Monday, March 28, 2011

Something I have in common with Wayne Pacelle

I came across news the other day that HSUS head Wayne Pacelle has a book coming out next month, and I was struck - oddly enough - by how much I liked the title: The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

Don't worry, folks - I'm not giving up the gun or anything. Stick with me here.

The part of the title I like is "our kinship with animals," because it is hunting that has made me realize how closely related we are. If nothing else, who can watch bucks in rut and not immediately think of ... men? What hunter can watch a hawk dive and come up empty-clawed and not think, "Better luck next time, brother"? What duck hunter can shoot a duck out of the sky, watch its mate circle, if not land, at great peril, and not recognize that for animals as well as for us, the pairing bond can be very strong?

I'm pretty sure that last thought in particular might put me more in the camp of pro-animal rights folks like Pacelle than of hunters. I've often heard from fellow hunters - as I heard from all kinds of people throughout my pre-hunting life - that we're not supposed to anthropomorphize.

But I no longer believe what I'm doing is anthropomorphizing; what I'm doing is recognizing that while there are substantial differences between humans and other animals, there is far more animal in us than we like to admit. We're extremely clever, and we're blessed with opposable thumbs, but we still take an enormous number of actions day after day that are motivated by the same needs and instincts that drive animal behavior.

I started thinking seriously of other animals as kin when I read Woman the Hunter by Mary Zeiss Stange and came across a passage in which she said most hunter-gatherer cultures view birds and mammals as "us."

It was agricultural societies, she wrote, that started drawing sharp distinctions between us and the other animals. That strikes me as a great way to justify controlling animals to ensure that we can eat 100 percent of what we raise, rather than abide by the natural laws that govern and limit hunting success.

Now, since I brought up killing ducks out of mated pairs, I need to answer the question, "How can you do that?" If I believe animals are kin, don't I think they suffer and mourn the way we do?

The answer is no. But I don't think all humans suffer and mourn the way we do. I think our culture in particular raises us with a tremendous and unjustified sense of entitlement - that we are entitled to avoid death, disease, pain and suffering. We feel we have been wronged when these things are visited upon us, and we rail against it, which does little more than prolong our suffering.

This idea first struck me last summer when I read a blog post by Olivia Nalos over at Versus in which she explored the simpler lives people lived in some of the third-world places she has hunted. They "get over things easier than we do," she wrote. "Take death for instance; AIDS is rampant and people die of cholera, malaria, starvation and other harsh diseases. Regardless, they move on with life quickly."

You don't even have to look to third world countries to see this in action. Has anyone else been following how the Japanese have reacted to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis? It sucks, but they move quickly to address problems, rather than wallow in self-pity. I think you can chalk that up to Buddhism, which teaches that life is suffering, and it's how you react to that suffering that determines how much it will hurt.

That said, I still believe animals do grieve when they lose offspring or partners to predators of any kind. Ever see or read about a cow elk bawling as her baby is hauled off by predators? (Hell, have you ever seen the Battle at Kruger video where the lions take down a baby buffalo and the whole herd of buffalo come back and kick their asses to save that baby?)

I just believe they move on way faster than we do.

Even so, how can I continue to kill animals if I believe we are kin? This part is simple, and this is where my thinking diverges sharply from the animal rights view: If one observes nature, it is obvious that all of us kin are out there killing and eating each other all the time. It's what we do if we're carnivores or omnivores.

In fact, I think the biggest flaw in pro-animal rights groups' logic is to suggest that we shouldn't engage in that behavior because we're better than those animals. That is a totally patronizing view: The lion kills gazelles because she's too stupid to know how wrong that is, so we'll give her a pass. But us humans? We're so much better that we shouldn't do that.

I'm not buying it. I don't think that me trying to live a life in balance with nature - where I get some of the animals I hunt, rather than getting all of the animals I keep in pens - is immoral. I don't think it's a function of morality at all. It's called eating.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

"It's called eating."

It's the way we roll

Ingrid said...

Holly, aren't you glad I'm back? :) (Just for a while.)

You know I agree with you wholeheartedly on anthropomorphism. As I write in my own mission statement. "I don’t believe in stripping an animal of its individuality and personality simply because he or she is not human. We share some traits with non-human animals, and I respect that similarity as well as an animal’s unique and rightful entitlement on this planet."

I think you and I are on the same page about that.

I still think there are distinctions to be made between human recreational hunting, and a predator's need to survive. The mortality among young raptors is so high, often because of starvation. Their success ratio in hunting is low enough to jeopardize their existence.

The same cannot be said of many U.S. hunters. We're talking about a pursuit that entails quite a bit of waste and also enjoyment (versus survival). When you look at potential numbers, say of lost cripples (in the millions if you look at figures like the estimates of that one game department I cited), the two motivations don't seem identical in my mind.

