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


Phillip said...

Galen, I'm digging the conversation, but I'm going hunting... hopefully I'll get a chance to respond with some thought later this weekend.

Galen Geer said...

Hey Phillip, have a great hunt! g

SimplyOutdoors said...

Galeen, I completely see where you're coming from, but I suppose I'm just having a hard time completely grasping your thought process.

To use one of your examples, I do feel that "high-fence" hunting can be ethical. But I still have a problem defining "ethics". I know you are referencing the ancient definition of ethics, which is based on the notion that every animal should be provided every opportunity to employ its very nature to escape the hunter, and that the hunter should then employ his skill to quickly kill the animal. But who decides if that criteria is met? And isn't that decision going to vary depending on the person and their so-called "ethics."

Everyone's opinion, as to whether the animal was provided with every opportunity to employ its very nature to escape, is going to differ. So how I can, or a symposium of a variety of us hunters, make that call for other hunters?

I still love the discussion, though. And I love these kind of posts. They challenge all of us, and make us think.

And I love that.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Hey Galen -

Thanks for getting this conversation rolling. I'm sending your blog address to several friends who think and write about ethics and "fair chase" a lot. I hope they'll stop by and join in!



NorCal Cazadora said...

How can a pen-raised bird employ a nature that it has been stripped of? When 99 percent of them are dead at the end of the day they're released (whether by shotgunners or hawks accustomed to being fed in this strange human ritual), I'd say the honest answer is, "It can't." (And it's worth noting here, since this is a new post and set of comments from the original thread, that I'm not saying we should end pen-raised bird hunts, despite my own personal nagging discomfort with them.)

So here's my question about your question: Can this ancient ethic you describe be used to put a seal of approval on almost anything? We humans used to run whole herds of animals off of cliffs to kill them, employing our skills and nature against herds that clearly were using theirs. Seems to fit the ethic.

What would this ancient ethic not allow?

native said...

I believe that would be called a drive Holly! Something which has been outlawed here in California but is still practiced elsewhere throughout the world.

I am going to have to agree with Galen on quite a few points here but having said that, everyone should understand that what is considered ethical in one part of this Country, might be against the law in another state.

East coast hunting as opposed to west coast hunting comes immediately to mind.
The dense underbrush on the east coast makes it nearly impossible to walk around and spot and stalk. So a tree stand over a baited area hunting is considered ethical and of the norm.

Here on the west coast baiting is illegal while the terrain is well suited for spotting and stalking because of the (sometimes miles) of open range land we have here.

But, do we point fingers at an individual on the east coast and call him/her unethical because of their preferred method of Blind or Stand hunting over a baited area ? of course we don't!

And likewise, the mid-west hunters still have plenty of open space areas that are loaded with wild game, whereas here on the west coast, land closures and a dense population of people (which brings along lots of poaching for sustenance with that amount of individuals packed in here).
And you have an entirely different mindset when it comes to what is believed to be fair chase due to wild game animals being few and far between.

I could talk about Texas and how almost 98% of the land is privately held, or South Africa where you can't legally hunt the open plains anymore and can only hunt the High Fenced areas, and on and on.

Also, we hear a lot about what should be a legal minimum to the amount of acreage that a high fence hunt operation should be.
Well the fact of the matter is that 1000 acres of California Mountainous land is just about equal to 10,000 acres of Texas flatland as far as actual milage is concerned.
So a blanket set of ethics just simply will not work for Texans and Californians alike.
Get what I am saying so far?

I like what you yourself stated Galen when you said: That Invisible Arm Tugging At Your Shirt Sleeve should be the guiding factor concerning your own personal set of ethics.


Dang, Galen--Longtime!

Just learned about your forays into blogging through my new hunting buddy, Hank Shaw's girlfriend's blog:

Thought you'd be back in Afghanistan with all this new ramp up! ;)

My agent in NYC is pushing the Central America followup to my Vietnam prison memoir you reviewed back in 2004: "The Bamboo Chest" (would like to get a scan of that review if you still have it)...did you read Kokalis's comment about the FMLN Justice/Public Safety Minister for El Sal in the latest SOF? Friggen unbelievable--we should've gotten that guy after his unit murdered those US Embassy Marines at Zona Rosa!

