Sunday, October 19, 2008

Waterfowl: Just first love, or love for life?

The first year I hunted - all of two years ago - it was a mad dash through waterfowl season followed by a long dry spell. Waterfowling - and a little token upland game - was all I knew.

Year Two was different. I hunted and fished voraciously after duck season ended. Sturgeon, halibut, striper. Rabbits, doves, turkeys, pheasants. Feral hogs, Corsican sheep and deer. Successful more often than not.

I had changed; I was blooded in all the major types of game, no longer just a waterfowler. What would duck hunting mean to me now?

I found out on Saturday when I pulled on my waders for the first time since Jan. 27 and stepped out into a marsh as night began to give way to day.

Saturday was opening day of the 2008-09 waterfowl season in my region of California, and I found myself in a marsh on private property near Chico with Boyfriend, my friend Bob and a vegetarian named Kelly. I was lucky to be there - I had not been drawn in the lottery to hunt on public refuges, and had a good friend not been looking out for me, I might have had to stay home, glued to the Duck Hunting Chat to await reports of the day's hunts.

Our guide drove us across the ranch, deposited us at the edge of the marsh and aimed us toward our home for the day - a standup blind encased in dried grass, surrounded by patches of tules and a good stretch of open water. Covering us was a sky whose vastness would be broken that day only by a view of the Sutter Buttes, a volcanic scar on the otherwise pancake-smooth floor of the Sacramento Valley.

Bob and Boyfriend walked into the water first, followed by Kelly, then me.

The air was filled with ducks. And I don't mean the air as in what you see when you look up; I mean they were swarming around us like mosquitoes. Kelly and I could scarcely take a step without stopping to point at another flock crossing over, in front of or behind us. As we stood there, jaws agape, the birds started dropping into the water all around us like hail falling in a thunderstorm. One zoomed past Kelly just a few feet in front of her and landed to about five yards to our right. It was magical. We had to push ourselves to continue on to the blind to get in place before shoot time.

Oh ... you want to know why a vegetarian was in our hunting party?

Kelly had been a vegetarian since she was 12 because of a simple aversion to meat. And when we went to the Sierra Nevada Taproom in Chico for dinner on Friday night, she still wasn't interested in meat - she ate a portobello mushroom burger.

But she wanted to explore a bit more of the world around her and assess whether her dietary choice of childhood would stand up to review, and she planned to pick up a gun Saturday morning and take aim at her first duck ever.

Well, at least until we got in the truck at 6 a.m. to head out to the blind. She turned to me where we sat in the back seat and said, a bit wide-eyed, "I'm not ready."

"That's OK," we told her. "Do you still want to go out there?"

Yes, she said. She could watch; she just wasn't ready to pull the trigger.

So she sat with us in the blind, listening and watching as our guide called and Boyfriend, Bob and I took turns standing, shooting, cursing our misses, and cheering our hits as an old yellow lab launched into the water to retrieve whatever we downed.

It was a postcard-perfect opening day, so many ducks whizzing around that it was hard to focus on just one. And even when you could focus on one, all the old familiar calculations were still there: Quick, figure out the lead for a bird flying this speed and direction. Is that a small duck close or a big duck far away? If I pull the trigger, will it fall in a clump of tules so thick that we'll never find it, or will it drop in my lap?

And because I'm still pretty new at hunting and not the best shot yet: Mount the damn gun right, Holly. Owwwwwwwww, not on the collarbone! Cheek on the stock, moron! No bird, no bird ... oh Lord, now I've gone and disappointed the dog.

Even as I mowed through a box of Kent Fasteel No. 2s with embarrassing speed and moved onto the $2-a-shell Hevi-Shot, contentment washed over me. Beauty. Complexity. And the opportunity to redeem yourself gloriously as soon as a minute after your most recent embarrassment.

Swoon. I love this stuff.

Going into the day, I'd had fantasies of reaching my limit of seven ducks, not because I need seven ducks on the very first day of a 100-day season, but because I wanted to be good enough to hit that many.

Unfortunately, I am not. Blasting through probably about 35 shells, I hit five ducks - a wigeon and four mallards.

But my first mallard of the day was a real bruiser. Not that I'd know - I'd gotten only two mallards before this, and they both looked huge compared with the tiny teal and modest wigeon and spoonies I usually bring home. But everyone in the blind was awed, and they used words like "size of a barn" and "trophy mallard."

As the morning flight thinned out, the number seven was still dancing in front of me. I was like a gambler at the slot machines, saying to myself, "One more chance, one more chance, one more roll of quarters..."

But I could sense that everyone was waiting on me to declare the ceasefire. No one would've said a word to dampen my enthusiasm, but clearly folks were ready to go. Even me. I admitted that my milestone would have to come another day, and we packed up and left.