I think what human hunting has evolved into, is quite different than hunting for survival and hunting for the only type of food you can eat (e.g. fish for Osprey).

I think you and I will always differ on this concept, and I do feel it's a valid comparison and contrast. If we humans engaged our world and our environment as other animals did, the recklessness I see with respect to our behavior and the damage we cause would not exist. Under those circumstances, your argument would be one I could more easily agree with. Not that you're looking for my agreement.

Just one more point. You write about the function of Buddhism and suffering. Obviously, detachment from suffering is a huge tenet of the faith. But an equally strong component is "intent" or the "right intention." Part of the eightfold path is right intent -- to avoid thinking or acting cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion. And I think this gets back to my comments above, about how we interact with the natural world. I suppose that's why I feel a bit differently about accidental death versus deliberate, even though we've gone back and forth about that at your blog and over at Tovar's.

Josh said...

Buddhism doesn't hold the monopoly on the answer to suffering. In fact, answering "why suffering?" is the central core of every religion... including the ironically-named atheism. I love Buddhism, don't get me wrong.

As for the rest of the post, add plants and fungi to the list of things that relate to "us".

Last, Holly, one of your pop-up ads is to PETA t-shirts and other gear...

NorCal Cazadora said...

SBW: Indeed!

Ingrid: You are ALWAYS welcome here - I value your criticism, even when I don't agree with it.

First, thanks for the addition info on Buddhism - clearly, I'm not terribly well-versed on it. I'm now thinking the Japanese propensity for eating food that is still writhing and not quite dead when it arrives at the table probably loses some points for them on that eightfold path. (Personally, I prefer for my food to stop moving before I eat it, though I am not at all prepared to debate the science of how much the wiggly animals I'm thinking of - lobster, squiddy things, etc. - feel pain.)

But: I eat meat. I refuse to become a vegetarian or vegan because I don't think it's the best way to obtain the nutrients I need, so that is not on the table. I'd rather work toward a diet that works in nature - without assistance from agriculture - not away from it.

My choices, then,1)I can eat meat from sources where 100 percent of the animals are born into captivity and 100 percent of the ones that survive childhood will be killed for food. Or, 2) I can eat meat from nature, where the vast majority of animals in my vicinity will elude me, and most other hunters as well.

Personally, I would rather do the latter as much as possible. If I were in the animals' shoes on this, I'd much rather be the hunted animal that's free than the domestic animal that never has a chance to be what it's supposed to be. Yes, even if it means risking being wounded by a dumbass, because in reality, none of us is ever safe from dumbasses. Ever. Even animals do dumb things.

Josh: Damn, I forgot the plants and fungi! I actually do feel they are kin now, ever since I read that Stephen Harrod Buehner book. Fortunately, I don't see any threat to our plant-eating ways - the breatharians do a terrible job of recruitment (and I hear the cheat often by eating candy).

I definitely don't want to argue about religion, but ... no, I'm not going to argue about religion.

As for the pop-ups, I have seen SO MANY ADS here for things that I think are ridiculous. I'm sure PETA is just as horrified to be seen here as I am to see it here.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Wait, make that "PETA is more horrified to be here," because PETA pays me (indirectly) to have its ads funneled to my site.

And the ads under this post now include "Hunting and Fishing Camps" and "Meat = Animal Cruelty." Something for everyone.

Ryan Sabalow said...


I think ducks and geese get over the loss of a mate faster than us because they have a brain about the size of my pinky toe.

Same goes for the lingering "trauma" we put on fish when we catch and release them.

The fishies may have a sore face for a few days, but I doubt they're losing a lot of sleep because the lingering emotional scars.

Though I respect the game I kill and I believe it deserves to live and die with as little pain as possible, I'm not going to waste a whole lot of time making comparisons between their thought-processes and mine.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

This will come as no surprise: I'm with you on kinship.

As you point out, so are many traditional hunting cultures around the globe, each from their own perspectives (animals are "animal persons," etc). I think that forgetting our relatedness with animals -- and with the rest of nature -- is at the root of many of our modern troubles, ecological and otherwise.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ryan: I worry more about ducks than fish. My biggest fear with fish is that the C&R'ed ones will die if not handled carefully.

As for duck brains: You're probably right on size, but I've kept pet rats with similar-sized brains and found them to be quite clever, so the eternal question remains: Does size matter?

Hank heard somewhere that ducks will remember things, e.g., "flying over that cattail patch is associated with hot steel flying and ducks falling from the sky," for about three days. I have no idea if that's true. I still love them anyway.

Tovar: Total agreement!

hodgeman said...

"If nothing else, who can watch bucks in rut and not immediately think of ... men?"