Drop a line when you get a chance with your new tel and let's chat....yes, I'm back in the outdoor writing again...I just can't seem to get away, LOL!: Yea, it's in the Wordpress world of blogs.

Keep up the great work!

Semper Fi,


Got so excited about seeing your blog, Galen, I missed my response...

Do we need to hunt for food? No.

Anyone who actually hunts and doesn't poach or live in remote areas of Alaska and Canada, doesn't have to hunt to feed themselves. Anyone who travels in a vehicle to hunt can tell you it's much cheaper to buy meat in a market.

In a long conversation with Dr. Randall Eaton this morning about hunting, we both agreed that for food we don't have to hunt: but for our mind and spirit we do!

You might recall in the epilogue of my memoir, that hunting in Alaska, and learning and living with the local indigenous, was what helped me deal with memories of death and war from Central America.

As some tribes say, "He/She who hunts, actually hunts themselves". Hunting involves an honest looking within at our own mortality, how everything relies on death to feed, and how everything we do effects everything else.

That said, I'm not saying everyone should hunt. Can you imagine the present world, with the number of people on it, if we no longer farmed and ranched, and only hunted, fished and foraged for our sustenance?

The world would be completely denuded: or looking like your average game and goods-devoid BLM property in California!

Can hunters carry on ethic hunting, even with a penned in operation or raised birds? In contrast to the 99 percent comment by NorCalCazadora, it's actually 10-20 percent mortality of released birds when the birds aren't fed by human hands when the birds are raised to be released for longevity of the species in an area as is available at places that have agreements with DFG: Here's a column I did, when I took Holly's boyfriend hunting for pheasants with me and my new Brittany at one such places, the Stockton's Sportsmen's Club:

Hatchery raised game and fish is very important asset to enabling many to hunt and fish--Better that than the 63 percent of incidental kills of wild fish that occur during catch-and-release, by anglers who have 90 fish a day trips down a wild river thinking they're not harming the population...Better the angler just caught one, preferably a hatchey fish, and left river alone, or just stayed to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells, instead of continuing to fish non-stop hooking and unhooking fish, spending their lifesaving energy in a "good fight".

Those raised birds by the wya, quickly learn how to run instead of jump to wing like any wisened wild bird. Were the birds planted? Yes. Was it fairchase? Yes!

They could have easily gotten away. They weren't accustomed to humans and so were extremely wary and making their way out of our harm. Some were smart enough to even hold tight. The last one of the birds got was by Hank Shaw over my Brit, Ziggy, and it was only 100 yards from the parking lot, meaning the firing line had passed over the area, twice!

And how did the pheasant taste? Check out how tasty it was with Culinary expert Shaw's column on prickly pears:

We hunt, and if we're lucky, we get something, and if we're even more fortunate, we get the opportunity to do that being's death a proper justice and respect by preparing it in a way that reminds us through its great taste what it offered its life for.

I'm preparing to do an article for a magazine on the healing qualities of hunting. One of the most important parts of that is that unlike killing our own species, as we do in WAR, whose main objective is gaining land, property and thinning another nation's population; HUNTING takes another species and provides its sustenance, far beyond the protein and vitamins that farmed animals can provide, to us for our personal and our society's enrichment. By hunting, even the memories and resulting PTS can be healed from war...lik a reprinting across the pscyche.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Hey Cork, where'd you get that 10-20% mortality figure on planted birds? I'd love to read more about that. At pretty much every planted bird hunt I've done I've asked about this and I always get the same answer: Most of 'em get killed pronto. If there are actual studies on this, I'd love to see them!


Hey, Holly --
Sure, call up the Stockton Sportmen's Club

And, they'll give you the present DFG liaison working with the club: I wish more clubs had the same program...they really do a lot!

