Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Five Reasons Why Poachers Are Not Hunters

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 28, 2013.)

What is a poacher? Historically, a poacher was from a low socio-economic class in Europe, where wealthy landowners were considered to own the animals that roamed their land. When a hungry peasant would occasionally kill an animal for food, that peasant was called a poacher. Poaching was a serious crime against a landowner.

The actions of poachers don’t bear the scrutiny of public view.

The word “poach” comes from the Middle English word “pocchen,” which literally means to enclose in a pouch, or to “bag” something. The idea is to hide what one has taken.

In this country during the Great Depression when game laws were not yet widely respected, many people poached because they felt the laws were unjust. In those days, a game warden might occasionally look the other way when he knew a family was hungry and had no other alternative.

Many hunters today are sympathetic with that motivation, but with so many government food programs and a variety of agencies that provide food, including venison donation programs, hunger is no excuse for poaching.

But poaching continues because poachers have a variety of other motivations. Some poachers kill for pride. Some poachers kill for certain body parts that have a value on the black market. Some do it because they disagree with hunting regulations. Some make poaching a game of outsmarting game wardens. Some poach purely for the pleasure of killing.

In the late 20th century environmental scientists began applying the word “poach” to the illegal harvest of plant species, so even the innocent picking of wildflowers could in some cases be considered poaching. When the definition is broadened, its application to game animals is weakened.

That may be why few people accept such a broad application of the word, and most still connect poaching primarily with game animals. Some mistakenly equate hunters with poachers, but poachers are not hunters. Here’s why?

1.  Poachers don’t abide by laws that govern hunters. Hunting and conservation laws have a long and strong history. Hunters during the early 20th century created a wildlife conservation system that has no room for the idea of poaching. The system of enforcing game laws is respected by hunters, but not by poachers.

2.  Poachers aren’t self-limiting as hunters are. Hunters have limits, and they want limits. When a hunter attaches a tag to an animal, he is well aware of the limit and he accepts it. He recognizes that it’s illicit to try to use that tag again. He has successfully made a harvest, and recognizes that to attempt to use that tag again is a selfish act. The poacher doesn’t care that he’s selfish.

3.  The methods of poachers are unacceptable to hunters. Most hunting regulations are created at the state level, so state game agencies stipulate what methods of harvest are legal. Hunters accept those regulations and methods. Poachers do not. Poachers use weapons that are not legal for hunting, think nothing of taking animals outside the legal dates or hours stipulated for harvesting a species, and take animals that are illegal to hunt – even threatened and endangered species for which there is no open season.

4.  Poachers steal from hunters and from the population at large. In North America, wildlife is not owned by those who own the land it lives on. Nor is it owned by those licensed to hunt it. Until it is killed, it’s owned by the people at large, and to kill an animal illegally is to steal from them. Properly licensed hunters are not stealing when they use the methods and weapons sanctioned for hunting, and hunt within the stipulated seasons and times.

5.  As thieves, poachers operate in a covert way. This relates to the origin of the word “poach,” to hide in a pouch. The actions of poachers don’t bear the scrutiny of public view, so poachers must hide their kills and manipulate the facts and circumstances when they take an animal to a butcher or a taxidermist, or display it on the wall. No hunter needs to hide his kill, and hunters can be honest about the facts of the kill.

Hunters are a healthy and necessary part of wildlife conservation. Poachers are destructive to it. Poaching is not hunting, and poachers are not hunters any more than bank robbers are a bank’s customers.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why Hunter Stereotypes Are False

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 14, 2013.)

People like to categorize people. That impulse may be negative, coming from our inclination to create stereotypes of others. Or it may be positive, coming from our God-given urge to name things.

The five stages of hunters – not one of them is bad.

In Genesis 2:19-20, God gave man the responsibility for naming the animals, “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” That tells us it’s human nature to classify things, organize things, and catalog things – all in an effort to create order.

Some people categorize hunters. Some extremists are motivated to pigeonhole all hunters as poachers, murderers, even sociopaths. One of their favorite words is “slobs,” and they use it as often as possible. Others make a genuine attempt to understand hunters. They recognize hunting’s positive aspects, and don’t attach disapproving adjectives to the word “hunter.”

Between 1975 and 1980 Dr. Robert Jackson and Dr. Robert Norton from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse campus, studied more than 1000 hunters and their theory of hunter development has become widely accepted. It’s cited often in hunter education classes and hunter behavior research. They identified five stages deer hunters tend to pass through during a lifetime of hunting.

1.  Shooting Stage – When starting out, hunters want to pull the trigger as often as possible. Success is defined primarily as kills.
2.  Limiting Out Stage – The hunter defines success in terms of numbers. He wants to harvest as many deer as is legally possible and keeps track of things such as consecutive years of harvests.
3.  Trophy Stage – Quality becomes more important than quantity, and quality is defined in terms of trophy game animals. A trophy is not necessarily judged by size. And the definition of a trophy does not diminish what the hunter harvested at earlier stages. It might even be defined by the experience of the hunt. The hunter now draws on knowledge acquired in the earlier stages. The hunter is also beginning to see himself as a manager of a wildlife resource.
4.  Method Stage – The hunter becomes more focused on methods. He becomes more strategic and focuses on his skills and understanding deer behavior. His stories are less about his kills and more about the methods that produced an opportunity. He may begin restricting himself to primitive weapons.
5.  Sportsman Stage – Others have called this the reflective stage, and even the philosophical stage. The hunter has a broad view of hunting and focuses on sharing it with others. He tends to view quality as what goes into habitat and all that the habitat supports, and he is concerned about the preservation of hunting for future generations.

Those five ways of classifying hunters probably fit people best who start hunting at an early age, and continue hunting for a lifetime. It doesn’t assume hunters quickly transition through the stages, and all hunters might not progress through all of them.

Given these five stages, I make the following seven observations:
  •   The stages may be similar for any enthusiast of any activity. Stamp collectors, for example, probably have their parallel.
  •   These stages do not define a hierarchy of moral values, as none of them is bad. We don’t fault a beginning hunter for being in the Shooting Stage nor do we say a hunter in the Sportsman Stage is morally superior.
  •   Hunters are often part of a peer group, and peer groups have influence. If a hunter has only peers who are in one stage, he might not move to another stage until his peer group changes.
  •   Since these are defined as “stages,” they imply growth. There is no clear line between one and another. Thus, each hunter is unique, and no stereotype of hunters reflects reality.
  •   Not only are hunters all unique, they all change through their careers.
  •   Anti-hunting propaganda fails to recognize that all hunters are different, and it attacks hunters based on stereotypes and caricatures.
  •   All five stages describe legal, ethical hunters and leave no room to consider poachers as being in the ranks of hunters.