OK- thanks for the short outburst of spontaneous and maniacal laughter. My entire staff thinks they work for a raving lunatic now...

I am always fascinated by time spent among other hunting cultures and seeing their relationship with the animals they hunt. I tend to avoid anthropormorphism but after observing bears for a bit I can see how you can easily fall into that trap...

Ryan Sabalow said...

Don't take this the wrong way, Holly, but I have to giggle when you start talking like The Nuge.

I can't help but grin when relatively wealthy urban sophisticates like us start equating our hunting experiences with our noble primitive ancestors.

Though I enjoy refuge duck hunting more than just about everything, it's a rather large stretch to equate standing in a sweat line at Delevan to some sort of mythical one-with-nature, "life in balance with nature" experience.

It's more like hunting in a flooded Walmart parking lot.

Hunting as we call it is an incredibly modern, often extremely crowded and intensely-managed process, nothing at all like how our ancestors did it.

And we do it for very different reasons.

A good upbringing, an education and a hard work ethic has graced you and I with a career that has afforded us with (barely) enough money and free time to be able to hunt as much as we do.

Our poor urban neighbors would never be able to afford to do what we do as much as we do it.

Though hunting may be fun and it may put sustainable healthy meat in our bellies, it's still just a hobby.

Trying to pretend that it's some sort of noble lifestyle only makes us look silly.

Phillip said...

Not a lot to add.

It's perfectly fine and good and beneficial to recognize the animal in ourselves. It's not so good, for people or animals, to think we recognize ourselves in the animals.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hodgeman: Remember, I'm faculty adviser/business manager of a college newspaper. I am constantly witnessing mating ... er ... courtship behavior outside my office.

Ryan: Speak for yourself, my young friend. If it's just a hobby for you, that's fine, but to suggest it's just a hobby for me is not fine. I don't kill wild animals for shits and giggles - I kill them for food, and for good food at that, and it is a conscious lifestyle choice.

When I look at why hunting has gripped me the way it does - which I have spent a LOT of time doing, because I didn't grow up with a gun in my hand, or with hunting as the eternal backstory of my family - what I come back to constantly is that hunting connects me to a system that used to work well, and I believe it is that connection that makes hunting so compelling to me.

I have not ever said that the incredibly crowded and ritualized experience at Delevan is an authentic hunter-gatherer experience. I know that not one single hunt in my four and a half years of hunting has been such an experience, and unless and until I make all my weapons by hand using only naturally occurring resources around me, I will not have a truly authentic experience. Which means it probably won't happen, ever. Which is sad, to me.

My beliefs do not require you to agree with me, Ryan, but I do wish you wouldn't assume that your experience and beliefs should or do apply to me. To do so dismisses literally years of my own introspection. Perhaps you too have spent years trying to understand why you love hunting, and if the answer you've come up with is, "Killing animals is a fun hobby," then who am I to tell you that's somehow incorrect?

Phillip: How can we acknowledge the animal in ourselves and not see ourselves in animals? I don't mean this as a rhetorical question - just trying to figure out where your distinction is.

Swamp Thing said...

Ryan - while I think your metaphor about today's refuge hunting is spot on (although, for perspective, it seems you haven't seen duck hunting over privately managed flooded corn or rice....eye popping), I think you're doing quite a bit of romanticizing yourself.

"How our ancestors did it?" Whose ancestors? If they were hungry, they DEFINITELY used bait, maybe even poisoned bait, took unethical shots (cue the ridiculous abundance of American stone points and arrowheads from 15000 to 300 years ago), and even ran entire herds off of cliffs. They threw nets over ducks on the water. Shot deer that were swimming. Clubbed sleeping elk calves. Drained stillwater ponds to catch the fish in the bottom.

It wasn't pretty, and would be termed unethical, unsporting, unfair, and in most cases illegal given the Euro-American game laws of the past 600 years.

But they survived.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Oh aged and wise Holly, she who has all of about 15 years on me.

As much as I'd like to pretend I'm Nanook of the North, I realize that I'm a terrible woodsman who would die within a month or two if modern civilization, including the giant megafarms of the world which you and most of your readers find so distasteful, suddenly stopped working.

During the weekdays, I work my white-collar job. I come home to my tiny little subdivided tract house where my family and I eat and sleep.

Usually our meals consist of !GASP! store-bought, factory-farmed meat. That's all we can afford, unless my rancher buddy shares some of his meat with us.

On the weekends I sometimes find the cash and the time to go out and go hunting, usually to some intensely managed place where I have a map and can walk down a levy in the dark and have no chance of getting lost or killed.

If I'm deer hunting or something, I stay close to backroads and trails, where I'm less likely to die if I break my leg or catch hypothermia. Once in a while, some guy who has property will let me hunt his pad.

Sound familiar?

