Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why the Public Trust Doctrine is Important

Here is an excellent video from the Boone & Crockett Club on the Public Trust Doctrine. Historically the doctrine has been an important aspect of Orion's programmatic efforts: "Orion provides a forum to facilitate innovation and ideas and takes action to promote fair chase ethical hunting and address other hunting related issues; and through vigilance and advocacy to ensure the people's wildlife remain in the public trust."

I recommend that you take a few minutes to watch this important video and recommend it to your friends.

Boone and Crockett Country - The Public Trust Doctrine from Boone and Crockett Club on Vimeo.

Monday, December 17, 2012

When Silence Isn't Golden

In the still-developing national conversation about the complex issues raised by last Friday's mass murder in Newtown, CT, one constituency is oddly--I don't want to say ominously--silent: the National Rifle Association. As a long-time participant-observer in America's gun culture, I'm at a loss to account for this. Are they in some sort of denial? It's business as usual on their (very busy) web site, but their news feed carries nary a word about the school shootings. Why not? Why no acknowledgment of the story that has rightly captured the attention not simply of this nation but of the world? Why not even a note of sympathy or condolence? Inquiring minds, as they used to say, want to know. This one does, anyway.

I should make it clear where I stand re the NRA. I am not a member. I was, for a couple of years when I first started hunting and writing about it, but I dropped my membership for two reasons: One was Wayne LaPierre's notorious "jack-booted thugs" comment about Federal officers; I didn't want to belong to any organization that espoused that sort of inflammatory rhetoric. (I noted with some irony that former president George H.W. Bush cancelled his life-membership at the same time, for the same reason.) But my other reason was, actually, pro-NRA: Because on numerous occasions in various contexts I was called upon to write or speak about gun issues in which the NRA figured prominently, I reckoned I was on more solid ground on the occasions when I defended the NRA (and there were many) if I was not myself a member. I actually have a lot of friends who are NRA members. I am married to an NRA life member. I know these people are not the stereotypical gun nuts so often demonized by the Brady Bunch. I also know a lot of NRA members are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the organization.

The national Shooting Sports Foundation--headquartered in Newtown, a few miles from Sandy Hook school--immediately issued a simple statement:
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time."

Would it have been too much to ask for the NRA to do likewise?

Or does America's most powerful gun lobby figure it is above all that? Perhaps they figure it was enough to unleash board member Ted Nugent to tell the right-wing internet news site Newsmax on Sunday, in an "exclusive interview," that the real problem was that schools like Sandy Hook Elementary are gun-free zones. That the twenty 6- and 7- year- olds were killed because they were "forced into unarmed helplessness." Surely the NRA can come up with a better line than this.

Or maybe they cannot, at least not under their current leadership. Maybe this is the end of an era. And maybe that is a good thing.

Mary Zeiss Stange is the author of Woman the Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997), Gun Women (New York University Press, 2000), and most recently Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch (University of New Mexico Press, 2010). She also edited Heart Shots: Women Write about Hunting (Stackpole, 2003) and Stackpole Books' "Sisters of the Hunt" series of classic works about hunting by women, and has published widely on women's and environmental issues in both the commercial and academic press. A professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Skidmore College, she teaches in the gender studies, environmental studies and international affairs programs. She divides her time between her "town job" in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the bison ranch in southeastern Montana that she and her husband Doug share with six Peruvian horses, two Springer Spaniels, a tuxedo cat and various wildlife.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Killing treed bears: Rejecting hype to find out for myself

Hounds work to pick up the scent of a bear that had crossed a Forest
Service road in Tehama County, California.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012
By Holly A. Heyser

Three years ago, I had a pretty low opinion of hunting bears with hounds. Being a relatively new hunter, I wasn't yet aware that even in the hunting community, there was disdain for houndsmen. I just didn't like the idea of a hound hunt. I preferred - then and now - ambush over chase.

