Monday, July 19, 2010

Killing the barn rabbit: Unsporting, unethical or highly moral?

One of our favorite summer hunts here in California’s scorching interior is a barn hunt at our friend’s family cattle ranch in Amador County. The barn, which sits in the middle of a long, dry valley below a highway, is a favored source of shade for fat and tasty country pigeons. And there’s a healthy supply of cottontails that live around the barn too, taking refuge in various piles of lumber and ranch junk.

It’s the kind of place you can hit only once or twice a year, because the pigeons and cottontails aren’t abundant enough to survive mass slaughter. Once there was a tenant on the land who used to shoot cottontails all the time just for “fun” – not even for food! – and he wiped them out so completely that it took 10 years for them to return. My friend’s family was not happy about that.

As a result, hunting this place is a privilege and a rare treat. Last week was when Boyfriend and I got our chance. Read more...
We drove out to meet our friend there on a blazing hot afternoon, eager to do our first wingshooting in months. Within the first few minutes, we flushed pigeons from the barn and put three on the strap.

(OK, I didn’t put anything on a strap – the one that flew my way artfully wove behind power lines, and I never pulled the trigger for fear of knocking out the ranch’s power supply.)

Boyfriend had nailed a cottontail even before we started on the pigeons, and we decided I should take another look around the barn to see if I couldn’t get one too. What a refreshing change that would be, coming home from a hunt with something more than ticks.

“Go look around that wood pile – there are always some hanging around there,” Boyfriend said.

So I made a bee-line for a stack of lumber and stopped short about ten yards in front of it. There. Right there in the shade of the lumber was a cottontail stretched out in the shade. Reclining.


He had to see me. But the problem with a place that’s frequented by humans and not hunted often is that sometimes the critters don’t know when they should run. A couple cottontails had hopped into hiding when we’d first approached the barn, but not this one.

Awww, hell.

I stood there for a moment, wishing he would run.

I considered shouting or making a sudden move to make him run – make it more sporting.

Instead, I sighed, raised my gun and fired. He died instantly.

And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

One traditional school of thought in hunting is that a moving target is a more sporting shot to take. That’s part of what made me hesitate when I saw this guy.

Another school of thought is that hunting animals that are habituated to human presence is a no-no – not sporting, not fair. It’s what makes some among us scorn high-fence hunting (though, truth be told, the animals on my friend Michael’s high-fence ranch are infinitely more wary than this cottontail was).

Yet another way of looking at this was that this was a shoot, not a hunt. This is what I hear from a lot of folks who frequent bird-hunting clubs where they’re all planted birds, so stupid and confused that you sometimes have to kick them up from the grass to make them fly just so you can shoot them on the wing.

These hunters recognize that’s not particularly sporting, but it gets them out with their dogs, so they accept the unnatural situation and change the definition of what they’re doing so they can’t be accused of pretending it’s terribly challenging.

Boyfriend’s take on the situation – he did the same thing with the cottontail he got that day – is pretty simple. We went hunting for food. We saw a chance to take clean shots that killed instantly and provided meat for our freezer. We took them. Hell, Boyfriend’s rabbit didn’t have a mark on him anywhere south of his head because Boyfriend aimed the edge of his pattern at the rabbit’s head. That right there is perfect meat hunting.

I made the mistake of centering my muzzle on the rabbit’s head, which wrecked the front legs, but left most of the meat in excellent shape, and the rabbit never knew what hit him. That right there – “never knew what hit him” – is my ideal of a perfect kill.

But was what I did unethical, within the realm of hunting? Would it have been more ethical if the habituated rabbit had been on the run? Would it be unethical if I called it “hunting,” but not if I called it “shooting”? How about if I called it “shopping”? And would that be more ethical shopping than picking up a slab of factory-farmed cow at the meat counter?

In all honesty, I prefer hunting animals that have the sense to run from me – if they detect my presence. It feels closest to the natural order of life: Prey animals run from predators.

But I don’t believe there’s anything morally superior about shooting a running or flying animal. I actually think it’s an immoral shot to take if you know it’s likelier to result in wounding, rather than killing – sporting tradition be damned.

In pretty much every form of hunting I do, I prefer shooting animals that have no idea what’s about to hit them. If someone were about to put a bullet through my boiler room, that’s what I’d want – to be there, happy, whatever, and then simply not there.

And it’s also important to me to put food in our freezer. The hunt itself is typically a wonderful experience, but if I came home empty-handed from every single hunt, or even most of them, I doubt I’d stick with it for very long.

So, hunters, where do you stand on this? Would you have taken the shot? If you did, would you be thinking it to death like I am? If you did, would you tell your friends about it, or would it be one of those hunts you never talk about because you think people will look down on you, or use you in a PETA brochure?

I’m really curious. Phillip’s having a conversation about hunting traditions over at The Hog Blog, which makes me acutely aware that I have no traditions, because my family didn’t hunt. I’m inventing mine as I go along, trying a lot of things, evaluating which ones I’d like to keep doing, and which ones I’ll pass on in the future.

At this point, I can’t say I’d handle my barn rabbit hunt differently (except for nudging the muzzle off to the side a bit). But I am very interested to hear what you have to say – even my vegan Internet friends Hutch and Ingrid, if you happen to be reading this. Perhaps especially Hutch and Ingrid.

So, folks, fire away!

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

My take is that we were on our friend's ranch for two things: To kill a couple rabbits to eat, and to see if we could wingshoot some pigeons, which, incidentally, we'd also eat. None of us ever thought that the rabbit hunt was an actual "hunt." The purpose of that barn is to be a habitat for rabbits so that they can live there safely for 363 days a year.

The other 2 days a year, one in hot weather, one in cold weather, we go in and shoot a couple. No more than that. It is a lot like that bargain those rabbits had in "Watership Down," where they knew the farmer would come and kill a few, but they were OK with that, overall. Obviously the rabbits would prefer we not shoot any of them, but hey, they get free food all year long, and as we all know, there is no free lunch.

I am, frankly, proud of the fact that I shot that bunny and left no mark on the meat. It was a good piece of shooting, and it allowed me to enjoy more of that rabbit at the table.

Was it a hunt? No way. The pigeons, which we shot on the wing, were more sporting, and they'll also get et.

Bottom line for me? Some hunts you tell stories about for the hunt, some you tell for the meal. I cured these rabbits overnight and poached them in olive oil for 4 hours afterward, then finished them on the grill tonight. Absolutely delicious. So good I even ate the kidneys. So what's worse? A sporting shot at a running rabbit where you damage meat, or a clean shot where you can eat the whole animal? You tell me.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Great post,and as though provoking as ever. If I may be permitted to take the conversation at it's first tangent..

It seems to me that your question as to the ethical nature of your kill is predicated on your choice of weapon.

I remember that you own a .270 but most of your hunting is with a shotgun. A rule, or convention (with exceptions) is shot for moving - bullet for stationary . If you'd snuck up on a snoozing rabbit with an air rifle (pellet gun) would we even be having this conversation?

One thought that comes to mind is that: you launched multiple pellets at the rabbit (ironically intending to hit it with as few as possible) but in doing so made a loud enough noise that all the other rabbits were given fair warning and scarpered, if you'd used a moderated (silenced) air rifle to shoot only one pellet you'd have been at least in with a chance of shooting another. So in my definition of sporting behavior (the contest) you created a situation that favored the rabbit(s) rather than yourself.


Shewee woman said...

Holly, I would feel the same way and I would also keep rethinking my decision. If it were me I probably would have gotten close enough to spook the rabbit and make it run. But that is only because I like a more sporting shot, and believe me I suck at rabbits in sporting clays.

But since your intention was to put food on the table, I wouldn't rethink it. You did what you needed to do, and more power to you. If I had wanted to put food on the table, I would have done the same thing!


Ingrid said...

Hi, Holly, I hope I get some backup on this -- because I probably can't address this post without incurring some measure of indignation from hunters. I'm no ethics scholar. And my perspective, as you know relies, to some degree, on visceral understandings. I know that for a lot of hunters (not you), those types of feelings are anathema to the pragmatic tasks at hand when hunting. As Hunter Angler (Hank) said, "we were on our friend's ranch for two things: To kill a couple rabbits to eat . . ."

From that standpoint, you succeeded, and succeeded in a way that, as you say, minimized pain or suffering. Hank alludes to Watership Down and I was going to make a similar point: I would characterize the hunt you describe more as "slaughter." Not slaughter in the "Apocalypse Now" sense, rather, slaughter as a farmer might construe it. Is there honor in shooting at a moving target over that outcome? I can't say.

Would I be able to do it? Well, I think you know the answer. But even as I think about this, I wouldn't be able to come up with a fair assessment for you.

I have a family member who was forced to kill, in the context of farming, animals who trusted him. And the experience so shattered his psyche, he resolved to never do it again, once he had a choice. Looking into the eyes of an animal who had trusted him enough to allow the slaughter was simply more than he could handle.

Of course, that points to individual constitution and what each of us deems appropriate for our own selves. But I believe this is the ethical line to which you are alluding when you invited me into the discussion. It's a tough one.

I suppose it depends on the designation you assign. If your actions were farming in nature, that rabbit's death was quicker and more humane than by other methods of slaughter I've seen rabbits endure, so I guess one could argue that point.

I've said over at Tovar's blog that in wildlife work, you fight so hard to avoid habituation -- precisely because you know it means that a deer or duck will come right up to a human and most likely meet its demise, sometimes in awful ways. My hospital will not release habituated animals into the wild. People who bait and habituate animals for the purpose of hunting them, or who raise animals for food, grow accustomed to that idea. I'm not comfortable with it personally. But on what do I base that?

