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Saturday, January 21, 2006

If Hunters Kill For Fun…

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., January 21, 2006.)
Yes, a few hunters might fit better in a Cro-Magnon culture.
But it is equally true that non-hunters can be heartless
people. Some are doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
Some animal rights advocates are high on that list.
I'm going to rant. Anti-hunting zealots have a big megaphone, and as our society grows increasingly urbanized I don't believe that we can depend on the majority to take the side of hunters -- or even to understand it.

Anti-hunters often say inflammatory things about hunters, and I recently read this sentence in an essay by one of them: "Let's call hunting what it is: A sport where people kill for fun!" The author went on to equate hunting with murder.

Although I will not throw everyone who is against hunting into a single broad category, anyone who believes that quote should be thrown somewhere. He or she ought at least to be thrown out of any serious dialog on the motivations for hunting.

With that statement the writer signals that hunters are an aberration, dumps every hunter into the category of an immoral, bloodthirsty and dangerous killer bent on illicit thrills, and asserts that hunters have no place in a civil society.

Yes, some hunters lack sensitivity, and a few might fit better in a Cro-Magnon culture. But it is equally true that heartless people can be found among non-hunters. Some of them are doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Some animal rights advocates are high on that list.

It's also true that among hunters you will find some of the most sensitive, gentlest, and socially responsible people anywhere. The real fact is that hunters are just like any other segment of the general population.

If killing for fun is the primary motive for hunters, why don't they gravitate to methods that give them the most bang for their buck. There are less costly ways to get a thrill from killing than to buy an expensive firearm or bow, a wardrobe of hunting clothing, and a duffel full of gear -- just to put the lights out on an animal.

If hunters kill for fun, why don't they inflict mortal wounds on as many animals as possible, leave them in the woods to suffer and rot, and go on to kill more before deciding to put a tag on one of them?

If hunters kill for fun, why do many of them go to the trouble of keeping and caring for dogs 365 days a year for a couple of weekends of hunting? Why does just watching a dog work bring joy to the hunter, regardless of whether killing an animal is the result?

If hunters kill for fun, why aren't they the scourge of their neighborhoods, snuffing out neighbors' pets, and luring songbirds to their feeders in order to pop them with silent air rifles? And why isn't there more poaching?

If hunters kill for fun, why do they adopt so many handicaps? Why do some choose primitive weapons and spend countless hours becoming proficient with them? Why would any of them hunt all day -- or maybe all season -- then deliberately pass an opportunity to shoot an animal, and walk out with an unfilled tag?

If hunters kill for fun, why do they get up hours before dawn, willingly suffer the discomforts of inclement weather, put miles on their legs and generally work so hard for what is actually a rare opportunity to take an animal?

If hunters kill for fun, why is it that the hunt never ends with a kill? A kill is only part of the hunt -- and at that point, the work gets harder.

If hunters kill for fun, why do so many devote countless hours and a small fortune to conservation organizations in order to improve wildlife habitat and make sure ducks and deer and turkeys and trout survive for future generations, including the non-hunting public?

Yes, hunters are as honorable as any other segment of the population, but in commitment to conservation they have proven they are far better. On average they contribute much more than a few token dollars for the benefit of wildlife, plus countless hours of their time.

Anyone who thinks that the kill is the primary motivation for hunters may just be ignorant of the facts. But I also wonder if it's the anti-hunters who are the aberration. I wonder if there might be more hate in people who hate hunting than there is in hunters. Hunters enjoy hunting. Yes, sometimes killing is an outcome of the hunt. So is relishing the hunt, every time it doesn’t result in killing.

It’s a hunting thing. A few people are unable, others are probably unwilling, and some might even be too hateful, to understand.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Religious Issues in Sunday Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., January 7, 2006.)
Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism?
Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man
for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath
because we want to, or because we must?
Sunday hunting is illegal in Pennsylvania -- with a few exceptions -- but its legalization is inevitable. As hunters have less time to hunt, as they continue to see fewer deer, and as access to land becomes more difficult, Sunday hunting will become a hotter and hotter issue until Pennsylvania joins about 40 other states in legalizing it.

Opposition to Sunday hunting is rooted in "blue laws," statutes intended to enforce keeping of the Sabbath. These laws originated in the 17th-century theocratic New Haven colony. They were called "blue laws" because of the blue paper on which they were printed. Blue laws forbade the Sunday sale of cigarettes, all unnecessary work on Sunday, and any activity that intruded on Sabbath keeping.

Pennsylvania, named for its Quaker founder William Penn, once had a strong religious culture, and its ban against Sunday hunting existed long before it was seriously enforced in the late 1800's.

Landowners were complaining that working people (many were new immigrants), whose only opportunity to hunt was on Sunday, were shooting up everything from game animals to songbirds in order to feed their impoverished families. The state legislature put a stop to that by reviving the blue law as a game law, partly to protect wildlife and partly under pressure from landowners.

Today landowners are still one of the main voices against Sunday hunting. Farmers have the biggest organized voice and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lobbies against Sunday hunting. Many have said that if Sunday hunting is legalized, they will close their land to public hunting. In other states, most who have said that have not done it.

I want to look at religious issues in Sunday hunting, but first let's look at some other issues. Are there biological reasons to prohibit Sunday hunting? Probably not. In the 40 states that allow it, Sunday hunting has not adversely affected wildlife populations.

Are there social reasons? Some groups claim that Sunday is the only day non-hunters can observe, photograph, and enjoy nature without worrying about guns being fired around them, but they are unconvincing. The reality is that non-hunters have plenty of opportunity outside of hunting seasons to venture into the woods.

Are there economic reasons? Opponents of Sunday hunting say that Wildlife Conservation Officers will be forced to work more overtime, which will have a negative impact on Game Commission budgets. But poachers don't take Sundays off, so WCO's already have the same responsibility to enforce game laws on Sunday as they do the other 6 days.

What about religious reasons? Pennsylvania no longer has a religious culture common to all, so it is difficult to make the case against Sunday hunting on consistent religious grounds.

Laws do not prohibit other activities. Even fishing has been legal in Pennsylvania for over 50 years, so it isn't consistent to permit one outdoor activity while banning another. Are we keeping the Sabbath when we fish, but not when we hunt on Sunday? What about golf? Shopping? Movies? Skiing? Football? Some hunters fear that a ban on Sunday hunting sends a message that hunting is less honorable than other forms of recreation, a view that can play into the hands of animal rights activists.

Among Christians, whether an activity is religiously acceptable on Sunday has additional considerations: (1.) Does keeping the Sabbath mean a perfunctory hour in a church pew before heading out for recreational pursuits? Is that all it takes to honor God? He set the example himself by resting from the labor of creation, and commanded us to likewise observe a day of rest, not an hour of half-hearted worship.

(2.) Do we worship the Creator, or merely his creation? We don't think much about idolatry in our society, but we have countless objects of worship today. Many hunters worship hunting.

(3.) Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism? Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath because we want to, or because we must? Does the law really have anything to do with keeping or breaking the Sabbath?

Limited Sunday hunting for foxes, coyotes, crows, and a few other animals is already legal in Pennsylvania. Why not all game animals? Perhaps a further compromise will be struck. For example, legislation could permit Sunday hunting on public land only.

About a million hunting licenses are sold and about a half million hunters are opposed to the ban on Sunday hunting. Like it or not, change is sure to come.