It wasn't just that aesthetic, though; the big stopper for me was the idea of shooting a helpless and frightened treed bear. I always put myself in the heads of the animals I am about to shoot, or have just shot, and the treed bear's perspective made me cringe.

So, how was it that I found myself shooting a 225-pound black bear out of a tree this Sunday? It started with the Humane Society of the United States' campaign against bear hunting in California.

A bear track on a Forest Service

© Holly A. Heyser 2012
In 2010, California's black bear population was continuing to grow, and there was an effort to increase the "quota" - the total number of bears that can be killed by hunters each year. That, of course, caught HSUS' attention, and it launched one of its emotionally laden, fact-deficient campaigns.

One word in particular set me off: "trophy." The HSUS California lobbyist was being quoted in newspapers all over the state referring to "the trophy hunting of bears."

Hmm. Most hunters I know would love to get a "trophy" animal of any species, but most are also just happy to be successful on a hunt - smaller animals are fine.

This was nothing less than the organization's usual strategy for picking low-hanging fruit: Public support for meat hunting is very high - 85 percent - while public support for trophy hunting is very low - 28 percent (source: Responsive Management, 2006). Most non-hunters I've met interpret "trophy hunting" as "not eating the meat." Say the word "trophy" and you can count on fanning hostile sentiment among non-hunters. (Here's what I wrote on the topic in my blog that year.)

There was another component to the Department of Fish & Game's proposal: allowing houndsmen to use GPS collars on their dogs, making them easier to track down. I ignored this, because I knew nothing about it and really didn't much care for the whole hound thing.

Neither proposal passed that year. One year later, DFG tried again to raise the quota, but dropped the GPS tracking collar issue. This effort, which I blogged about here, also failed.

Then this year, there was a big public relations disaster: The president of our Fish and Game Commission, Dan Richards, hunted a lion with hounds in Idaho and sent a photo to a weekly hook-and-bullet newspaper, Western Outdoor News. What he did was legal in Idaho, but Californians had banned all lion hunting here. HSUS fomented outrage, and tried to get Richards booted from the commission. (Here was my take on that.)

Closed-door politics defeated that effort, but the HSUS still wanted to demonstrate its power, so it decided to go after hunting with hounds, partnering with Southern California state Sen. Ted Lieu to introduce a bill that would ban hunting bears and bobcats (but not pigs) with hounds.

Two Plott hounds ride atop the box on the back of a pickup,
chained to the box for safety. The driver cruises Forest Service
roads slowly in hopes that the dogs will detect the scent of a
recent bear crossing - called a "strike," which the dogs will
signal with their signature bark.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012
By this time, I had already begun trying to learn more about hound hunting from friends - people I liked and respected - who were familiar with it. Before I started hunting, my view of hunters was that they had to be sick to get off on killing. But watching my boyfriend learn to hunt, then deciding to take it up myself, showed me how wrong I was. Could I also be wrong about hunting bears with hounds?

After remaining silent on hunting with hounds in the previous debates, I now leapt to the defense of houndsmen, because it was becoming clear they were being caricatured - another typical HSUS tactic - as lazy rednecks who kick back while dogs do all the work.

HSUS also really hyped the "terrified, treed bear" image, and I'd heard so many houndsmen reject that depiction, which had been the core of my concern, that I began to doubt my assumptions. More on that later.

I took a long hard look at how I hunted, or to be more exact, the nature of the deaths I caused. I came up with three kinds:

* Some were my own Holy Grail: instant deaths that they didn't see coming. One pig I have shot died instantly, and probably half of the birds I've shot did as well (some of which didn't see it coming, some of which did moments before the shot).

* Some were close to my ideal: quick deaths. They didn't die instantly, but because I had hit lungs, they had bled out and died within a minute. Three big-game animals I had shot went this way (none of them saw it coming), and maybe a third of the birds I've shot did as well (again, some saw it coming, but others didn't).

* Some were cringe-worthy deaths: poor shots that merely crippled, leading to suffering that would last until I finished the job. One pig I shot went this way (found him and finished him off within five minutes) and all the remaining birds did as well (most finished off quickly, but undoubtedly some got away - it's inevitable). I have chased lots of birds that were trying like hell to get away from me.