It gets back to my earlier comment about raising the hackles of hunters -- because trust is one of those concepts I hold inviolable. I simply can't break the trust or take advantage of the vulnerability of an animal in my care, legally or morally. Because of that, I respond to a situation like the above with a completely different set of mores than a hunter would. I also have to extend my considerations beyond the animal. When I rescue an injured animal, I have to keep in mind: is its mate nearby, does it have young, is it lactating, do I leave it with injury or condemn its young to die by "rescuing" it? Totally different ethical quandaries but probably as murky.

Hunting relies, in large part, on the vulnerability of "the other" - the very vulnerability I've committed to protect. So, where does one draw those lines on how vulnerable is too vulnerable? If I could make the rules, no one here would like them. For me, the more vulnerable, the greater my responsibility to not harm. But in a way, that's in direct opposition to how I'd have to think if I were a hunter and predator.

I realize that answers nothing and brings very little additional insight. But you were curious about my impressions and, rambling, though they may be, those are them.

Hil said...

Eh, in my view, you wanted something to eat. You went out and got yourself something to eat and an animal didn't suffer in the process. I got no problem with that!

Holly Heyser said...

All excellent comments - thanks!

SBW - interesting take on it, that the weapon is a significant factor in making the choice. I don't own anything smaller than a .270, though, not even an air rifle.

And if I'd snuck up on that rabbit, we wouldn't be having this conversation - it would've been a different kind of post. It'd be more like what I wrote last fall about killing my first deer. Wait, he saw me too. But for some reason I don't see that kill the same way, because the deer on that property always run around humans - something about my approach fooled his defenses. Hmmmm.....

Shewee - See, that's why I'm thinking it to death, which makes me wonder if I'm guilty of situational ethics, or just confused by the many sets of ethics we have.

Ingrid - Thanks for weighing in! Your perspective means a lot to me.

I suspect killing domestic animals is much harder than hunting, precisely because of that trust relationship. (Though I grew up around it, I never did the killing.) Hunting is different because 1) the act of hunting itself is energizing and joyful, and 2) because the animal has a chance to use its wits to elude me (and more often than not, they do). But farm killing is a grim affair that no one looks forward to.

I've been thinking about habituation a lot too because of my mourning dove banding. Most of the birds are very wary, but some of them love the bait I put down so much that I can walk through the front yard (where I'm baiting) and if I stay at least 3-5 feet from them, they stay put. Very unnatural. I wonder what will happen come Sept. 1, if their territory includes huntable land? Then again, you never hear of hunters shooting doves on the ground, which is where some of my doves are acting most unnatural. (And yes, there'll be another post on that.)

I think your point about vulnerability is spot on, but not in the way you think. When I hunt, I rely on failed defenses, not broad-based vulnerability. Most of the animals I hunt are smart enough to know they need to stay away from us, but sometimes our stealth, decoys and calling are more effective than their defenses. During deer season here, does are wary, and legal bucks go into deep hiding.

But I think this rabbit was truly vulnerable. Intellectually speaking, for me, shooting for the pot is almost always a valid reason to kill (with obvious exceptions, like endangered species, etc.). I guess what I have to do is decide for myself whether my concern for vulnerability overrides that. I'm not sure yet.

Hil - Sadly, I didn't get to eat my rabbit. We were going to have our rabbits Friday night but the guy who was coming to dinner canceled because he was sick. Hank finally ate them last night, but because I'm out of town, I missed out. :-(

Holly Heyser said...

P.S. Ingrid - I don't think you'll incur indignation from hunters here. While my blog is a little different from Tovars, we still enjoy lots of good and interesting comments with people who disagree with what we do. If anyone is uncivil to you - well, that person would be an illiterate fool, because I invited you here.

I hope Hutch shows up too, but he's been out for a while now.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I've never had any desire to go out on a private club to shoot someone's pet chickens (raised pheasants), though I did have a nice experience one time with my great uncle and his pointers down at Bird's Landing one time. We got to the club around 11 a.m. after everyone else had gone home. The birds that had survived the morning's pet chicken shoot flushed just like wild birds.

I think, though, if your intent was to put food in your belly, you didn't do anything unethical.

Though I enjoy going out in the woods, I am a terrible deer hunter and don't really enjoy hunting deer as much as I do wingshooting.

But I do crave nice, lean, organic venison meat.

As long as I wasn't damaging a deer herd's overall population, I wouldn't have a problem legally harvesting a buck that had been acclimated to people.

To people who would argue the point: What's the difference between that and slaughtering a steer that's been hand fed all its life?

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Great post, Holly. I guess my initial reply would be much like Hank's: there's not necessarily anything wrong with it, but it's not hunting. So it's hard to assess through the lens of hunting. It's more agricultural -- akin to animal husbandry, or to shooting rabbits who are raiding a vegetable field.

A tangent: Ingrid's thoughts on vulnerability made me think of Jack London's story "To Build a Fire." Though it is tragic that the protagonist freezes to death, I feel at least as much sympathy for his canine companion who -- sensing that something is wrong -- stays out of reach after the man has decided to kill the dog for its body heat. It was, after all, the man's foolishness to go out in that weather. The dog, fortunately, overcomes its own trust (vulnerability) and survives.

Rich Mellott said...

I grew up in three countries at once, each with a different tradition. In Detroit, it was shopping at the supermarket, fast food, and never a garden. In Ontario, right across the river and through the woods to my Grandpa's 93acre farm, I wandered the woods with my .22mag, ate honey from a beehive, and helped slaughter rabbits, chickens, and pigs. I also had to shovel a lot of highly aromatic waste product, feed, and doctor injured animals. We also gave supplements and cut male pigs, who were not destined to procreate.
Then, in France, it was a combination, with a beautiful garden, an Abatoire (slaughterhouse) not far away, and fresh food grown locally at the perpetual farmer's market.
As a result, I was acquainted with all of the different models of food gathering, preparation, and consumption from an early age.
My father and I also hunted rabbits and ducks every winter, and did our share of ice fishing for yellow perch, walleye fishing in lakes, and deer hunting.
In all of the above hunting and fishing situations, the meat was always the purpose. We ate well, and quite often from the wild. I remember cleaning 40 fish at a time (as a kid, I didn't know much about limits). Rabbits got stuffed in my game sack, still warm.
As I got older, I had gardens, raised and slaughtered animals on a fairly regular basis when I lived in places where I could keep them. I also hunted sporadically, and fished regularly. I've never been on a guided hunt, just go out and get what I can by myself or with a buddy, and call it a day.
Your situation sounds more like an outing, with a little hunting/shooting tucked in. The shot you took was the one I would have taken, since I am also a practical forager for wild game. For those of us who have been on both sides of the ethical fence (I became a vegetarian to protest hunting once), lifelong traditions tend to cut out the controversy, and it seems a pretty clear-cut choice.
The dilemma you faced about a sporting chance for the rabbit? This was a free-range fed animal, and you harvested it with that in mind. You help to maintain the numbers at a good level, maintain a wildlife habitat, and so you've made this life more available to the multitude of wild things that coexist with us on this crowded planet.
Your Karma? One day, you'll die. Live and live to the fullest in the meantime, and engage the whole world in a dialogue, as the underlying human need for context is what's driving you forward.

gary said...

I think you know where I stand on this Holly, I would have no problem with what you did, put the little critter in the pot and enjoyed a good meal. (Sorry Hank got it all!!) I love the hunting experience but I also love the rewards of fresh healthy meat. The hunting experiences are for rethinking and retelling. If its meat hunting, its just that.

Concerning Ingrid's vulnerability train of thought. I have no problem with someone being a vegan, I'm just glad I'm not. It's interesting to me that wherever there is sporting competition or war or hunting this is the concept that is used. Find the vulnerability of the other and use it against them. We as humans are the only ones that have a care for the vulnerable. We give the sick, the young, the old, a special place in our conscience. Animal preditors have no such thought process. They kill and eat the easiest and most accessable which is often the young, sick and the old. They also don't think of world hunger when they are full and leave much of their kill. I still say its a dangerous thing to try put human emotion, thinking into animals and vice versa. You may round the corners off the cube, but it'll never fit into a round hole.

Phillip said...

I had to chew on this one for a little bit, because I groaned aloud when I read your title.

First of all, there's absolutely nothing wrong with your hunt, or shoot, or slaughter, (or arglebargle, if that's what you want to call it). You went out there to kill rabbits and pigeons and you did that. Hank's dead right on that note.

Secondly, did you "fool" the rabbit's defenses, or did those defenses fail him?

Rabbits are notorious for sitting still when danger approaches, reserving flight only for the moment when capture is imminent. This serves them well when the predator is four-legged and fanged, because flying too soon encourages pursuit and the bunny is a sprinting animal... not well suited for extended chases (especially on 90-degree days). Once he breaks cover, there are all sorts of things out there that want to eat him. Being immobile can fool the eyes of a predator... still = invisible in the small minds of many prey animals, and they're often right.

I'd be willing to say that, had you continued a direct approach, that bunny would have kicked in the turbo and un-assed the area PDQ. Habituated or not, that animal wasn't tame. But in this case, I'm not even sure habituation had anything to do with it. I've seen rabbits do exactly the same thing in wild places, far from any farmstead. They'll sit tight and still, even in fairly open spots, apparently trusting to immobility to hide them from searching eyes. Many times I've walked to within a few feet of them before they reacted. To the observant hunter, it's like a gift (and some cultures believe that's exactly what it is... the animal is making a gift of its life).

If you want them to run everytime, get a beagle. Otherwise, enjoy the gift when you can get it. A stationary target will always offer the cleanest kill, with the added benefit of minimizing meat damage.

By the way, just to show where I'm coming from, the vast majority of my rabbit hunting was done with a .22lr. While I killed plenty of rabbits on the run, I much prefer a nice, steady head shot. Shotgunning them never did much for me.

