The Column, No. 62:
Hunters Attack Hunters: Fair Chase or Fair Minded?
Certain groups of hunters are among the most intolerant folks in American society today. The same can be said of some firearm owners, thankfully a small portion. I'm reminded that the 1st Amendment does not protect popular speech, for the most prevalent and popular opinions and expressions of those opinions need no protection. While hunters argue and limply attempt to discredit each other, the percentage the population that actually hunts in the United States continues to decline. And why shouldn't it? It is increasingly costly to hunt, there is less land to hunt, hunting and firearm regulations are all too often unduly burdensome, to the point of driving away those who would otherwise hunt. Parents are considered unworthy and incapable of teaching their kids about hunting. In some areas, that capability is reserved for part of our sprawling bureaucracy. Is their something wrong with Dad teaching his kids to hunt? Who cares more about the safety of their children, Mom and Dad or a state bureaucrat?
The notion of fair chase is well-established. The Wall Street Journal published an article on October 16, 2010, entitled “Hunters Exchange Fire Over What's Fair Game” by Lauren Etter. The article explores the current debate over high fence hunting in North Dakota, with the initiative to ban such hunting ranches scheduled for a vote on November 2. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports getting rid of these ranches. The NRA does not stating, “We believe that hunters should be free to choose the way they want to do things.”
Personal ethics, personal moral compasses and the law have always been different things. We live in a country today where fighting elective wars is considered ethical. This opens up all kinds of serious issues, personal property rights issues, expanded interference of government for lawful small businesses. I spoke with Willard Swanke, who runs Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch along with his wife, Barb. It is two thousand acres of rough Badlands. Check it out at http://www.cedarridgeelk.com/. The hunt can be as rugged as you'd like. Now, just what would you say to kids dying of leukemia that have had an opportunity to experience this when no other options are available. How about Willard's 87 year old guest, dying of terminal cancer, that had to chance to savor a hunt shortly before the end of his life? What do you tell those with a passion for hunting that can no longer physically endure, or afford, helicopter drop-offs in Alaska? These people have no right to enjoy hunting anymore, merely due to illness and age? A bigger question is that putting small businesses, property owners, and taxpayers out of businesses what great purpose is served?
What about preserve hunting, pen-raised pheasants and planted quail? Should all of these legal operations be forced out of business? Have you heard of King Ranch? King Ranch, comprising some has the distinction of being the birthplace of Texas game conservation. Abundant wild game is almost taken for granted in modern-day Texas, but there was a time when the bounty of Texas wildlife was at serious risk. Throughout the 19th century, wild game was abundant in South Texas, but by 1910, deer and wild turkey populations were almost completely eliminated. In several areas, modern game management techniques and healthy game populations themselves owe a great deal to ranches. How soon we forget.
Should horse racing be banned? What is so sporting about whipping a horse to make it run faster so we can wager on the results? It is an event strictly for human diversion and entertainment. Should zoos be banned? Circuses? All for the entertainment of the general population. I won a greased pig contest years ago. Now, those pigs were fenced in. I was a greasy, bloody, sweaty mess-- but I caught the first pig. If you think that wasn't sporting, you should have seen the event. I swear pigs can laugh. If not a conventional chuckle, they can certainly squeal in a mocking manner. The better hunting operations strive to be safe, the animals are extremely robust and healthy, and the challenge is appropriate to your physical condition and time constraints. There are also relatively few of them. No, it isn't for everyone, not much is, but it is a far more humane way to obtain food than chicken, turkey, hog, and beef factories. And, no one coerces you into these types of hunts, there is no misrepresentation. The notion that it possible to define “hunting” by the presence of man-made structures is false on its face. Farms have fences, not just here but across the world including South Africa. It is often just a question of how large the land is and how big the fence is.
Pheasants are released by the state in Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington State, Pennsylvania, and so it goes. Where is the cover, the habitat, the funding for quality wild populations? We don't like to go broke with less tillable acres, we don't want to pay more for food, we have no political will to develop and preserve quality hunting in many areas across the United States. So, we attack hunting, all kinds of hunting, just because it is hunting itself. When hunters attack hunters, it is all about whose ox is being gored. Ever hunted in Webb County, Texas? I have. Now, just where is all the quality public land that sportsmen can use?
Do you think that the current administration has seen fit to add provisions to the stimulus package that helps out the very small tax-paying businesses of hunters, guides, outfitters, family run hunting ranches? Do you think they are terrorists or non-patriotic or something? In the age of Government Motors, Wall Street bail-outs, elective wars, bank bailouts, small businesses that have always been small, legal, tax-paying businesses that seek to earn an honest living are now under attack not only by inept state bureaucracies, but by intolerant hunters themselves that cannot see past the pompous intolerance of somehow thinking that the way they do it is the only way to do it or the only moral way to do it.