Was I disappointed? Not in the least. We saw the marsh at its most magnificent. We brought home a huge pile of food - 14 ducks in all, after Bob handed some of his to us, mumbling something that translated roughly as, "Enjoy the plucking, suckers!"

Which we did, for about three and a half hours. Turns out mallards take a lot more time to pluck than those lovely single-serving teal.

Still, it was a glorious day that reminded me why waterfowling is my true love.

I can't imagine hunting wild boar and bringing home all that food after shooting so embarrassingly. I can't imagine bringing home four or five deer after just one morning in the field. I can't imagine laughing at myself when a wily bull elk eludes my shot. When it's a duck, you know another will come along soon. And if it doesn't, you've got 99 days to keep trying.

Our take - plus gifts from Bob - for Opening Day 2008: a pile of ducks, a collection of offal that Boyfriend will transform into something wonderful, and a container of duck feet that will enrich our broths with duck-flavored collagen.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Josh said...

I went out, too, thinking that sitting in a blind would be easier than walking after deer, what with a huge cold I have right now. Six birds between the three of us, but we didn't see near the birds you were describing; most of the flocks had headed off to the refuge well before sunrise. But, I'm confident with my 20 gauge after ducks now.

I hope your boyfriend will post an entry on his blog about cooking ducks' feet; I'd really like to learn.

Blessed said...

I've got the itch now and we still have another 2 weeks before season opens... and I doubt that I'll get to go again this year...

Oh well, at least I can count on you to blog about it for me and next year hubby and I think the little one will be ready for a couple short trips!

Jon Roth said...

Sounds like a real incredibly experience Holly, congratulations. We are kindred spirits when it comes to waterfowling. It is the most amazing opportunity to see nature, man, and dog all coming together in a beautiful symphony. I too had an amazing weekend - literally just finished cleaning birds myself. I can't wait to write about it, but honestly, I am too tired to post up today. Way to go, enjoy those birds!

Holly Heyser said...

Josh - I've heard we were pretty lucky, that results were really mixed around the valley. Boyfriend went to Yolo this morning and he said the flight stopped completely after the first hour.

Blessed, I sure hope you can get out at least once this season. I know having that beautiful baby makes it more challenging, but I know how good it is for your soul to bring home your food.

LTH, sounds like you had a great weekend. I'm heading up that way next weekend too, and I can't wait. I'm truly blessed this year - refuges have let me down for the first two weekend, but friends haven't.

Anonymous said...

I came upon your blog by way of a Google search for another topic, and I stopped to read a few posts. Even though I work in a wildlife field (I help rehabilitate and rescue injured wildlife for a local animal hospital) -- I've always tried very hard to stay open minded and respectful about hunting. Especially since many hunters weigh in on the side of ecological conservation -- a concern I believe we all share.

In addition, you're a great writer, even if our perspectives on this vary.

Where I work, we see wild animals brought in with human-inflicted injuries, gunshots, and so forth. And the animals are in clear distress, sometimes suffering for long periods of time with debilitating injuries before anyone finds them (if they're lucky).

Anyway, I was reading your blog, linking out to a few others you have listed here --genuinely hoping I might find something reassuring about this issue -- to learn that most hunters really do care about the wounding issue.

I came upon the line in an older post, about possibly wounding a dove -- saying you never found it. And the comment was just written as a missed shot, without any seeming acknowledgement for what might have happened to the bird.

I wish I could grasp that concept. Maybe someone here could even explain it to me. I'm open to hearing the other side.

If there were only clean kills, I wouldn't even be commenting here. I could see that as a humane death, certainly more humane than modern slaughter houses.

I really hesitated about responding, I normally don't post. But you seem like a really cool person who could handle a bit of dissent. :)

I'd love for there to be more common ground between those of us who care for animals but don't hunt -- and those of you who do hunt. That's what I came looking for tonight, on the opening of hunting season, knowing some of what I'll be seeing in the next few months. For what that's worth . . .

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

'But she wanted to explore a bit more of the world around her and assess whether her dietary choice of childhood would stand up to review, and she planned to pick up a gun Saturday morning and take aim at her first duck ever.'

Even being able to consider confronting your own articles of faith is HUGE, most people will forever dwell in the comfort of their certainty's.

Way to go Kelly

Holly Heyser said...

Bushwhacker, amen!

And Anonymous, thanks for a sincere inquiry. I've actually written extensively at times about my extreme angst about losing a crippled animal. If you want to see my self-flagellation at its peak, go to this post. Every lost animal bothers me, because I don't kill to waste. If I'm going to take a life, I want it to make maximum use of it - which the photo above should surely confirm for you.

Now, general thoughts on loss and suffering:

My goal is always a clean kill, but that's not realistic; it doesn't always work that way. How do I deal with it?

