One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted… If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it… through his own effort and skill…
– from “Meditations on Hunting “ by Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)
The hunting marketplace
It would be better for all concerned if I would stop hanging around sporting good stores.
Loitering is all I’m doing, since I have reached that time of life when I am no longer acquiring clothing or equipment for hunting, fishing or camping. Although I would probably buy a box of .22 rimfire cartridges once in a while if the flaky ammo hoarders weren’t buying it all up in preparation for Armageddon or the invasion of the communist lemmings or whatever looming apocalyptic event fuels their paranoia.
But it is both informative and entertaining to hover around the fringes of the scene at Gander Mountain, Bass Pro Shop, Cabela’s, Sportsmen’s Warehouse, and similar “big box” sporting goods emporiums. Unobtrusively, I watch the current generation of outdoorsmen and marvel at the things they purchase and the curious things they say. The recurring message I hear is that hunting as we have known it is coming rapidly to an end, both in practice and in spirit.
Years ago I observed the typical, city-dwelling hunter’s penchant for buying mechanical and electrical devices in lieu of investing the time necessary to acquire the lore of the hunt. Purchasing a predator call that is a battery-powered sound system with speakers and a remote control, for example, rather than learning how to use a simple mouth call, has long been accepted in this practice of substituting money for learning. While I will not venture onto the slippery slope of what hunting equipment is ethical, this ever-increasing trend to replace painstakingly learned outdoor sports skills with easily acquired technology diminishes my respect for the “techno” hunters of this new age.
A strange logic has evolved with this culture of mechanized hunting. I hear comments that suggest the people who employ this stuff believe that it is somehow an integral part of the workings of the natural world. “I’m a predator,” I heard one magnum-ammo buyer say last fall. “What predator wouldn’t use every advantage he could get? If a wolf could get longer fangs, or a hawk could have sharper talons, they would use them.”
Curmudgeon that I am, I was unable to refrain from tactfully commenting, “You’re no predator!” Okay, to be honest, I did say, “Bullshit! You’re no predator.”
While he was still in shocked silence from being scolded by a crazy old man, I tried to shine a ray of light into his brain, which was apparently addled by watching too many “hunting” programs on television. “A predator depends on his hunting skill for survival,” I lectured. “If he fails to kill, he starves. If you fail, you go to the restaurant and order a hamburger.”
I doubt he understood. After all, the point is to go out there and kill as many game animals as the law allows, as quickly as possible. Right?
Wrong. If that is your purpose, why not scatter some poisoned grain and kill them all? That would make you a first-class predator.
The central ethic of sport hunting is that we intentionally put limits on how we pursue and take game. We hunt only during a certain time of the year, within designated hours, on designated grounds. We accept limits on the number of game animals we will kill, the weapons and equipment we will use, the methods we will use. We do not pursue them in ways that violate the concept of fair chase.
Unfortunately, since so much of today’s hunting is done on game farms and preserves, with pay-by-the-bird “hunters” shooting pen-raised and semi-domesticated fowl, we may be losing all comprehension of the relationship between the hunter and wild animal populations and habitats. There is not much skill required, and not much sport involved, to shoot pheasants or quail that have no survival instinct or conditioning.
As a sad consequence, the hunt has become a stylized target shoot. You pay $25 per bird, the birds are released on the restricted grounds, and you shoot them. Sports as commercial recreation, merchandising and marketing.
All good business for the hunting preserve operators, the manufacturers and marketers of hunting clothes, boots, equipment, guns, ammunition, vehicles and paraphernalia. Good for tourism revenue for motels, restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. And the techno-hunters have a great time. Everybody wins.
Except the grumps like me who want the hunt to be the way it used to be. The change may be inevitable, but we don’t have to like it.
So watch out for us when you buy your next piece of techno-gear at the sporting goods shop. You may be excited about buying that in-line muzzle-loader rifle with 3-9x40mm variable power scope and conical sabot slugs that make it the equivalent of a .30-06. But keep it to yourself. We don’t consider that a primitive weapon and we’re likely to tell you what we think, in no uncertain terms.
If you enjoyed this curmudgeon’s essay on hunting, you may like my book, Hunting Birds, available from Amazon-Kindle.