As far as the "ethical quandary", it reminds me a little of the raging arguments against "ground sluicing" upland birds. Most bird hunters want to shoot on the wing, and many militantly believe that's the ONLY way it should be done. It's the challenge, of course... the SPORT. Not much sport in whacking the little suckers as they're huddled under a manzanita or scuttling across the hillside. There's no law against it, of course, and if you're simply meat hunting, ground sluicing is certainly the more efficient method. But most people just don't find it much fun.

If you let yourself bounce that around in your mind for a while, you should soon find yourself wrapped up in the foggy, nebulous morass of the ethical construct. Is it the utmost responsibility of the hunter to ensure a quick, clean kill? Or is it more important to make the kill as "sporting" as possible? And is it sporting because it's challenging, or because the animal has the best chance of escape? Whose best interests are at stake, especially when the simple fact is that you don't have to be out there trying to kill the animal in the first place? How do you draw a line like that? Where do you draw it?

Of course the answers are all highly variable and completely personal.

I'm not, by the way, saying it's useless or pointless to discuss ethics both on the individual and community levels. We definitely should keep that conversation alive. However, we also need to keep it all in perspective.

By the way, re: ground sluicing... I generally won't shoot if they won't fly. Exceptions have occurred.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Good point regarding lagomorph behavior, Phillip, at least when they're not habituated to humans.

My first two hunting kills were snowshoe hares in winter, sitting tight in cover -- white but not perfectly camouflaged -- with me 10 yards away with a .22 rifle. I've found that they'll do that once, maybe twice. After that, if you keep following them, they'll sprint if you get within 30 yards.

Ingrid said...

I like Phillip's point: "Is it the utmost responsibility of the hunter to ensure a quick, clean kill? Or is it more important to make the kill as 'sporting' as possible? And is it sporting because it's challenging, or because the animal has the best chance of escape? Whose best interests are at stake, especially when the simple fact is that you don't have to be out there trying to kill the animal in the first place? How do you draw a line like that? Where do you draw it?"

That is precisely why I found my response so difficult to construct. And why I defaulted to the ethical standards/challenges of my own non-hunting, rescue pursuits with wildlife, rather than trying to resolve the issue at large. Not that I'd be capable of that, anyway.

Within the context of hunting and what's legal, I could (and have) argued there's too much leniency when you consider the well-being of the animal him or herself. I suppose that's better left for Tovar's blog where I just inundated you all with that.

But Phillip's comment illustrates the "well-being" issue in its complexity. Which is why, when I was faced with similar decisions as a young person -- (like Richard, I grew up in many places, faced many ethical quandaries vis a vis animals) -- I chose to make it a tad more clear for myself (even if absolute clarity is an illusion). I moved away from the hunting, from the abattoirs, the local markets where I saw animals slaughtered in front of me -- because I realized I couldn't be a facet in that existence, reconciled to the status quo.

Some people can. As a result, you're faced with dilemmas within the larger framework of what's right and wrong. It's easier, as we all know, to say -- at one end -- that hunting is bad. Or at the other end, that all manner of hunting, because it's legal, because it's always been done is fine. (Phillip wrote a great post on that idea. You see, this cross-linking business has me in your faces temporarily.)

But there's a complex web of personal responsibility that not everyone delves into -- culpability as it relates to intended outcome or inadvertent outcome. Very Buddhist of me to suggest that, even though I'm not a Buddhist. But I do explore those considerations in own actions, even if I recognize the impossibility of achieving total harmlessness.

Hey, there's a title for my upcoming self-help book and seminar tour: "Achieving Total Harmlessness in 30 Days"

Doug said...

Great discussion.

Hunting with Hawks gives one a slightly different perspective on this whole thing. Hawks like to capitalize on vulnerability. But that is not necessarily what I see here. I think Phillip may be closer to the mark.

First off, rabbits can and will do the darndest things, habituated or not. I have actually stepped on a rabbit before it bolted. He knew that he was being pursued and he was tucked up under a thick tuft of grass and frozen. He didn't bolt until I was on top of him.

I've had rabbits let me walk within feet of them when I was out with the dogs. They stay frozen and the schnauzer lollops on by. As long as I don't look directly at the rabbit, he sticks.

There was nothing unfair or unethical about what you did. You can't second guess the reactions or motivations of the rabbit. You killed it cleanly and quickly and you used what you harvested.

When we hunt with the birds we try to get the kill to be as quick and clean as possible. That seems to me to be the most humane thing to do.

Oh - and rabbit sounds pretty good right about now.

SMF said...

I would be fine with killing a few Rabbits to eat. If they were near my garden, I would have pulled out my Beeman R7 and put a pellet in one in a second. You cleanly killed a rabbit that was in an overgrown farm yard frequented by people... I think you are overthinking this a little bit.

This is much like shooting early season resident geese... it's not nearly as sporting as shooting late season migrators, but many of those birds can be killed without even putting a dent in the population.

I tend to think of wild animals as long as I legally and cleanly kill the animal, I'm fine. Does the barnyard rabbit shot sitting there have anymore value than one killed by a fantastic shot? Not every hunt will be memorable. Maybe you are just looking for too many kodak moments.

The larger and more important concern is that I leave enough game and habitat for the next person and their grandchildren.

hodgeman said...

Interesting article... and I can only report good show.

I once had the opportunity (or duty) to shoot a great pile of domestic rabbits that had gotten loose and were severely overpopulating the countryside. They were considered "feral" and F&G wanted them gone due to the pressure they were putting on the local wildlife. They alerted all the local property owners and declared them fair game for any and all. All told I shot more than I care to say and ate rabbit till I thought I would grow a cotton tail. Gave away a pile to the limited number of folks who like rabbit and eventually fed some to sled dogs. I didn't think I could call it hunting until I went after snowshoe hares several years later and guess what? They behaved exactly the same... I caught a bunch of them flat footed and frozen in place at remarkably close range. So I don't have a problem with what you call it. Those rabbits might be living in proximity to humans but its still a rabbit. With rabbits hunting success seems to depend on animal density more than just about anything else. I would guess your barn location happens to have a higher than normal density rather than rabbits that behave differently than those in other locations.

Holly Heyser said...

Sorry I'm so late in responding to everyone, folks - been judging high school newspapers for the past 12 hours.

Ryan - I am less and less excited about bird clubs the longer I do this, probably for the same reason I'm thinking so much about this "shoot" or "hunt" or whatever y'all want to call it. I would not eliminate them, but I've started letting opportunities pass me by (much to Hank's dismay - I had a certificate for a free hunt this spring and never got around to it, and Hank - still bed-ridden from Achilles surgery - really wanted some pheasants).

Richard - Everything but the part about Detroit sounded pretty damn good to me. I'm fine with my karma. I constantly run through "what if" scenarios, like "What if the premise of the Predator movies happened and aliens hunted us for trophies?" The answer is: "Fair 'nuf."

But you're right: Lack of tradition means I have a decision to make, since none was handed to me on a platter.

Gary - I totally appreciate your view, with the exception of the emotion thing: I think animals have way more than we give them credit for, but I blame agriculture - not hunting - for the fact that we don't give them the credit. Can I support my belief with facts? Not particularly - it's anecdotal, and a lot of it comes from the heart. My beliefs don't require anyone to agree with me on this.

Phillip - So sorry to have made you groan! You raise great points about rabbit behavior (as does Doug and Hodgeman). I guess most of my experience is with rabbits at the river where I hunt, and I assure You they have NEVER sat still 10 yards from me. Fifty yes; 10 no.

And I really don't want them to run every time. Perhaps I self-edited too much, but I don't care for the "make it run" school of thought. I have no objection to sluicing ducks and will do it, given the opportunity, because I know I have won against the duck's defenses if it's floating that close to me. Only problem is I have a terrible record with water shots, for whatever reason (I've heard many theories).

I'm with you on keeping things in perspective, but keep in mind that my perspective is REALLY different from yours. I have not been hunting for 40 years; it'll be four years this November. I don't know how old you were when you started hunting, but I'm guessing you've been hunting closer to 40 years than to 30 - and doing so with guidance from your family. There's a lot I'm trying to figure out, and sometimes doing the figuring out loud on this blog - and your blog too - helps me decide where I stand.

SMF - excellent comparison to early season vs. late season. I tell you, I was the best damn duck caller in the world on opening weekend! At least with the uneducated ducks, large numbers of of whom die in the first few weeks of season.

Thank you all for weighing in. Like I said, these conversations are really important to me as I figure out my path. In an ideal world, all my hunts would be 1) out my back door in the country (filled with elk, antelope and everything I hunt now), and 2) reasonably challenging, because I like to work for my food.

Phillip said...

So what? Are you calling me old?

Seriously, I totally get that your perspective is different from mine. That's why I said each answer is personal and variable.

No one else can sort this out for you. But if, by sharing my own experiences and opinions, I can help you sort (even if you decide you don't agree with my point of view), then I'm doing all I can to pass along my own hunting traditions and values. I open one of many windows. You don't have to look through it. And of course that goes for everyone responding here... not just me.

Unlike those of us "old timers" who learned to hunt in the days before personal computers, chat rooms, forums, blogs, and social networking, you actually have the benefit of a global (literally) smorgasbord of traditions, experience, and knowledge. Of course you also have the challenge of picking and choosing the parts that suit you and those that don't. I suppose all those options are a mixed blessing.

I'm learning a lot by watching and reading your evolution as a huntress. You come to the sport with an intellect and personality fully formed... not as a child. That's gotta be pretty cool... and maybe a little disconcerting too.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, let's see, you're one year older than I am and you started hunting at what age? Was I wrong? Ha ha haaaaaaaaaa...

