Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wayne Pacelle's new book, Part 2

Yesterday I blogged about how I actually like the title of HSUS head Wayne Pacelle's new book, "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."

That was a very, very serious post about the "kinship" part of the title. Today, however, I'd like to tell you something funny about the "bond" part of that title.

On the book's Amazon page, there's a video in which Pacelle tells viewers, "I've always had a bond with animals."

On its face, there's nothing funny about that. I would never denigrate anyone's bond with animals (except for those freaks who like to diddle animals, but that's another story).

What's funny about it is that in Ted Kerasote's 1993 book Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt, Wayne Pacelle is quoted as saying the following:

"I don't have a hands-on fondness for animals. I didn't grow up with dozens of dogs and cats as many people did. To this day, I don't feel bonded to any particular non-human animal. I like them and I pet them and I'm kind to them, but there's no special bond between me and other animals."

Now, 1993 was a long time ago, and I know people can change. Hell, my views about animals have shifted radically over the past five years. But the word "always" has a pretty clear meaning. I'll be interested to learn more about that.

And for the record, I did not make this connection myself - that quote popped up in an Amazon forum I stumbled on when I was looking for the book - so I deserve no credit for connecting the dots. Just for sharing a good laugh.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Something I have in common with Wayne Pacelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My hunting ethics - what I believe, and why

I don't come from a hunting tradition, so when it comes to core values and ethics, I've had to develop them from scratch. Some of my decisions about my hunting values have come from the gut; others are the result of lots of conversations with fellow hunters, non-hunters and even anti-hunters. And while it feels I've discussed all of them in one post or another on this blog, I haven't put them down in writing all in one place.

Until now.

What you see below is actually a new hunting ethics standalone page on the blog, because I wanted to make it really easy for any visitor here to find out with one click what kind of hunter I am.

But you can't leave comments on a static page, so I wanted to post this here, and invite you, dear readers, to weigh in. Specifically, I want to know how you feel about what I've written. Have I explained myself clearly? Have I been intellectually honest? Does my logic withstand scrutiny? Have I left anything out?

Your voice matters, not because my values are subject to popular vote, but because intelligent criticism makes me a better thinker.

So please, take a look and let me know what you think. I expect this to be a page that I'll update from time to time, either as my values evolve, or as my ability to articulate them sharpens.

My hunting ethics

Hunting is inherently controversial because it involves killing. When I tell non-hunters that I hunt, they always ask further questions that help them determine whether what I do is acceptable to them: What do you hunt? How do you hunt? Do you eat what you kill?

I've written about these things in great detail in various posts throughout the history of this blog, but I thought it would be worthwhile to have a synopsis in one place. So here's what I do, and why, and how I feel about others who do differently.

What I hunt: I hunt for food. I will not kill any animal that I am not willing to eat, unless it is threatening to harm me, other humans, or my extended family (which includes pets now, and possibly livestock someday). I have set these boundaries because I believe there must be a good reason to take a life. To that end, I won't even kill bugs that aren't harming me - I usher spiders out of the bathtub, and moths out of the house. Black widows, however, die. So do rattlesnakes that venture into human territory (like my mom's porch).

The specific types of animals I hunt include ducks, pigs, deer, turkeys, doves, pigeons and rabbits. Generally, the animals I love to hunt are the ones I love to eat, and the intensity with which I love to hunt them is directly proportional to how much I love to eat them.

How do I feel about people who hunt animals they don't eat? Honestly, I'm not sure. I try not to judge others, nor hold them to my values, particularly if I don't know anything about what they do. Example: I'm not remotely interested in hunting wolves. Some people do want to hunt wolves, and there may be situations in which wolves need to be hunted to bring their populations back into balance with other wildlife species. While I wouldn't want to pull the trigger, I may have to accept in some situations that it needs to be done.

I do think it's harder to justify hunting for something you won't eat, which means there is a tremendous burden on people who do so to have good reasons for what they do, and to be able to articulate those reasons to the non-hunting public.

My core ethic: This is the one by which I judge myself, and I do judge others: My goal is always the cleanest kill possible. In the event I have not made a clean kill, my goal is to do everything possible to find that animal and end its suffering. While I know nothing goes to waste in nature, I'd prefer that animals not suffer wounding by me just to become vulture food. To that end, I try to avoid shots in which there is a substantial likelihood of merely wounding and/or losing - the animal. This ethic is important to me because it is what I would hope for myself, were I to become prey.

