Dispelling Some Myths About Hunting
by Tom Dickson
If you donít hunt, you might wonder whatís so
appealing about this activity. Why, for example, would anyone sit for hours
in a chilly duck blind? Or trudge mile after mile through soggy cattail sloughs?
And whatís the thrill in trying to kill an animal, anyway? If hunters want to be
outdoors and see animals, canít they just watch wildlife without shooting them?
Hunting, with a half-million Minnesota participants, must certainly stir the
curiosity of those who donít take part.
Why someone hunts is a personal matter. Many do it to spend time outdoors
with friends or family. Others hunt to continue a tradition passed down from
their parents and grandparents. Some go for the satisfaction of providing their
own meat or the challenge of outwitting a wild animal. Many hunt simply because
they feel an urge to do so. As environmentalist and hunter Aldo Leopold put it,
ďThe instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of game is bred into
the very fiber of the race.Ē
Itís hard to generalize what hunters are doing when they go afield each fall.
But it is possible to explain what hunters are not doing, and to shed light on
some aspects of hunting that might puzzle those who donít participate. Hunters
arenít killing animals needlessly.
People who say thereís no need to kill animals for meat when it can be bought
in a grocery store donít understand how food happens: Whether someone eats
venison or beef, a big brown-eyed mammal has to die first. The animal doesnít
care whether you pay someone else to kill it or you do it yourself.
Of course, vegetarians donít kill animals. Or do they? Most vegetable
production is done at the expense of wild creatures, either by converting
wildlife habitat to cropland or requiring the application of chemical pesticides
and fertilizers. Soybeans and corn, for example, are often grown on wetlands
that have been drained and plowed. Without a place to nest, a hen mallard
doesnít die, but she doesnít raise any young, either.
1. Hunters arenít being cruel to wild animals.
Most wild animals donít pass away in comfort, sedated by veterinary
medication. They usually die a violent, agonizing death. Though a hunterís
bullet or arrow can cause a wild animal pain and trauma, such a death is no
worse than the other ways wildlife perish. A deer not shot eventually will be
killed by a car, predator, exposure, or starvation. An old, weakened pheasant
doesnít die in its sleep. It gets caught by a hawk and eaten.
Of course, hunters donít do individual wild animals any favors by killing
them, but they also donít do anything unnaturally cruel.
2. Hunters arenít dangerous, inept, or trigger-happy.
Hunting would seem more prone to accidents and fatalities than outdoor
activities that donít use firearms. Not so. According to National Safety Council
statistics, far more people per 100,000 participants are injured while bicycling
or playing baseball than while hunting. And the Councilís most recent statistics
show that while roughly 100 people die nationwide in hunting accidents each
year, more than 1,500 die in swimming-related incidents.
One reason for huntingís safety record: Most states require young hunters to
pass a firearms safety course. In Minnesota alone, 4,000 volunteer instructors
give firearms safety training to 20,000 young hunters each year.
Just as they handle their gun cautiously, so do most hunters strive to kill
game as cleanly as possible. Hunters practice their marksmanship, study wildlife
behavior and biology, and take pains to follow a wounded animal to ensure any
suffering ends quickly.
As do all activities, hunting has its share of scofflaws. But most hunters
obey the law and act ethically. To nab the wrongdoers among them, hunters
created Turn In Poachers, a nonprofit organization that offers rewards for
information leading to the arrest of fish and game law violators.
3. Hunters arenít harming wildlife populations.
Hunters see to that out of self-interest. Thatís why they support state and
federal conservation agencies limiting seasons to just a few weeks or months a
year, limiting the number of animals they kill, and placing restrictions on
killing females of some species. These regulations help ensure that wildlife
populations stay healthy. They also make the pursuit of game more difficult,
requiring hunters to use their wits, patience, and hunting skills.
4. Hunters arenít using non-huntersí tax dollars.
Hunters pay their own way, and then some. Minnesota hunters fund almost all
Department of Natural Resources habitat acquisition and wildlife research with
their license fees and a federal excise tax on hunting equipment. In addition,
their financial support pays to improve populations of non-game wildlife.
Wetland destruction has wiped out the habitats of many bird species, causing
their numbers to decline. Were it not for wetlands bought and improved with
state and federal waterfowl stamp revenue and with the contributions of hunting
conservation organizations, hunters and others who like to watch wildlife would
today see fewer marsh wrens, pied-billed grebes, Forsterís terns, and other
wetland birds. These are some things that hunters arenít doing.
What I suspect most are doing--if they hunt for the reasons I do--is
fulfilling a need to be part of the natural world that observation alone canít