Yes, I enjoy how it feels to be outside, and it makes me feel connected to nature when I'm out trying outsmart a critter. The cherry on top of all that is being able to sometimes supplement my megamart food supply with some wholesome, sustainable organic meat.

Since I'm not a very good hunter, I come home empty handed more often than not. Oh well. I still got to go hunting.

Make no mistake that what I just described is a hobby, through and through, no different than folks who get really into gardening.

I say this because I've met hill folk who live off the land, and, trust me, you and I ain't one of them and we'll never be, especially living in the middle of suburbia.

That's not to say what you're trying isn't admirable.

But the problem with tossing around words like "lifestyle" and publishing your personal codes of ethics and such is you run the risk of sounding like a snob to hunters like me who view hunting form a completely different lens.

You can add caveats all day to your statements that you'd never judge the morals of another person, but that's just a cop out.

When you make statements like "I find it ethical to eat every part of the animals I kill," you're telling those of us who choose not to gag trying to eat sinewy duck buttholes and deer balls that we're a bunch of scumbags.

(I'd like to see you try to live your "everything but the quack" school of game eating if you didn't share a kitchen with a master wild game chef who can turn those duck buttholes and deer balls into delicacies. The rest of us, well, cooking doesn't come so easy.)

Worse yet, you run the risk scaring away new or novice hunters who may want to try this great, healthy hobby of ours, but who cringe at the thought of hanging around with people who consider their recreation some sort of higher calling.

I love your blog, Holly, and I know you're a really sincere lady.

I would very much love to share a blind with you someday and maybe discuss the finer points of hunting over a few beers, but please keep the snob factor in mind before you start getting preachy.

It may be a lifestyle to you, but to the rest of us, hunting is an excuse to get outside, have fun and, hopefully, take home some good grub.

Phillip said...

Holly, only that it's great when people recognize that we are just animals, but not so cool when they think animals are people. Pretty simple, even if I didn't make it sound that way.

Ingrid said...

Phillip wrote, Holly, only that it's great when people recognize that we are just animals, but not so cool when they think animals are people.

Phillip, I agree with Holly here. I find the distinction convenient. To admit that we're animals, but then to suggest that animals don't have qualities that could be construed as "human" doesn't really compute. In fact, it's quite arrogant how often we, as a species, deem a quality exclusively ours, then later discover than a non-human animal also has this quality, but subsequently suggest it's "anthropomorphism" to attribute that quality to the animal. We all have qualities unique to our species, and we share many more. I'm comfortable admitting those lines are a lot more blurry than most people would want them to be. We humans would have a much tougher time rationalizing our behavior if we didn't draw some of those artificial boundaries.

Ingrid said...

p.s. Phillip, I really appreciate the questions you've been asking over at your blog. I understand the inherent vulnerability of looking publicly at the darker side of hunting. I appreciate the things you and Holly and Tovar (and others) do to bring some attention to the practices that ought to be examined or changed in the sport.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Swamp Thing: Oh there you go, crushing my noble savage fantasy!

OK, just for the record, lest anyone get undies in a twist about this, I do not actually subscribe to the noble savage fantasy. Humans are effed up, through and through. I just like the idea that we once lived in balance with nature, rather than in a constant attempt to defeat or improve on nature.

Ryan: I'd like to apologize for tormenting you with visions of duck buttholes ... but I'm not going to.

I'm not going to apologize for stating in writing how I hunt and how I feel about others who hunt differently, particularly not when I have an enormously high level of tolerance for people who don't do things like I do. It's a shame you don't believe that, but that's your problem, not mine.

I'm not going to apologize for encouraging people to do more than breast out their ducks, particularly not when I live in a state with wanton-waste laws, particularly when even I can competently roast a whole duck.

I'm not going to apologize for putting a lot of thought into why hunting is so fun, rather than just saying, "Yep. It's fun all right." To many people, the "killing = fun" equation is troubling, so I feel compelled to face it head on, rather than gloss over it.

And FYI, the aspiring hunters I'm writing for - the ones I've met and talked to and emailed - are interested in hunting precisely because they want to take more direct responsibility for the meat in their diets.

Soooooo, nope, I'm not going to apologize for not appealing to the crowd that just wants to go out and kill some shit and not have to think about it. I'm sure there are lots of videos on YouTube that would make them feel much better than my blog does. It's no skin off my back if that's where they want to spend their online time.

Phillip: I'm pressing you on this because the upshot matters here. If the upshot of your statement is: "If we run around acting like animals are people, we'll be giving them driver's licenses and letting them run for office in no time," then we're simpatico. If the upshot is something else, it may be worth discussing more.

