Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Make it Simple?

After an afternoon bout of clearing heavy, wet, deep snow from around M’s car and little M’s car, I planned to sit down and work on a comment for the ethics thread. I almost made it—until sleep took over. I spent the entire next day recovering and then today was spent putting the finishing touches on the next issue of “The Pines Review.” It is now off to the final proofreading and now I can focus.

The Problem….. As I see it.

The more time I have spent reading about hunting ethics and the debate surrounding it, the more I am convinced we are all determined to create such a complicated issue that we’re doing more damage than good. Let’s return to something I offered at the start of this thread--early civilization. As Man moved from the hunter/gatherer to animal husbandry and agriculture the need to hunt for survival was replaced with sport hunting. Without drifting into the discussion of spiritual need being in our genes let’s try another approach and that is focusing only on the sport aspect of the hunt. In developing the sport of hunting it became essential for the hunter to have rules of conduct. You can return to the other post to review this evolution but the key is this statement:

Ethics = Skill U Nature

Simply stated: Ethics EQUALS The Sum of the hunter’s skills AND The Animal’s nature to survive.

Here is what I am advocating. (And, I think, Phillip, you and I are on the same page thought not saying it exactly the same way.) We need to stop trying to complicate the issue with complex definitions and limitations. If we agree that the key to being an ethical hunter is full use of skills and allowing the game to fully use their natural ability to survive then the outcome is ethical hunting. If we can accept that premise does this become a functional foundation to build on?

Is it a starting point?


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Reply to John, whoever "John" Is

There was an interesting comment by someone named “John” to my Christmas post about the memories of my dogs and cats, all stemming from the card Michelle had bought about our pets meeting us in heaven. It seems John, whoever John is, didn’t like my post and probably does not like any of my posts because John offered the opinion that (1) he (or she) hoped all the animals I shot would be waiting for me in heaven and (2) I wasn’t going there anyway. The inferred text being that I was condemned to hell. It is an interesting comment because it bears witness to something that I have observed about people who fall into that group of naysayers who only see the brutality of hunting and quickly lump hunting into the same category as dog fighting, cock fighting and other staged animal fights--they are rarely truly happy people. Hunters understand there is a brutality to the hunt and that brutality is shared equally throughout nature, just as Tennyson observed:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed—
(Tennyson, In Memoriam 56:13-16)

There is nothing beautiful in the death of any living thing, whether that thing is a tree, deer, duck or fish. There is simple brutality in the death but it is nature’s brutality and from that death life emerges. It is that simple. The deer that I have killed did not die a movieland idealized majestic death of the hart. They bled, they died. I have always said a prayer of “thanks” for the gift of the deer or other game and on numerous occasions followed the European tradition of the last bite, adding the last breath because I have always felt that kinship with nature. (A few years ago a long time friend reminded me that I’ve always talked to trees.) The same is true of ducks, geese, and any other animal I’ve killed. I killed them for food and I’ve relished every bite and taste of their wildness because in that wildness I can sense mountains, plains, rivers and lakes, everything that is nature. Still, we must accept that in our hunting there is a brutality of the hunt, but the hunters I’ve spoken with have all acknowledged there is also an indefinable fullness of spirit that comes to them after a successful hunt and it returns when they sit down to a dinner prepared with the meat from the animal. It is a fullness that shows itself in closeness with friends and a deeper love for family. At the end of the hunting day, when the hunter drinks in the last of the alpenglow, there is no doubt that they are part of a grand world.

I am not so vain to believe every hunter is as mindful as those I tend to hunt with but the numbers of those for whom hunting does not tug at the heart are so small they are insignificant. Tragically, as with everything in our world today, it is the rage and stupidity of a few that paints all the good works of the many. We have to live with that.

I feel sorry for “John” because I suspect that when we peel back the thin veneer of his or her life that person is not very happy with the world they live in and don’t see it as a grand and wonderful place where nature defines us through everything around us. John also doesn’t “get” something about me—I hope the spirit of every animal I killed on my hunts is there to meet me in heaven so that I can again thank each one of them for what they did for me in this world.