1. Nature is my guide on many things, and when I watch predator animals taking other animals on nature shows, I see prolonged suffering. When I watch my neighbor's cat take out birds in my back yard, it drives me crazy watching her just flipping around a live and terrified bird, even though I know she's just being a cat. When I see that, I ALWAYS go out and finish off the little critter because I know it's going to die anyway and its suffering will serve no purpose. Kitty doesn't mind.

The point? Most killing in nature is far more prolonged and terrifying than bad kills in hunting. It doesn't make me feel great. But the fact is, killing doesn't make me feel great - it is unpleasant, and I accept the unpleasantness as part of the package of being an omnivore. One of the reasons I hunt is to face that upfront, rather than avoid the issue at the grocery store meat counter.

2. Even though I hate "wasting" an animal by killing it and not retrieving it, I know that nature wastes nothing. Birds I can't find, or gutpiles I leave behind, will sustain vultures, coyotes, meatbees, ants and even the plant life around them. My father's ashes did not go to waste - they sustained some young trees, and when the trees died, the ashes those trees had absorbed then became part of the decaying wood that sustains other living things in that soil.

3. Should I not kill at all if I can't kill perfectly every time? In a perfect world, no. But this is not a perfect world. Even animals hunt badly and leave behind suffering cripples (I've seen them when I and others have killed these animals who've obviously survived some attack). I still believe that hunting, with all its imperfections, is vastly preferable to factory farming where animals live their entire lives eating unnatural food in confinement at best, or are abused, deformed and sickened at worst.

So, in sum, it is not my preference to end a life without good reason. I remember every single animal I've lost, and each one really upsets me.

I don't always write about it because writing is the art of what you leave out, as much as what you put in. But if you look around here, you will find stories that make my feelings on the subject very clear.

I think most hunters feel the same way, but most hunters are guys, and most guys are conditioned to look tough and pretend troubling things don't bother them.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Holly, glad you had such a good day. Sounds like you have some great meals in store.

And to anonymous, I just wanted to say that I read a great many hunting and fishing blogs and I know that it bothers hunters tremendously when they miss a shot or can't find an animal they've hit. True hunters know the significance of hunting and they don't do it to torture and maim. I've read posts by hunters who agonize over bad shots that happened years ago.

It's true there are some people who shoot guns at animals who don't care what happens. We don't, however, dignify those people with the title hunter.

I applaud your willingness to understand and learn about another viewpoint. I talk about the fact that people on both sides of this issue can learn from each other if they're willing to be open to the other point of view. It's terrific that you're willing to explore this issue.

Native said...

As always Holly,
Very well written and helps us whom cannot express themselves with such beautiful articulation skills as you are possessed of, to be able to say: "I agree with you"

The one thing which I would have to say that you left out and I will blunderingly try to explain here, is the fact that being a "predator" like myself and so very many others within and, without of the hunting community likewise are and feel.
I enjoy, the kill yes! but, the "Thrill Of The Chase" is the one thing which I do not ever see being discussed!

Conservation, is a by-product (and a nice aspect) of our innate desire to complete the circle of self awareness and to continue to pass this experience down to our progeny.
Humans, in spite of being the predator species that we are, have the intellect to understand that without proper management our wildlife simply will not sustain itself to feed the current numbers of our modern populations.

But, I digress at this point! Back to my question!
Why do we not discuss what motivates us (as does a lion) to hunt and kill.

The thrill of the chase!

A lion that is clearly well fed, will still chase and kill even though his belly is full.
And, as brother predators to the lion, we will act the same because, of an innate desire to complete that "full circle of self awareness" and also to give us the satisfaction of knowing that we could survive in the wilds.

But, it still will boil down to a single emotion, those few seconds of our adrenaline filled, pumping veins, heart beating double time all of which are the result of: The Thrill Of The Chase!

Anonymous said...

I have never gone duck hunting before but it sure sounds like it was a great time had by all, and that right there is what really counts.

ironman said...

Wonderfully written Holly, and very well said. I have always known you were wicked smart, but wow! you have managed to articulate so many of the conflicts and ideals that I find central to the hunting experience with such a refreshing point of view that I am left in awe.
Anonymous, you are exactly the kind of person that should read this blog. please continue and I am certain that The casadora will ease your concerns.(she might even take you hunting) As a life long hunter it is incredibly important to me that non hunters get a fair point of view about hunting. So many people,(on both sides) just close their minds to other viewpoints when we really share so much common ground.
As one of those preconditioned tough guys who doesn't show his feelings, please allow me to tell a short story instead.
Two years ago, I attended a NWTF (national wild turkey federation)Dinner,(I am on the committee now)and won a once in a lifetime whitetail deer hunt. As a man of modest means, I would never have been able to do this on my budget, so I was incredibly excited. The day we arrived at the private game ranch where I was to hunt, the guides asked us if we would like to help them out with their exploding feral pig population prior to our hunt in the morning.I happily complied. Just before sundown, I took a shot and shot badly, wounding a pig. Myself, two guides,and one other hunter tracked the animal well into the night hoping to end its suffering but finally had to give up due to darkness. I didn't sleep that night. When the guides showed up the next morning, I knew what I had to do. I would find that pig.
the part that surprised me was that the other hunter who had accompanied me the night before also chose to give up his expensive guided hunt to help us find that pig. To me that speaks volumes about the heart of a hunter. and while I didn't get to shoot a trophy whitetail (and probably never will) I did bring home the bacon.