While we all make mistakes, hunters who consistently take careless shots do a disservice to hunting.

That said, I love duck hunting above all, and wing shooting is a sport in which we know many birds escape us with injuries that may produce slow death or crippling. I don't know how to eliminate this, but I do work hard to improve my shooting and increase the likelihood that any bird I hit will not get away. My loss rate in the 2010-11 season was about 10 percent, and while this compares favorably with an average (self-reported) loss ratio of about 18 percent nationwide, I'd like to see that number go much lower.

What about "fair chase" hunting? "Fair chase" is hunting in which the animal has a chance to evade the hunter. I am not a fan of fair chase dogma for a number of reasons:

1) It feels arbitrary: High-fence hunting is not considered fair chase, but put-and-take hunting (e.g., planted pheasants) is, because technically the birds are not bound by a fence, even though they are bound by their inexperience in the wild.

2) Fair chase is all about how we feel, or how we appear to others, when we hunt. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether an animal is afforded the quickest death possible (see "My core ethic").

3) Fair chase is religion by which we anoint those who choose more challenging hunting conditions while we excoriate those who choose easier options. We loathe the hunter who acquires a magnificent trophy in the easiest of conditions, yet mounts it on his wall and brags about it as if he endured great challenge to get it. To that, I say go ahead and loathe him, but don't judge others who may behave perfectly honorably in non-"fair chase" situations.

How I hunt: I'm a relatively new hunter, and while I eagerly took every opportunity available to me in my first couple years of hunting, I now find myself hungry for more challenging hunts. This is not to impress anyone else, but to push myself to become a better hunter. (To me, the best hunter is one who could hunt successfully in utterly primitive conditions - one who could make his own blades, bows and arrows and use them effectively.)

What does this mean specifically? I'm not interested in hunting planted birds. While there are many legitimate reasons to hunt them, it's not for me. I'm not interested in hunting fenced animals, though in principle, I am fine with other people doing so - one can have a perfectly challenging and rigorous hunt inside a fence. I would like to hunt with a bow someday, which I know requires tremendous skill, but I'm not there yet, so it's merely a goal at this point.

It's worth noting that my attitudes toward challenge here stem in no small part from my growing admiration for animals that elude me. I laugh when the clever duck flies so close to me that I could touch him without me even getting off a shot. I admire the pig that can leave a wake of destruction that can be seen from outer space, yet never appear at a time and place where I can shoot him.

That said, it is important for my hunting to be successful at least some of the time, because this is how we put meat in our freezer. I don't see myself raising the challenge bar so high that I rarely bring home meat. That just seems silly.

What about hunting over bait? For almost every animal I hunt in California, hunting over bait is illegal, so this is a moot point. If it weren't illegal, I believe I still wouldn't do it for the reasons mentioned above: I prefer to be challenged. But if civilization came to a sudden end and there was no grocery store as a back-up source of meat, would I hunt over bait? Hell yes. I'd do whatever it takes to feed myself. If I lived in a place where baiting was not only legal, but the norm, I'd have to consider it, because not baiting under those circumstances might mean going without. A lot. But I'm glad I don't have to make that choice.

It's also worth noting that while the non-hunting public has a pretty visceral negative reaction to hunting over bait, doing so can actually afford the opportunity for cleaner kills (see "My core ethic") because animals will come in close and hold relatively still because they're eating.

Catch and release? I'm very uneasy about it - hooking an animal's mouth and wrestling him out of the water for my entertainment alone isn't my cup of tea. If I'm going to put a fish through that, it's going to be for good reason: so I can eat him. (And not surprisingly, as with hunting, my fishing propensities mirror what I like to eat: Spring run Trinity River salmon? Awesome. Love it. Tasty fish. Sturgeon fishing? Don't love the meat. Not interested in spending a lot of time trying to catch them.)

I have little experience with deliberate catch-and-release (only with releasing undersized fish), so I can't profess to know much about it. However, I would hope that catch-and-release anglers take the greatest care with the fish to ensure that they don't die of injury, exhaustion or whatever after being released.

Celebrating the hunt: Yes, I do this. Sometimes I will shout with joy when I've made a good shot. Sometimes I will pose for pictures with the animal(s) I've shot. I realize both of these things are a turnoff to many non-hunters, but the reality is this: Hunting is hard. Success is rarely guaranteed (see "How I hunt"). When I am successful, it means everything I've worked hard for has paid off. This makes me happy.

