(Note: When I published this piece, I was only vaguely aware of the youth-led global strike for action on climate change happening on the very same day. What I then saw and read brought me almost to tears (of hope, I should add). Fishers and hunters will have to march much faster to keep up. And, we will have to work that much harder to persuade young women, where the leadership of this movement clearly lies, that we are allies and not foes.)
According to the Sept 16, 2019 Denver Post, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey finds that the number of American hunters, especially younger ones, has declined substantially in the past quarter-century.
Observers suggest that increasing urbanization has alienated a younger generation from the wild, and on-line distractions have diverted them from the outdoors.
A P.E.T.A. representative welcomes the change: Instead of trying to prop up their bloody pastime, hunters should acknowledge the writing on the wall.
On the other hand, self-styled hunting personality, Jeff Dankers, laments the change, though his comment — Kids … we’re losing them. If Grandpa don’t hunt or Dad don’t hunt, they ain’t hunting — perhaps should have been edited a bit to win over the eddicated cities and suburbs he most needs to persuade.
Word-choice aside, he’s right about me. My Grandpa didn’t hunt, and so my Dad didn’t, and so didn’t I. Once, I trudged along with a childhood friend and his father, hunting squirrels. It was not fun. And not since a brief round of target practice with a .22 at summer camp have I fired, let alone held, a rifle.
My religion is fishing, and my temple, catch-and-release. I don’t need or want to kill what I catch. Harming a fish, sometimes inescapable, upsets me, and I can’t rule out the possibility that even an un-barbed fishhook, carefully removed, causes pain.
Still, I do it because I love it.
The purpose of hunting is killing. If catch-and-release were a hunting option, that’s where my support would go. But it isn’t and, I admit, I shudder at the thought of a glorious stag lying in a pool of blood or a blue-winged teal hanging from a retriever’s mouth.
Still, I support hunting.
Just as fisherpersons give important political and monetary backing to stream/river/lake/ocean conservation efforts, hunters give significant support to the protection of the forests and the prairies we share with them.
We need them as allies, as they need us. And environmental protection needs both of us, especially now.
Defenders of hunting make the economic case for their role in environmental protection. Hunting licenses and permits provide important funding for official conservation efforts. So do some of the taxes outdoor-related businesses funnel to those efforts. To the extent that these businesses protect their bottom-line by supporting hunting, and the conservation activities necessary to hunting, well and good. Beyond that, their profits are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
There is another angle on fishing, and, I’d venture, on hunting, that’s a little more elusive. For me, catching a fish, holding it, observing it briefly, and releasing it, is especially meaningful. You could call it aesthetic; it might even be spiritual. I can’t speak for hunters, but, as unsettling as the thought of killing is to me, I would imagine that many hunters see beauty in an elk or a duck, and honor them in their death.
Whether a hunter (or a fisherperson) is simply putting food on the table, or having an uplifting experience, it is the entire setting — the environment — that helps create that experience.
It would be foolishly counterproductive to alienate important allies in the fight to protect that environment.
I’d prefer a world where wild animals could live a natural span, but, in the meantime, I’ll wrap my romanticism in the blanket of pragmatism.