Ingrid: I agree with your appreciation of Phillip, and as I've said in many forums, Phillip, more than anyone else, has taught me the importance of being unflinchingly honest about what we do, including the fact that some people do just hunt because it's fun and couldn't care less about meat politics. That's why I try to make clear, when I get all meat-political, that I'm speaking for myself, not all hunters.

Of course, Phillip's also the one who persuaded me that my knee-jerk judgment of high-fence hunting several years ago was not well-reasoned, and that discussion became the root of my tolerance for many practices that I don't participate in personally.

Upshot: Blame Phillip. For everything. ;-)

Blessed said...

Great discussion going on here (as always and one of the things I love about this blog!)

I just have a point to add to the discussion with Ryan. I am a duck hunter who only breasted out her birds before Holly writing about meat ethics made me think about that. The waterfowl hunters who introduced us to the sport taught us the whole "simply breast out the bird" method of cleaning it. The accepted belief about the rest of the meat is that it's "too strong/stringy/not worth the effort" I appreciate Holly (and Hank) for challenging that belief and showing us what to do with those harder-to-get-to parts. I really think that is what it boils down to, after getting up at dark-thirty in the morning to go hunt all day and getting home at bedtime, who wants to spend the extra time to get too all the meat from those ducks you killed. Around here the ugly truth of the matter is that if the whole duck isn't cleaned it's simply because the mighty hunter is ready to go to bed so he does what is fastest. As for cooking that meat - I've always maintained that anyone who can read and follow directions can cook anything - and practice makes perfect! Nothing I cook looks as pretty as what Hank posts on his blog, but it usually tastes good - and that is what matters!

Swamp Thing said...

LOL deer balls!

I'm confident that tonight, in some far flung corner of the world, Anthony Bourdain is sitting down at a rural farmers' table where they are having a delicious stew of deer balls.

But you're right - doesn't mean that *I* personally want to eat it.

Swamp Thing said...

We breast out some birds and process others basically whole (sorry, no organ meats for us).

Where wintering migratory waterfowl is concerned, let's not kid ourselves into believing that the wings and legs hide some unknown cornucopia of highly edible meat tissue. We pull wings and legs, and sometimes they are juicy and delicious. Other times it seems like there is more tendon than muscle.

"Surgically" breasting out a bird removes 70, 80, or even 90 percent of the edible muscle tissue on a wild, migratory bird. It's not just laziness (although that DOES play a role). It's efficiency.

For better or for worse.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Re Deer Balls

I SBW, of reasonably sound mind, do solemnly swear that as soon as I shoot a male deer (and or Boar) I will eat it's balls. and live to blog about it.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Blessed: I'm really glad my obnoxious whole-duck spiel helped. I know that most people do what they do with their ducks because that's what they were taught. (Funny coincidence: Last night we watched Tony Bourdain's show where he went to the Ozarks and one of the things he did was fish for sucker fish - which apparently taste very good, but many people don't fish for 'em, because they've been told they're not good.)

There is one kind of bird that Hank would breast out: a coot, because the legs really are too sinewy to eat (which he's learned from working with the bird a lot). But even though Hank can make coots taste good, we can't get excited about killing a bird to use that little of its meat, so we shoot ducks and leave the coots alone.

Swamp Thing: Interestingly enough, Bourdain did not eat any testicles in last night's show, though someone did hand him a raccoon penis bone as a souvenir from his unsuccessful raccoon hunt.

But he did, of all things, go duck hunting in that show, and Hank and I cringed when one of the hunters told Bourdain he didn't like eating duck because it tastes horrible. (Why cringe? Not because we're snobs; because the non-hunting public's obvious question is, "THEN WHY DO YOU KILL THEM?") Bourdain cooked a couple mallard breasts for them, and I think it's safe to say the result was a revelation.

I've seen one modified breasting in which people take the breasts and legs together (keeping them attached), and that DOES use a ton of the bird. I'm totally fine with that process. It does well on the grill.

Wings are a pain in the ass. But they're eminently useful in broth. What I do now when I roast a whole bird for myself is slice off both breasts, and one or two of the legs, and eat those on the spot. I put the remainder of the carcass in the fridge, and later, pick all the meat and fat I can get off of it. I'm pretty sure you'd be surprised how much meat I get (yes, I think I feel a post coming on), and it's excellent in stir fry. I'm pretty sure that meat weighs at least as much as the breasts, if not more.

As for the organs: I love heart, always have. I hate the taste of liver, but Hank makes great ravioli with it. If I had to do it all myself, I'd use it, because I know my body needs way more liver than I eat. Not sure I'd have the chutzpah to deal with the gizzard. But the feet? Oh hell yes, I'd use them. Makes broth taste amazing. (You don't eat the feet; you just score them to get the collagen out, then toss them, with the rest of the carcass, when the broth is done.)

