them only during hunting season…) Ducks Unlimited feels that it, in particular, is a selfless provider and environmental champion. Although members spend most of their money lobbying for hunters and raising ducks in pens to release later over shooting fields, they do save some wetlands, mostly by persuading farmers not to fill them in. See that little pothole there the ducks like? Well, I’m gonna plant more soybeans there if you don’t pay me not to…Hunters claim many nonsensical things, but the most nonsensical of all is that they pay their own way. They do not pay their own way. They do pay into a perverse wildlife-management system that manipulates “stocks” and “herds” and “flocks” for hunters’ killing pleasure, but these fees in no way cover the cost of highly questionable ecological practices. For some spare changethe greatest deal going hunter can hunt on public land—national parks, state forests—preserves for hunters!—which the nonhunting and antihunting public pay for. (Access to private lands is becoming increasingly difficult for them, as experience has taught people that hunters are obnoxious.) Hunters kill on millions of acres of land all over America that are maintained with general taxpayer revenue, but the most shocking, really twisted subsidization takes place on national wildlife refuges. Nowhere is the arroganace and the insidiousness of this small, aggressive minority more clearly demonstrated. Nowhere is the murder of animals. The manipulation of language, and the distortion of public intent more flagrant. The public perceives national wildlife refuges as safe havens, as sanctuaries for animals. And why wouldn’t they? The word refuge of course means shelter from danger and distress. But the dweeby nonhunting public—they tend to be so literal. The word has been reinterpreted by management over time and now hunters are invited into more than half of the country’s more than 440 wildlife “sanctuaries” each year to bang them up and kill more than half a million animals. This is calledwildlife-oriented recreation. Hunters think of this as being no less than their due, claiming that refuge lands were purchased with duck stamps (…our duck stamps paid for it …our duck stamps paid for it …). Hunters equate those stupid stamps with the mystic, multiplying power of the Lord’s loaves and fishes, nut of 90 million acres in the wildlife Refuge System, only 3 million were bought with hunting-stamp revenue. Most wildlife “restoration” programs in the states are translated into clearing land to increase deer habitats (so that too many deer will require hunting…you wouldn’t want them to die of starvation, would you?) and trapping animals for restocking and study (so hunters can shoot more of them). Fish and game agencies hustle hunting—instead of conserving wildlife, they’re killing it. It’s time for them to get in the business of protecting and preserving wildlife and creating balanced ecological systems instead of pimping for hunter who want their deer/duck/pheasant/turkey—animals stocked to be shot.

Hunters’ self-serving arguments and lies are becoming more preposterous as nonhunters awake from their long, albeit troubled, sleep. Sport hunting is immoral; it should be made illegal. Hunters are persecutors of nature who should be prosecuted. They wield a disruptive power out of all proportion to their numbers, and pandering to their interests—the special interests of a group that just wants to kill things—is mad. It’s preposterous that every year less than 7 percent of the population turns the skies into shooting galleries and the woods and fields into abattoirs. It’s time to stop actively supporting and passively allowing hunting, and time to stigmatize it. It’s time to stop being conned and cowed by hunter, time to stop pampering and coddling them, time to get them off the government’s duck-and-deer dole, time to stop thinking of wild animals as “resources” and “game,” and start thinking of them as sentient beings that deserve our wonder and respect, time to stop allowing hunting to be creditable by calling it “sport” and “recreation.” Hunters make wildlife dead, dead, dead. It’s time to wake up to this indisputable fact. As for the hunters, it’s long past check-out time.

Williams, Joy. “The Killing Game,” Esquire Magazine, 1990.

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Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (Carrying a bear trophy head at the Kodiak Archipelago)
Posted in: Animal Rights, Howling for Justice, Wolf Wars
Tags: evils of hunting, Joy Williams, The Killing Game

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