We live in a community that includes hippie hunters and redneck vegetarians. Some hunt for sport or food. A few even claim that hunting is good for the environment. And some who don’t hunt don’t think much of those who do.
I preface my comments by admitting that I am not a hunter. I shot a squirrel once. I felt both sides: the triumph of having hit my target and killed it, and the horror of taking a life that was wild and free. I and my Neanderthal buddies cooked and ate it — three tiny bites each. Been there, done that. Never have to hunt again.
While I don’t hunt, I am a meat eater, and as such, I’m not in a position to condemn hunters. The law and practice of hunting may be imperfect, and some hunters may be bloodthirsty, but hunting is clearly not in the same league with factory farming and other evils of the meat industry.
Perhaps eating animals builds up a karmic debt that will eventually have to be repaid. On the other hand, some environmentalists recognize that not eating animals messes up the food chain. A large part of the earth is grassland. Humans can’t eat grass. We need wild and domesticated animals to convert grass into steaks.
And what’s the alternative? I was raised a vegetarian. Our family ate fake meat products like Veja-Links and Wham, designed to be like the corresponding meat.
My adult experience with vegetarians has been different. I once went to a restaurant where the chef proudly served the best imitation meat I have ever tasted. My vegetarian companions were polite, but unsatisfied. They wanted vegetables, not fake meat.
Personally, I can no longer tell the difference between a Beyond Beef hamburger and a real one. But so far, no one has figured out how to fake bacon. Still, show me the plan. Unlike most carnivores, I’ll turn vegetarian easily if someone comes up with an alternative protein source that can scale up to feed to whole world in an environmentally favorable way. Of course, there also has to be a practical way to transition to the new system.
Carnivores versus vegetarians isn’t the question. Hunting supplies a minuscule percentage of the nation’s meat. Most hunters eat what they kill, but they don’t hunt for economic reasons. The guns, ammunition, equipment and time don’t necessarily offset the meat.
We have reduced predators to such a low level that hunters have to become some of the only predators to keep the deer population down. Many places on the East Coast (and in Indian Hills) have a serious deer problem. If hunters don’t harvest deer in the woods, we’ll harvest them on the highways as roadkill.
Reintroducing wolves and other carnivores is a step in the right direction. I support wild animals in the wilderness and tame animals in civilization, but the animals don’t seem to recognize the borders. The conflicts happen on the edges, and those conflicts aren’t going away – with or without wolves. By the way, don’t wolves have an authoritarian lifestyle? Shouldn’t they consult the ungulates before eating them? If the barbaric habits of wolves are just part of nature, what about humans? Aren’t we part of nature? Can we create a more civilized form of nature by imitating the previous inhabitants?
We can be like the noble hunter who maintains a close spiritual tie with prey, as his ancestors did. He prays over his kill, and thanks it for sacrificing its life for a higher purpose. He never takes more than he needs, and he uses every part of the sacrificed animal. That’s better than the lout who throws his beer can in the ditch on the way to a shooting blind, where he drunkenly blasts bears lured with Twinkies. This Bungalo Bill cares nothing for a harvest, and kills as many animals as he can get his sights on.
You don’t have to be a sociologist to figure out that most hunters aren’t much like either of these stereotypes. Here in New Mexico, our strong hunting culture is limited by a strict regulatory system. Hunting is complicated and civilized — well, sort of civilized.
After you get your habitat stamp, license and tag, and follow all the state game rules, you still face the primitive moment when you look through your scope with finger on trigger. The only thing that could make it more exciting (and more fair) is if you saw the animal looking back at you through its own scope.
When speaking to hunter friends, I’m sometimes tempted to give it a try again. But I still hunt wild animals with a game camera. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down a gift of venison.