Re starting at my age: It's actually a complete joy, not at all disconcerting. Then again, I've always been the kind of person who craves new experiences.

Hil said...

I don't know, I think "ethics" in general get over-thought a lot. Some people don't shoot what they won't eat. I personally would shoot coyotes and bobcats and foxes and not eat them. Some people don't shoot ducks on the water. Some people don't like crossbows because they're "easier" than vertical bows and the bow guys don't like rifles because they're easier still.

I think we overthink it and worry about all of it too much. We are hunters. We are at the top of the food chain and as long as we are breaking no laws, we don't have to apologize or feel bad for exercising our rights as apex predators.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Ethically, I think this is crystal clear. If you start from the assumption that it's OK to eat animals (another discussion for another day), then I think our obligation to do what we can to ensure that the animals we eat have A) a decent life and B) a humane death.

Whether they're animals we raise or animals we hunt, the obligation is the same. You shot a rabbit that evidently had quite the cushy life, and the death was as humane as they come.

That "fair chase" is part of the hunting ethos seems silly to me. "Fair chase" just means the animal has the chance to feel fear, and you have the chance to wound rather than kill. Sneaking up on animal and killing it cleanly before it knows it's in danger is my idea of a perfect hunt. Animals don't know honor or fairness. They only know fear and pain. Let's minimize the latter and stop worrying about the former.

Holly Heyser said...

Regarding fair chase, THANK YOU!!!! You have perfectly articulated the viewpoint of someone who comes to hunting from a non-hunting tradition. I understand why the fair chase concept came about and why it appeals to people, but as an outsider coming in, it does seem very artificial. Killing is killing, and the soon-to-be-dead animal cares not a whit how you feel about the method of his impending death.

Obviously, the ethic has seeped into my consciousness - or bubbled up on its own - or I wouldn't have had those qualms about this particular rabbit. But that's all the more reason to explore it thoughtfully.

Thanks for weighing in, Tamar.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Interesting thoughts on "fair chase," Tamar. Like you and Holly, I came to hunting as an adult, so didn't grow up with the concept and the idea of what's "sporting" doesn't play much of a role in my inner equations.

Most of my hunting has been for deer and I've never shot at a running animal. I want my prey to be standing still so the kill is instant. Yet I don't think that's incompatible with the philosophy of fair chase. My experience of deer hunting, for example, is that I spend many hours in woods where deer are few and most elude me. Usually, when I finally get a shot, it's at a deer who does not even know I'm there (thus, the standing-still). There is no "chase" and no fear. But it could be argued that the scarcity of deer, and the likelihood of them eluding me, made the hunt "fair."

My thoughts above on this rabbit-killing having more in common with agriculture than with hunting had to do with the setting, and the numbers and approachability of the rabbits -- not about whether Holly waited until the rabbit ran. In my experience and perception, "hunting" simply involves more difficulty, patience, etc, than walking up to a woodpile and shooting a rabbit.

Josh said...

These are wonderful comments from a wonderful post.

From my perspective, Hank, Ingrid and Phillip all alluded to thoughts I have about it. But, my feelings are different.

Ingrid talked about honor (and so did Tamar), and it's probably true: There is no honor in the killing you committed. Frankly, honor is a powerful and important part of hunting. The kill you made wasn't honorable, but it wasn't dishonorable, either.

But much more important is the concept of being humane. Your kill was humane, so good on ya, in my opinion.

Tamar, a proper sneak is considered fair chase to most folks. I think Cazadora is worried because this bunny was not the victim of a proper sneak, but was simply unaware of the lethal danger she posed.

Although no hunting skill, per se, was involved in the kill, shooting skill and friendships were both necessary for this kill. In addition, a respect for the rabbits' place was invaluable. All of these are hunting traditions, and ethically preferable, in my view.

Now, my feelings. I've passed on WAAAY too many shots for the same exact feeling you talk about here... especially in regards to some squirrel depredation I've needed to carry out. I've paid for my hesitance, I'll tell you what.

So, though my thinking is much more aligned with other commenters here, I totally feel you here, Cazadora.

Holly Heyser said...

Josh, what kind of kills are honorable, and what is it that makes them honorable?

And unfornately, I have to leave soon to teach a four-hour workshop, so whatever you say, I won't be ablew to respond for a while.

Josh said...

That's cool. When I re-read my comment, it sounded meaner than I intended, anyway. I don't mean to infer that you are dishonorable for taking that rabbit.

What I mean is: to me, when I look down the barrel of my pellet gun at the squirrel not 15 feet away, looking at me, I feel that since it takes no hunting skill on my part, the act lacks something. To me, the word that best encapsulates this feeling is honor - an honorable hunt, therefore, being one in which my hunting skills were used to help me succeed.

I think it is akin to your earlier posts about raising animals for food, and how you have less respect for those animals that are trusting enough to be raised and slaughtered. This bunny was on the edge of that domestication, and it made you uncomfortable. (I also do not mean to infer that I respect you less... I'm really digging a hole here that I'm not meaning to dig...)

I feel the same way when the animal is supposed to be wild, but isn't... and when I read the word honor, I thought it fit that concept I was grasping at defining: the use of hunting skill to succeed at hunting.

By the way, I do think that what you did was hunting.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh Josh, don't worry, you're not digging a hole. The reason I wrote this post is because there are so many ways of looking at this and I wanted to explore them, with the help of my friends.

For some of us, it's clear there's no moral quandary here whatsoever. For others, it's a matter of definition, and very much situational. Like I said, the deer I killed last year looked straight at me, but somehow I felt shooting him was different than shooting this rabbit, who had to have seen me and known what I was. Something told me it was habituation that cost the rabbit its life, but it wasn't habituation for the deer, so I had NO qualms about the deer and instead counted my blessings.

I like that this forces me to look at my goals. Why is it that I want to do more and more challenging hunts as I get more experienced? Why do I assign value to them, when death is death is death? What it tells me is that these matters are about us, not the animals we kill. Am I good enough to succeed on a challenging hunt? Should I hang my head in shame for a rabbit kill that an 8-year-old could have made? Is the only reason for shame or qualms that it was just so easy? And why does it matter? If there were no supermarkets, no civilization, it's clear to me none of this would matter.

But in the context of how we live, this kill was in that gray area between agriculture and hunting, and we prefer things to be more clear-cut. We have rules that deem agricultural slaughter to be OK, rules that deem hunting OK, but if it's something in between, we're just not sure, are we? Unless we call it dog training, right?

It's all just food for thought, and I'm grateful my friends have come to the table. All of your viewpoints are welcome. Even Phillip's ;-).

hodgeman said...

Some interesting commentary here on the topic.

Regarding the term "fair chase" it seems that a good definition is in order... I've always hunted under the impression that "fair chase" implied that an animal was free to use its defenses and wariness to elude me. It doesn't (at least to my assumption) mean that the animal is fleeing or running. I detest shooting at anything while its moving.

Whether the rabbit had the inclination or intellect to flee is somewhat immaterial to "fair chase" ethics... the rabbit was free to haul hindquarters at the first sign of trouble or to live anywhere but the barn in question. Now if you had blasted that rabbit while it chewed "Rabbit Chow" inside a hutch we'd all likely be in agreement.

Extremely interesting conversation.

Holly Heyser said...

Yes, and my dad, if he were still alive, would chew me out for such a messy and loud method of killing a hutch rabbit.

Most of my discussions of fair chase in the past have centered on high-fence ranches, and there's always an element of the critique that turns to the fact that ranch animals are more habituated to humans - because they often need supplemental feeding - than wild animals are, and that makes them more vulnerable to us. But that may just be the response of people grasping at straws when you tell them that 1,000 acres gives animals a LOT of room to flee.

I suppose the issues can be separated, but the separation seems artificial to me. All these little debates surrounding how we hunt mostly serve to reinforce for me that the ethic *I* care about most is the clean kill, because that's the one that takes into consideration the perspective of the party here that really has the most at stake - the animal we're hunting. The rest of it is really about how we see ourselves, how we see others and especially whether we think others are guilty of acting like an easy paid hunt was a challenge, like their trophy was hard-earned.

Ingrid said...

I've thought about this post a lot, Holly, since you invited us non-hunters to join in. And now, after some more rumination, I don't know that I agree with the statements about how the habituation element doesn't matter -- either to us or to them.

You wrote, "Why do I assign value to them, when death is death is death?"

Well, I think it's one way we ascertain what's just. Justice and fairness are an integral part of the thinking person's constitution. And I think they should be.

In the course of hunting and slaughter, people tend to look at the killing of animals, as I said earlier, in pragmatic terms. That keeps the philosophical notions we hold dear for ourselves from intruding in a pursuit that involves, on some level, violating those principals when it comes to our treatment of animals (versus our treatment of other humans, that is).

But I don't think those impressions of fairness disappear from our psyche simply because we're dealing with another species. The very considerations that come up in your initial post are ones we would take seriously, were these interactions taking place, human to human.

When issues come up of child abuse, commentary often revolves around how the act was even more despicable because the child "trusted" the adult. Spouses who've been cheated on cite "trust" as the most egregious violation. People who've been bilked out of their pension funds by a "trusted" money manager say it's the betrayal they simply can't reconcile.

I think trust IS, in fact, germane to our ideas of ourselves and our participation in this world. I think it's a significant element of our understanding of ethics. Habituation clouds an issue that for anyone who kills animals for sport or food, would otherwise be more clear cut. You allude to the gray area you entered by killing a habituated rabbit -- gray because of those values we assign to trust and so forth.

And your conclusion, along with the conclusion presented by others here, is that this element of trust doesn't matter when it comes to animals. Death is death and the burden of what's "right" rests with the individual, irrespective of whether the animal trusted us.