Josh said...

Native, that is a great point! Definitely fodder for future posts, essays and the like. I immediately thought of Ortega y Gasset.

Jon Roth said...

Ironman, you don't have to worry about how well you write, because that story is the perfect real-life example of what Holly describes in her response to Anonymous.

I am appreciate everyone's willingness to 'hear' what Anonymous is saying and to share what, I think, we all have in common. And that is the genuine angst that is felt by hunters who cannot find downed game.

I think there is another important point that I am reading in Anonymous' comment that is worth saying out loud.

I imagine, Anonymous, that you also deal with non-game animals that have been injured by man (note I did not say hunters) at your facility. Just as hunters are personally affected by the loss of a game animal they have attempted to harvest, true hunters do not shoot at non-game species for whatever reason.

If you are caring for non-game birds or mammals that have been shot by man, please understand that all of us would be equally sickened by what you may be seeing. But those folks are not hunters, that are simply people with guns that don't share the values of a hunter. Unfortunately, just like other aspects in life, there are people who perform terrible acts that result in the good majority being painted with the same broad brush.

I applaud this thread, what a wonderful opportunity to share why we hunt, eat, and live! (sorry, couldn't resist).

Tom Sorenson said...

Holly - is it ok that I am always a bit jealous of your ability to put words together whenever I come here? Not just a great duck hunting tale, but the way you respond to Anonymous is awesome. I mean I could have those same feelings, but could never express it so clearly in the written word. Marvelous.

If you ever want to know the pain of missing a chance at an elk, let me know - we blow a lot of those chances up here! Wiley creatures, they are. Amazing how often I can come so close and never release a shot - my brother had 3 elk inside of 30 yards this year and never released an arrow - uncle and cousin had at least that many each and never released an arrow - they just have a knack at coming in where you can't get a shot off!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Holly... and great comments from all.

Anonymous, because you do not see a thing, doesn't mean it doesn't exist... and such is the case when it comes to hunters' feelings about losing or wounding game. We don't spend alot of time talking about it, and it doesn't get a lot of print coverage either.

There's a reluctance among hunting writers to put much focus on the imperfect and accidental, because it's very difficult to explain in a way that a non-hunter can understand, and it's easy for anti-hunters to leverage against us.

As Holly points out, no wild predator is perfect, and to expect perfection from humans is pretty far-fetched (think about it). No amount of technology can make us better than what nature has designed.

Point being... as hunters, while we have a responsibility to try our best to make clean kills, and to follow up as best we can to recover animals we've shot, it's a fact that we will occasionally lose game. The acceptance of this fact is not a lack of conscience or sentiment, but the pragmatic acceptance of reality.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, everyone.

Ironman, thanks for that story. You alluded to it when I was all broken up over my gutshot pig - good to hear the whole tale.

And Native, I love the thrill of the hunt, but what you said got me thinking, and I've realized that - so far - I am NOT about the chase. Given the choice, I would almost always rather wait in the perfect spot and get something to come to me. I am, apparently, about the lure.

Interesting, because, as you saw, I really enjoyed spot-and-stalk hunting on your land. And it's not that I'm lazy or anything - I put a lot of effort into my hunts. But I never thought about this distinction before. Interesting.

Anonymous, I do hope you come back and weigh in again. I hope we answered your question, but if we haven't, folks here can withstand a good back-and-forth without getting ugly. Your question was an important one, and I hope you see we all think it's worth a serious answer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all so very much for your thoughtful replies. I suppose I'll remain "anonymous" in the interest of continuity, even though it's an ostensibly disingenuous stance.

You responded to my genuine concerns with such candor, openness and kindness. And no matter what conclusions I ultimately draw for myself, one of the things I value beyond measure is the ability for differing points of view to be expressed in the respectful way you embraced my questions here.

I honestly didn't expect it. Not because this a a hunting blog. But because that's just not the norm across any internet discussion board, as I'm sure you well know. So again, I cannot state enough how appreciative I am of the discussion you've engendered here on my behalf.

For the record, Ironman, although I appreciate your sentiments, I'm afraid I couldn't be induced into hunting because I'm a genuine softy and always have been -- for better or worse, often worse. I mean, I'm the type that puts spiders outside and makes sure snails cross the sidewalk in safety. And I'm in my 40s. Unbecoming? Probably. Don't tell anyone. :)

That said, my initial post was precisely because I've been trying to reconcile my own sensitivity and feelings about animals, something I doubt will ever change -- with the reality of living among a diverse set of humans who rightfully feel otherwise.

