"In hunting, man fulfills the demands of his own nature. It is a restorative act by which he demonstrates his elemental bond with the universe. And, it is prompted by love." (Michael McIntosh, Missouri Conservationist)
"I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living, and for the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life, however briefly, with that of a wild creature that I respect, admire and value." (John Madson, Out Home)
"Poets sing and hunters scale the mountains primarily for one and the same reason — the thrill to beauty. Critics write and hunters outwit their game for one and the same reason — to reduce that beauty to possession." (Aldo Leopold)
"All hunting is a kind of love affair. If you can hear a beautiful piece of music without wanting to learn it by heart; if you can see a beautiful woman without wishing to love her; if you can see a fine specimen of game without wishing to take it, you have no human heart." (Denys Finch Hatton, from Colin McKelvie's A Future for Game?)
"You have lent immortality to a beast you have killed because you loved him and wanted him forever so that you could always capture the day." (Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy)
The hunting experience is steeped in a tradition of lofty rhetoric: respect for the animal, communion with nature, bonding with forebears, rite of passage, spiritual nourishment. And, of course, the guiding principle of "fair chase," which states that ethical hunting demands no "improper" advantage over the prey.
Hunting, the hunter says, maintains ecological balance by humanely culling the superfluous. If not for this noble stewardship, fawns would starve when the snow falls. More than that, hunting, according to Boone and Crockett, "conserves, protects, and perpetuates the hunted population." As if not enough, hunters feed the hungry, preserve crops and landscaping, and help protect careless drivers. Hunters are but "harvesters," like wheat farmers, practicing their craft with reverence and honor.
But the ruse is up. The truth lies in celebratory poses, mounted heads, record books, and opening day gaiety. Hunting springs not from need, but from a desire to control, master, win. And to find base thrills along the way. No higher purpose here, no grand meaning (poets, writers, and hunters?), just playtime for boys (and girls) with guns, some overgrown, some not...
From the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:
"Q: Can I take my young child with me while I am deer hunting? A: Yes, and we highly recommend it! Just make sure the child is not hunting or assisting in any aspect of the hunt (like driving deer). Bring an extra pair of binoculars and plenty of snacks. Have a good time!"
"Young," by the way, must mean really young, for the Empire State's legal age of slaying is 12, with a bow no less. All boys are not, as writer and hunter Robert Ruark claimed, "bloodthirsty savages." That affliction, if present, is imposed by a bloodthirsty parent or other hunting mentor. Children are innately kind and compassionate, not killers at all.
From the Pennsylvania Game Commission:
"Our deer hunters have every right to be excited about the upcoming season. We’re in the third year of antler restrictions for bucks and some real wall-hangers are being seen in just about every county."
In 2007, former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee said this to an NRA audience: "To watch mallards come in a flock, cut their wings and land but a few feet in front of you on a cold winter day near Stuttgart, Arkansas, is just about as close to heaven as I think one can get on this Earth. And as one who believes, because of my faith, that I'm going to Heaven, I'm pretty sure there will be duck hunting in Heaven, and I can't wait." Duck hunting in heaven.
In NY, waterfowl hunting is highly regulated. No rifles, handguns, traps, snares, or nets. Machine guns and explosives, too, are prohibited. And please, leave bait and poison at home. Curiously, sink boxes - floats that conceal one's body beneath the surface - are banned, but blinds (and ponchos?) are fine. Only paraplegics and amputees can shoot from cars, and "you may not shoot crippled birds when under power." Decoys, yes, but they mustn't be live. Use calls at your leisure, but no electronics, amplifiers, or tapes.
The above rules, of course, have nothing to do with "fair chase," for I'm reasonably sure that guns, blinds, decoys, and calls are unfair to the ducks. In truth, limits exist to equitably maintain a bountiful supply for all (hunters) to enjoy. While many "traditional" hunters decry the canned hunt - where captive exotics (or pedestrian whitetails and pheasants) are offered for sacrifice - as an affront to hunting "integrity," their code of ethics, apparently, is fully reconciled with the hide-lure-fire away (one service boasts it's "as fast as you can load your gun") of waterfowl hunting. The ducks, it should be noted, have no desire to participate in this game; they are simply flying for their lives.
Catholic priest Joseph Classen, author of Hunting for God, Fishing for the Lord, calls hunting and fishing "sacred catalysts" for revelation and guidance: "Having a fishing rod, a walking stick, or a gun/bow in hand is simply a doorway to the true refreshment that comes from being immersed in the beauty of God's creation. While catching a nice fish or harvesting that big ol' buck is the icing on the cake, there are still many lessons one learns while trying to eat that cake."
"Certainly, it is not fun to watch the spark of life dwindle away from a creature’s eye, knowing that one is directly responsible for its death. But at the same time there exists a satisfaction, and yes, a sense of honor in being an active, disciplined, gracious, responsible and respectful participant in the cycle of life." But then, betraying his true motives, he says, "...[God] hooked me up with a monster 6 lb 22″ bass!" And (St. Louis Post-Dispatch book review): "He’s had triumphs too, like the day he used his bow to harvest a 10-point trophy buck." "Gracious, responsible, respectful"? Specious nonsense. It's a rush, and he knows it.
Worse than inanity, beyond delusion, there is a certain obscenity in claiming respect for a being you've just wantonly blown away. Wanton, because hunting for food - most hunters' default defense - is unequivocally unnecessary, making their violence gratuitous and rendering hollow any favorable comparison to factory farming. In the end, hunters hunt because they like it, all of it - the garb, the gear, the guns, the chase, the kill. Against an animal's interest in not having his "spark of life dwindle away," these jollies pale. As one indoctrinated generation gives way to the next, know this: You are neither predators, nor conservationists, nor naturalists, nor sportsmen. Just killers, for fun.