In a way, you've encapsulated a significant issue on the non-hunting side. For people like me, trust is, in fact, relevant to our treatment of animals. On a personal level, it's hard for me to grapple with the idea of habituating an animal then harming it. It goes against every grain of my being. Long before I became a wildlife rehabber, I saw the trust of a wild animal as a gift of vulnerability that I couldn't exploit without significant compromise of my own integrity. That's me. But that is, again, what would separate me from the hunters here on this issue. Since you asked.

As I said, I recognize that capitalizing on vulnerability is what allows a hunter to take his or her prey. But habituation is enforced vulnerability, just (as you said) agricultural raising of animals is forced capitulation. It's not just an animal, full of faculty, making an error of judgment and losing its life to a predator. It's exploiting a condition we helped create or created entirely. And that utilitarian point of view (sorry, Josh, for the use of that word) I think should awaken some philosophical quandaries, no matter how those issues are resolved in one's own mind.

I don't think we exploit agricultural animals because, as humans, we don't respect them. I think a lot of humans look the other way precisely because the paradigm evokes a huge conundrum in how we "use" other species with whom we share this planet. There is no wild animal equivalent for habituation and domestication, as Holly has suggested. It's difficult to rationalize except using the most extreme utilitarian arguments.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I don't think the moral issues involved in killing an animal for food are complicated. There's the one big question -- is it ethical to do it at all -- but after you answer "yes" to that, everything else falls into place.

Ingrid, I don't think issues of trust or habituation play a role. It's either OK to kill an animal for food or it isn't. (I'm leaving aside considerations like whether it's an endangered species, or someone else's pet.) If I lure a wild rabbit with food, closer to me every day until I can grab it and break its neck, it's no more or less moral than if I go out and kill it with a shotgun.

Even if the rabbit were a human, it's hard to say that trust is part of the moral equation. Sure, we have a visceral reaction to a person taking advantage of trust to commit an offense, but it is the offense itself that is immoral.

Holly, maybe one of the underlying issues here is the difference between hunting for food and hunting for sport. Or is that a discussion for another time?

Holly Heyser said...

Ingrid, I think you actually proved my point (as much as anything can be "proven" in such a debate). You said, "I think trust IS, in fact, germane to our ideas of ourselves and our participation in this world." Which is what I've been saying - it matters to US, not the animals we kill. I think they take for granted what we humans used to know before we started down the path of agriculture - that predation is part of life.

What you might be getting at is betrayal - does the animal feel betrayal? I can tell you that barn rabbit did not, because he never got a chance to. If I had tortured him before killing him, would he have felt betrayal? Doubtful. I agree with one of the earlier comments that if I'd taken a few more steps, he would've bolted, because I don't think any wild barn rabbit trusts humans that much. This rabbit's sphere of safety was determined by his experience with unarmed humans.

If you tortured a pen-raised animal before killing it, would it feel betrayal? I wouldn't be at all surprised if the answer is yes, particularly if the animal was raised with compassion and affection (which is how we raised our animals when I was a kid). Of course, I'm guessing.

I largely agree with your point about the exploitation of agricultural animals, though you and I are at this point both guessing about what our ancestors were thinking. I believe our attitude toward domestic animals evolved as a means of coping with the radical switch we'd made from viewing them as kin that we treat with respect (though we've always eaten a few of those kin) to just plain using them.

Tamar, I think you raise a good point re sport vs. food - IF "sport" is killing for fun and "food" is "I cannot live if I don't kill this rabbit." In subsistence level hunting, there are no rules. Baiting? Fine. Cultivating trust? Tough shit, pal. But in sport, we have rules.

But I hate the notion of sport vs. food because the term "sport" is too often interpreted as not eating the food, and killing for fun. The reason I hunt, and I'm guessing why you plan to start hunting, is that we believe that the modern meat production system is immoral and/or unhealthy. Do we need to kill wild animals to survive when we can run to the grocery store and buy meat, with no blood on our hands (and conscience)? No, we don't. But we've made a moral choice that's important to us.

Josh said...

I think Ingrid hit it out of the park here. (And she also goads my distrust of utilitarianism as an environmental ethos, by the way.)

Cazadora, I think that even subsistence hunters have rules, too. Humans are extremely good hunters, and though most of the rules I know allow for starvation exceptions (I'm thinking about halal and kosher foods), societally, at least, we tend to make rules that manage our local environmental impacts.

Holly Heyser said...

I agree that subsistence hunters (I'm thinking hunter-gatherers here more than backwoods feral humans) have rules about protecting the overall health of the resource, but I think they're not so much rules as an ethos, if that makes sense - an ethos that derives from respect for kin and an appreciation that food is a gift.

I don't believe they debate the appropriateness of one kill method over another. They deceive, they trap, they poison, and if they come across an animal that doesn't seem afraid of them, I don't think they'd pass on the shot out of fear the animal is habituated - I think they'd say the animal was offering itself to them.

Phillip said...

Damn, I had to take notes and then come back to a response... so many things to consider since I last checked in over here.

Fair Chase - Holly, actually I think Tamar's perspective on fair chase applies to many of us, regardless of how long we've been hunting. I know you've heard it from me before, but I believe that there is no such thing as "fair" when it comes to predator/prey relationships. There's a very natural imbalance, because at the basest level, predators would never have survived if the footing were equal (or at the very least they'd have evolved much differently... we'd probably have a lot more omnivores). We've talked before about the sources and evolution of the whole fair chase concept, so I won't delve in there right now.

Honor: Like Fair Chase, Josh's concept of "honor" is self-defined in an effort to, perhaps give more meaning to an act that makes him and other people uncomfortable... killing an animal for what amounts to purely selfish reasons. There's nothing wrong with drawing those sorts of parameters around your own experience, as long as we remember that others may not share the same values, or require the same level of justification. It is completely subjective.

Trust and Habituation: A scenario for you, Holly... and anyone else is more than welcome to consider...

Let's say we were afield in some place wild and big, hunting something wild and big... maybe elk, in the Rockies.

We've been in the field for hours, hiked many miles, and we sit down to take a break, rifles close at hand. The water bottles come out, a sandwich or two, and we recount the hunt thus far. As we chat, a branch breaks in the dark timber, and we glance up to see a bull elk step out. He's utterly oblivious, despite the fact that we're only fifty yards away, and after scanning the area he lowers his head and begins to feed.

The elk has no clue we're there. Maybe he wouldn't trust us if he knew we were there, but he trusts his environment. He trusts his senses that tell him that there is no danger. In his own animal mind, he's as comfortable and safe as he ever gets.

If you don't kill him, I will. But I'm pretty sure that's a moot argument. The question, then, is why would this be any different from that rabbit?


Phillip said...

That rabbit may be habituated to the presence of humans around the barn, but the elk is habituated to their absence. That's why he's there. Is it any less or more a "violation of trust" to kill him there, in his sanctuary?

A thought occurs as I write this... dangerous stuff, I know... but, when you talk about feeling like it's not fair or sporting because the rabbit was habituated, it makes me wonder. That elk is habituated, in a way, to the idea that this is a safe place to feed. As hunters, in fact, part of our M.O. is to figure out the habits of our quarry, and then capitalize on them. In fact, we often rely on habituation, just as many other predators do. We seek the places where our prey feels safest, because this is the best place to kill them.

As far as Trust and Betrayal: I find the whole idea of betrayal and trust to be a bit too anthropomorphic for my tastes. It's not that I don't understand, or even agree with where Ingrid and Holly are coming from on a psychological level... but that's human psychology. It is certainly our nature to rationalize our actions, reflect on them, and apply the filter of our own experience to what we observe. But I just have a problem when folks start projecting those human conceits onto the natural world. Wild nature, "red in tooth and claw" as it is, has no place for it.

Finally, Hunting As Sport/Fun: We've had the discussion many times, so I'll try to focus this on a key thing Holly wrote. "But I hate the notion of sport vs. food because the term "sport" is too often interpreted as not eating the food, and killing for fun. The reason I hunt, and I'm guessing why you plan to start hunting, is that we believe that the modern meat production system is immoral and/or unhealthy. Do we need to kill wild animals to survive when we can run to the grocery store and buy meat, with no blood on our hands (and conscience)? No, we don't. But we've made a moral choice that's important to us."

I certainly agree that we all have different motivations for coming to sport hunting (as opposed to a single motivation for subsistence hunting...survival), but it is disingenuous for any one of us to claim that we are not doing it recreationally. It is for "fun."

If it were not fun, would we still do it? Honestly? If we did not thrill to the experience, take pleasure in calling in a big bull or a drake mallard... if we didn't come alive with a glorious sunrise, or get excited at the sight of a magnificent buck... who would bother? Who would rise before dawn, sit shivering in a freezing rain, or hump for hours over steep country if it were not fun? Even professional hunters, guides and outfitters, are generally in the business because they love the sport.

Hunting is not just killing. It is the sum of its parts.

So we can haggle forever over what folks want to call it, but when it comes down to it, what we do is sport, recreation, divertissement... we do it because we enjoy the entire act, not just a single outcome. For some of us, that enjoyment has become passion. For others, maybe it's a little more pragmatic. So call it "Fred" if it makes you feel better, but it doesn't get you away from what we're really doing. More importantly, it does NOT change the attitudes of the people who oppose it.

Funny too, Holly, this dismissal of the idea of sport hunting (or I guess it's the dismissal of the word and its connotations), when your competitive spirit is very clearly a large component of your experience. It comes through in your seasonal waterfowl tallies, your determined quest to set new personal bests, and even in the way you quantify the hunting experience by whether or not you "beat" that rabbit on his own terms. That is the very essence of sport.

Good lord, I've gone on too long. "If we spirits have offended, think but this and all is mended..."

Holly Heyser said...