Rest assured that this does not mean I'm not aware of what it means to take a life. I am constantly aware. When I watch an animal I've shot struggle in his last moments of consciousness, I put myself in his shoes. It makes me queasy. I almost always apologize to animals I've shot, whether they're dead when I reach them or not.

Why I hunt: This could be the subject of a book, not an item on an ethics page on my blog. But it's worth noting here that I am deeply drawn to hunting because it connects me to what we humans have been for the vast majority of our time on earth. In a world gone mad with our perilous drive to "improve" on nature, hunting connects me to a life in which we lived in balance with the other denizens of this planet.

I believe our departure from a hunting-gathering lifestyle is the biggest mistake our species has ever made - that it isn't just bad for all the other denizens of this planet (which it is), but it's bad for us as well. I know that, realistically, there's no escaping the way we live now. But when I hunt, I feel like I'm doing what I was meant to do. One way or another, I have to eat, and I feel a hell of a lot better about my food when I've worked for it than I do when I've bought it at the grocery store.

Note: The post you just read is what I originally wrote, and it's going to stay that way - otherwise, some of the comments below just won't make sense.

To see how I have added to this in response to great issues raised by commenters, click over to the My hunting ethics page. Some of the things I've added so far include a note on the value of catch-and-release fishing (even though I don't like it), my thoughts on shooting ducks on the water, why I don't hunt with lead ammo anymore and how I feel about breasting out ducks.

Interested in joining some of the other excellent hunting ethics discussions raging these days? Check out:

Tovar Cerulli's Mindful Carnivore, specifically his post, Wounded animals, Uncomfortable hunters.

Phillip Loughlin's Hog Blog, specifically, "How Much Is Enough?" Parts I and II.

Tamar Haspel's Starving Off the Land, specifically her post, All's Fair.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oh boy, this is bad: Hunt protester shot

Very bad news from Down Under today: A woman who was part of an organized protest of duck hunting was shot in the face, allegedly by a 14-year-old duck hunter.

Click here for the first story in the Melbourne Herald Sun on the topic, and here for a more recent story and video.

Apparently, there's an extended duck season in Australia this year, and yesterday was the first day of that extended season. There are organized duck-hunt protesters who actively interfere with hunts in Australia - something that used to happen here in America until just about every state made it illegal.

According to the Herald Sun: Witnesses claim they saw the 14-year-old boy taunting the victim, St Kilda woman Julia Symons, minutes before she was peppered with shotgun pellets at Lake Buloke in the state's northwest.

But police described the shooting as an accident after taking the teenage hunter and his uncle to nearby Donald police station for questioning and seizing the firearm involved.

The facts ultimately must be decided by the Australian judicial system, but some things are worth saying up front:

1. If the boy shot the woman in the face deliberately, he deserves the maximum punishment the judicial system can mete out.

2. If the boy accidentally pulled the trigger while waving a gun at her, then he's an idiot who deserves at the very least to have his right to hunt and use a gun revoked for a long time, if not for life, even if the justice system is lenient.

3. If it was genuinely a freak accident, it's a reminder that one shouldn't engage in hostile interactions while carrying a gun, because any subsequent accident will be viewed as deliberate.

I have no idea what hunter education is required in Australia, but good lord, even the instruction manuals that come with guns make it clear you don't point them at people, even if you think they're unloaded.

Obviously I don't know the whole story, but if the boy is charged and found guilty, I would have no qualms seeing him made into an example and a reminder that you just don't wave guns at people.

That gunshot did not just wound a woman, which is horrifying; it is a black eye to hunters and hunting worldwide. I have absolutely nothing to say in his defense.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

California bear hunters: Time to speak up

California's black bear population is thriving, and our state's Department of Fish and Game is responding with a proposal to increase the number of bears we hunters can kill each year from 1,700 to 2,000.

Predictably, HSUS is up in arms about the proposal and mobilizing its minions in opposition.

Why does this matter? Because we are in the last few days of a public comment period when people can weigh in on the proposal. These comments from the public will be taken under consideration by our Fish and Game Commission when it decides the matter.

If you're a California hunter, or if you don't hunt, but support lawful hunting in California, please take a few minutes to email DFG in support of this proposal - we don't want HSUS supporters to be the only ones emailing about this. (In case clicking doesn't automatically open an email for you, the address is WILDLIFEMGT@dfg.ca.gov.)