I despise the third category, yet I accept that it is an unavoidable facet of hunting: We cannot shoot perfectly all the time, which means invariably I will have to chase an animal before killing it. If I could accept that, why could I not accept shooting a treed bear? I decided I would go on such a hunt to gain some firsthand knowledge.

A houndsman waits with me on the road
while the rest of our hunting party follows
dogs working cold bear trail in steep

© Holly A. Heyser 2012
The hunt could be an entire story itself, but I'll just hit the key facts here: We hunted 10 hours the first day, slowly cruising Forest Service roads with hounds riding atop the vehicles in hopes that they would catch the scent of a bear that had crossed the road, or that we would see tracks of bears crossing the road. No fresh tracks, no "strikes" - which is what they call the hounds' reaction to a fresh scent.

We had hunted that way for maybe five hours on the second day when we stopped to check out some tracks that seemed  reasonably fresh. The scent was so cold that no one was sure the dogs would be able to follow it, but they did, and within about an hour we heard the barking that indicated they had treed the bear.

As we set out toward the cacophony, my empathy reaction kicked in: I imagined what that bear was experiencing at that moment. I wondered if I could go through with it. Then I remembered why I was there: I had already decided to kill a bear on a hunt with houndsmen. I wanted and needed meat from a big-game animal in my freezer. And I needed to know - really know - what it meant to kill a treed bear.

When we got there, it went down fast. From one position, I couldn't get a shot. I shifted to a better position, and the bear started coming down the tree. Here's the thing: Bears will stay in trees over barking dogs for hours, unconcerned about creatures that can't climb up to get them. Humans, on the other hand, are a real threat, and bears are willing to risk contact with the dogs to get away from us.

As she started making her way down fast, I put the crosshairs behind her shoulder and pulled the trigger. She fell dead.

Did I hate myself for killing her that way? No. I had the same reaction I always do: I was grateful I had made a good shot, in this case doubly so because a wounded bear is dangerous, whereas wounded ducks, pheasants and doves aren't. I was grateful that I would be bringing home a LOT of meat. And I was mindful that I had ended her life, which is always - ALWAYS - a serious event, regardless of whether the animal sees it coming.

This is me with the bear I killed Sunday.
Would I do this again? Yes. While the road-cruising was tedious, I admired the dogs' skill and the houndsmen's fitness, watching them clamber up and down hills that had me out of breath in 10 seconds. When I last saw them on Monday, they were preparing to head out to an area that would require brutal hiking - no road cruising - something they'd tried to spare me on my first bear hunt.

Also, I like bear meat, and this is an effective way to get it.

Sadly, though, I will not be doing this again, because the California Legislature passed that bill. Hunting bears with hounds will be illegal next year, and I have tagged out for this year's season.

We've lost something here in California, and I wonder how many hunters - laboring under the same knee-jerk reaction I'd had - don't even realize it. I'm just glad I took the time to get to know something I didn't understand before it was too late.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Artemis Abroad

There is an old Slovak proverb: “A goat, a birch and woman do not belong in the forest.”