As for John’s opinion that I am not going to heaven, well, John, that may be so but that’s between God and me. As for how I feel about it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to heaven because between 1967 and 1969 I served my time in hell. Have you, or is your world a personal hell?


An Approach To The Hunter Ethic Problem

This is a truly long post. I think it needs to be.

The principle of hunter’s skill, game’s nature is one that I am going to stand firm with because I do believe that this is the grounding ethic of hunting. At any point where the hunter steps outside of the hunter’s expression then the ethic breaks down and it is also true that if the hunter, or someone other than the hunter, removes the quarry from its ability to employ its nature then the ethic breaks down. But with that said I believe we must consider Holly’s question about the planted birds and whether we can apply this ethic to nearly any human action (I’m inferring here) that involves the killing of animals. She rightly points out that at one time humans would drive whole herds of bison over the cliffs. But, Holly, isn’t that subsistence hunting—from which early civilizations distinguished sport hunting? When the need to hunt for food has been replaced by husbandry does Man need to hunt? Both Dr. Eaton and Cork offer the opinion that Man needs to hunt because through hunting man is maintaining the spiritual connection with nature. Let’s say, as the Greeks noted, that hunting provides people with the opportunity to test their personal selves against nature. We might be tempted to argue that the rules of hunting, the notion of sportsmanship, ethical hunting, etc., were put in place only to level the playing field between the hunter and the hunted. However, Dr. Eaton, James Swan and others have all noted that the cave art, which depicts hunters and their quarry, seems to have religious or spiritual meanings. Dr. Eaton takes it a step farther and points to some cave art being trophy art, meaning that successful hunters of these pre-civilization eras were bragging about their hunting success. What does seem to be certain is that much of this early human art does establish a much stronger connection between the hunter and the quarry than previously thought and that in the genetic chain between contemporary humans and those early humans there is a hunting gene. But, where did we get our ethic? Here’s the problem that I see.

Subsistence hunting – whatever it takes to be successful therefore zero ethics.
Animal husbandry replaces subsistence hunting – The dynamics of relationships change from the successful hunter to the successful farmer/herder.
Hunting becomes a sport – The birth of hunter ethics = “hunter skill, animal nature.” Why?

What was it in that transition that made men stop using whatever would work to kill an animal to employing a set of specific skills to kill it and then, in an equal fashion, giving the animal the opportunity to employ their nature to survive? I believe that if Eaton, Swan and others are correct in their assertions then I will maintain the development of hunter ethics occurred “because” of the transition. Men could certainly have continued to kill the animals in the same way that they had been but they did that out of need, yet even in that need early man recognized that a connection existed between the hunter and the hunted. Perhaps they drank at the same water holes and early gatherers noticed that many of the animals ate from the same fruit trees, berries, nuts or even roots. The animals were not completely unlike Man and because Man did possess that added element of creativity (art) they wanted to maintain the connection—even as they hunted the animals—because there was a connection between them that was within nature.

Jump forward a few tens of thousands of years to the transition to herder societies. The connection between the animals and man was not forgotten. The desire to hunt, the drive to provide food hadn’t disappeared, but in order for the success to have that same meaning it had before husbandry evolved there evolved a self imposed set of rules for the hunt. Hunter ethics did not burst fully developed into the civilized world, it came with the creep of time and has evolved as civilization has evolved. That begs the question of application of hunter ethics—can it be applied equally to each hunting circumstance. Native pointed out that in our own country each region has its own specific conditions for the hunt. I will make the argument that it is not the application of circumstance to the ethic but is, in fact, ethic to the circumstance. The basic hunter ethic equation is:
Skill - Nature
I wonder if we could write it as:
Skill U Nature
That is to say that the ethic is the union of the two. This means that it is ethical to hunt from that enclosed and elevated stand when the conditions warrant it. The same can be said of the planted birds. I’ve hunted planted birds that taxed every bit of both the dog’s skill and my own. In fact, I can’t remember any bird hunt that hasn’t been a true test of both dog and hunter—planted or not. But what about the high fence hunt? My answer returns to the ancient ethic and the application of the ethic to the circumstance. I have hunted high fence enclosures and left without the animal I hunted. I’ve also hunted them hard and been successful. About fifteen years ago I hunted fallow deer in upstate New York and it was one of the most rewarding and difficult hunts of my life. I finally got my deer but not until the morning of the last day and not until I’d low crawled through a foot of snow to get close enough for a shot. The enclosed area was slightly more than two thousand acres but as Native pointed out, the deer were wild and had become wild even though fed by humans.