SBW: Who are you kidding? Sound mind??? LOL. I have not eaten balls, but if I ever do, it's going to have to be at a good restaurant. No amateur balls for me! But I eagerly await your ball-eating post.

Swamp Thing said...

Jesus, this went downhill fast.

I DVR'ed Bourdain last night - I'm sadly finding that it's one of the most enjoyable "hunting" shows on TV these days.

I have a hunting partner who does the breast + legs in real short order - I should take it upon myself to learn how to do that for next season.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

If I stand next to Albert long enough, in the right light, I may by ....... Nah

Moving on
The First time I had them they were the former property of some Bulls in Upstate NY, fried in bread crumbs, they were amazing.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Swamp Thing: It sure did!

And I hope you like the breast/leg thing because when I've eaten birds processed like that, they were fantastic.

Have you seen Steven Rinella's show, the Wild Within? Its first season just concluded and I was very happy with it on the whole. It's not all kill shots, and he talks about ethics (which I think the non-hunting public really needs to hear) and he admits and explains his mistakes. I think he's an excellent ambassador to the outside world.

SBW: Good to know. I think. ;-)

hodgeman said...

Just wow...the comments on this post are more informative than the post itself (not that it was shabby to begin with!).

Speaking of hobby hunting, I really think after you hang out with subsistence hunters for a while- your perspective on hunting changes, alot.

I happen to know several entirely subsistence hunters who don't purchase any meat products at all and I am least a partial subsistence hunter in that my bag constitutes a significant portion of my meals for the year. Given my location I can pull that off rather easily by comparison.

For someone in SoCal to even attempt it to the degree Holly and Hank do is certainly a tough row to hoe and I respect it immensely- takes a lot of fortitude to even think about attempting partial subsistence hunting in that environment, much less blog about it. In that environment its rather easy to blast a couple refuge ducks, breast them out and hit McD's on the way home feeling thoroughly entertained.

And speaking of animal utilization- one should look at the Inuit... they do stuff with their catch that make sinewy buttholes and testes sound appetizing but then again, its not a hobby to them either.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I watched No Reservations last night and loved it, but I also cringed at the dorky duck hunters who said they hated eating ducks (then why do it?)


I am a great cook, but I know my limitations. I lack the skills to to makes plucked legs, thighs and wings palatable on a whole bird.

I've tried your whole duck recipe several times and though the crispy-skinned breast meat was great (like eating prime rib), the wings and legs were so tough and sinewy I couldn't convince myself it was worth the effort to pluck them.

Instead, I've modified the recipe to cook just breasts, skin on, still attached to the bone.

It's amazing, so thank you.

But for the rest I'll continue to do what I've done since I was 12. I skin the thighs and legs and pull the meat from the bone.

The meat that's left makes great burgers, jerky, soups and sausage.

I refuse to feel guilty for that.

As for spindly duck wings, I don't think it's worth the hand cramps to pluck them for a bite or two meat, same goes for back parts.

I don't eat innards. I have. It's gross. Sorry.

I also don't see the point of stinking up my kitchen to render the fat.

Does that make me a wanton game waster? I don't think so.

If you still do, I pose this question for you.

What do you do with the skin of the deer and hogs you kill? What do you do with the antlers, the hooves and the teeth?

I have a feeling you're not out in the backyard scraping hair with your ulu, chewing hide so you make Hank a pair of deer-skin boxer shorts.

I doubt you're wearing a lot of homemade hand-tooled hog-tooth jewelry.

Does that make you a game waster?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hodgeman: Funny, my dad was a subsistence hunter for at least part of his childhood years when his family lived in a cabin in the Paiute Mountains in SoCal during the Depression. Everyone in the family hunted.

Even though Dad stopped hunting long before I was born, I obviously inherited his self-sufficiency gene bigtime. There's something incredibly satisfying about being able to live off the land in an era when most people believe that's not possible. And while I know true subsistence hunters might get sick of venison and crave a little Kobe beef, I can't help but think how horrified they must be by how fat and unhealthy people look on their occasional forays into civilization.

BTW, have you read "The Other Side of Ede"n by Hugh Brody? (There's a link to it in my Amazon widget up on the left side of this page.) He deals a lot with arctic an sub-arctic hunter-gatherers. Super interesting book - definitely changed my outlook.

As for our hunting: Hunting the way we do is not cheap. To be an urban hunter is to invest a LOT of money, gas and time in your hunting because you can't just walk out the back door and go hunting for dinner. This is one reason I'd really like to move out to the kind of country where you can do that.

Ryan: For fucks sake, Ryan, STAND DOWN. You need to focus on what I say and stop being so defensive about stuff that I haven't said.

Seriously, when did I say there's something wrong with you if you don't roast the bird whole? You're obviously not breasting out birds, which I appreciate.