Well. That proverb was tested—and trashed—by a conference I recently had the privilege of attending, in Bratislava, Slovakia on the theme “Women and Sustainable Hunting: Experience, Nowadays and Future.” The conference was organized by the Club of Slovak Ladies Hunters, under the auspices of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC—for Conseil International de la Chasse). An international gathering of female hunters on this scale was a first. Its goal was twofold: to bring together female hunters from a variety of national and cultural contexts, to compare their experiences and perspectives on sustainable hunting; and to celebrate the inauguration of “Artemis,” an international organization of women hunters established as a free-standing CIC working group. I was thrilled to be invited to bring a US perspective to what turned out to be a fascinating three days of presentations and conversation. And I was beyond thrilled when Sonja Sukepova, the  president of the Slovak Ladies Hunters Club and conference organizer, invited me to stay on for a couple of extra days, to hunt red deer, mouflon and wild boar with her and her family.
About sixty women attended the conference, fourteen of us presenters. All of the presenters aside from myself were from Scandinavia, central and eastern Europe, regions where hunting traditions and rituals run deep and where—as Tamas Marghescu, the CIC Director General put it in his introductory remarks—lady hunters have long, and unfortunately, been “looked at with a little bit of suspicion.” Sounds kind of familiar to American ears, that. However, when—after remarking that women are the “biggest growth sector” in hunting worldwide and that we may quite literally be the future of hunting—Tamas went on to say he was eagerly “looking forward to crispy innovations, to open the window wide for new, strong crisp wind and energy” in the hunting world . . .well, mild jet-lag be damned, I started feeling pretty downright crispy myself. And the ensuing days of formal and informal presentations and interactions with a surprisingly diverse group of outdoorswomen ranging in age from their twenties to their seventies, and in profession from academics and attorneys to museum curators and wildlife professionals, turned out to be a breath of fresh air indeed.
This was my first on-the-ground exposure to European hunting culture. And what is immediately striking is the depth to which hunting is a culture in and of itself there. As Marghescu put it, “Hunting is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle.” While many hunters on this side of the Atlantic might readily agree with that assertion, I think most Americans (the ones I’ve spoken with over the years, anyway) fail to grasp the essential role played by European customs that we often tend to write off as quaint “remnants” of an earlier time: the ritual of the hunting horn, the bit of grass or forage placed in the mouth of the freshly slain animal, the extensive artistic and crafts traditions relating to the hunt, the sartorial tradition of hunting clothing not simply for the field but for business and dressy occasions. Indeed, in the latter regard, this was the most fashionably turned-out hunting conference I’ve ever attended. Here is a group photo from the evening of the gala dinner, showing several women in traditional hunting formal wear (that’s yours truly in a standard American little black dress kneeling farthest to the left):
And by evening’s end, what were all these stylish women talking about? Guns and shooting. Calibers and loads, preferred rifle makes and models, favorite prey animals and the best methods and places to hunt them and ways to cook them, and other such ladylike topics!
There was another theme of conversation that grabbed me, that evening and throughout the three days we shared as a group: the idea that good hunting has a religious dimension. Now, this is a familiar idea to anyone who knows Yale sociologist Stephen Kellert’s groundbreaking work on hunter “types,” not to mention the work of writers like Richard Nelson, Gary Snyder, Ted Kerasote, Barry Lopez and others who have homed in on the idea that some kind of spirituality lies at the heart of hunting.  But, and not surprisingly given our own cultural history, there is invariably something deeply—dare I say ruggedly?—individualistic about American approaches to what Kellert developed in his “nature hunter” model.  By contrast, virtually every statement I heard about hunting from the women in Europe had a distinctly communitarian ring to it: hunting is not only a lifestyle, it is a communal way of life that people share intimately with one another, and that must be passed from one generation to the next. And it was generally agreed among the conference participants that more than ever before this matter of cultural transmission is women’s work. It is time, as Tibor Lebocky, head of the Slovak Hunter’s Chamber phrased it, to “build a new history for hunting in the future.” And this is what Artemis, the international women’s hunting club, hopes to be all about.
I was especially impressed by the way this communal emphasis played out in the various presentations on what women’s hunting clubs—and such clubs are far more common on the national and local levels in Europe than in the US—embrace as their primary activities and goals. Again and again, women from Norway and Denmark , Latvia and Russia, Italy and the Czech Republic and Hungary and Slovakia and Austria sounded common goals and described projects dedicated to achieving them. The goals had to do primarily with educating the non-hunting public about nature, wildlife conservation and sustainability: objectives that certainly rang true to my American ears.
But it was the array, and consistency across national boundaries, of methods for achieving these goals that struck me as refreshingly constructive and broadly forward-thinking.  While there were regional variations, every presenter stressed the following:
·         First and foremost, working with children. Several clubs already operate summer camps, for children ranging from kindergarten to their teens. There was consensus that these camps should be international in their make-up, to ensure cross-cultural communication as well as to instill awareness of and active participation in nature through numerous hands-on activities ranging from dog handling and photography to fishing, sport shooting and falconry.
·         Developing a media strategy to improve public perceptions of hunting. Interestingly, while the goal is to educate the public about the connection(s) between hunting and sustainability, the methods cited were largely—and I believe brilliantly—aesthetic rather than scientific: photography and documentary filmmaking competitions, art and jewelry exhibits, museum displays, concerts, game feasts.
·         Improving public opinion of hunting and hunters through philanthropic activities. Several speakers stressed the importance of charitable work—with the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised—as an essential piece of a broader consciousness about the hunter’s role in society.
Of course, these national and regional women’s hunting clubs also focused on hunter education and skills training in ways not dissimilar from the US’s “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman” (BOW) program. And they are in some cases facing the same barriers to women’s participation in outdoor sports as we do here: access to hunting areas, networking among women hunters and retention of hunters beyond the “novice” phase, overcoming cultural stereotypes about hunting as an “unfeminine” activity, and just plain finding the time as well as the places to hunt.  Additionally, in nearly every European context women form a smaller percentage of the hunting population than we do here in the States. But there, as here, female hunter numbers appear to be growing steadily.
And it struck me that these European women’s hunting clubs see their real work as beginning where BOW’s leaves off. Let me be clear here: This is in no way intended as a criticism of BOW, which I think is a terrific program, and which in fact I talked up in my own presentation on “American Dianas: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.” But BOW cannot do everything that needs to be done for women’s hunting in America. And, frankly, I don’t see too much else going on out there on this side of the Pond. Such women’s hunting clubs as we do have here and there tend to be very localized, and to focus on individualistic—at times “extreme”—hunting. Programs for women operated by the likes of SCI and the NRA are often costly and appeal to a relatively small niche of the female hunting population.  I really think we need to do more, and do better. And I think our European sisters have a lot of wisdom to share, in this regard. I’m looking forward to continuing, and sharing, those conversations . . . So, to be continued.
As to those two days of hunting in Slovakia—More on that to follow!

