Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Competitive Hunting--BARF!

I just watched an episode of Drury Outdoors’ “Dream Season, Redemption” and I came away from the television with exactly the same sense of revulsion that I came away with the first time I tried to watch a Drury Outdoors segment. The company executives may have convinced themselves that they have “revolutionized” outdoor programming but I believe the only thing they are doing is chain handing anti-hunting ammunition to the anti-community.

I want to give you a good understanding of why I reacted so strongly to this program.

First, here are some of my hunting values that relate to this issue:
1. I support ethical trophy hunting. Long ago wildlife biologists convinced me that trophy hunting is a form of predation that removes older bucks and bulls thus allowing their progeny to strengthen the gene pool.
2. I support scoring trophy deer and I support the B&C, Safari Club and other trophy scoring programs. They provide a system of ranking the animal against other animals—not against hunters. Scoring can be for a “found” trophy or one taken by a hunter.
3. I enjoy looking at mounts of trophy deer (and other animals) and both my home and office are adorned with the mounts of big game that I have taken here and in Africa.

But, I can’t buy into the idea of teams of hunters heading into the country for the purpose of shooting deer or other big animals for “points” in a television program. Hunting is not about “points” between competing teams of hunters. The competition, if there is going to be one, is between the hunter and his quarry. Can the hunter overcome the terrain and all the other elements that nature can muster to stop the hunter? I believe this is why the trophy becomes something of importance—the hunter has overcome nature’s obstacles to kill that animal (not harvest, that’s what the biologists do--manage the harvest).

There have been animals I have hunted and the animal won—a lion, a kudu and a magnificent mule deer, all beat me and I am just as proud of those hunts as those when I was successful. As for those store run local big buck contests, I’ve seen and heard of more complaining than compliments and often jealousy among winners and losers in these contests has broken up friendships. Sometimes, when the prize is substantial (which is always a relative term) there have been allegations of cheating that has led to fights, threats and even criminal charges. Contests rarely work and often it is a case of “is the book worth the candle?” when considering a big buck contest.

When I switched off the television this evening I had to think about what I’d watched. The massive deer taken by Bonnie McFerrin, which is supposed to be the largest deer ever killed by a woman hunter in Texas, was fantastic. When I first switched the set on it was right in the middle of her hunt sequence and the deer was crossing in front of her stand. The shot of her hitting the deer with an arrow was excellent photography. In fact, everything about the sequence was well done and I was pleased for her—until I found out that the “score” was for a competitive hunt and at that point I became disgusted. What had been a magnificent trophy became a scorecard, no different than the NFL scoreboard on Sunday afternoon.

My revulsion to competition in hunting is not new. It is rooted in the work of one of our most important authors—Ernest Hemingway. He was an incredibly competitive hunter who was constantly comparing the size of the trophies he killed with those of others on the hunts. He was apparently equally competitive whether shooting pigeons in Cuba, pheasants in Idaho or lions in Africa. But he did recognize one fact about his competitive nature—it was destructive. When he wrote Green Hills of Africa Hemingway’s obsession with being competitive becomes a poison in the camp that taints his hunting and it is a foundational part of the book. An excellent examination of this is the critical study: Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa As Evolutionary Narrative: Helix and Scimitar by Bredahl and Drake. The authors break the novel down so the destructive nature of the competition on the hunt is clearly understood whether you are an academic or just the average reader interested in learning more about Hemingway’s writing.

I first read Hemingway’s “Green Hills” when I was in what is now Middle School. My father bought me a copy and surprisingly I managed to recognize some of the tension brought about by the competition. Still, I was passionate about the book and it led me to Ruark and many other writers, but the sense of the competition having cast a pall over the hunt stayed with me and I do remember talking with my favorite English teacher (she is also responsible for my becoming a writer) about the book. As I came to understand more of the internal issues of that book (and Hemingway) it generated a guiding principle for me about hunting that has stayed with me—when competition is introduced to the hunt, no matter how good natured the competition may first be—it will create a poison.

Some people in the broadcasting side of our industry may have convinced themselves that competitive hunting programs are good for hunting but I do not agree. Competitive hunting will lead to nothing but problems and poison in the outdoor industry. Those individuals at Drury and The Outdoor Channel may have the First Amendment on their side but they don’t have the welfare of the future of hunting on their minds—all they seem to hear is the clink of silver.

Does anyone agree with me?


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Roadside Scavenger Meat Mart

I guess winter is mostly over. I’ve got a couple of patches of snow in my yard but they should be gone by Wednesday morning. Now, if nature is just a little cooperative, by the end of the weekend I’ll have my garage and office roof shingled! With that finished just a little touch up paint and a couple of other odds-n-ends and the garage is finished. Okay, I am a slow worker, but it does get done-eventually.