After you've sent that email, please share this post with your friends and ask them to do the same. The deadline is 5 p.m. Monday March 21.

Unlike HSUS, I will not write your email for you - having covered politics, I can tell you that decision-makers have a lot more respect for individually-written emails than auto-generated carbon copies.

And unlike HSUS (see "up in arms" link above), I will show you where you can get some facts about the bear-hunting proposal: Here's a link to the state's 107-page draft environmental impact report on the proposal.

But don't worry: If you don't have time to read through that, I've highlighted some key facts below:

1. Like I said, the bear population is thriving. Check out this chart from page 22 of the report:

Wow, big increase, right? Yeah, about 470 percent (I'm guestimating because I'm going off the chart, not raw numbers). That's huge.

2. The bear harvest isn't increasing at even close to the same rate as the bear population. Here's a chart I made from numbers on pages 11-13 of the report:

Wow, much smaller increase, isn't it? Yeah. Exactly 143 percent.

Oh, and in case you noticed that the harvest number has gone over 1,700, here's why: That limit is a cap, and DFG cuts off bear hunting by Dec. 26 or whenever that cap is reached. But there's a lag time between when bears are killed and DFG gets tags back from hunters, so sometimes we go over the cap. This year, we stayed well under the cap at just shy of 1,300. All of this is factored into recommendations regarding the cap.

3. The proposed increase in the bear hunting cap is consistent with state policy, established by our Legislature, which calls for providing hunting opportunities when they are consistent with maintaining healthy wildlife populations (page 8 of the report).

4. The proposed increase would still keep us well within the limits of how many bears can be killed without causing the population to decline. Wildlife managers believe that limit could be raised to 3,100 - far more than the proposed 2,000 (page 25 of the report).

5. Black bear is an excellent food source for families. You can get a lot of bear meat for a $41.86 tag, which is pretty important in a state whose economy is still in the toilet. Our unemployment rate is still 12.4 percent, compared with 9 percent nationwide (click here and scroll down for complete data).

Bear is tasty and filling! I haven't gotten a bear yet, but a friend of ours did last fall, and he shared some of the meat with us. These bear pelmeni that Hank made with the meat were incredible.

Sounds like a lot of good reasons to raise the bear hunting cap, if you ask me.

But before I wrap up, I think it's worth noting that HSUS continues to rely on emotional appeal, telling its supporters that this proposal "seems designed to placate a handful of hunters' desires to chase down more bears with their dogs while adding more heads and hides to their collection."

Or at least, that's what it says now. In a Feb. 3 blog post, HSUS said, "There is no one clamoring for an expanded quota..." So, which is it?

Oh, and by the way, HSUS doesn't have a single bit of data supporting its claim that California bear hunters are motivated by heads and hides. Those folks just like to say that because it riles up their supporters.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh, now I've gone and done it - I got a bow!

I've been putting off getting a bow for a couple years now.

Holly! I'd yell at myself. You've spent literally thousands of dollars on guns. Howzabout you get good at shooting them before you buy another weapon?

I had myself totally convinced, which was a great way to avoid further hunting-induced hemorrhaging in my wallet.

But then I got on this weird kick: My new workout is a rigorous-but-fun hike through the woods. Then I realized on one of those jaunts that my trajectory into the world of hunting had followed a totally unnatural course: Decide to start hunting, buy gun, take hunter safety class, take shooting lesson, then hunt.

That's like the nature equivalent of getting a mail-order bride! The right way to do it, I now feel, would've been allowing myself to get to know the land, falling in love with it, slowly honing the skills I need to live with - and off of - it, and then hunting.

I got deep into Step Two as a child before my life took a turn for the urban. But these weekend jaunts have gotten me feeling like I'm picking up where I left off as a kid. And that was my inspiration.

Ah ha! All I need to do is pick up where I left off. When I was a kid, my parents got me a cool little recurve bow that I had tons of fun with, just shooting targets. Why not do that again with an adult-sized recurve bow? I mean, why not have fun with it?

I don't have to push myself into getting a bow that requires more strength than I have, just so it'll be good enough to hunt with. I don't need to worry about spending $600-$700-$800 on a compound bow to increase my odds of success in the field. And I don't have to pressure myself to master the bow in time for the next archery season this summer.