I'm gratified to learn from you all about the misgivings you have with respect to downed animals. And the efforts you'll go to track them. That's honestly been my single biggest issue, because fast kills strike me as humane and I wouldn't argue that point with any of you. But as you know, there are guys out there who seem to brag about things that some of us really find difficult to embrace. And even though these guys are, as you say, in a completely different category of "sportsman," it's still disconcerting to those of us who don't hunt and don't fully understand hunting.

I get, now, the reticence to discuss these feelings and vulnerabilities, particularly if you feel it might be used as leverage against you,. Unfortunately, I'm sure you're right about that. Opportunistic attacks using someone's weak point are just too much the norm these days. All the more reason I respect your honesty on this point.

I also get the distinction between responsible hunting, as you describe it, and blatant cruelty. A co-worker of mine makes the distinction between "hunters" and "killers" and I think you elucidate her point quite well.

I landed here by way of Google . . . because I was out in the marshlands and heard the gunshots . . . and I was trying to find a way to feel better about some of what I knew was happening within my earshot. I'm a wildlife photographer, and just days before hunting season, I was out getting some gorgeous images of my favorite ducks in these same marshlands. And it was damn near breaking my heart to consider the ones who might be downed in the ways we've been discussing.

I think I feel a bit better about it now. I doubt we'll ever be sitting having coffee together, talking about the merits of hunting. But, again, I find comfort in knowing that there are so many of you out there who see the endeavor with the degree of respect and compassion that you do.

One last note, as a wildlife photographer, I always thought that if I could replace guns with f2.8, super fast, 600mm lenses across the board, I'd make everyone happy. But somehow, I suspect that won't be the case. :)

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Anonymous (and it's not disingenuous at all to be Anonymous).

You're right about the camera - though a surprising number of hunters do enjoy that kind of shooting as well. In fact, the "Bob" in this story probably spent more time hitting the shutter release than the trigger on Saturday morning. The reason, put as succinctly as possible, is that hunting makes us participants in nature and the cycle of life, and when you look through the lens, you are merely an observer. It is being a participant that makes us feel alive, awake and aware of what it means to be a denizen of this planet.

Thanks so much for coming back! I agree (and hate) that the Internet can be such a hostile place. But the way you made your inquiry - with great civility - engendered a civil response. And in this community of outdoors bloggers, we have a lot of people who think good and hard about what we do, which is why we throw around names like Ortega y Gasset. If you care to explore hunters and hunting further, that's a name to look for at your bookstore. So are James Swan, Ted Kerasote, David Petersen, Mary Zeiss Stange and probably a few others I'm neglecting to mention. This is the elite group of thinkers who articulate beautifully what is often hard for us to put into words.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, I won't hijack your blog in case it looks that way. I just happen to be online for the next few minutes. I just wanted to respond to your follow up.

I'm going to start with "Meditations on Hunting," based on your author recommendations (I checked it out at Amazon). I can't say I want to hunt -- I genuinely love being a part of the cycle as a quiet observer. But I do want a better understanding of the philosophies you've described here.

I think I understand what you say, Holly, about being a part of the cycle. In as much as you feel connected to life through being an elemental part of the life and death cycle, I feel so hopelessly sensitive to the cycles of life (having witnessed much death and suffering at an early age) --I try my best live life in a way that's attuned to my personal constitution in this world. I think that's what we're all trying to do on some level -- and the authenticity of our individual experience is definitely germane to the whole discussion.

Thank you for inviting me into your world -- even for this short time. It's been illuminating for me.

Holly Heyser said...

You're welcome! And that's fine that you enjoy nature in your own way - I didn't mean to denigrate living it through the lens. Just to explain that once you've hunted, you realize the camera is a different experience.

I hope you enjoy the book! It is very honest and thoughtful. And now I remember who I left out: Aldo Leopold! Doh! Sand County Almanac is his most-cited work.

Josh said...

Another vote for Leopold, and also a collection of essays edited by David Petersen, "A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Bloodsport", because it includes essays by non-hunters and former hunters.

Holly Heyser said...

Hunter's Heart is what's on my nightstand right now!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Sounds like an awesome day hunting ducks. Even though I have never been duck hunting, the way you write about it sure makes me want to go.

I just wanted to commend everyone-on both sides of the hunting issue-at how well they handled the discussion that has taken place here. Both sides were very open minded, not condescending or rude, and handled everything very well.

What a great post and a great discussion.

Anonymous said...

This is so fabulous. I wish there could be more discussions of this type.

Anonymous said...

This is a different Anonymous. You might want to have a peek at "The Compassionate Carnivore" by Catherine Friend. As always, I enjoy the posts, stories and responses. Hunting is my life. As so many have said so much better, it is participation in the cycle of life. Watching the rythyms is good (photography), being part of the rythyms is amazing (hunting).

