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Friday, December 02, 2011

The Self-Evident Rightness of Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 3, 2011.)

Man is the predator who
wants to minimize suffering.
I saw the fur and stopped. Why was that animal just lying there?

Its fur looked perfect. I stared for a minute or two, then inched closer. Was it breathing? I magnified it through my rifle scope until sure there was no sign of life.

It was a dead raccoon. Without touching it, I made a closer inspection. Was it in a trap? No. Had it been bleeding? No. Was there any sign of a struggle? No. It looked as though it just fell over, dead.

A healthy raccoon preys on worms, grubs, and in season, the occupants of bird nests. This one will do no more of that. Its once bright eyes were crusty – a telltale sign of canine distemper, a cruel worker in Mother Nature’s death squad.

A few days later I discovered another dead raccoon about a quarter mile from the first. This masked marauder had sought comfort inside the base of a hollow tree before expiring. Likely another case of distemper.

Hunters are involved in only a minority of animal deaths, so it’s often a mystery how an animal died. When people see a dead animal it feels like an injustice. Certain animals – like a majestic eagle – get more of our sympathy.

A few weeks ago I captured five images of a mature bald eagle on one of my trail cameras. In every picture he was walking on the ground. That in itself is unusual for an eagle. There was no food source there, nothing for him to scavenge. But in all five photos he was holding a wing as though it was injured. How long can an eagle, a bird unaccustomed to life on the ground, survive with only one good wing? I don’t know. I only know that eagles kill, and eagles die.

Birds of prey live far more dangerously than ground-based predators. They don’t sneak up on a squirrel like a coyote or a bobcat does. An owl or a hawk will dive-bomb that squirrel. As the bushytail scampers for safety, the bird makes a high-speed turn to sink his talons into the squirrel’s backstraps.

Disastrously, in the midst of that split-second flight adjustment, it will sometimes whack a wing against a tree limb. A broken wing will quickly turn a predator into prey.

During deer season hunters are predators whose prey has big brown eyes. Irrationally, many people feel more sympathy for animals with big brown eyes than ones with little brown eyes, but animals with little brown eyes die in far greater numbers. They die every day for other animals to live.

Unlike deer, most of them die unwitnessed, with nary a trace of evidence for people to observe. No one grieves for them. They aren’t even preserved in memory, like a whitetail on the wall. But it’s the way life, and death, works.

When wild animals succumb to disease or predators, they usually suffer. On the other hand, when they die from bullets or arrows, they usually die a quick, merciful death. One difference between man and animals is that man is the predator who wants to minimize suffering.

I don’t say it as an attempt to justify hunting. If you ask a room full of hunters why they hunt, every hunter might have his own justification.

Many hunt to spend time outdoors with friends or family. Others hunt to continue a tradition passed down from fathers and grandfathers. Some enjoy the satisfaction of providing their own meat or the challenge of outwitting a wild animal. Some are hunting for solitude. Why someone hunts is a personal matter.

Many hunt simply because they feel a natural urge to do so, and it doesn’t need to make sense to someone who doesn’t hunt.

The famous naturalist and environmentalist Aldo Leopold said it this way: “The instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of game is bred into the very fiber of the race.” Hunting is a way of life. Hunting needs no defense because the rightness of hunting has always been self-evident for the eagle, for the raccoon, for all hunters. Hunters don’t question it any more than we question the truth that all men are created equal.


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