Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the role of physical effort in hunting

I've wrestled with the idea that in order to have had a truly successful hunt there should be a element of physical effort. Something about getting up late, driving to a blind, having a guide set the decoys, using his dogs for the retrieve and having him dress the game while the hunter enjoys a prepared meal in the lodge, is disquieting to me. I did this type hunt once (except we did get up at O dark thirty) and it was nice - but it was missing something. We did get ducks, but I find when I tell about this hunt in Texas, I mainly talk about the guide and how he was so intent on having us kill ducks he added way more stress into the hunt than I like.
As a student of Theodore Roosevelt, I'm influenced by his consept of muscular Christianity and how he applied physical activity and hardship to hunting. I found the following postscript This essay about Art in Pursuit
Gaston Phoebus’s 14th century hunting manual which appeared first in The Weekly Standard on June 2, 2008, by Maureen Mullarkey interesting:

"Edward of Norwich, Duke of York, later to die at Agincourt, translated Phoebus’s manual into English, under the title The Master of Game. Theodore Roosevelt, writing from the White House, introduced the 1909 reprint edition with praise for the great medieval lords as “mighty men with their hands and terrible in battle” as well as cultivated statesmen. At the same time, he lamented the eventual deterioration of the hunt into destructive obsession and a riskless “parody of the stern hunting life.” He reserved his highest admiration for the roving hunter who penetrates the wilderness with simple equipment and shifts for himself."

As with many fair chase issues, what is strenuous for one person may be easy for another. In my thinking it is the stretch both physically and mentally that makes for a memorable and satisfying hunt. What is nice with the physical side is you don't have to have a kill to prove you worked hard.

Read more about "The Master of Game"


  1. Eric,
    here's where the notion of play/game/contest/sport really helps. What makes hunting a sport is its physical aspect--but that does not necessarily require that the physical aspect has to be strenuous per se. The hand-to-eye coordination in good shooting, as well as the breathing discipline needed to hold a gun steady, is the primary physical aspect of hunting understood as a shooting sport. Other forms of gun hunting simply add more layers of physicality to that fundamental (or "necessary and sufficient") feature.

    In this sense we can see that even more "passive" forms of stand hunting (from tree stands, ground blinds, duck blinds, etc.) have the basic physical requirement of being a sport. I think it's really difficult to make the argument that such hunting is necessarily strenuous: duck hunting for example can sometimes be a completely sit-there-and-wait-for-it-to-happen (sorry Holly!), same as a lot of different types of deer hunting (i.e., not everyone stalks their deer).

    But I have a hard time saying that these activities are not "true hunting" because they are not physically strenuous. It would be a very difficult thing to try and "mandate" that hunting be strenuous, either through peer pressure among hunters or by a written code of some kind.

  2. I'm not thinking of any kind of mandate. For me just sitting still for hours is a lot harder than walking.

  3. Jim and Eric,
    My complaint is not about hunting from blinds or hides but from blinds or hides where the deer trophy deer are lured into range by feeding stations or plots that are guarenteed to attract every deer in the area.
    Hunting should not be shopping, whether you are hunting for a feral hog or trophy deer. How close are we to making the hunting experience a shopping experience?

  4. Galen,
    I've been trying to find the Leopold quote where he talks about the wildness of the hunt is directly proportional to the satisfaction of the hunt. The goal of organizations like Orion is to open hunters eyes to what hunting could be, to increase their experience while benefiting wildlife and wild places.
    I agree the high fence operations that lure the semi-domestic animals in with a feeder or food plot and then sell the shooter an animal seems to me to be over the line. If folks want to do it fine - but don't call it hunting. The insignificant amount of skill needed and the remote chance the animal will escape removes this activity from sport and squarely into the realm of agricultural harvest.

  5. Galen, I think you arrive at the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons.

    "My complaint is not about hunting from blinds or hides but from blinds or hides where the deer trophy deer are lured into range by feeding stations or plots that are guaranteed to attract every deer in the area."

    The logic here--where x is lured into range by y which ensures z--applies to many other hunting activities. And "z" in this case represents the presence of game.

    We use decoys, calls, bait, feed plots, etc. all the time to guarantee (or at least increase the probability of) the presence of game.

    Ducks are lured into range by decoys which guarantees shooting opportunities. Try duck hunting without decoys/calls.

    Turkeys are lured into range by calls which guarantees at least a chance at shooting a gobbler.

    Bears can be lured into range with bait which serves as an attractant. Guaranteed kill? no, but the odds are certainly a helluva lot better.

    My point is that it cannot be the attractant as such which is the source of the moral problem.

    Something else has to be what offends us. What is it?

    Is it "the guarantee" part of high-fence advertising? Is it the semi-domesticated tameness of high-fence animals? What is it?

    I'm a grouse hunter. I personally have a hard time traveling to places like Maine or nothern Ontario where the grouse are so tame--so semi-domesticated--that they have to be kicked to fly. I prefer my grouse somewhat more wild. But should hunting of such "tame" wildlife be illegal? Should my preference be law?

    Driving to Maine or Ontario to grouse hunt is almost a "guarantee" of a grouse kill. Grouse populations in these places are high and the birds are dumb. Should I stay home in New York where there's probably less than one bird per square mile, or should I be allowed to drive to where birds are more plentiful? Maybe hunting by non-resident hunters in Maine or Ontario should be made illegal, because obviously out-of-state hunters are simply trying to cut corners and avoid the hard work of "hunting" the "wild" birds where they live.

    I'll cut to the chase. I think it's the aesthetics of high-fence hunting that offends us. I think that's fine, but I think that we should be honest about the source of our disgust.

    "Hunting should not be shopping, whether you are hunting for a feral hog or trophy deer. How close are we to making the hunting experience a shopping experience?"

    Well, when I'm an out-of-state resident travelling to Michigan or wherever to hunt grouse, the primary reason I spend the time, money, and effort to do so is because traveling increases the likelihood that I will experience the "z" above--the presence of game.

    Grouse hunting in Michigan or Wisconsin (or Maine and Ontario) thus becomes much more like "shopping" to me, as opposed to the exercise in futility grouse hunting tends to be in New York, Pennsylvania, or farther south in the Appalachian chain.

    I go to Wisconsin to hunt birds because they are easier to hunt there. I am guaranteed (yes, "guaranteed") better success. In some respects, I am taking the easy way out by going to where the game is more numerous. I am letting gasoline substitute for my own personal shoe leather.

    Does this make me unethical? Or just aesthetically offensive?

    What is it about high-fence or feeding stations or tame trophy deer that bothers us, specifically?


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