If you want to sit around kicking the shit out of a straw man, please do it elsewhere. You're in my house here, and you should behave accordingly.

And for those readers who have been patient enough to wade through these comments and still find yourselves baffled, Ryan is referring not to this post, but my new page in which I talk about my hunting ethics.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Sorry, Holly. I'll stand down.

I thought we were having a meandering, heated -- but fun -- conversation about ethics and such, something we're both passionate about.

If I'm bugging you, I'll leave it be.

I meant no offense.

Josh said...

Mr. Sabalow, I'm reading through your comments and frankly, your own snobbery is difficult to swallow.

Your preachy monologues about how you live your life, and your notion that Holly (whose site you have come to visit) should watch her mouth if she should ever meet you to talk over a few beers remind me of more than a few pastors and priests I've come across.

Don't be so thin-skinned, condescending and paternalistic. And don't pretend that, after saying, "keep the snob factor in mind before you start getting preachy", we will think that you aren't trying to change somebody's behavior.

Last, don't be afraid of ethics, unless you, personally, have a reason to be. There is nothing wrong with talking about how to do things the right way. Here in America, however, there is definitely something wrong with telling someone that they should censor themselves.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Point taken. I just reread that comment about the beers, and I cringed. I could see how that could come across as misogynistic, which wasn't my intent.

I love Holly's perspective and respect what she does.

She's a badass. I also love her writing and her point of view. I also love that an urban newby can get so into hunting in such a short time. She gives me hope that someday my little girl might want to hunt with me.

I was just asking questions and offering a different point of view.

If I offended anyone, I'm sorry.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ryan, I don't think you're a misogynist. I just think you failed to notice that my ears were back. Repeatedly.

Peebs said...

Wow... Well I have hunted and fished my whole life I have always eaten what I have gathered. I hardly ever brest a duck because I love the skin/fat layer on the bird. A funny thing happened at Delevan a couple of seasons ago that really supprised me. One of the people that works there was complaining that someone had brested some ducks and thrown the rest in the trash (there is a special area for plucking and cleaning birds) and when he dumped the can he got rotted material on him, so was very unhappy. There was a Fedral warden there and he said that the person that did it was lucky he hadn't seen him because bresting was want and waste (can be cited for it). I didn't question him about it because the only time I ever brest a bird is if the fat has turned on a hot day. Most of the ducks I eat are Mallard/Pintail/Teal but to me the leg/thigh are the best part.

Swamp Thing said...

Is breasting out birds considered (legally) wanton waste out there?

It's great that you guys have high quality hunting available on public land. High quality (even moderate quality) public hunting land out here is highly regulated - I'm talking JULY lottery deadlines for your January hunting date. "No walk ons", etc.

Out here in the Mid-Atlantic, the number of hunters to acres of public land is ridiculous. Part of it is that the region has such a heritage (back to the 1600s) of private ("King's Grant") hunting land and water, combined with the fact that even the poor people owned small farms and could hunt rabbit and squirrel.

Another part of it is that 400 years of Euro/American development of the east coast didn't leave much for the Nat Refuge System to take in the mid-20th century.

Take care of your public land!

Peebs said...

I will say that I have had wardens tell me things that were not ture. A few years back I had a warden that was going to cite me for having 12 fin fish caught in the ocean he said the limit was 10 I told him he was wrong but he insisted until I went and got the regs out of my car and showed him that we could have 20 fin fish but only 10 of any one species I had three different ones.

Swamp Thing said...

Ha! So the east coast and west coast are not so different after all!

I respect our game wardens, and I understand that there is simply too much "law" for them to be up to date on, but I've sat in court enough times and watched their cases get thrown out over and over again because they either missed a key regulation, or they botched a legal procedural issue i.e. Police Academy 101.

But that won't stop them from telling me, "Boy, that paint job on that boat renders it a floating blind, so you need a floating blind license!" (turned out to be incorrect).

Phillip said...

Damn, a bottle of wine and a little pain meds, and it's tough to keep up with all this.

Point A: I heard my name in there somewhere, and I think it was Holly and Ingrid saying it. For what it's worth, of course I don't think we should treat animals as if they were people... including giving them "rights". Rights are a reciprocal agreement in this society, and come with responsibility which we cannot ask from the other animals. That's not how things work in their world.

I do, totally, believe that we should recognize the animal in ourselves, as well as the fact that what we may think we recognize as the human in the animal, is really the animal in ourselves.

In other words, of course we have things in common. But perhaps instead of thinking, "those animals are acting so human," we should acknowledge that, "wow, humans are acting so animal."

What purpose does this serve? None really. It was supposed to be a glib comment and little more.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Swamp Thing: I don't suppose your enforcers have figured out possession limits, have they? I have yet to see a definition of that, and I've heard many interpretations.

