The Virgin Hunter II

A new hunter looks at the ethics behind the sport. By Gabriel Furshong

Eating involves many moral questions, and one of them is whether to kill. A number of readers responded to my recent article on this subject (in which I described my first experience hunting in a managed area) with criticisms of hunting as interesting but anachronistic, or just plain murderous. Others praised hunting as an honest means to engage directly the realities of consumption.

Of course, hunting might be any of the above depending on the behaviors of the hunter. So, our dialogue begs the question, what are the ethical roles and responsibilities of a hunter in a country where the vast majority do not hunt?

It was the failure of hunters to abide by an unspoken code of ethics that motivated Theodore Roosevelt to found the Boone & Crockett Club in 1887. Today, the tenets established by that club include the obvious recommendation to “follow all applicable laws and regulations.” These rules include the prohibition of hunting on wildlife preserves and the restriction of the hunt to a sustainable kill of specific species and sex in a given area. Other precepts are more intuitive, such as the call to “respect the customs of the locale” where one is hunting. But it is the sixth and final principle that truly connects human and animal communities by recognizing that all are meant to “enhance the hunter’s experience of the relationship between predator and prey.” 

This tenet reflects a commitment to ecosystem-wide conservation.  For example, my dinner last night was a tenderloin deer steak from a doe that I killed this fall less than an hour’s drive from my home. Typically, our food travels thousands of miles to our plate, and arrives from unknown origins. However, ethical hunters, like gardeners, cultivate an intimacy with their food. This intimacy represents an alternative to the free market food system, which alienates the predator from the prey and the consumer from the consumed.

A food source is much more than a single vegetable or animal. As John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." So, a hunter pursuing food responsibly must also pursue the preservation of an entire ecosystem. Teddy Roosevelt saw this, too.

“The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination."

As urban populations creep ever nearer to our last wild places hunters are among those who continue to defend the “usefulness” of the land. They are natural advocates for public access, agricultural traditions, and conservation of public lands because the practice of hunting depends precisely upon the common use of wild, open spaces.

In December, I attended a meeting of business people, teachers, farmers, ranchers, government employees, and laborers in Choteau, Montana. What binds these people together? They’re all members of the newly formed Sun River Working Group, which is committed to the stewardship and restoration of wild land resources. And, they’re all hunters. A spirited conversation quickly developed concerning the elk herd of the Sun River Wildlife Management Area and resulted in the formation of committees to address the impacts of cattle grazing and elk grazing in and around the area.

Our ability to survive as a species will depend directly on our sensibility to that other-than-human world on which we rely.  Ethical hunting is a reflection of the biological and spiritual reciprocity necessary to sustain the living systems to which we belong.

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In reading the previous article posted by Mr. Furshong, I feel compelled to write. As a former hunter gone vegetarian, I have been on both sides of this issue.

Because it is not illegal in this country to eat meat, whether to eat it, or not, it is purely an individual's choice based on one's personal beliefs surrounding the most affordable, realistic, ethical and spiritual way to feed and nourish one's body. There have been heated debates surrounding the rightness or wrongness of being a carnivore, but it still, at this point in our evolution, boils down to one's right to choose. I choose, at this point in my life, to not eat meat, because my body simply does not need the added protein and saturated fat that accompanies it. If I were to return to eating meat, wild game would be the only meat I'd choose.

I believe it's difficult for folks who select the majority of their food from restaurant menus or grocery store aisles, to understand, that in the face of such abundance, why anyone would choose to hunt. The majority of the people I've known who hunt, ( and living in the west, I've known many) hunt for the same reason people grow their own garden. Many do so primarily for economic reasons, but also because they want to experience a true and meaningful connection with their food supply. They want to know where their food came from, that the meat doesn't harbor residues from hormones, antibiotics, neural tissues and pesticides used in the processing of the meat, that the animal lived a humane life, experienced a humane death, and ate a healthy diet. ( If you want to learn more about this, research traditional processing methods of your average cow, pig, or chicken from birth to the grocery store shelf). Not to mention the elimination of the need for plastic wrap and styrofoam plates to package it all in. Of course there are trophy hunters, and try as I might, I cannot condone the slaying of anything simply to nourish the ego. Perhaps someone out there could enlighten me on the merits of doing so.

One of the reasons I believe we are a nation wrestling with our waistlines ( myself included) is that we have lost the spiritual connection with our food. When we obtain our food from self sustaining methods, we are more aware, less likely to waste, more likely to have a deep gratitude and respect for the foods that nature provides. We're also less likely to overeat, because we realize how very precious and fragile our food supply is. We better understand our place in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. These are lessons we need to be teaching our children, but somehow they get lost between the bakery department and the deli.

While I appreciate the many reasons people choose not to eat meat, if meat's to be eaten, hunting, in my mind, seems a far more humane, ethical, environmentally friendly, affordable way to go. I'm encouraged by Gabriel's article, to see a young man exploring his conscience, testing the water and thinking outside the styrofoam box.

I am not sure I can add much to the comment above by is well said
and well lived.

What I shall add is that our eating habits, grocery and restaurant, have
essentially removed us from the natural world in which we live, and this
alienation leads us deeper into that state of denial about the fact that we
are, alas, just one more of nature's animals, neither above nor below, but
simply a part of the whole.

And as I read both pieces by Gabriel, I read a longing to live, to
re-discover that natural role and resist the denial that humans are somehow
separate, and exceptional.

By hunting, by gardening, we re-connect and we add value to our eco-system
by eliminating many of the road-miles and other pernicious practices of
capitalist agribusiness. We reinsert our lives into the natural cycle of
life, of our environment, from whence we came and to where we belong.

And, I would posit that our relationship to food must be central to our
species' response and responsibility to addressing global climate change.
Hunting and gardening may indeed be keys to our own salvation.

Nice work Gabriel and bhdon, you are both an inspiration for me as I
recognize my own alienation from the food I eat, and realize that it is time
for me to take the incremental steps to change this.

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