 Mary Zeiss Stange is the author of Woman the Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997), Gun Women (New York University Press, 2000), and most recently Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch (University of New Mexico Press, 2010). She also edited Heart Shots: Women Write about Hunting (Stackpole, 2003) and Stackpole Books' "Sisters of the Hunt" series of classic works about hunting by women, and has published widely on women's and environmental issues in both the commercial and academic press. A professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Skidmore College, she teaches in the gender studies, environmental studies and international affairs programs. She divides her time between her "town job" in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the bison ranch in southeastern Montana that she and her husband Doug share with six Peruvian horses, two Springer Spaniels, a tuxedo cat and various wildlife.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hunt writeup: In which the executive director of Orion gets overheated but finds himself in the right place at the right time

Had a good deer opener today.  Got out into the crow's nest at oh-dark-thirty this morning, and I was treated to a fawn parade for the first couple of hours.  First a single, then a pair, then another single, all going in different directions.  Finally at 9:30 I caught another glimpse of movement in the undergrowth, and before I knew it a good-sized buck was skipping through my window of opportunity . . .  but alas, he was moving too quickly and I didn't have the gun ready (I was glassing him with binoculars).  Sat there for a while and was kind of bummed out--I didn't see a buck all last season, so he was the first in two years.  Anyway.  One more fawn rounded out the action at 10 or so, and by 11am I was in the kitchen eating breakfast.

Because it's opening day, and because I saw that decent buck in the a.m., I figured I'd better go out into the swamp in the hopes of seeing Mr. Buck again.  I'd poked around the back forty a couple of days ago, and there was plenty of buck sign, so I'm guessing he's the local boy.

I put on my gear, turkey vest, blaze orange, and safari sling for the gun, and at noon it's down hill I go.