Wife M and I were driving to Grand Forks the other day and just as we left town we passed a bald eagle that was feeding on a deer’s carcass. The bird looked majestic, even if it was ripping the rotting meat out of a deer that had been killed sometime in the winter. On the way into Grand Forks we passed several other decaying carcasses and I started wondering how long it would take for those scavenger roadside meat marts to be cleaned up. A couple of years ago, when I was still driving into Grand Forks several times a week, I watched the road kills decay and be cleaned up by the scavengers—everything from coyotes to eagles got something to eat.

Thinking about that eagle got me to thinking about a deer hunt I was on too many years ago. It was during the time I was running the annual hunting camps for Soldier of Fortune magazine. I would set up camp for the early seasons and invite friends and family to come up and hunt the area before the SOF people, staffers and guests, arrived. On one hunt the early season guests included the outdoor writer Glenn Titus and his wife. Chas was also there and my brother Richard and his son, Terry. The hunting was hard with steep canyons that we had to hike up and down each day. One day Glenn’s wife shot at a deer and while she was sure she’d hit it Glenn couldn’t find any blood trail. The deer’s trail was easy to follow and they were able to follow it into the canyon. They didn’t stop trailing the deer until the canyon became too steep and deep for a practical follow-up. That night, around the campfire, I asked Glenn if he felt bad about not being able to find the deer.

“I feel sorry for my wife,” Glenn explained, “because it was a really good deer, one of those trophies you don’t find very often. But as for the deer, nature will not let it go to waste.”

I’ve often thought about Glenn’s comment—nature will not let it go to waste. He was a trained biologist and had worked for the Oklahoma Fish and Game Department. I always looked up to Glenn and respected his opinions. In the decades since then I have lost the trail of deer both I and my clients had wounded, but eventually I had to give up. Sometimes the trail just disappears.

Ethically we have a responsibility to the deer, to every animal we hunt, to make every effort to recover any game we wound. But how much should we beat ourselves up when we lose an animal? Over the years I’ve lost my share of game, sometimes even Cookie hasn’t been able to find a bird that went down as a cripple. Personally, I think we’ve created a false sense of how much we should beat ourselves up over a cripple or wounded animal. Absolutely, it is always important we make every reasonable effort to recover the animal but at what point do we say “I’ve tried” and go on with our hunt?

Is there a line in the sand? Should a hunter put their lives at risk to recover a wounded animal? Should bird hunters expend so much of their dog’s energy that it could endanger the dog’s ability to make a long retrieve later in the day, either in the water or over the land? Dogs do drown or have heart attacks because they have become exhausted. I have called Cookie off lost birds, even putting her back on a leash to move her away from where the bird had been lost.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Memories of Us and The Success of Failure

I can now see the bottom of my boat. That’s really not such a big deal since the bottom of the boat is a jumbled mess of the floatation stuff waiting to be put into place before I put the decking in, then the rest of the stuff for the inside, then finish sanding, then painting. Yeah, you get the idea. My boat is far from finished. But this year I intend to finish her and put her back in the water and spend time on the lake fishing—and writing.

In my redesign and custom remodeling of my 14 ½ foot StarCraft I’ve changed the cabin area around to accommodate “me.” At one time I thought it had to accommodate others. You know, guests, then I decided that it is time I thought about me and what I wanted. So, my customizing of my 60’s era boat has been to fit my wants and needs.

I haven’t really been this fired up about finishing the boat in more than a year, in fact, last summer I barely touched her. That’s not a good idea, because the longer something like a boat sits neglected the more it can degrade and even though she’s an aluminum boat and just a small pleasure boat, I’ve put a lot of work into her to let her develop decay problems. Besides, I’m going to enjoy taking her out and showing off her remodeling. Every little decay that I've allowed in the past year must be repaired before she can go out.

Neglecting a boat is kind of like neglecting the outdoors. Have you ever noticed that when your hunting or fishing partner is gone, whether they’ve moved away, passed on, or can no longer hunt or fish, that it is sometimes hard to get back into the swing of going fishing or hunting? We are social and even things like hunting, which are actually individual actions, we often do in pairs or groups of three or more. There’s also a hierarchy in our hunting camps and though it may not be formally recognized it exists. That is just all part of who we are as humans. We like to share our times, good and bad, with someone else and we like them structured. There are some hunters who share their hunting time with their spouse or significant other. With some of us it is a best friend, or even group of special friends. But most of us do socialize our hunting and fishing.

