One of the things they teach you in hunter education here in California is that it’s wise to avoid parading your dead animals around in ways that offend and upset non-hunters. Put the dead deer in the bed of your pickup, the instructors say; don’t strap it to the hood and drive it around town to show off.
There is, however, a huge exception that is unwritten, but generally understood: When we hunters are among our own, showing off our success to friends is allowed, even encouraged. We post “hero shots” of us with our prey on internet hunting forums. I’ve got a few hero shots on this blog. And the hunting magazines I read gleefully display hero shots of kids with their first (insert game animal here).
But it turns out there’s an exception to that rule too, and Dan Richards found that out the hard way last month when he sent a photo of himself holding up a mountain lion he killed in Idaho to the Western Outdoor News, a weekly hook-n-bullet newspaper.
While his hunt was 100 percent legal in Idaho, it would’ve been illegal in California, because Californians have repeatedly voted to ban mountain lion hunting.
So, who cares, right?
Here’s the hitch: Richards is the president of the California Fish and Game Commission.
Now who cares? The Humane Society of the U.S., which is ever alert to opportunities it can exploit. HSUS pitched a fit, alerted its members and started spouting off to the press.
“It’s not illegal. But he’s thumbed his nose at the people of California,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s supposed to be representing the interests of all California citizens. It seems like such a tone-deaf action. What part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?”
Well, that’s ridiculous, pure and simple. California voters banned gay marriage in 2008 – a decision I disagree with as much as I disagree with the mountain lion hunting ban – but I don’t hear anyone screaming about gay Californians who get married in other states where it’s legal.
The problem is that logic is irrelevant here: Non-hunters, especially non-hunters in California – have a visceral reaction to predator hunting. It doesn’t matter that Richards did nothing wrong, because he did something unwise by putting it out there where the anti-hunters could exploit it.
There is a long list of people who are now calling for his resignation, including a raft of Democratic state legislators, who have the majority in both houses, and the authority to vote for his removal.
Interestingly enough, the list also includes Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won national attention in 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he ordered the city-county clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite the fact that gay marriage wasn’t legal. (Uh, what part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?)
Sadly, it just doesn’t matter that this is a kerfuffle rife with hypocrisy. This is a state under one-party control, a state whose major population centers – Los Angeles and San Francisco – are pretty sympathetic to the animal-rights cause, even as many of their denizens line up to gobble burgers made from dead cows at trendy fast food places like In-N-Out Burger.
Richards may lose his position on the Fish and Game Commission, and if he does, hunters here will likely pay the price. All of us.
Will hunting be banned without him on the Commission? I doubt it. But will hunters’ rights and opportunities erode faster? In all likelihood, yes.
There is, however, one wild card in this hand, and that’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, known nationwide to people of a certain age as Gov. Moonbeam. While the Legislature can remove commission members, it’s the governor who appoints them, so it would be his call on who would take Richards’ place if he’s ousted.
This is Brown’s second time around as governor after a nearly three-decade break, and he’s not always predictable. When he was gearing up for his 2010 run, he brilliantly posted one of those "25 Random Things” memes on Facebook, and one of them was this:
13. I’ve been duck hunting with Chief Justice Warren, but not with Vice President Cheney.
So, if Richards is booted, Brown could surprise us and appoint another hunter. But with the precarious state of hunting here in the land of fruits and nuts, I’d just rather not be in a position where I have to depend on that.
© Holly A. Heyser 2012