One minute later: I get to the mowed area below our sheds and barn, and . . .  DAMN, there he is.  Bedded down against the brush on the far side of the pond!

I duck into a crouch, and fortunately I'm screened behind some goldenrod I hadn't gotten around to mowing. Good thing I'm lazy. I am as out-in-the-great-wide-open as it is humanly possible to be--I'm in a mowed field, so there's no belly crawling off to a more covered spot, if I move, he's going to see me.  I then proceed to crouch there for the next twenty minutes, alternately eyeing him in the scope, figuring out whether I can take an offhand neck shot, and then getting the shakes and having to put the gun down.  I'm kneeling, shifting position, eyeing him through the scope again.  I'd not brought my shooting sticks, and he's so low and the goldenrod so high I can't shoot at him from a sitting position.  It's kneeling offhand or nothing.  I can't quite make his neck out enough for a really clear neck shot, either.

Time passes.  I start to get hot, so slowly I strip out of my orange vest, my turkey vest, and my coat.  Might as well be comfortable if and when I shoot.  He never moves, his head is facing east into the wind and I'm basically south of him.

I had just gotten my jacket off when suddenly a squirrel busts me and starts squawking. Mr. Buck takes notice, I see his antlers starting to swivel, and all of a sudden he gets up and stretches.

That's my cue.  From a kneeling position I aim at him broadside and shoot at him, offhand.  He goes down, struggles a bit, gets up, and then just seems to stand there looking around. I stand up and take a second shot, and he staggers off into the brush.

I reload and start following him.  I'm prepared to have him get up again and try to take off.  As I get to the edge of the pond and look into the woods, I make out his antlers--and he's down for good. He'd only gone about 20 yards. With a sigh of relief, I make my way over to him, give him a nudge, and it's over.

Go up to the house to get some help for the drag, and my daughter Julia does the honors.  She also sticks around and watches me field dress the deer--that's a first.  Not squeamish at all. Showed her the heart--the first shot clipped the top of it, while the second shot hit the hind leg, so maybe he started moving when I stood up to take the second shot, apparently I'm not much on shooting at moving targets I guess. Although once that squirrel started barking, things happened real fast, so it was all a bit of a blur. At any rate, we then pull it uphill and hoist it into the truck for the trip to the butcher.

Anyway.  Haven't written a true writeup in a while, and this one just felt like it needed it.  I was pretty damn nervous about having to take that offhand shot, but it worked out well. 

Julia photo credit

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ends And Means - Ethics Vs Wildlife Management Goals

There's a thought that's been running around in my mind for a while now, but I can't seem to get it into coherent, written form.  The following opens the door for a conversation.  It is not meant to be my "final answer."
Let’s turn a cliché on its head.  Instead of proposing the question, “why do you hunt,” let’s ask, “why can you hunt?” 
The latter should be a shorter discussion, filled with some arguments that are a bit more quantifiable than the emotionally loaded responses typical of the former question.  Sure, there are some relatively intangible explanations, such as preserving the “heritage” or the “traditional use” of natural resources.  And there are some that cross-over both discussions, such as the argument that the money generated through hunting is largely ploughed back into wildlife conservation. 

But I also believe the conversation could shine an interesting light on some contradictory attitudes, particularly in regards to the ethics discussion.  For example, if population control is one of the key considerations for liberal hunting regulations, then doesn’t a strict, ethical high-road that effectively reduces the likelihood of the kill (the "sporting chance") run counter to that purpose? 

I have a hard time getting past this feeling that a lot of hunters have bought into a package of ideals.  When I read comments from these folks, or talk to them in person, there’s a recurrent thread of uber-ethics and an insistence on doing things the hard way (at least theoretically).  There’s a disdain for taking the “shortcuts” such as baiting, food plots, or using hounds.   There’s a lot of talk about this concept of “Fair Chase.” 
And I get that perspective.  Lord knows there’s nothing wrong with having a high level of respect for the animals as individuals, the animals as a resource, and for the aesthetic sensibilities of the hunter.  That’s an awesome stance, and kudos to the hunter who strives to abide fully within the tenets of fair chase and the honorable hunt.  