Whenever there is this talk about sharing the experience and so forth many of us insist that hunting is all about the experience of being outdoors or the sharing. Ortega pointed out that the act of hunting was not complete without the kill. That flies in conflict with the "experience only" belief--doesn't it? The kids I wrote about in my previous post exhibited a need to celebrate their success and share the triumph--all of us do that to one degree or another. But if we want to believe that hunting is about the experience then exactly what is the experience? Is the experience the stalk, the decoys, the morning, the after hunt campfire? Truth is that hunting is all of this and none of this. Hunting is “us” as in what we make of it. Hunting should not be specifically defined as the formal act of stalking and killing a deer or decoying in a duck and killing it. Hunting is defined as how the individual hunter acts out those actions and how the result of that action by the hunter is felt by the hunter and others. The more depth we, as the individual, bring to the table of the hunt the greater the depth of the experience of the hunt is going to be—whether we are sharing that hunt with another or wrapping it up in our own blanket of memories.

The same is true for my boat, “The Olena.” She has waited patiently for me to finish sanding and then painting her hull. For three winters her cabin area has filled with snow and I’ve thought of how “I” want her to be for “me.” I haven’t much changed my thinking about her because most of the time that I will be taking her out to the surrounding lakes I will be alone and I don't mind, it will give me the opportunity to write and maybe catch a fish and also to realize that greatest commodity--to “think.” Maybe about what I want to write or just about the shape of the clouds. They have equal importance on a lazy afternoon.

Suddenly, however, time has become important for me and I want to begin filling The Olena's cabin with memories. Good memories and deep memories. Of friends, grandkids and other family.

In the final analysis isn’t that what most of us want from our hunting experience? Deep memories that we cherish and share with others we believe are worthy of the sharing? We don’t share that perfect going away shot at the last pheasant of the season with just anyone—we share it with someone of importance. They have to be someone who will understand that both the triumph of the clean kill and the failure of a clean miss have equal value in our lives as hunters. Tell me, in what other human activity is failure actually success?

Think about it. glg

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just a Thought

The flood waters are retreating and there is a hint of the countryside drying out. Of course we could have another storm or two between now and the end of April but I suspect they will be rain, which is fine with me. I’ve had enough of winter. My snow blower worked, it plowed nice canyons that were the walkways between my office, the driveway, the sidewalks and the house. I’m pleased with it.

Something else is happening—the geese are back. A skein of geese flew over yesterday afternoon and I happened to look at the kennel to see Cookie watching the birds. I think she truly does live for the birds. She knows when we should be going hunting and her entire manner changes with the hunting season. I guess she pumps herself up for the season so that by the time I pick up my shotgun she is primed for the hunt. I don’t know if it is the change in weather, the length of the day or if she can smell the birds in nearby fields—and the nearest field with grouse is less than a mile from my house. I’ve never hunted that field, leaving it for the local kids who like to tramp through it in the fall.

I was watching some kids hunt that field last fall. They seemed to have a really great lock on what they were doing. They circled the slough, two boys on each side, and continued up the CRP grass. In my mind I could see the sharptails running before them. Maybe if I had offered to let Cookie hunt for them she would have pinned the birds before the crest. I didn’t, though. I watched and sure enough, as they neared the crest of the hill several grouse flushed and the four shotguns all barked. One grouse did fall and the boy who shot it ran wildly to pick up his bird then held it triumphantly for his buddies to admire. Aren’t we all like that? Shouldn’t we be like that? He was totally unencumbered by the trappings of spiritual quest, connection, in or out of nature and the hunt’s salvation of civilization. He and his buddies were having a good time. Nothing else mattered. Too bad they will all grow up. glg

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thinking Again--Our Legacy's Future

I’ve been working on the current issue of my literary journal for the outdoor sports media/industry, The Pines Review.” The assembly, production and final editing all went according to plan, although a bit late, but the distribution was somewhat stymied by a variety of data problems. The most troublesome was the loss of a significant portion of my reader data base. I’m getting it back together and entered into my computer and I hope that by the time the next issue goes out (May) most of the little problems will be solved and everything will run much smoother.

I’ve also had other issues to deal with, one has been getting a year older. That’s fine with me; I truly don’t mind the passing of time. I also really appreciate all the “Happy Birthday” notes I received, here, by email and snail mail. I look forward to the day when I “pass the outdoor torch” to my grandchildren and I can step aside to let them inherit the outdoors. But then I wondered to myself, “What will be there for them?” “Will we have lost the struggle to preserve our fishing and hunting heritage?”

When I grapple with any question I try to pin down what I am trying to dig out; an answer to a historical or scientific question, or I am looking into some philosophical point. My mind begins to focus and I begin my search and soon enough I find myself buried at my desk with books, notes, clips of essays and articles and a small mound of printouts from various online sources. I emerge from this plunge into the research of questions only for meals, chores and bed (usually late). When I am satisfied with my work I’ve usually got a new collection of thoughts written in my journals. Sometimes I write in my battered Moleskien™ journal that is now held together with duct tape. (It is nearly full.) (My daughter sent me a leather bound, hand-sewn journal that is targeted for specific notes.) On other occasions I type directly into my computer journal. (Years of this sort of research have given me a collection of notebooks of all sizes that are filled with that—notes and thoughts.) The notes I made from books, phone calls, and newspaper and magazine clippings are semi-arranged in a folder along with copies of email conversations on the subject, and then the folder is filed in one of my filing cabinets. The print-outs and full-length copies of articles and essays from magazines, journals and online sources are put in appropriately labeled three-ring binders. As for the books I used, either ones I already had in my library or that I purchased, now have notes in the margins, passages underlined and a flowering of brightly colored Post-It™ notes. Somehow, out of this mishmash of my research, something emerges that I want to write. Maybe it will be polished and finished or maybe it will form the basis of another essay or find its way into some other writing project. The point is that when I ask myself a question I then look for an answer—if one exists.

