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Monday, March 26, 2012

What About “Canned Hunts”?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 24, 2012.)

When it’s not part of our experience,
we can still have an opinion,
but we probably can’t have
a completely authoritative opinion
With some trepidation, I’m about to express my view on a topic where many hunters strongly disagree.

I’m talking about hunting inside fenced preserves, what some people disapprovingly call “canned hunts.” Please hear me out. I have never hunted inside an enclosure. When it’s not part of our experience, we can still have an opinion, but we probably can’t have a completely authoritative opinion.

I say that to say this: I don’t know all about them, and it’s a much bigger subject than I can cover in this space. My view definitely isn’t the bottom line.

It’s worth saying again: Please hear me out, and don’t get me wrong. Let’s think about it. I recognize that the sporting aspect of preserve hunting has limits. But is there a place for fenced preserves?

I’ve heard the stories and I know the opinions of those who argue against them. Yes, the industry has some bad apples. So does the NFL, where a coach was suspended recently for rewarding players for hurting other players. So do we condemn the whole lot?

I’ve read the arguments against fenced preserves, and they’re often exaggerated, dramatized, and overstated – just like anti-hunters do against licensed hunting.

I’ve watched TV shows where hunters shoot bucks inside a fence. Critics often say that the hunters need little skill, but skill is not the issue. You don’t want hunters better than you are sneering at your skill level. Neither do I. Lots of people who hunt outside an enclosure succeed have limited skill, but they succeed in a big way because they live in a place that grows big bucks, and they have access to great hunting land.

I’ve noticed those TV programs sometimes involve hunters who are victims of a terminal disease and won’t be around next hunting season, or are bound to a wheelchair, or are otherwise seriously handicapped. I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to experience hunting, even if it is a limited kind of hunting.

Sometimes the hunter inside a fence is a wounded warrior who left his legs in the Middle East. I’m glad he didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice. And I’m glad he is healthy enough to do what he likely dreamed of while serving our nation, at the very time I was free to hunt.

When I think about it, I can think of lots of people who don’t deserve criticism for hunting behind a fence. Besides the handicapped person, the victim of a terminal disease, or the disabled veteran, what about…
… the soldier who is home on leave outside of hunting seasons?
… the person who works outside the country and isn’t here during hunting seasons?
… the person whose schedule doesn’t allow him time off during hunting seasons?
… the hard-working, low-income guy, who’s living right, obeying the law, and dreams of hunting elk, but will never have the financial resources – and someone who owns a local preserve offers him a free opportunity?

Few of us would oppose at least some of the situations outlined above, but keep in mind that if these situations were the only permissible reasons to hunt behind a fence, hunting behind a fence wouldn’t be possible for anyone. A hunting preserve is expensive to run, and needs paying customers. The above situations are only possible because other customers buy hunts.

You don’t like their motivations? OK, for some it’s merely an occasion to brag. So what? We’ll always have windbags. Ignore them. For others it’s just an easier way. So what? We’ll always have people who take shortcuts. You’re free not to.

My opinion doesn’t make me a promoter of high-fence hunting. It’s definitely not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be what hunting becomes.

If I had more exposure to it, maybe I’d change my mind. But I think about the handicapped guy who has no other opportunity, and the terminal patient who won’t live until next hunting season. Those of us who want to make a different choice are blessed that we can.

Enough about my opinion. But if you are someday disabled and can’t scale a mountain, or wade a swamp, or climb into a treestand, I hope you can find some way to hunt.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Get Acquainted With Ned Smith

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 10, 2012.)

His distinctive artwork helped make the
Game News one of America’s premier
state-sponsored sporting magazines.
As a writer I’m exposed to lots of things worth sharing, and some things worth shouting from the housetops. What I have to say today is in the latter category.

Last weekend while on a trip to speak at a sportsman’s dinner in Millersburg, PA (20 miles north of Harrisburg), I had the privilege of a private tour of the Ned Smith Center, graciously conducted by Michele Hutchins, the Center’s Development Coordinator.

Many of us old-timers (I was called an “old-timer” for the very first time a few weeks ago) grew up with Ned Smith’s paintings, sketches and simple verbal descriptions. He’s been gone since 1985, but Smith was an important wildlife artist who led the way for many of today’s wildlife artists. Without exception, all those who live and work in Pennsylvania know the debt they owe to him.

Many of us remember him because his distinctive artwork gave the covers of the Pennsylvania Game News a characteristic look, and helped make the Game News one of America’s premier state-sponsored sporting magazines.

From 1966 through 1969 he authored a Game News column, and I was an avid reader. Called “Gone for the Day,” it was an almost-daily log of the things he saw and did as a nature snooper. As a writer and artist, Smith had an uncanny ability to open our eyes to what he saw. Those columns offer simple glimpses into the lives of animals, bringing the reader into the experience almost as if it was his own. Today, “Gone for the Day” columns are preserved in a book of the same name – a classic in nature writing.

At the Ned Smith Center a budding naturalist can be exposed to the kinds of things that inspired Smith to create art. Lots of specimens are preserved – feathers, bones, skins, antlers and various other artifacts serve as models for today’s sketchers, painters, and naturalists.

During my tour, Michele relayed one anecdotal story about young Ned’s penchant for storing his nature treasures in his mother’s refrigerator. I don’t suppose she ever grew accustomed to his collecting. How could she when, lifting the lid off the butter dish, she might see the head of a snake?

Smith shunned idealism in favor of realism. His animals weren’t perfect specimens – he painted whitetail bucks not as the stately trophy other artists saw, but as the ordinary representative of the species. He changed wildlife art by showing animals not as majestic creatures posing for the picture, but as fascinating life forms driven by habit and instinct to do the things animals do to survive.

That’s why his famous black bear holding a woodchuck in its mouth is so impressive. That’s why his sketch of a broad-winged hawk shows a snake in the grip of the raptor’s talons. That’s why his painting of foxes on a ledge overlooking an old farm speaks of harmony between nature and man.

Pennsylvanians are fortunate that he found his place as staff illustrator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for instilling in so many Pennsylvania hunters a sense of appreciation for the natural world and the magnificence of even its smallest citizen.

The Center doesn’t just display the work of Ned Smith. Its Olewine Gallery features changing exhibits of contemporary artists and photographers, and regularly houses noteworthy displays that make repeat visits imperative.

One not-to-miss exhibit is that of Olivia Bouler, a thirteen year old who sold her bird paintings to raise over $200,000 for Gulf oil spill relief in 2010. (She was only 11 at the time!) See “Olivia’s Birds” March through September this year.

The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art is proud to partner with the Bouler family to present the first-ever exhibition of Olivia's original bird paintings in its Olewine Gallery. Find out more online at www.NedSmithCenter.org.

The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art stands near his hometown of Millersburg, at a place where he enjoyed observing and interacting with nature. It will be a day-trip, but I promise it will be worth the drive. I can’t think of any place where the worlds of art and natural science are so naturally bridged.