By David Irving
In areas like the Southern Tier and Catskill region of New York, hunting publications, editorials in local papers, and hunting advocates herald the arrival of each hunting season with fanfares, whistles, and bells. They effectively bulldoze any would-be opposition, and it is widely assumed that almost everyone either hunts or approves of hunting. The truth is that many people think hunting is just plain wrong. Their views could make a valuable contribution to their communities if acknowledged. Let’s pull back the curtain, then, and take a look at an alternative view of hunting.
I once overheard a young boy of about 10 tell some of his classmates how his father had taken him hunting and shot and wounded a deer which escaped into the underbrush. I could sense the boy struggling to put the incident into some kind of perspective. Should we be teaching our youths that it is okay to shoot an innocent animal under conditions that permit it to run off in agony helpless and alone where if it doesn’t die of its wounds it may starve to death because of them or fall prey to a predator animal? Does this teach manhood or does it not tend to confuse and numb the instincts for compassion that our communities plagued with crime and intolerance desperately need to nurture.
Approximately 100 million waterfowl migrate across North America every year of which about 20 million are killed by hunters. Many are killed wantonly in the same manner in which some of our forefathers shot American bison on the plains reducing their numbers from 40 million to only about 1000 by the late nineteenth century. Back then hunters boasted that they could bring down a hundred geese with one cannon shot. Passenger pigeons, once numbering 5 billion, were totally annihilated. A century earlier deer, wild turkeys, and beaver had all but been driven to extinction in the northeastern United States. This kind of thirst for killing was only stopped by the passage of hunt prevention laws and through the efforts of pioneer conservationists like William Hornaday who, among other accomplishments, persuaded Teddy Roosevelt to help form the American Bison Society.
The wanton killing of animals did not stop with the settling of the country’s frontiers. In the year 2000 an undercover agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented one hunter who killed approximately 350 fowl in a six day period. He was estimated to have killed many thousands of birds to satisfy his craving for killing. A federal judge fined him and banned him from hunting anywhere in the world for five years. While hunters like this are in the minority and often regarded with contempt by other hunters, the fact is that numerous thousands of animals and fowl are killed every year by these kinds of hunters for no reason other than a thirst to kill them. Are we protecting our children by offering counseling and advice about such matters?
Hunting is called a sport. In this so-called sport we pit 10,000 years of civilization and technological advance against creatures that have zero years of technology behind them and possess no means other than their natural instincts by which to defend themselves. The odds are enormously stacked against them. We put out cruel leg-hold traps, lay out decoys, spot and stalk, bait with rotting animal flesh, hide behind blinds or in tree stands, and hunt animals in fenced-in areas where it is impossible for them to escape. Except for expert marksmen, perfect shot placement is a rarity, especially for non-professional hunters and for shots taken at a distance. The consequence is that animals are often shot more than once to try to kill them. They die miserably. Many flee wounded into the woods, as noted above, where they also suffer prolonged, painful deaths. A biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks estimated that more than 3 million wounded ducks go unretrieved every year.
The word “sport” in Webster’s is defined as “a source of diversion, recreation.” Is it recreation to wound or kill an animal at insurmountable odds or to otherwise hunt it down when it has little or no chance of escaping, or if it does get away, to know that it is lying wounded and suffering someplace? Shouldn’t we be imparting to our children a code of ethics that teaches compassion and fairness on all sides? Where I grew up sport was called basketball, football, baseball, wrestling, tennis. In those games the rules are designed to give both sides an equal chance.
My father was the manager of a JC Penney store in a small town in Indiana. He took my brother and me hunting once because some of the townsmen said it was the thing to do. But his heart was not into killing. We flushed out a pheasant and a rabbit, but he did not fire. At the end of the hunt he did fire the gun just to fire it which got us to beg him to let us fire it too. But we were glad he did not shoot any animals or fowl. To tramp the crisp, snowy corn fields with their weathered stalks and prowl the winter woods with our father and the memory that experience provided was more than enough. Why add killing to a day of fun when there is no need to do it other than to imitate what everyone else does? It is far more rewarding to target inanimate objects than to cause suffering and take away the lives of defenseless creatures that have done us no wrong. Those are the kinds of values that were reinforced in me that cold winter morning long ago when I witnessed a man refuse to shoot a defenseless animal and saw that his compassion was far greater than any community pressure that sought to get him to go along with all the others.
David Irving is a Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude graduate of Columbia University, class of 1980, School of General Studies. He subsequently obtained his Masters in Music Composition at Columbia and founded the new music organization Phoenix in New York City.