Phillip, this is what I was looking for: " well as the fact that what we may think we recognize as the human in the animal, is really the animal in ourselves."

I think the rights argument is a difficult one. Obviously I think animals deserve respect, and in the lost world I'm prone to moping about these days, we and other animals did share rights: The right to try to eat, the right to try to procreate, the right to try to defend ourselves, the certainty of death.

Since that time passed, we have erected a complex set of rights and responsibilities for ourselves, and I don't see how we can practically extend those to animals.

Obviously, I don't see how we can extend some of those rights to ourselves, either, e.g., the right not to be eaten. (And good lord, this is starting to sound like my position on gay marriage, which is, "Hell, I don't think there should be any state-sanctioned marriage.")

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

"Hell, I don't think there should be any state-sanctioned marriage."

And you a raging centrist! you just get better and better value - when it finally happens (and I accept it's been me dragging my feet) this is going to be some blogger meet up. Fight The Power


Blessed said...

ok... away from the state sanctioned marriage issue and back to bitty bits of meat on ducks (chicken, turkey, dove and geese too for that matter) I pick all that off, throw them in a container in the freezer and when I have enough I use that meat in chicken/duck/goose/turkey/dove noodle soup or in gumbo, jambalaya, pot pie, shepherds pie or anything else that needs bits of shredded fowl meat. It makes for a quick supper on those days when I don't need to cook the meat before assembling the dinner. And... since those meats were usually fixed for another use and seasoned appropriately and eaten as a main dish the new dish has better layers of flavor than it would if I had simply boiled the meat down to use it in whatever above dish I'm fixing. Of course the only bad thing about that is that it's impossible to exactly recreate a dish :)

Swamp Thing said...

Holly - the waterfowling community (at least out here) ROILS over the "pile of ducks in the blind" issue every year now.

My brother's hunting partner got ticketed for it in Jan 2010 (3 hunters and less than 3 limits of ducks scattered around their seaduck boat when they arrived at the ramp), and the charges were dropped in court.

However, there is some legal precedence for 'possession' as it applies to unbutchered animals - a hunter got convicted when a warden followed him home (over the daily limit in his truck) and then the guy threw the ducks in his garage freezer which allegedly was in view of the warden, who popped him for "possessing" 30 unprocessed ducks (the possession limit is 12).

NorCal Cazadora said...

SBW: Twenty years in journalism was very interesting for the development of my beliefs. Because of the way we report, I was constantly exposing myself to lots of strong feelings about every issue. It has led me to many interesting conclusions on lots of political issues. (And they're rarely practical conclusions - as if the state will EVER get rid of marriage.)

Blessed: Redirect! LOL. That's a good idea. I do that in small bits. Roast a duck one day, then sometime after that pick the duck and fry up the bits with rice (and my latest, adding a bit of feta cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice). When I started picking my carcasses, it was a real eye-opener how much meat I'd been tossing when I thought I was "done" eating the whole bird.

Swamp Thing: I definitely know that group limits are illegal here, and I was told that one of our refuge managers once made a refuge rule that each hunter had to carry out his or her own ducks. Total crap: I have a bad neck and back, and carrying ducks on a strap HURTS, so I put them on top of the decoy cart - with my hunting partners' birds.

(Personally, I hate group limits, because I want to shoot my own birds, and I resent better shooters depriving me of that opportunity.)

As for possession limit, the whole bird count is pretty clear. But what about post butchering? What if you've saved legs and have the legs of 20 ducks, (six over possession limit), but the breasts of only eight ducks (six under possession limit)? What if you've made sausage from some of the ducks? That's the part I don't get, and I've heard a lot of hunters say they think they know about what level of processing removes a duck from possession limit. But I have yet to see an answer from an authority.

Anonymous said...

Ryan here is what I do.

Afew years ago I gat a rotisserie. I take me ducks picked whole, soak in salt water for a few hours till the blood is a light pink in the water. Drain, dry duck completly.

Put it in the rotisserrie. Spray Pam or other cooking type oil on it. Then put salt pepper, garlic and what ever other seasoning to your taste all over it. Set the timer for 20 minutes per pound and let it go. Legs and wings come out just fine.

Maybe you have seen Mean Genes spoonie duck rear end picture too many times? Not appitising to me either.

NorCal Cazadora said...

My goal is now to invite Ryan over for a duck hunters dinner, serve him duck butthole and have him praise it for all to hear.

Hank and I did watch last weak as Tony Bourdain ate goat butthole and liked it, so it's not beyond the realm of the possible.

I think Hank will need some convincing on this one, though - we normally render duck butts for fat and I can tell you from having removed the duck butthole and associated parts that there's not much to it. Bourdain's goat butthole was far more substantial.