Anonymous made a very interesting point and that was that if the elimination of high fence hunting “means less people can hunt, that’s a population/demand/habitat/management problem. It’s not a hunting problem.”

Humm. I want to disagree but before I do let’s look at two very different scenarios. The first is my hunt for the Fallow deer. The hunt was a high fence hunt that took three full days of intense dawn to dusk hunting. Often times we (the guide and I) would be following a group for the entire day without seeing the deer. Now, here is where ethic is applied to the circumstance. These deer were fed every day from the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor. When the tractor started down a feeding road the deer emerged from the woods to feed. In the application of the ethic to the circumstance the guide and I had agreed that we would not ambush any deer headed for the food nor would we hunt any stretch of road where they were fed. Only after I had killed my deer did the guide inform me that had I suggested hunting the deer on a feeding road the hunt would have ended. On the other hand wild hogs, which raided the deer’s feed, were fair game while raiding the deer food—if you could get close enough for a shot! Ethic applied to circumstance.

The second scenario is in Africa. There is a great deal of debate about the practice of “turning lions out for the hunter.” In these cases ranch owners are raising or capturing lions and when a hunter books a lion hunt they turn the lion out in the fenced area and the hunter goes in after the lion. Some operations turn these lions out in areas covering thousands of acres and weeks or months before the hunter arrives and others have only a few hundred acres and turn out the lion a few days before the hunter arrives. One of the arguments for these operations is that it helps reduce the instances of operators “salting” an area where a hunter has booked a lion hunt. In salting, unscrupulous PHs set out baits to attract the lions and the hunter is “guided” to the salted area where the lion has come to expect a free meal.

Contrast that with my lion hunting experience. I had hunted a particular ranch the year before and was back for another hunt (yes, it is high fence, all 7,000 acres) when I was offered a chance to hunt a lion that crossed onto the ranch, probably from nearby Kruger park. The ranch owner and I began following the spoor with a tracker and for several days we hunted the lion, getting up in the morning and driving around the ranch until we cut fresh spoor then following the spoor on foot. The only condition for shooting the lion was to shoot well because I probably wouldn’t get a second shot—the reason being the shot would be at close range because of the thick thorn bush we were hunting in and the lion would charge before I would get that second shot. Finally the lion left the ranch and life returned to normal. On the same ranch, the year before, a hunter (in our group) and his PH were driving across the ranch when they spotted a young lion stretched out across a pile of dirt. The guide told the hunter to kill the lion but when the hunter declined the guide argued with him and finally convinced his client to shoot the lion, which he did. In both cases the big cats were a threat to the human population on the ranch and painful experience had taught the ranch owner and the PH that if the big cats are allowed to roam free they quickly find the clusters of native rondavels and the livestock kept nearby.

To which case is there an ethic being applied to circumstance? Perhaps the ranch owner and I were trying to apply an ethic to circumstance by hunting on foot and tracking the lion across the ranch. It had all the earmarks of a hell of a hunt because there were times when the cat wasn’t more than a few dozen yards in front of us, but hidden by the thick bush and the cat was aware that we were tracking it, periodically stopping to growl a warning for us to back off. But was there an ethic with the sleeping lion? I’ve never thought so, nor has any hunter to whom I have told the story even though they understood that because of the risks the cat had to be killed. Finally, there is the “turning out” and “salting.” Maybe in turning out, if the lion is given time to establish itself in a large enough enclosure ethic is applied to circumstance providing the lion is free to make its own kills and the enclosure isn’t being salted.