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Excellent discussion! If I can add my $0.02 to the wounded bird problem, I'd say I practice a great deal at the range so I can shoot as well as I can (remember this is expensive), and Holly and I get more than our share of exercise in the marshes chasing downed ducks.

I think we've done pretty darn well, too: Last year I shot about 35-40 ducks and I lost two. A redhead I should have shot on the water at Yolo and a whitefront goose that somehow managed to escape me after a long chase through the mud.

I don't think I am alone in my view that losing an animal is failure on several levels. When we shoot and the animal escapes, we have failed everyone -- my own sense of skill, my desire to bring home meat for the family, and, most of all, I've failed the animal, which deserves a clean death.

Anonymous: There is a great episode of the TV hunter Tred Barta you might be able to find on the internet in which he shoots a mule deer doe with a bow at the beginning of the show, then spends the rest of the show tracking it. He fails, and is broken up about it. It is an amazing piece of television -- few other hunters would show that.

Holly Heyser said...

Anonymous II - thanks for the reading tip!

Anonymous said...

Great post Holly and great discussion all. Anonymous I is to be commended for starting it, and everyone else handled it politely and sincerely.

Just goes to show that hunters are, in general, really nice people.

Native said...

Ortega y Gasset?
This is the second time which I have heard this name mentioned.
I definitely will go and purchase one of his/her? books!

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Jumping over the top rung into the fray.

Since this discussion is about wounding and lost game and the name Tred Barta I like to add my piece.

There is a caribou hunt show where Tred Barta opens with how traditional archers need to stalk closer and make sure of their shots. After being busted while stalking by caribou umpteen times Tred resorts to flinging Hail Mary shots at spooked running caribou at 60 yards and further. You simply don't do this no matter how good your skill at the target range. It's a very low percentage shot and will produce a poorly hit animal many times.

You also don't go film it so some kid sees it and says to his dad when he can't get close on a stalk, "Why can't I spray Hail Mary arrows like Tred?"

As a trad hunter you have to pass on a lot of shots since your range is limited due to the slower arrow speeds. Knowing when to pass comes with experience and just plain old horse sense.

I'm not trying to come off as a Negative Ned but Tred is a huge black eye to us trad hunters who teach the next generation to take their time and get close, or fold their hand and return another day. Forcing the shot is not acceptable, even for TV producers who want viewing numbers.

Holly Heyser said...

Speaking of hunters and compassion, check out what I found this morning: click here.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Everyone --

It's anonymous poster again. I promised Holly I wouldn't 'hijack' the thread -- so I'll leave if you ask me to. Or, you can just delete this post. :)

But I couldn't help myself in returning. I've been following the posts here with much interest, including the most recent writings about the hunter rescuing the duck entangled in fishing line.

I work as a writer and in public relations (in addition to my wildlife hospital work), and I've always wondered if there was a way to bring together the best, most ethical aspects of hunting - - by which you all seem to abide -- with the most enlightened interests of animal welfare workers such as myself.

You have expressed your thoughts in such a touching way and with words that suggest a profound commitment to your values as hunters. Add to that the mellifluous nature of Holly's writings, and clearly academic considerations so many of you have expressed.

In doing so, you've also spoken to our mutual commonality on at least one aspect: a deep respect for wildlife and an interest in preventing the suffering of animals. I hope I can safely say this is an area where you and I do come together passionately.

Based on that, is there any way, do you suppose, to appeal to that most noble aspect of our human existence together? In my wildlife work, I see such wanton disregard for animals. And, having grown up in hunting country, my husband (also an animal softy) has witnessed some difficult scenarios.

In fact, last month, when visiting friends, we watched in horror as someone shot a tame, resident elk, one who'd been milling about town for years and who was part of a herd, habituated to humans. It was legal because the elk crossed onto this man's property, in a town where hunting is permitted on private land.

But it was unequivocally one of the most disturbing things I have seen in my life -- because of how it was done and the length of time it took for the elk to die -- while the hunter (who paid the property owner for the hunt) chatted on his cell phone. We cried for days after witnessing that. I still haven't fully recovered, I have to admit.

I imagine you all have encountered extremes on the side as well -- animal welfare advocates who simply will not listen to you, or who are not willing to understand the aspects of hunting that you've just described to me. It's understandable on both sides because we all have a deep, visceral attachment to what we believe is "right" or wrong, or cruel or humane.

As someone raised among working diplomats, I admit I'm always looking for ways to bridge those gaps in understanding. And I think there's a future in appealing to the best of both sides, and maybe working together toward discouraging the worst of both sides???

