It’s not about dead animals
It was just last week a friend told me he was discussing this weekly column with one of his close acquaintances. “I know who he is,” the other guy said, “he’s the one who puts pictures of dead animals in the paper.” Well, needless to say, that’s not what I wanted to hear. It would have been gratifying if he would have said “he’s the best outdoor writer ever,” but he didn’t.
Harvesting any big game animal, especially one as crafty as a whitetail deer is a notable outdoor accomplishment, one I have always tried to recognize and promote through this column.
I’m not going to discuss the entire benefits hunters do for conservation of all wildlife species, both for game and non-game species alike. As a matter of fact, the tradition of hunting is one of the most important tools in proper wildlife management.
There’s not enough paper to begin listing all the positive merits. In reality, hunting is a necessity. Indiana’s robust deer herd, the reintroduction of wild turkeys and even bald eagles that now call Indiana home were all brought about through funding provided by hunters. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s talk about killing. If you give a youngster a basketball, tennis racket or baseball glove, you teach the child about sportsmanship, team interaction and competition. But if you give a young boy or girl a gun, you are inherently teaching them about life and death. I have always believed people who harvest animals become more reverent.
The person who takes any large game animal acquires an intimate knowledge of a departing life. Although some may choose to ignore the fact that animals must die in order for us to survive. They don’t realize the pork chop or bacon they are eating came from a pig raised in confinement until it was led squealing into the slaughter house. What about that turkey you ate last Thursday? Death is an integral part of the circle of life. That’s the way it has been since the beginning of time and that’s the way it will always be.
Cruelty has no part in hunting. Taking wildlife for human consumption is part of nature. Predation by wild carnivores is also part of nature. To label any of these as cruel imposes silly 21st century political correctness and personal human prejudices on an activity that took place even before man inhabited the earth. Nature itself can be crueler than any hunter and it doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
When a child screams “Wow, I killed a deer!” don’t think there is anything wrong with them. They are just excited. Somewhere along the line a bit of sorrow should accompany their triumph. This shows respect for the animal. I think the Native Americans had it right when they worshipped the animals they stalked then gave prayers and rituals when an animal was taken.
There are some, who if they kill something, will be saddened and find no triumph, while others cannot even bring themselves to think about causing death to any animal. That is only natural too and not a bad thing. Just like some have no use for golf, baseball or any other sporting activity. Some have no use for hunting. That is natural as well and we should always respect that. They are no less courageous or worthy than those who itch to take to the woods with gun or bow in hand.
On the other side, there are a few who are enamored with killing. These people give me the creeps and I wish they would take up some other activity.
I personally cringe every time I hear hunting referred to as a “sport”. Killing an animal should never be considered that. Maybe it could be regarded as a timeless tradition, spiritual outdoor activity or a form of consumptive recreation, not a sport.
When I talk or write about hunting I want people to understand what it’s like to take an animal as beautiful as a whitetail deer. I want my words to bring them to where I kneel beside the fallen animal, my hand on his still-warm shoulder offering up a prayer of thanks. I want them to feel some faint ripple of the soul-deep wave of emotion that shudders through me.
A true, ethical hunter will give their all in becoming proficient with gun or bow and strive to take all animals as quickly and humanely as possible. But in reality, if you hunt long enough there will come a time where an animal will be wounded and escape. It may happen in the first several years or in 50, but it will happen. When it does it should be a huge impetus to becoming even more skilled and knowledgeable and hope it never happens again.
There is no substitute in any hunter’s life than taking game. But even more important is to enjoy the freedom hunting provides and the memories that go with it. And sometimes it’s not about a full game pole.
I have a friend who has hunted for nearly 60 years. Last summer he bought a new rifle and recently returned from an elk hunting trip to Colorado with his son and grandsons. “Oh I could have taken an elk but I never fired a shot,” he explained. Instead he was perfectly happy to watch wildlife, the twinkling stars and the setting sun while reveling in the success of his family. This is the maturation of a seasoned sportsman, going from hunter to gentle conservationist. To me, this is the highest level at which hunting can be enjoyed and one which we all grow into.
So instead of looking at a picture and seeing a hunter with a dead animal, think about the necessity of the consumptive outdoor activity and consider it a grand slam or a game winning touchdown.