Anynomus feels that if there isn’t enough room to hunt then it is not a hunting problem but a people problem. I still can’t agree although I do understand the statement and its intent. I think we need to look at this from the perspective that if we apply two foundational rules to hunting then we arrive at the principle that hunting can be preserved and made available to both the pay to hunt group on high fence hunts and the public land/open range group. First, there is the ethic, ancient though it is:
Hunting Ethic = Hunter’s Skill U Animal’s Nature.
The second is:
Ethic over Circumstance.
Applied to contemporary hunting we have an ethic and an application. I also remain firm that we need to make every person who hunts understand this one thing, whether hunting high fence or open range, everything ethical about the hunt is nothing more than the tug on the shirt sleeve.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hunting's Oldest Problems

I have received some truly great comments and it is obvious you are all thinking about hunting and that’s what we need to do as hunters—think about this sport we love—hunting.

Am I correct in assuming that all of you are arguing that we cannot establish a line in the sand that is the division between the ethical and non-ethical behavior of hunters?

What if I offered the argument that I disagree—that we can, in fact, draw a line in the sand? What if I even went much farther and argued that the line in the sand was drawn very early in human civilization. If we go back into ancient history we will discover that the notion of fair chase, ethical hunting (sportsmanship)both appear early in hunting’s history, very nearly the same time as when subsistence hunting was replaced by animal husbandry. The notion was that since there was no need to kill the animal for food then the animal should be provided with every opportunity to employ its every nature to escape the hunter. Here’s the kicker---AND the hunter should employ his (her) every skill to quickly kill the animal. These teachings, which predate the Greek and Persian thinking on sport hunting, were focused on the hunter’s skill and the animal’s nature being fully employed. As subsequent civilizations developed (and disappeared) these two principles remained ab origine and are the root of outdoor’s hunting philosophy, regardless of the philosopher.

So, my argument is that the hunter must allow the animal the opportunity to employ its nature to escape while also employing his (or her) skill as a hunter to insure as quick and clean a kill as is possible. Does this apply to the subsistence hunter? Interestingly, most peoples who still rely on true subsistence hunting strive for the quick kill (quick can be by slow poison, but the animal never panics) to preserve the quality of the meat and reduce the amount of distance the meat, hide and other parts must be returned to the village or family group. But, in essence, we should probably say no, it does not apply, but in truth the careful subsistence hunter wants the quick kill for other reasons.

That said I’ll maintain that the line in the sand has been drawn and it returns to the hunter. I personally enjoy hunting waterfowl from a permanent blind, whether it is built on stilts over the marshland or is a pit in the ground. I also derive a great deal of satisfaction from setting up a block of decoys on a slough then hiding in the cattails. I can also see deer and other big game hunts in my own future in which I will be hunting from a blind or hide and some of them will be over waterholes. I’ll also hunt from a tree stand when the need arises. But the question is whether I the hunter will employ both sides of the ethical equation—hunter’s skill, game’s nature. Does the use of the blind over a food plot provide for the animal’s nature? I am not so sure it does but that does not mean I cannot be convinced. In the case of the blind on a marshland where the birds return to the same area day after day—the birds are not stupid so if they persist in flying near the blinds where they are shot at something else must be at work. Is it hunter’s skill, the weather, or a combination in which case the skill may be reading the weather’s influence and how to set the block of decoys. Is the hunting of planted birds unethical? Planted birds that are properly raised can humble a confident hunter as quickly as a neophyte. What about driven hunts? It isn’t uncommon for the birds in driven hunts to be pen raised birds and the survivors are called back to the pen at the end of the day. Still, some of my most memorable bird hunts were for planted birds.

These are the questions and the issues that have dogged sport hunting since husbandry made subsistence hunting unnecessary. So, is hunting unnecessary? I maintain that hunting is necessary. But that’s another question.

You see, guys, what I am offering is the question and then reaching behind the question to the next question. The only question for which I maintain there is an answer is the question of hunter ethics and that is because I believe that this question was answered thousands of years ago—hunter’s skill, quarry’s nature. Because this is the foundational premise of hunting then even the high fence hunt, if it answers the second part, and the hunter employs the first part, can be ethical. The hunt for planted pheasants can be ethical provided both sides are employed. I do not believe this is a difficult answer to reach although there are times when the questions which lead to it are complex and demand difficult answers.