I'd love to see, as an example, a public service announcement that addressed the practices you all abhor, the ones I abhor, the situations where the ethics of hunting are clearly disregarded. A "This is Not Hunting" campaign, which addresses some of the practices I think we all agree are not "hunting" -- the ones that really give hunting a bad name -- and which tend to turn people like me (if I weren't truly exploring the issue) into anti-hunting advocates. And maybe a corresponding "This is Not Compassion" ad which would target the things animal lovers sometimes do which do not reflect well on the greater good.

It's just a thought. Keep in mind that I'm an idealist at the core, even though life has turned me into a hopeless cynic. All of this commentary comes from a passionate animal advocate, a vegetarian who literally won't kill a thing. But I do realize this is MY path in life, not something I'm necessarily deigned to force upon others. I'm an extremist in my HEART, but I try not to impose my personal beliefs. I do, however, seek more a compassionate direction for our world. And I think that truly could come from the type of cooperation and discussion we've had here. I appeal, I guess you could say, to the idea that even within dramatic schisms of philosophy, there are places to eliminate the worst, and nurture the best.

Thanks for your time everyone.

Ms. Less Anonymous

Holly Heyser said...

Hey Ms. Anonymous! Good to see you again.

I think you have a good idea there, depending on the parties. I try not to draw lines in the sand, but I do draw one in this sphere: I will not aid and abet the Humane Society of the U.S. because its goal is to end hunting, and I will not be used for PR in a chess move that could lead to my undoing.

But other organizations that just oppose egregious practices? I think there is much common ground, and I know that ethical hunters talk all the time about what we need to do to discourage practices that give all hunting and hunters a bad name.

I think any ethical hunter could get behind a campaign that encourages hunters to do what's necessary for a "clean, sportsmanlike kill," as my hunter safety instructor said about 1,000 times the day of my class. Practice shooting. Know the limits of your shooting skills.

And: Make every possible effort to retrieve downed game. The right to hunt should not be confused with a right to kill recklessly and with wanton disregard for our prey.

There are many more I can think of that come straight from my IHEA (International Hunter Education Association) hunter safety manual that do not undermine any specific types of hunting.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation also put out an "ethical hunter" brochure - which I found at one of my local wildlife refuges - that lists ethical behaviors. I'd like to see that kind of stuff everywhere hunters go - refuges, hunting & fishing stores, etc.

I don't think PSAs like this would be useful on mainstream TV - not enough hunters in the major metro markets. But there are lots of cable TV hunting channels that would be a great market for such a message, and the two channels I get never have anything like this.

Uh oh, now you've given me something to do... Wanna collaborate on this? There's a link to my email address on the navbar - just scroll up to about the end of this post.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Holly --

I'm making this my last post because in spite of the productive and exceedingly courteous discussion you've all afforded me here, I do feel a bit like a trespasser who stumbled upon a world in which I don't genuinely belong. It would be a real drag to write your blog with the expectation that "anonymous" might just keep dropping in to bait the discussion.

Since I first posted here, I must have explored at least 50 hunting blogs and websites. I just received my copy of "A Hunter's Heart" from Amazon, but haven't yet had the courage to open it, although I definitely will. I have to admit that as openly as I approached this topic (if a bit tentatively), the readings, videos and photos I've seen in the past many days at these sites haven't really helped me reconcile the feelings I came here with originally. I won't go into detail. I think you probably know the types of posts to which I'm referring. It is what it is. But I think it's safe to say that all hunting site and sensibilities are not NorCal Cazadora's.

The only thing I put into the cosmos from my end -- and, of course, it's a no obligation contemplation -- is just to remember that some of us who have difficulty with hunting aren't acting out of deliberate malice to destroy anyone's passion or livelihood. I still really want to understand and find a better way of relating, and I do feel frustrated by the schism I know exists between your perspective and mine. I think that's something I will just have to learn to deal with.

There are obviously those of us dysfunctional souls out there who have an inordinate sensitivity to the death of humans or animals both, and it's an extremely painful experience to witness the suffering we see, while living with that degree of empathy.

I'm not saying it's the "right" way to be. I realize it's viewed as a weakness by some. And I've often wished I didn't feel as deeply as I do because it makes navigating this crazy world a lot of hard work. Maybe it's because I come from a family of war refugees, and I've seen so much suffering and death, I almost can't bear to see any more. I feel it viscerally when another living beings hurts -- human or non-human. And sometimes, those of us who feel this way, find it very difficult not to react emotionally to something that resonates so deeply and which we simply do not understand. As an example, I haven't slept a full night since I witnessed the slow death of the elk, and the reaction of the herd members. I have nightmares every night, and I've always been affected that way by these things.

That said, I will always keep this discussion in my mind. It has taught me to try and embrace a point of view that is so different from my own, without resorting to the types of ad hominem posts I know we all see across the 'net. I can safely say that before stopping in here and talking to you all, I probably wouldn't have considered a future cooperation between my organization and hunters' groups on areas of common interest. When it comes to pass in my work that an opportunity arises for the types of publicity we addressed above, I will be sure to contact you to see if you still have any interest.