If you are interested in what emerged from several weeks of this sort of brain activity (When I wasn’t writing a book review, working on The Pines Review, or on my next book.)—read on. You might find it thought provoking—or monumentally boring!

Thoughts on The Hunter’s Relationship to Nature’s “Why?” Question

We are all locked, I believe, in ideological warfare between two prime philosophical camps; one is rooted in the philosophy of “Man The Hunter” The other is rooted in the philosophy of “Man The Scavenger.”

I think in the most basic sense all of us are truly aware of this ideological struggle. It is commonly found in the rhetoric of Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the HSUS, whose philosophy is a child of Peter Singer’s utilitarian philosophy of equalizing all species. The HSUS, Animal Liberation Front, PETA and others that have sworn to have hunting (and fishing) banned, when they are candled, are found to be flawed. They are flawed in their premise (the white), their argument (the yoke) and their conclusions (the shell). People believe them because it is comfortable to believe that a harmonious, perfect world can be created by willing its existence. To do so they believe banning activities that are the fundamental prescription for human health and survival, and have been for millions of years, will re-define what is human and thus re-define what is nature.

Consider Ardipithecus ramidus, a recently discovered humanoid fossil that has been forcing a radical change in the belief that Lucy was the oldest human fossil. Neither Lucy nor Adri existed outside of their nature. If either of these pieces of evolutionary evidence was not providing researchers a closer, more defining understanding of the truth of humans within nature then Pacelle and his followers might find a more solid claim to our having evolved beyond hunting.
Our relationship to nature is more evolutionary complex than a statement of a collective “need” to define being human. Our relationship is deeply intertwined with a spiritual relationship that is identified by Dr. Eaton in his books--our relationship is defined by God, thus nature. There is nothing in the Pacelle/Singer/Regan writings that can define or give comprehension to that time when early humans emerged from the wilderness of simple survival to the dawn of questions and stood, clothed in fur, with a simple spear in hand and formed in their minds the two questions that drive humanity forward. “Why?” and “How?” Why is answered by God and nature while the “How?” is that which humans have been driven to answer.

“How?” is the question that has driven humans forward since the very dawn of cognitive thought emerged from instinct. How to be warm? How to find food to maintain life? How to protect the family from predators? The list is infinite.

Surrounding each individual since that dawn has been both the question and the answer to “Why?” which has always been “Because the universe is so.” And, if God made the universe then it is because God made it so. In this debate, whether one believes God is the maker of all, or the universe is all evolution’s product after the bang, the indisputable fact remains that humans are within nature and nature within humans. Hunting is within nature, hence within humans. Defining and understanding all of the variables of that truth is the study of “Why?”

Every value of “Why?” within that truth of nature serves to define each object that exists but no value can exist when an object being defined is removed from nature. When any object, animate or inanimate, is removed from nature it cannot be spiritual, it cannot possess good or bad, it can only exist without any relationship to define it--including a relationship to (with) God. I believe that removal is the failure of the anti-hunter philosophers, whether Singer, Pacelle, Steve Best or Tom Regan, and the others. For their arguments to be valid humans must be removed from nature but humans that are outside of nature cannot be spiritual, cannot be close to God, cannot have true relationships with others—which includes all things and actions, because it is only within nature that things exist and know each other. A proof of this is in the opening of a virtual universe. Before any virtual object can exist the virtual universe must be created and then from outside that virtual universe an object is created within that universe and it must grow and change—it evolves within its nature and all objects that it interacts with must also exist within that virtual nature or they cannot exist at all. If that object is given the virtual gene to hunt, as is common in RPGs, that object cannot deny it is a hunter.

Whenever I have read an argument against hunting, regardless of the basis for that argument, when I candle the argument against known truths the argument is always flawed. I do not maintain that every pro hunting argument is flawless—usually when the argument is dramatic for the sake of drama it will collapse of its own lack of supporting truths.

When I consider the inheritance I will leave behind I realize it must be a legacy of our standing firm against the philosophies that want us outside nature, because if we acquiesce to those philosophies we have placed limits on our survival. Humanity cannot maintain itself if it is outside of nature because it is, itself, of nature.

What do you think? Really!