Another historical notation, but please don’t ask me to reach for it right now, is in my pile of research papers and that is a translation of some early Persian writings in which “fair chase” when hunting is discussed as being important to the sporting hunt. In that instance fair chase was making reference to not employing so many hunters on the chase of a single animal that the animal could not employ its natural defenses. It was believed that the king could not ascertain which of his young men were not brave hunters when they were not being fair to the chase; thus he could not weigh each young man’s value as a soldier. This is an early reference to the martial side of hunting.

Thus, both fair chase and ethical hunting, which we want to believe are more recent innovations, are actually ancient concepts. Our problem today is figuring out how these principles apply in contemporary hunting and through the application of these principles we can overcome some of the negatives that are dogging us and improve the quality of hunting.

It is to these problems that I am proposing the thinking symposium.

Thoughts? g

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Has "Fair Chase" Changed?

Is “fair chase” still fair? I am not so sure it is. Perhaps the notion of fair chase that so many of us grew up with has started to undergo some changes that none of us could have possibly foreseen a decade or two ago. I raise this point because I was sitting out this storm by watching some outdoor TV programs while I sorted receipts (tax time, ugh). In one program, the hunter, a thoroughly charming and very pretty blond with her hair tied up in a bouncy pony tail that brought to mind Chantilly Lace and the Big Bopper, was deer hunting from a camouflaged hunting blind. The deer were thoroughly accustomed to the blind because it is a permanent fixture of their world. Doused, as I am sure she was, in scent killer and wearing camouflage, the only skill required was a good sight picture, trigger squeeze and the patience to wait for a “killer buck.” When it appeared, she waited until it was clear of any does and within easy range, then sighted through the scope and killed the buck. Whoopee and hand slapping, the deer ran across the field and fell over dead. She didn’t even need to negotiate a climb down from a tree stand.

Now, let’s be clear—I have hunted from tree stands, elevated blinds (hides) for deer and other game and I have killed my share from them and until just recently (actually, as a product of digging deeper into Eaton’s writing) I hadn’t thought too much about hunting from big game blinds. Now, as the universe of hunting is assaulted on all sides I am having second thoughts about some of the accepted methods of hunting—id est, the hunting blind that is a permanent fixture in the small universe that is the deer’s world. Thinking back on some of my African hunting experiences I have realized that the most rewarding, and the hunts that became the basis of my articles and short stories, were the hunts when we (Professional Hunter, tracker and me) stalked the quarry, whether it was a kudu, waterbuck or lion and accepted the rigors of the stalk as the hunt. Does the mean I am opposed to the use of stands for big game hunting? Not at all. There are many, many places where still hunting and an attempt to stalk an animal is to guarantee an empty tag.

I am not claiming a moral high ground here. I’ve killed several meat hogs that wandered into range of my rifle on their way to a feeder that was scattering corn on the ground. They were feral pigs and for me meat hogs only. I had no desire to slosh around in the swamps to stalk them. On my wall, however, hangs a trophy boar that I killed with a single shot to the head from my .270. My shot was between the boar’s eyes at a range of about five yards. If I would have missed I’m sure he would have gleefully ripped my legs to shreds because I’d been stalking him for hours and my rifle was an H&R single shot.

What I am asking is whether we need to seriously begin to rethink our claims of fair chase. Where is the dividing line between the fair chase of a tree stand and an elevated permanent box stand? Does fair chase demand that all of my hunts be still or stalks on the ground? Is a feeder outside the boundary of fair chase and if that is true what about some of the attractants that are becoming popular?

I, for one, believe there ARE answers to these questions, but the answers, as with all philosophical questions, come in the form of answers. We cannot ask a question of ourselves or our actions until we’ve asked questions about the actions and events that precede that question. If there are, as I believe, answers to the questions that trouble fair chase and hunting’s future then we must be willing to delve into ourselves and what is motivating us both as individuals and as an industry and ask much deeper questions than perhaps we’ve been willing to do.