Phillip, responses in reverse order:

I chose my words carefully, and I'll repeat them here, with emphasis on the key one: "But I hate the notion of sport vs. food because the term 'sport' is too often interpreted as not eating the food, and KILLING for fun."

It is undeniable that the non-hunting world that has no connections to hunting hears "sport" and thinks it means we get off on splattering animals. I think this perspective is borne out in the data, which show that "sport" as a motivation has about half the public support that hunting for "meat" does.

That's what I'm addressing here, even though you (Phillip) and I will never agree on this word until you change your mind ;-).

But I freely admit that hunting is a joy to me, and you are absolutely right that we need to be honest about that fact (to the point that I've freely admitted it in some testy debates on the 'Net). If I didn't enjoy it, I would act on my concerns about factory farming by purchasing pastured animals from local farmers, and I'd sleep in a lot more than I do during any hunting season, not to mention save a hell of a lot of money.

In Tamar's case, I know her motivation for preparing to hunt is food, and I suspect she will be mightily surprised by the joy of hunting. And if she doesn't experience it, I suspect her fall-back will be raising domestic animals or buying pastured-sustainable-etc. meat.

Regarding your hypothetical elk: As with my deer last year - who basically did the same thing, though I was walking and he was sitting - I'd have no problem shooting him. However, you would no doubt beat me to the punch because you know how I am about choosing my shots - I've gotten a little better than I was that first time in the Great Cholame Ambush, but I still won't shoot until I'm 100 percent confident.

But the barn rabbit felt different, and though it's taken many decades, I have learned to trust my feelings. They're usually trying to tell me something. This may be a reflection of the fact that I am women and there are distinct, proven differences in how men and women process information. But given how many times I have used my female credentials to explore emotions and had men come out and say, "Yeah, I've felt the same thing," I could be wrong on this count.

And of course I agree with you that there is nothing fair about killing an animal - like I said, those elaborate systems of right and wrong that we create are for our consciences, not for the well-being of animals. And I accept it because I know that life is neither fair nor unfair; it simply is. And like you, I think our rules need to be based on what's best for the resource, not based on emotional projection. And I think the hunter-gatherers' ethic generally achieved the same result, though it was reached (or taught) in a spiritual manner.

But I will still cling tenaciously to the clean-kill ethic. If that's what we afford our pets when it appears their suffering must come to an end, it seems like the least we can do for animals we're about to eat.

Josh said...

Phillip, you offer quite a bit.
Here are my responses to some:

1. Predator/prey "fairness": There are way more prey numbers than predators. In fact, the balance requires that the tables favor prey species over predators, so that there will continue to be prey. So, I think I disagree with you about the unfairness of predator-prey relationships. However, I agree with you on your main point, which is that fairness as a meta-concept is moot when it comes to shooting an animal.

2. I don't think "fair chase" can be defined merely by using the general definitions of the two words in the term... but I concede that it is a mushy term, anyway.

Josh said...


3. The elk example is very different, to me, from the rabbit example, because there is a difference between an animal not knowing a threat is present and not recognizing, as a threat, what its senses know is there. A better example would be if only you were allowed to hunt Yosemite Valley for the first time. You walk along the Valley floor, and a buck walks out in front of you on the path, turns and looks at you, from about 15 yards.

4. "Do we need to kill wild animals to survive when we can run to the grocery store and buy meat, with no blood on our hands (and conscience)?" Yes, we do. Nobody gets away with food in this world without being responsible for killing wild animals.

5. Honor: What I was talking about wasn't in trying to define the mushy feeling I get when I'm about to gun down a human-habituated animal, it was more the sense that comes from successfully using one's hunting skills to get game. A particularly skilled hunter is treated with respect, her skills with admiration. I took that idea to fit well with the term "honor", that internal sense of ownership over a skill and a desire to improve it. Although I admit that I am grappling with the feelings you describe.

Cazadora, I totally get your point about individual subsistence situations vs. rules. However, I also think the rules can (and do at times) frame individual encounters. I think they are both ethos, and I think they come more from an intuitive and feelings-based understanding of surroundings than they do a cold, calculated eye toward protecting a resource. There is a spirituality often shared by subsistence hunting traditions.

Holly Heyser said...

Josh -

No. 3: Excellent point. You really nailed the difference there.

No. 4: You know I understand that everyone who eats has death on his or her hands. That is just my very shorthand way of addressing the common question asked of hunters ("Do you really NEED to do that?" Technically, no, because we have other options), and noting that grocery-store meat purchasers often think they have no blood on their hands because they didn't do the killing.

5a. Yes, and the spirituality of hunter-gathers goes hand-in-glove with respecting and protecting the resource. Different means, same ends.

I think we agree about far more than we disagree about here. But I'm enjoying drilling down.

Phillip said...

I agree that I think we agree more than we disagree. But just to be disagreeable...

On item three from your list, Josh, you do "nail it"... but where I think you most directly hit the target was in two words. "To me."

To the animal, it's all the same. The critter is just doing what he does, thinking life is good, everything's copacetic, and then, "boom, boom, out go the lights!"

Sorry, couldn't resist the Pat Travers thing...

To Me, there is no real difference when it comes to the moment of pulling the trigger. I would enjoy the hunt for that elk more, because of where it takes me, but it's every bit as "fair" or "unfair" to take the shot on the unsuspecting animal regardless of why it's unsuspecting.

My stubborn adherence on this is based as much on my thought that the rabbit's behavior was more due to his rabbit-ness than with any tameness or habituation to humans. Now, if that bunny had come up and nibbled a carrot out of Holly's fingers, and then she shot it... well, that would be somewhat different (not wrong, just different).

As to the fairness of predator/prey relationship (back to item 1), I don't think the population imbalance makes your argument at all. Prey animals simply have to outnumber predators, or they'd be gone in a couple of meals. This tips the scale more in favor of the predator by creating something of a target-rich environment. Miss one, get another.

On the one-on-one basis, the prey animal has speed and stealth on his side, while the predator has size, strength, and claws and fangs (or stealth, venom, sticky webs, etc.). Sure, the prey animal escapes from time to time, but on the whole it's an uneven match, weighted on the side of the predator. Has to be.

I understand that human predators have to lean on the crutch of technology, but I'd argue that our ability to create that technology is just as natural a skill as the lion cub learning to use its teeth and claws. Yes, we do abuse the technology from time to time, but that's another whole argument.

And I'm totally with Holly on point #4. None of us has to go out and kill wild animals in order to eat. The nature of our society and our economy is that there is always someone out there who will do it for us. While every single one of us has figurative blood on our hands, we don't have to get literally bloody if we don't want to.

Finally, and this is purely academic, but there are a lot of folks out there who would argue that the aboriginal hunter/gatherers aren't as "environmentally friendly" as the mythology makes out. Their limited, negative impact has been more a function of their limited numbers.

In general, they maintained a sort of ecological balance because their populations seldom exceed carrying capacity of the habitat... and they are generally nomadic, and move around with the availability of food. They are largely animistic and the belief that everything has a spirit within leads to a certain level of respect for everything around them, but their ideas on conservation are largely a product of modern times and shrinking resources (a direct result of encroaching agrarian and industrial cultures). It's pretty widely accepted now that human hunter/gatherers are largely responsible for the extinction of several large, land mammals on this continent. That's not exactly living up to the noble savage stereotype, huh?

That said, I firmly believe that the switch from nomadic hunter/gatherer to sedentary agrarian was the slow beginning of the end for our species and the harbinger of destruction for the earth's environment.

Damn I'm babbling now. Look how much work I've avoided!

I'm way too disagreeable. I need to go hunting.

Josh said...

Naw, you're being fun!

As for the predator/prey relationship... I'm gonna disagree. The most consistently successful predators in the wild hit one in three attempts. Prey is often, individually, faster, more agile, and more aware than predators. This is why predators more often pick out the weakest among the prey - the old, young, sick, wounded, etc. Watching antelope stot-stot mere yards from a lion is a prime example. Those antelope are saying, "we're on to you, and we are faster and smarter than you".

As for hunters and large mammals in North America, I'm going to have to ask for research to peruse, because the last time I looked into it, that was still very much a hypothesis, and not at all near a theory. But, I haven't looked it up in a few years.

For #4, I think Holly was saying that she agrees with me, but adds that people believe they don't have to kill wild animals to live. There is a difference between perception and reality, and one I find just about the most damaging.

Of course we agree with each other about more than we disagree... but where's the fun in that?
: )

Holly Heyser said...

It's a shame you're being so disagreeable over the Internet because it's much more fun sharing a bottle of tequila!

Re Pat Travers - nice call! One of my high school sweetheart's favorite songs. That and Montrose's Rock Candy. No doubt what was on his mind, eh?

Scrolling. Blah blah blah. No disagreement. Scrolling...

Ah yes, the hunter gatherers. I've been doing a LOT of reading on this topic, and I do believe there is some dispute now about whether it was humans that drove some of the large animals to extinction. Don't ask me which books and what pages, but I've seen a couple references to that. Climate change may have played a bigger role than we've previously thought.

I've also seen references to HGs limiting their populations and even killing infants when food resources were too scarce. Not noble, but definitely living within their natural means.

The bit about nomadism is also widely misunderstood, and one book I read made some interesting observations about it (this one I remember: "The Other Side of Eden" by Hugh Brody - there's a link to it on the Amazon widget on the right - you are welcome to click through and buy a copy.) Brody and other authors on my summer reading list point out that HGs are typically nomadic within a set number of campsites - the spring camp, summer camp and winter camp, each taking advantage of food sources and comforts (i.e., not living at high, cold altitudes when winter hits). Brody specifically notes (actually, it was one of the people he wrote about who notes it) that it is us - the agri-industrial humans - who are the nomadic ones. Who among us in this conversation lives where we were born? Not I. Not Hank. Not you, Phillip. Josh, you're close. The rest of you, I don't know enough about your background. Point is, our food sources have become sedentary, while we have become anything but.