I think you'll find that it's how you raise the birds that leads to the best survival rates. From what you've written, you seem to have been hunting clubs that only cater to the "put and shoot" crowd: this would be something like Bird's Landing where I go to fill up the freezer and keep my pointer nose tuned as the last opportunity of the year (I asked Hank if he can make it, hopefully his Achilles will be healed by then): The club can't afford to keep those birds a whole off season, and as you say, they'll get eaten by a fox in day or two.

These "put and shoot" places feed the birds by hand their whole lives in the pen and that leads to very fat birds too accustomed to humans.

I've been hunting in California since 1977, and writing about it as a newspaper columnist and magazine feature writer since 1994, doing my best to keep up on the latest practices that improve the hunting opportunities in this state...but sadly, I think the ever-increasing population that this state draws is just too much for the natural resources.

I've resisted what Michael Riddle told me about "pay to play", but I've come to accept that that's where we're headed: just like Europe. As a result, that might be the only way a number of species will survive our human population numbers. Like Ted Turner, I like to say: "If it pays, it stays", i.e. the American bison, in amazing numbers because of companies like Whole Earth bring attention to the meat's great qualities.

Sometimes, though, DFG actually gets to spend its money appropriately: You should have seen the pheasant opportunities available at Grizzly Island when they did the same co-op planting with a number of local bird farms during the 1980s. Alas, they don't do that anymore, and it's evident at what the "wild only" hunts at Grizzly are these days. A lot of those planted birds survived and their genes are still in the pheasant population at Grizzly Island.

Even now, back in pheasant heaven (Kansas/South Dakota) they've taken to rearing pheasants to augment the resident wild populations.

As a final note, the writer and editors at Gamebird Mag are a wealth of information on this controversial topic:

Here is the report most often used to come up with the 8% +- 2% survival rate of pen-raised birds: Those birds were raised in the traditional "put and shoot" manner, like a farmer going out and feeding them like chickens, actually conditioning them to not be afraid of humans, at least until/if they survive a shotgun raised at them. Also of note is that it's 8% in relation to 55% survival rates in wild birds.

The best way to improve populations, with regards to pen-raised birds is the Surrogator, which is what is similar to what's done at Stockton's Sportsmen's Club, but on a micro level:

The key is to nurture the survival instincts innate to birds, and release them with the least amount of human interaction.

Let me know if I can help you with anymore information.


Anonymous said...

Hello from NZ,

I'd just like to add that I don't believe any fence hunt can be fair chase. I have captured wild Red deer and put them behind a wire (not for hunting) and can tell you that within a very short time they lose a good part of their natural fear of humans. I agree with Holly's comments; "How can a pen-raised bird employ a nature that it has been stripped of?"

It can't! It's not the same as a wild bird or wild deer, no matter if the deer eventually runs when you approach. Simple.

We should not be afraid of acknowleding this as hunters. If it means less people can hunt, that's a population / demand / habitat / management problem. It's not a hunting problem.

native said...

I would have to agree with you in that it does change the dynamic considerably when hunting behind a High Fence.

The animals do become accustomed to close proximity with humans, but do not be fooled by the placid appearance of these animals in the slightest. They are, for all intents and purposes wild and very dangerous.
My dogs and my very own self have the scars to prove that statement!

My experience over the last 6 years owning a 1000 acre high fence exotic section to one of my ranches, is that after being shot at and missed only once, then that particular animal becomes very wise to a hunters presence.

And although that animal will not run away when the daily ranch vehicles come by to do their chores, the very second that vehicle stops and turns the engine off, the animals disappear very quickly.

Another interesting thing which I have discovered through observation is that when a wise animal like the aforementioned I just described, breed's.
The offspring follow the parents behavior patterns (genetics also play an important role in this as well) and quickly develop the same habit of acting more like a true wild animal will.

I am by no stretch of the imagination implying that a high fence hunt is the same as a true wild and open range hunt.
But it can, within a few breeding seasons be a somewhat similar experience.