Yep, I can just have fun. What a concept.

So after I got my tax refund and tithed most of it to MasterCard, I held back a little to get myself a bow and a little archery gear.

I didn't know squat about archery, so I found a local archery shop - Wilderness Archery in Rocklin - went there after work Friday and told them what I wanted to do.

They took a few key measurements - draw length (27"), pull (25 pounds) and budget ($200-300) - and steered me to the PSE Razorback. It's a takedown bow, which will allow me to replace these short limbs with longer ones to gradually ratchet up my pull strength.

I also picked up six arrows cut to my size, a bag target and some basic accessories, and that was it - I was on my way.

Of course, by the time I got home with my new toy, it was dark. But Saturday morning I was ready to go.

I set up the bag maybe 15-20 yards from my back porch and let 'er rip.

Definitely not a prodigy.

But I actually hit the bag with three of my first six arrows - not bad given that I don't know what I'm doing and my bow doesn't have sights on it.

In my second round, I lost one of my arrows. Despite the fact that they have pink fletching. Yeah. The problem is that my "backstop" is the bottom 10 yards of our property, which we let grow wild to provide habitat for little things.

That means there's about five years worth of a soft mat of dead grass with this year's new grass punching through it - VERY easy to lose arrows. Oh yeah, did I mention a lemon-orange tree with lots of rotting fruit underneath it?

Yeah, my arrows that miss the target often slice through decaying oranges, which makes them just a bit sticky. Oopsie!

I've looked and looked and looked for that missing arrow, but I'm pretty sure that if I find it at all, it'll be with the weedwhacker. Sigh.

Fortunately, I'm having way too much fun to get upset about a silly little arrow.

Part of me is excited to connect with an ancient and vital skill that doesn't require advanced technology. I don't necessarily believe that our civilization is on the verge of collapse, but if such a thing were to happen, I'd like to have some decent survival skills - something to fall back on after all the ammo runs out.

Part of me is happy to have a weapon I can shoot in my back yard. I sure can't shoot my guns here in the 'burbs, but I can get out there with my bow every day - no driving. (Yeah, we wonder why an increasingly urban society has a decreasing number of hunters? Let's talk about all the crap I have to drive to and pay for just to maintain basic skills. Dammit, I want to live in the country.)

And part of me is just happy as hell to be doing this the right way. I'll hunt with a bow when I'm damn good and ready. I won't be rushing this one. I'm going to enjoy the journey.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Up for auction: Smilin' gadwall feathers photo

Hey, NorCal duck hunters! If you'd like to get a chance to buy a custom-framed, signed copy of my smilin' gadwall feather photo, it will be up for auction Thursday March 10 (tomorrow!) at the annual California Waterfowl Guns & Hoses Dinner in Sacramento.

If you're not local, you can always buy my duck feather prints on my other website, heyserphoto.smugmug.com.

In fact, I have a couple neat new additions since I last blogged about the feather photos.

One is a positively electric shot of late-season spoonie plumage that highlights a stunning blue (and a bit of iridescent green).

The other is a really unusual presentation of the wigeon's most distinctive feather. (I'd be very interested to hear what you think of that one - it reminds me of something, but I don't want to plant the idea in your head.)

But the smilin' gadwall shot up for auction tomorrow is very dear to me because the proceeds will benefit California Waterfowl. Cal Waterfowl is a non-profit organization that puts enormous resources into creating, improving and preserving waterfowl habitat, as well as helping new hunters with training and licensing.

I spend ridiculous amounts of money (for my budget, anyway) at Cal Waterfowl dinners because I know the money goes to a great cause. And I'm really excited that tomorrow, Cal Waterfowl will not only get my cash, but someone else's cash for the photo I've donated. Win-win.

I hope to see you there!

Update: The smilin' gadwall feathers photo sold for $225 to ... our butcher, Manny Sol!

We also found out at this dinner that Manny is in a Cake video - wow! Check it out - you'll know which one is Manny.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

The rise of the "Palin Effect": How one thing leads to another, and why I don't like it

This is one of those posts that's sure to sink me in that popularity contest I keep hoping to win, but what the hell - I've got something to say.

Last Friday, I was whipping through my Google alerts and Tweetdeck feed when I came across these two things:

First was an ABC News report in which my girl Kirstie Pike, founder of Prois, was quoted talking about the rising number of female hunters.

