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Valley Hunting

Ethics of hunting often difficult to discuss among family, friends

Jeff Gambill/Tribune-Star

September 19, 2004

A couple of years ago I wrote a column about the ethics of hunting and how the general public perceives hunting. The column was about the student responses I receive on an essay assignment I give in connection with Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game." The question I give my students is if they think hunting is necessary and ethical. This year some of my students have a rather dim view of hunting.

As a teacher, it is not my job to sway opinions; my job is to see that students use structure, proper mechanics, and compelling arguments in their persuasive essays, and although it is hard to be objective, some of my anti-hunting students wrote papers worthy of As. I don't give opinions to my students on things such as politics, religion, or any other topic that is controversial. To me that wouldn't be ethical, but as an outdoor columnist, it is my prerogative to give my opinion on hunting.

I'm sure that many of you who read my column have been confronted in the work place and among family and friends on the issue of hunting. It is an emotional issue that is difficult to discuss with anti-hunters without flaring tempers or name calling, so what do we do as outdoorsmen when confronted with the question, "How can you slaughter innocent animals?"

First of all, we need to keep our image clean. The hunter has been portrayed in movies and the media as a boorish, uneducated, egomaniacal clod. Some people view hunters as the "Elmer Fudds" of society, and the image of all hunters suffer because a very small minority of "hunters," who I call slobs, choose to trespass, poach, and litter.

The fact is most hunters are conservationists interested in being a part of nature. They are people who understand how wildlife survives and that hunting is part of nature's cycle. Hunters use the meat and fur from game as a source of food and income. Most hunters are fit, intelligent people who care deeply about their family, friends, and the preservation of wildlife.

The most important argument is that if it weren't for hunting, fishing, and trapping, there would be virtually no protected wildlife, state parks, forests, or lakes. Hunting, fishing and trapping are vital to protecting the ecological balance that exists in our modern world. The money made from taxes on sporting goods, license fees, and user fees all go to the preservation of wildlife and conservation. Hunting provides a steady flow of millions of dollars to the Department of Natural Resources. This money is used to buy land, manage state parks, enforce laws, and preserve and protect wildlife.

Anti-hunters argue that hunting should not exist because it is cruel. Yes, hunting can be cruel, but isn't it crueler for animals to die a slow agonizing death from disease and starvation brought on by overpopulation? What about a deer that grows old and then is dragged down by a pack of coyotes and eaten alive, or the young turkey poult attacked and torn apart by an owl, for when it comes to cruelty in nature, the bullet or arrow of the hunter is the least cruel of all deaths.

What we have to do when defending our hunting rights is to make sure our actions fall within the laws and ethics of hunting. Also, we need to remember that most anti-hunters are generally kind-hearted people who don't understand what nature would be like if it weren't for game management. Most anti-hunters think wild animals are cute, cuddly creatures that lead idyllic lives found in Disney movies. This image is out of touch with reality and in touch with what is on television or is produced by Hollywood. The fact is that wild animals face death and cruelty on a daily basis from starvation, weather, disease, and predation. Ironically, anti-hunting groups do more harm than good. If hunting rights were taken away, conservation and game management would disappear, and overpopulation, starvation, and disease would be out of control.

The Brown County State Park hunts are perfect examples of how hunting can be used as a tool to manage wildlife. Since the deer in Brown County State Park were not hunted, they soon became overpopulated. All the undergrowth, saplings, and small plants disappeared because of over browsing. The deer herd in Brown County was on the verge of starving to death. Hunters were then allowed to thin the herd through a weekend hunt where the park would be closed to visitors. Anti-hunting groups demonstrated against this practice, but if it wasn't for the controlled hunt, the effects of starvation, disease, and overpopulation would have been horrible. Today these controlled hunts have been successful in stabilizing deer herds in state parks across the state.

The bottom line is that through legal hunting, the balance of nature is protected from human society and the effects of industrialization. Hunting isn't the killing of animals; it is an essential part of the ecological chain that preserves nature itself.

As we hunters begin another season, let's be thankful for what we have, respectful to the land and nature, and remember that our actions speak louder than our words.

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