Hunters against hunters, a declining number in itself, can ill-afford to fail to defend the personal property rights of others. We do so at the great peril that if we do not acknowledge the rights, lawful activities of others, the small businesses of others that one day there will be far fewer willing to speak up for our own rights and activities that will not always be deemed “moral” by those that seek to impose their personal view of morality on others. Hunters against hunters is a damnable, myopic event.
For the sake of Willard and Barb Swanke, I hope whatever common sense that is left out there finally kicks in. I've enjoyed hunting and have done so actively since I was four years old: I wasted the first three years of my life. As hunters are at an all-time low as percentage of the U.S. population, I think it unwise to bicker-- much less carelessly attempt to inflict one hunter's views on another. I have far, far more in common with the less than 5 percent of the population that hunts than the over 95% of the population that does not. The right to use our fist ends where another person's right to use their nose begins. No new noses need be injected into long-time, completely legal preserve or ranch hunting small businesses. We tell others what to do with their personal property at the peril of having our own personal property compromised and legislated against.
If the joy of hunting is important to you, than that experience and message needs to be shared by example, not by the tortured illogic of attacking what we do not live and cannot know-- only because it isn't our cup of tea, or we don't think it would be if we tried it one day. We all should enjoy our own tea, but not at the expense of spilling the tea of others or ridiculing it. Some just don't like our cup of tea, either. This whole situation reminds me of a conversation between Fred and Ned.
FRED: I'd sure like to spend a few days hunting with my son, Ned.
NED: What kind of hunt are you thinking about, Fred?
FRED: Well, big game. Something different. Sure, there's deer around here but Buicks kill more deer than hunters do. Problem is, my boy can't get away for more than a couple days, young family and all that. And between that, my arthritis and my bad ticker, I'm not sure we will get this done while we both are around. Some of these hunts are overpriced and have such low success rates, anyway. We only have one shot at this, so we'd like close to a 100% success rate. Can't do this every year, probably never have the chance to do it again.
NED: How about one of those hunting ranches where they raise and closely manage the game?
FRED: Ned! That's a canned hunt, for crying out loud. Have you lost your marbles?
NED: I see. You want close to a 100 percent success rate, but don't want a "canned hunt." Something like a fair chase hunt where the guide does all the work for you with his dogs, and you shoot a mountain lion or a bear out of a tree?
FRED: That's different, Ned. That's the only way you can get those cats.
NED: Different, is it? Just a bigger can or something?
FRED: Ned, you know what I mean. I want something like Mother Nature intended, game that has always been here in North America.
NED: Like Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants?
FRED: Ned, you're just a pant-load. I don't like the idea of baiting or dogs.
NED: You mean like the sunflowers you plant for doves every year, Ned? What are your bird dogs for, anyway? Wouldn't it be more sporting to go walk in the field and see nothing? Those food plots for deer? Isn't that just baiting that takes a little extra work?
FRED: This is ethics, Ned.
NED: Ethics like what, putting a worm or a cricket on a hook to catch a bluegill is a menance or something? Is is more sporting to seine for them than to use a baited hook? We used to tape M-80's to rocks when we were kids to stun them. Using a rod and reel is more selective, and you don't have to carry matches.
FRED: Those canned hunt places should be put out of business.
NED: Right. After you put them out of business, what do you want those families to do? Raise hogs or goats or something, so the local butcher can kill them right proper?
FRED: I guess I hadn't thought about that.
NED: Well, Fred, is there something really all that different about getting food? You can have a hired assassin to get your steaks for you, or you can go get them yourself and build a memory with your son. You are going to eat what you shoot, aren't you?
FRED: Of course. I wouldn't kill any animal that I wouldn't eat.
NED: That's not the story you gave me about those fieldmice that made it into your house last fall, those rats in the alley, or those groundhogs that were ripping up your landscaping.
FRED: Darn it Ned, that's different. I didn't hunt them, I poisoned them.
NED: Fred, was that a "sporting" or "fair chase" type of poison?
FRED: You know, Ned, I'm going to think about one of those hunting ranches after all.
NED: Thought you might. Got any of that rat poison left, Fred? The Mrs. keeps telling me we need to get rid of some vermin in the shed.
FRED: Ned, I can fix you up.
NED: Thanks, Fred. Are we still on for opening day of pheasant hunting?
FRED: You bet, Ned. I'd never miss it and can hardly wait. That reminds me, dogs need to go to the vet for a check-up.
NED: Great. Bring your boy along, too. I've got an extra shotgun he can use. You two can stop over and we can smash a few clays and get tuned up at my place next week if you like.
FRED: You're on. Try to talk your wife into cooking up that veal dish she does so well for us. Nothing like it; I'll bring the wine.
NED: No worries. See you next week, ol' buddy.
Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.