That was cool, but it was the headline that really got my attention: "Hunting and Shooting Industry Targets Women for the 'Sarah Palin Effect.'" In this story, reporter Susanna Kim seemed to be working really hard to get her sources to say that the rise in women hunters (and bless her soul, she didn't fall into the trap of quoting any wacky numbers) was a result of the "Sarah Palin Effect."

The sources didn't particularly cooperate with her, but that didn't keep Palin from being a focus of the story.

Twenty-five minutes later, I came across a story in the UK's Daily Mail from the day before with this headline: "Hot shot: Meet Regis, 19-year-old big game huntress who's America's deadliest teen."

How stupid is that? Like we have a competition to see which girl in America kills the most game animals. Duh.

Turns out the two stories were related: When I read through the Regis Giles piece, there was the source of this new "Palin Effect":

"Alaska’s most famous former governor’s much publicized love of hunting has led to an unexpected rise in female membership in the National Rifle Association - which some are calling the ‘Palin effect.’

... "Diane Danielson of the NRA’s Women On Target programme explains that the ‘Palin effect’ has increased female membership 20 per cent, with the NRA teaching 10,000 new women a year to shoot, and making more girls want to take up hunting, like Regis."

OK, now this made more sense. It appeared the ABC reporter was responding to that Daily Mail story. That happens in the news biz, bigtime - a competitor gets a good story and someone gets stuck with trying to make something "new" out of it the next day.

By the time I pieced all this together, the story was making its way across the Internet like a bong at a Berkeley sit-in. Suddenly, Sarah Palin was the inspiration for hundreds of thousands of new women hunters.

OK, Holly, you're saying to yourself. Why does this bother you so much?

Reason No. 1: I've worked with a lot of new women hunters over the past couple years, and not one of them said Sarah Palin was her inspiration. This, of course, doesn't mean that they weren't thinking that, but you'd think if Palin was having such a huge effect on the number of female hunters, someone might've mentioned it.

But that's really minor. My bigger issue is...

Reason No. 2: Sarah Palin is an extremely polarizing figure - a real love-her-or-hate-her character. If you love her, these stories are great. If you hate her, though, there's suddenly a real negative connotation associated with being part of the wave of new female hunters.

But Holly, you say, how many new hunters are being recruited from the ranks of liberals anyway?

Don't I wish I had numbers! A 2006 survey by Responsive Management, which I wrote about here, suggested that 11 percent of hunters and anglers consider themselves liberal, and another 37 percent call themselves moderates.

But the politics of new hunters? I got nothing. Except the fact that the idea of hunting for healthy, tasty, organic food is gaining traction in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, and that's where a fair number of new hunters I deal with live.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing.

I'll be the first to remind you that I blogged excitedly about Palin's nomination before the news had even been confirmed back in August 2008 - I was thrilled that there might be not just a hunter, but a female hunter, on the Republican ticket.

And if she actually does inspire more women and girls to hunt, that's fantastic.

But it's always been important to me (well, "always" being as long as I have been hunting, which is four and a half years now) for hunting to be a bipartisan pursuit.

One reason is political. Politicians are beholden to - and will act in the interests of - the people who elect them, and, frankly, I'd like to see the Democrats a little more beholden to us. That means you need a pretty solid group of hunters who vote "D."

The other reason is social. If hunting is seen as something for conservatives only - and I fear the use of the term "Sarah Palin Effect" will exacerbate this notion - you're cutting out a huge portion of your potential recruits, male or female.

And that's something we can't afford to do.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learning to hunt bass-ackwards

Sometimes it feels that I've gone about learning how to hunt all wrong.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with my hunting. But last week when I was out on my weekly jaunt at the lake, it occurred to me that I'd gone about learning to hunt bass-ackwards.

I was following my deer trails for the third consecutive weekend and everything just started to click. When I crested the hill in my first major climb, there they were: three blacktail does, chewing on something lovely and green as they watched me. I'd been wondering when I'd finally see deer!

When I crested the next hill, I was treated to a comical duet sung by a loquacious hen mallard and a croaking frog, echoing up from the creek 100 feet below. I abandoned my path to stalk them for a while and see if I could figure out what had prompted this performance, but the qua-oaking stopped when I got too close.

No matter! It was a fun diversion anyway.