Food for thought, and hopefully reason to pause and rethink some of our old assumptions. But Phillip, I'm with you - agriculture was the beginning of the end.

Holly Heyser said...

We're going to need a flow-chart any minute here. If I had nothing better to do, I'd make one for shits and giggles, but alas, I am ever so busy. When I'm not busy commenting. LOL

Josh said...

Or a periodic table! That's the rave among the sci-fi geeky crowd (Periodic Table of Star Wars, of superpowers, etc.)... or, uhm, so I've heard...

Holly, that's a fascinating note about nomadism. I live close enough, and still within my habitat, to consider myself local, though I know I'm on the edge (probably three days walk, with the herd, from my home).

Holly Heyser said...

Dude. You might not want to admit publicly that you know that... ;-)

Albert A Rasch said...

As usual, I am late in the game... But I am half way around the world!

I'm going to be all over the place on this because it's tough blogging with that artillery piece going off every four five minutes...

If primitive man drove some animals into extinction, good on him I guess. If I was hungry enough, I would eat a snow leopard... Well maybe not, someone would likely airdrop me some MREs and I would be fine. But imagine yourself with spears and rocks, and your trying to make a living out there, and the Mrs is yelling about tracking mud in the cave, and the cave kids are hollering they're starved and want a McMammoth burger, (those of you that are married, you know what I'm talking about), You use evry trick in the book to get your belly full and insure the survival of the group. If mammoths were easiest to kill, that's were I would go.
Today we have satellite mapping, 24/7 news coverage, and enough savvy that we shouldn't be driving things into extinction... But we are manageing to do just that.
I ought to expand on that subject...
Switching gears here, it's kind of curious how I kill hogs without any difficulty, remorse, or even thought. They're a pest and destructive creature. But when my neighbor shot my pet hog, (knowing damned well that he was mine), I was sorely upset. I tend to feel that once you have made the decision to include an animal in your "family" group, so to speak, the rules change. I've shot feral dogs, but I've had to put down domestic ones too. World of a difference.

On to the main point of your post. Meat hunting vrs hunting. Tis a question most vexing. (I've been in this asylum way too long...) I would venture that if I was looking to slaughter a domestic hog, I would want him standing still, snout to the dish. If I was chasing hogs on horseback, I want him moving and jinxing. The problem was that you had a mix of sporting skill and pragmaticism trying to dwell in one place. Lke SBW said sorta, had it been pure market hunting, you would have brought air rifles and filled your game bags.

Now if we take all the mumbo jumbo out of the way, all the game was taken cleanly, and THAT is the only moral question that needs to be answered.

Best regards,
"Yes artillery is very loud on both ends"

PS: I miss y'all!

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Mark Osterholt: Plagerist, Spammer, and Felon is at it Again!

Holly Heyser said...

Dude, that is an INCREDIBLY lucid comment. Perhaps artillery is just the background your writer's soul has been waiting for? Wait, no, I just know someone who got out of Afghanistan; I'm guessing NOT.

But yeah, you said two things that I love: Including an animal in your family group changes the rules. And I'm sure the exact same could be said of people.

And pinning it down as a "mix of sporting skill and pragmaticism trying to dwell in one place" is a great way to describe it. Because, ultimately, your final statement was what I was left with - it was a clean take, the best death any of us could hope for, but with my values dwelling in two places, the kill was creating friction in my brain.

Thanks so much for weighing in, and please stay safe there, my friend.

SimplyOutdoors said...

My take on this, though I don't have enough time to read all the comments, is simple: You made a clean, efficient kill on the animal you were seeking; no harm done!

I really feel like you are reading too far into it. Nothing that you did was wrong. In fact, it was legal, humane, and completely right.

In the same situation, I would not have hesitated to take the shot whatsoever - especially considering the excellent cook you have at home.

Ingrid said...

. . . you said two things that I love: Including an animal in your family group changes the rules. And I'm sure the exact same could be said of people.

This comment (by Holly and Albert) also illustrates why the perspective of a wildlife volunteer or rescuer is different from that of a hunter. Although I can't stress enough that wildlife workers do everything to avoid habituating an animal -- which would be sending it to near certain death or harm in the wild -- you can't help but include in your circle of care, the animals who've come into your life by way of injury, orphaning or other unfortunate circumstance. It's a natural reaction, given the amount of the time (weeks, sometimes months) and effort one expends getting them well and watching them develop, triumph and heal.

As a result, yes, the rules change. So the wild animal a hunter kills is not the distant, detached target or meal to me, that he or she is to the hunter. And although I realize it's difficult for many a hunter to understand the mindset of someone like me, I just wanted to point out that there's relevant experience backing up the emotion in these issues. There's a mistaken notion, sometimes, that people who are critical of hunting know nothing about death and pain and the cycles of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's precisely those associations that bring someone like me to my advocacy for wildlife.

Of course, I know there are people who can compartmentalize individual animals of the same species. This is my pet duck, these are the ducks I eat. I've never been able to do that because for me, to understand the complexity of thought and emotion that is one member of the species, makes me far too sensitive to the rest of his or her kind.

Holly's reply to Albert's comment was simply an opportunity for me to extrapolate on why someone like me does, indeed, has difficulty with hunting -- even if on a logical and philosophical level, we can come to certain agreements and have a genuinely civil discourse over the nature of our thoughts.

btw: I can't speak for my organization or the others who belong to it. There are people working in the wildlife field who feel as I do. And there are those who would argue a different perspective here. I'm a chorus of one for the purposes of this discussion and can only relay the transformations undergone by myself and my friends in similar circumstances.

Holly Heyser said...

The compartmentalizing hunters do is just a much, much more aware version of the compartmentalizing done by most meat-eaters who don't farm or hunt: Some animals are dear friends, others we eat.

And I do totally relate to where you come from, Ingrid, because I deeply love animals. The difference is that you can't reconcile loving and killing/eating, and I can. I don't begrudge you your feelings at all, because I recognize my feelings - not my actions - are much harder to explain!

Cork@Cork'sOutdoors said...

Great post! At first I was thinking you were using a .22 as in California, you're allowed to for rabbits and non-game species, which farm pigeons fit into, but not legal to do the same with wild bandtail pigeons. This to me is a sad, as I have yet to find anyone to do less damage to meat than someone shooting game in the head with one well-placed shot with a scoped .22 rifle. Personally, I enjoy using a scoped pellet gun for this reason: farm pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys (legal as of three years ago in CA).

When I was subsisting on what I could hunt, fish and grow when I was living in Alaska and working on my first book, in Homer, AK in 1990, you could use a .22 rifle to hunt spruce grouse (most Alaskans called them spruce hens--more like game hens when you cooked them!). Our shooting was definitely for food.

Which brings the next question up: sport. I consider football, baseball, and track sports. Most of them have ancient origins in preparing young men for war. Hunting on the hand, though it was also used to train for war, historically also was conducted to put food on the table and had spiritual connotations for just about every ethnic ancestry, whether Lakota, Celt, Teuton or Slav, etc.

The sport aspect of hunting came into fashion with the royals who didn't have to hunt for their own food. They had it delivered by the game rangers employed on their estates, or they went after them with the serfs in tow to do the dirty work, like gutting, skinning and butchering.

I rejoice in where my food and sustenance comes from, which means I prefer to take part in the process from tracking to preparing it for the table. Along the way, as some cultures have noted, I have not just hunted the animal, but also hunted myself...

If I was hunting quail and rabbits, I'd be stuck with having to take the shot with a shotgun, but while I like the wild rush of a gamebird taking to wing and making an efficient killing shot, I prefer to pick off my animals at distances that leave them undisturbed, ensure my own "clean kill" and perhaps might be like the surprise of a lightning bolt to the prey after a good life eating and living as its ancestors had on free range.

But, when it comes down to it, specially with a rabbit, I'd say take that shot at the still, unmoving rabbit. Even when I was coming back from a duck hunt along the Anchor River, I would pick off the grouse by blowing away their heads with on shot as they sat in a spruce--looked like I had simply grabbed the spruce hens and cut their heads off like with an axe on a chicken or turkey. As I was told by the natives: "look for pear in a spruce tree--those are the hens"...kept me well fed.

Sport is for the sport hunter, not the for the animal--more for the hunter to feel not so bad about taking a life. The prey is just trying to stay alive, while the purpose of the hunter is kill it and get to use as much of the meat as possible, with the least amount of waste...and at least with a rifle or shotgun we can do it a lot quicker and efficiently than a lion with its teeth and claws.

Albert A Rasch said...

On of the things that is most difficult for me to explain is the dichotomy of animal lover and animal killer.

If I was to find an injured deer, let's say it was shot in the leg and somehow I managed to have it in my possession, if I thought I could fix it up and let it go, I would. I might shoot it next season if I didn't recognise it, but for now it would be under my care and protection.


That's just the way it is, for me. I suppose that once I am commited to a course of action, that's all I need to continue.

That I am empathetic to animals is a given, at least to me it is. But that I need to eat, and sometimes that means that I take an animal's life myself is a given also. I just do not have a moral issue with the taking of an animal's life. I understand the hierarchy (sp)of needs, from the "social standing" to the pragmatic "I'm hungry," and the values that those needs create.

It's good to think about these things. Makes us better people.

Best regards,
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Yo-Yos for Troops!

Phillip said...

Wow, I chased this one around the corner and lost sight of it. Albert's voice is a welcome one to "hear" again.

As to the hunter/gatherers and nomadism... Josh, the extinction of large mammals is still being bounced around. Hypothesis or theory, it's just a possibility. I don't totally buy it, by the way. I think there were more factors than one, as there usually are.