I hope this final post wasn't too incendiary. It's my truth and I appreciate you all giving me a glimpse into your truth. I realize how rare and exceptional it is for people to share things in the spirit of this kind of honesty in a vulnerable public forum. And I will honor your expression as such. Thank you again for inviting me in with kindness.

G'night and G'bye.

Holly Heyser said...

Hi again, Anonymous!

First, don't apologize about coming back. I think it's safe to say we're enjoying the conversation with you, because it's not one we often get to have.

Regarding empathy, strangely enough, I'm the same way. I once ran crying from a tornado exhibit at a Minnesota museum because the thought of the terror inflicted on tornado victims overwhelmed me. I know, silly.

So how do I reconcile that with killing? To borrow a computer term, I disable it when I have to. Non-hunting example: I would be a quivering blob of jelly if I hadn't been able to disable my empathy reaction to seeing one of my former students just three hours before her death by cancer on Oct. 14 It was horrific and unbearable, and if I let myself dwell on it, I would be unable to function. But the fact is, life goes on, and so must I. I let myself cry about it once in a while, and then I move on.

Now, about that book, please understand that the essays in it will be much more like the conversation we've had here, not like some of the things you've discovered in your (very admirable) exploration. But I have one recommendation for you: When you read it, try very much to disable your empathy for the animals in question just enough to allow you to feel empathy for the writers.

This is not to suggest that the writers are suffering - obviously, they lived, and the animals in question died. But if you tune in, you'll get a real depth of understanding of the kinds of things that go through our minds. Not all of us, but a lot of us.

And then, let your empathy go back to the animals. Honestly, in your line of work, that's far more appropriate anyway. All I hope for is that you will see the world that puts these crippled animals in your care less in black and white, and more in shades of gray. That you will see what happens to them as not a result of evil or malice or even lack of concern, but rather as a result of what it means to be part of life and death on this planet.

'Nuf said for now, I guess. Take care, and remember, the door's open here.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this really is the last post in this thread for me. I just read your beautiful response -- your comments about your friend --and I couldn't leave here without at least one more comment.

Thank you for the open door. I may check back many months from now, just to say hi and see how you all are doing. I'm very sorry to learn of your student, and I can only imagine the pain of that situation. I don't want to sound presumptuous in saying "I know how you feel" because there is absolutely no way I can genuinely get inside your heart. But I do understand, if even in a most rudimentary way, the anguish of loss, of illness and of coping with the psychic two-by-fours life tends to level. I wish you and everyone close to your friend, the speediest healing in these sad, sad circumstances.

I feel privileged to have made your acquaintance, Holly --and friends -- however fleeting and anonymous that association. The finality of my comment was just to say that I won't be perusing hunting blogs for some time. I think you can guess why, and my psyche needs to return to my own comfortable fold of ideas. Besides, my original intent wasn't to intrude in a way that contradicts anyone's POV. I came here, as I said, just to get more insight and see if some of that understanding was shared from both sides, hunters and non-hunters alike.

I don't want to speak for you, but I believe if we met each other, we'd probably get on well. In fact, my husband and I often rescue abandoned domestic four-leggeds, too. I can attest to your affection and appreciation for the kitty you've written about here. It's all so complex, our relationship with animals, and I'm the first to say I'll never fully grasp the vagaries. My Native American friends have given me some of my best spiritual insights in this regard.

I read in your bio that you are Sacramento-based. I don't live in that area, but I wanted to offer that if your cat (or anyone's cat) ever catches a bird (or squirrel or other injured animal) that survives and seems as though it's well enough to be rehabilitated, organizations like mine will treat the animal immediately with antibiotics and do our best to restore the animal to releasable health. I realize that often, the prey is in such bad shape, euthanasia is the most humane option.

And one last thing, I don't represent everyone in wildlife rehab in terms of my hyper-sensitive views toward animals. You'll find a broad cross-section of perspectives. So, if any of the hunters here ever has a wildlife issue that requires care, please don't hesitate to contact a wildlife rehabilitation organization. There are probably some individuals in the field who would react very differently from the way I do to animal issuse. But in general, we in the field tend to treat each case with as much scientific objectivity as possible. Our collective and ultimate goal is to reduce animal and wildlife abuse, and encourage respectful attitudes and treatment. And we also deal with extremely painful decisions over life and death, ones that we ourselves must come to terms with.

So that's about it and 'nuf said on my part. Bye for now, Holly and fellow bloggers/writers. And if I stop in again, I'll alert you by way of some proper identity. I like to lay low on the Google-ometer, but for someone who likes to live off the grid, I spend a disproportionate amount of time on the 'net.

Cheers! And all my parting best to all of you here.

Unknown said...

Great discussion going on here. I wish hunting was seen from this point of view more often. I sure know that there are plenty of people that think I am a merciless, bloodthirsty killer.