When I crested the next hill, I made my way through a verdant patch of miner's lettuce I'd remembered seeing on a cool north face, snacking as I went. And then dodged the poison oak that I'd been watching leaf out - I knew exactly where I needed to tread carefully.

I reveled in all of this. Instead of just barging through, I was seeing the land. It was becoming home. And it felt good. If I were allowed to hunt here, it would feel perfect.

That's when it hit me: If I were a proper hunter - and I mean that in an ancient, primal sense - I would've grown up walking these hillsides, and I would've learned every inch of them long before I was allowed to handle a weapon.

But that wasn't how I did it.

For a time during my childhood, I had that experience. I lived in the country, and I knew every square inch of my environs: five acres of our own that we let go wild, and a long network of agricultural irrigation ditches that were havens for all sorts of wild things.

But my family didn't hunt, so I never took the next step of becoming a full participant in that environment. I grew up and went away to college in a big city. I spent a couple decades living a pretty urban lifestyle.

And when Hank finally convinced me it was time to take up hunting, here's how I did it: I signed up for a hunter safety course, bought a shotgun, took a shooting lesson and went on my first hunt - for planted pheasants - in a field I'd never seen before.

(I did all of this, incidentally, based not on a lifetime of preparation, but because of one experience: a pig hunt with Hank in which I was astonished by the magnetic tug of hunting wild animals for your food.)

I took this process for granted, as do many who take up hunting as adults, or who hunt from a home base in a city. But the longer I hunt, the more I crave intimate knowledge of my hunting grounds. And the better I get to know my hunting grounds, the more I recognize that much of my hunting is such a far cry from what it should be.

Now, work with me here - I'm not being judgmental about any particular form of hunting.

What I'm saying is that one of the things that drives us to hunt, that makes us so passionate about what we do, is this profound need to connect with nature on an authentic level, not as a visitor to the zoo, but as a full-fledged member of the living community.

We hunt in part to escape the insane world that humanity has built for itself. Yet our hunting is defined and constrained by that world.

There are ducks in my neighborhood, but I can't hunt in the suburbs, so I drive 90 miles north, wait in line with other hunters, and head out to my spot where we're all sandwiched together as close as - and sometimes closer than - safety permits. I shoot as many ducks as I can because I know the season's days are numbered and I'll miss the hunting when it's over. And I check out when I leave, opening my car to inspection to prove I'm not going over my limit.

There is absolutely nothing natural about this process.

Don't get me wrong - I love duck hunting. I love how beautiful the marsh is. I love how clever and funny and elusive the ducks are. I love it when I make a good shot. I love it when the ducks thwart me and live to fly another day. I love it when the ducks make me laugh at myself, which they do often. And I love eating duck. I mean, eyes-rolling-back-into-my-head love it.

And I understand, accept and support the laws and rules regulating modern hunting, because I know those rules ensure the health of the species we hunt. If only the rules governing agriculture and construction were so considerate of wildlife.

Still, I can't help but feel a little sad that something so profoundly central to our existence for literally millions of years has been reduced to this ... this kabuki.

And this applies to pretty much every form of hunting I do. I drive anywhere from one to three hours to stalk deer. One place I hunt deer is crawling with hunters. Another is bordered by neighbors hostile to hunters, so God help me if a deer I shoot bolts in that direction.

Turkeys? Got 'em in spades five minutes from my house, but there's no hunting allowed on the American River Parkway, so I drive to Amador or Napa county whenever I'm lucky enough to get an invite from someone with land there.

Doubtless, by this point some of you are thinking, "Speak for yourself, girlie!" I'm talking to you incredibly lucky rural hunters who either own a lot of land or have access to a lot of land right outside your back door. Sure, you still have to follow the rules of modern hunting, but you get to develop and nurture your relationship with the land year-round.

Seriously, I envy you so much I could cry.

Not that this will ever stop me from hunting. Having restored my connection to the earth, there's no going back. I will cling tenaciously to anything that allows me to maintain or deepen that connection.

For now, that means taking walks in a park where I can get to know - but never consummate - my relationship with the land. It means driving all over California to hunt deer and pigs and turkeys even though I can find plenty of them closer to home. It means adhering to the elaborate modern rituals of duck hunting.

If I'm lucky, someday it'll mean getting some land in the country where we can walk out our back door and hunt, familiar with the land and what it holds, ever mindful of we can and can't take from it not because the law tells us so, but because we know it.

Is that too much to hope for?

© Holly A. Heyser 2011