Holly, interesting note re: the "New Nomads". It was a pretty hot topic in environmental studies as well as in the Nature Writers courses back in my college days. I think it was Joseph Wood Krutch who wrote a really great essay on the idea of "Place", and how modern people were losing that sense again. It spurred some great discussion then, as I'm sure it would now.

Instead of following the herds of game, and comfortable living conditions, we're following technology, money and jobs, and the agrarian lifestyle that replaced our original nomadic roots is being taken over by industrial interests.

That's all I've got for now on all of that... debate for the sake of debate gets old if there's no liquor to lubricate the synapses.

And Ingrid, I think there are a lot of inaccurate perceptions on all sides when it comes to evaluating the life experiences, motivations, and perspectives of people we don't really know. At the same time, most of us recognize that stereotypes are not all-inclusive... but neither are they necessarily inaccurate.

Matt Mullenix said...

I wish I had time to read more than a few posts on this. Great topic--definitely worth th trouble to argue. I will just weigh in that "while boys throw stones in sport, the frog dies in earnest."

Usually that old saw is trotted out in opposition of hunting (or of boys), but my point (as a hunter--and a boy) is that the sport makes no difference to the rabbit.

Hunters should always consider the seriousness (and the deadliness) of their business no matter how we go about it. Be serious, because the animal dies in earnest.

The entire notion of sport should be tempered, I think, and informed by the hunter's equally earnest justification for the killing. I think securing food is ample justification.

Thank you,

Matt Mullenix said...

I wish I had time to read more than a few posts on this. Great topic--definitely worth th trouble to argue. I will just weigh in that "while boys throw stones in sport, the frog dies in earnest."

Usually that old saw is trotted out in opposition of hunting (or of boys), but my point (as a hunter--and a boy) is that the sport makes no difference to the rabbit.

Hunters should always consider the seriousness (and the deadliness) of their business no matter how we go about it. Be serious, because the animal dies in earnest.

The entire notion of sport should be tempered, I think, and informed by the hunter's equally earnest justification for the killing. I think securing food is ample justification.

Thank you,

Ingrid said...

Holly, you said, "I don't begrudge you your feelings at all, because I recognize my feelings - not my actions - are much harder to explain!"

I realize they are hard to explain. And, I actually wish you could explain your feelings, because I grapple with that dichotomy when I see it in others. I'd like to understand better. To date, I haven't had a good grasp of that perspective, simply because it is -- as you say -- difficult to describe to another.

If you have an epiphany on this sometime, I'd love to know. I may have to engage the ex-hunter friends I told you about, just to see if they reconciled that polarity once they stopped hunting. I don't know that they have. I just wonder if by not hunting after many years, they came to some realization that would better describe why that particular duality ended for them.

Thanks for inviting me in, Holly. It's been thought-provoking. Everyone here, to the person, has been gracious and open-minded. I feel as though I got the kid-glove treatment (sorry, "kid") as opposed to the drag-out it might have been for a non-hunter like me at another blog or board. Would that all humans (let alone all hunters or non-hunters) engaged with such respect.

Holly Heyser said...

Matt, thanks for chiming in. One thing I never do is take killing anything less than seriously.

Ingrid, if you ate meat at all, I'd invite you to hunt with me, because you'd have no moral reason not to try it and find out yourself what goes on in your head when you hunt.

I've taken a lot of stabs at this, but I'll try another one now: Hunting helps connect me to what I am, free of the adornments of civilization. One of the adornments of civilization is doing just the kind of overthinking I've done here - it's the luxury of a mind "liberated" from the realities of life. Hunting allows me (most of the time) just to be the omnivore that I am, without guilt, without fakery, without pretense: We eat meat - of course that requires killing. I envy our ancestors for living so simply and so gratefully in this beautiful world we were born into.

I know chances are I can never get that world back; we can never get it back. But hunting puts me there for a little while at a time. And it's a message from me to nature that some of us haven't forgotten what we left behind.

I don't know that that makes any more sense than any other attempt to explain, but there it is.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Ingrid said, "Would that all humans (let alone all hunters or non-hunters) engaged with such respect."

Amen to that.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I agree with Boyfriend too. You were hunting rabbits. You saw a rabbit. You shot it.

The first rabbit I ever killed, while out with Dad and his friends, was sitting still, and that was considered just fine by all the group.

WV: duckisop. I am hoping for some duckisops this winter.

ML said...

While i didn't sleep through ethics class. I would have done just as you did.

Mr. S said...

I think every hunter has at least one shot that they feel conflicted over. Here's mine: When I was 17, I was hunting quail about 25 miles from Placerville, CA. I was stalking, and came right up on a covey. In a very unsporting way, I ground fired. My single shot took 5 birds. I was meat hunting, but still, all these years later, I feel bad about the shot. It's one I wish I could take back.

In California, you have to stalk your deer. This has always seemed sporting to me. In Texas, where I live now, you feed the deer all year long with a feeder system, and then show up one weekend and shoot an animal habituated to coming to a particular location. This has always seemed very unsporting to me.

Long and short, there are always some ethical dilemmas when one hunts. Look at this shot as a learning opportunity for the next time your presented with a similar situation. The animal didn't know what hit him, and would have been just as dead if you'd hit him on the run. You have to live with your sense of guilt, though, for a long time. I've remembered my shot for almost 30 years.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Chas and ML (belatedly - I lost track of things on a field trip to Vegas this week).

And Mr. S, I'm not sure this shot is going to be one that troubles me for life, though I'm pretty sure I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

But I do have a shot that I'd love to take back, a shot I knew was wrong instantly and uniquivocally: It was a planted-bird pheasant hunt. The dogs were getting more birds than we were, which meant I was not getting in much shooting, which was the point of the outing, because I was still very new. A friend grabbed one of the dog-caught birds and offered to toss it in the air to get it to fly so I could take a flying shot. I said OK. And I knew it was wrong before the bird had even dropped back to the ground.

There would be no need for a blog post such as this one about that shot. That was just gross. And I'm pretty sure it's responsible for about 50 percent of my growing unease with planted-bird hunts.

Intellectually, I know that we often develop our sense of right and wrong by crossing the line into wrong and discovering how bad it feels, whether it's taking a shot, saying something mean to someone who doesn't deserve it, or worse. It doesn't particularly make me feel better, but I'm guessing I'm in good company.

Matt Mullenix said...

>>"planted-bird hunts."

We could probably take this thread into another post, but I'd suggest we call those "shoots" as the English do. It's a useful distinction.

Holly Heyser said...

I understand that, but it doesn't work for me because my ethics are based on the animal's experience (has it had the chance to behave like prey, not like an object with none of the faculties required to elude predators), not the nomenclature used to describe my experience. To me, saying something is acceptable when we call it a "shoot" and not acceptable when we call it a "hunt" just doesn't work, because we're still dealing with a living being.

I don't know that this makes any sense or exhibits any internal consistency, but that's where I am right now.

Kirk Mantay said...

Preserve "hunts" for fat birds are absolutely SHOOTS, as one commentor noted. I participate in said shoots, but dread for anyone to call it a hunt, which it is not (except for the dogs). Shooting your farm rabbit (who may be accustomed to stealing chicken food, or whatever) is the same. It was shot - legally. It was not hunted. And that's OK, if the point was to get food to eat, or to protect the safety or viability of one's property/chickens, etc (thinking of foxes here, obviously).

Food is food. If your intention is to kill it, and you are doing it in a way that does not lead to egregious overharvest (i.e. baiting birds), and you plan to eat (and hunt within legal limits), why not? I know more than a few frustrated duck hunters who have shot birds on the water.

Unsportsmanlike? Sure. But no more so than harvesting corn with a combine, or culling a cow in a pen with a giant bolt gun. If it's food (and it's legal), it's food.

If the resource is being managed wisely (voluntarily or by state regulations), then - while I can appreciate your pensiveness (similar to mine when I killed a crippled (by someone else, unknown) goose on the ground last year)-I think you're overthinking it.

Matt Mullenix said...

Holly I'm not suggesting that semantics makes a thing acceptable. But accuracy is important. Shooting and hunting are different (though sometimes related) activities and deserve different names.

I hear your point about the perspective of the prey---the frog dies in earnest! But in this case planted birds (in falconry we call them "baggies" because they come from a bag) have none of the advantages of wild birds in situ. "Things out of place are ill;" prey out of place (it's own place) is less than half the animal it would otherwise be.

Predators (hawks, for example) know this instantly and are not confused. They can recognize disadvantages at near microscopic levels and will exploit them. I once flew a hand-me-down falcon that would catch any planted bird and any fresh starling thrown from the hand but would refuse any wild bird flushed under normal conditions---the decision was made in miliseconds, evidently.

For planted shoots, the difference is so obvious even a human can see it. There are, I'm sure, better than worse ways to plant birds. Some ways might even make them nearly as difficult to shoot as wild birds, but there will be a difference and that differnce is not merely sematic: Someone planted the bird. To your own point, it never had a chance and was never meant to have one.

If you happen to miss your shot, someone or some dog or some hawk or fox will quickly pick it up wherever it lands. There is no "wild" for it to vanish into, and it's not wild enough to take advanatage of what cover there is. Ultimately, if there was, there would be wild birds in the spot and no need to plan them.

None of this is to abuse the shooters, who are, at their best, training dogs and eating the meat. But there;s a difference between that and hunting, and we should honor that dfferece at least with the right word.

Holly Heyser said...

Fair enough, Matt.

I suppose I should also note that if I had a dog to maintain, I'd hunt/shoot planted birds all the time without qualms, and I would very much consider it training/maintenance. But I don't, so when I go on a planted-bird hunt, it's because I want to hunt. My feelings about this are very much personal, not something I want to force on others.