In an email to Dr. Eaton I suggested that I would like to see a group of thinkers in the world of hunting meet someplace to engage in the activity of “thinking” about the questions of today’s hunting and hunters. This would be a time to ask questions about these issues and go much deeper into understanding them than we have ever before plunged. I had planned to bring the project up to some of the manufacturers I would be seeing at the SHOT Show later this month. Unfortunately I will not be attending the SHOT Show. Some health issues have conspired to keep me away from the show. To accomplish at least a little of my original plan I do plan to send the new issue of The Pines Review to the show with a friend who has agreed to give out copies of the review on CD. In my editorial for this issue I challenge the industry leadership to have the courage to help fund and organize a symposium of outdoor thinkers. I believe its time has come. It wouldn’t hurt for people to begin thinking about who should be invited and what form such a symposium should actually take.

What do you think? glg

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Thinking about Thinkers Who Think About Hunting

Would you believe that we are already well into the evening of the second day of the New Year and New Year's Day is quickly fading into the dustbin? This is terrible! Time is already flying by way too fast for me so I am demanding that time slow down just a bit and give me the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the passing days.
I think that is what I have always enjoyed about the outdoors, whether hunting or fishing. Time seems to slow just a bit and give me the opportunity to breathe in the world around me. That slow down also allows me to take stock of myself and what I am truly trying to accomplish.
These thoughts have been popping into my head quite a bit over the past couple of weeks and I think they are, in part, inspired by reading the work of Dr. Randall Eaton. It is still too early for me to actually comment on Eaton’s work, other than to say that I am starting to believe he is the most important thinker about hunting who is alive today. Or maybe that is too grand a statement to make. There are other people who come to mind as being great thinkers about hunting, Jim Posweitz, founder of the Orion Institute is heading the list of living thinkers.
A problem with both Eaton and Posweitz is they are headlining a list that is too short for the enormity of the problems being thought about. I’m not referring to the common problem of the antis vs. the rest of the community, or even the problem of slob hunters vs. good hunters, but I am referring to the cases (for example) of wildlife management vs. real nature or the unrelenting march of suburbia colliding with nature. Or, in a very frightening way, the abandonment of nature as part of the education curriculum of young people in metropolitan schools in favor of today’s unrealistic “feel good but not fuzzy—everyone gets a trophy” thinking. These issues are not as far from the core issue of “to hunt or not to hunt” as their proponents would lead society to believe. Hunting is core to the value system of making a choice. In recorded history not all men have been hunters but in every great civilization the choice of whether to hunt or not to hunt has been pivotal to that civilization’s social construction. Consider the Greeks and spend a little time with those thinkers who gave us the foundations of western philosophy. Not all of them were hunters but hunting was part of their world and they recognized its varied social roles. Perhaps the role of hunting is the spiritual connection between the human and nature that Dr. Eaton writes about. Regardless of whether hunting’s core relationship is spiritual, physical, or emotional, or an elixir concocted of all three we need to spend more time thinking about hunting and where our relationship to hunting places us within the context of contemporary civilization and the civilization of 2099. Yes, that is not a typo—I mean 2099! Our forefathers made the mistake of believing that once certain truths about hunting were established, those primarily being centered on notions of sportsmanship, hunter’s ethics, protection of wildlife and setting aside lands for the future, then hunting would take care of itself. Had our forefathers placed hunting alongside their desires to preserve wilderness and wildlife, keeping hunting—as a choice to participate in nature, to the degree of being a hunter, or not to participate, or some level in between—firmly entrenched in our national curriculum hunting might not be facing the crisis it is today. So, no matter how much of a spiritual connection can be built between the hunter and the quarry, regardless of how much time is spent discussing ethics, the simple truth is that hunting is no longer part of the core of our national being. This damage cannot be undone by a single Eaton, Posweitz, or the half-dozen other thinkers that exist among our ranks. We need to cultivate more thinkers; men and women who will provide the community of hunters (and anglers) with better answers to questions about the why of the hunt. But, equally important, these thinkers will provide the foundational thinking that generate more questions about the actions of politicians, bureaucrats, academics and the teachers they influence. Questions are what thinkers generate and ours is a time when we need many more questions because the answers we’re being thrown today are too often like scraps of offal laced with ground glass.
Just a thought or two.