Still, I believe you have to temper those high standards with pragmatism.  Just as most of us have personal goals in the hunt, there are other goals that are sometimes equally important.  In fact, I’d argue that in some cases, wildlife management goals should supersede the individual aesthetic. 

I could hear the mental flags popping up at that last statement.  Good.
I’m not suggesting that the hunter who is strongly opposed to baiting should go out and buy a feeder.  And if you honestly feel wrong killing an animal you’re not going to eat, then you don’t have to go out and start hunting varmints and predators, or trapping for furs.  If you live in a place overpopulated with deer, but instead of filling all of your tags you really only need one deer for your larder, you don’t have to go shoot more just to donate to the food bank. 

Here’s the thing, though.  Other hunters will do these things.  Many want to.  Don’t condemn them or their methods simply because their moral compass points a few degrees askew of your own.  It is legal for a reason.  If one of the valid justifications of the hunt is our role in wildlife management and population control, then someone has to do the things you may not want to do.  Or, to fall back on cliché, sometimes the ends do justify the means.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why wildlife and wild places are so important

This address by Shane Mahoney speaking at the Idaho Wildlife summit is well worth the time to watch.

Friday, October 5, 2012

When she was good, she was very very good! And when she was bad . . .She was hunting?

Perhaps you’ve heard the silly old saying: There are two kinds of people in this world—those who believe there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t.  Whatever grains of truth there may be in this play on the idea of “conventional wisdom,” it certainly does seem to be the case that when it comes to women who are hunters, the popular trend is decidedly in the direction of our coming in two distinct “kinds.”  This point was brought home to me this past summer, in a conversation with communications expert, and Orion member, Tammy Sapp. We were talking about the ways hunters are depicted in the popular media these days. Had I ever noticed, she asked me, that  in the popular mind female hunters tend to conform to one of two extremes: girly-girl ultra-femininity on the one hand, and kick-ass one-of-the-guys anti-femininity on the other? And, to complicate things further, it seemed like a lot of women hunters themselves were buying into this binary?
As a matter of fact, I had noticed these trends. And I myself had recently become especially preoccupied with the girly-girl side of the equation. After all, since hunting had so long been portrayed as a man’s activity and women looked like they were poaching on some very exclusively male territory when they crossed that gender line, perhaps it was only natural that many female hunters adopted the “Anything you can do, I can do better” approach to admission into the boys’ club of hunting camp. My friend, Montana nature writer Susan Ewing, several years ago coined the term “Bubbettes” for this group. They’re the ones who, as Tammy put it to me, are “scornful of overt displays of femininity” in the field. “Maybe,” she suggested, “they think that women who are too girly girl cause men to disrespect all women hunters. These women are proud they field dress their own deer and think other women are cupcakes if they don't follow suit.”
I agree. But then I wonder why, lately, the idea of being a cupcake—as well as of providing cupcakes for the whole hunting camp—seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity, both among women hunters and the men who claim to love them? What, for example, are we to make of the recent publication, to positive critical acclaim and strong sales, of three books, each of which in one way or another trivializes women’s participation in hunting and shooting sports? Their titles say it all: Girl Hunter, Call of the Mild, Chicks with Guns.
In the first, celebrity chef Georgia Pellegrini sets out to “revolutionize the way we eat, one hunt at a time.”  Great—locavorically inclined hunter and committed foodie that I am, I can appreciate that. But why be so “girly” about it? Pellegrini—pictured on the book’s dust jacket knee-deep in brush in a pink plaid shirt, with a shotgun in one hand, a frying pan in the other and not a hair out of place—positively swoons over recounting every halting initiatory step she takes into the ranks of the hunting fraternity. And it is a fraternity. All of her instructors are men, some of whom instill in her some pretty bad hunting habits like whiling away the time in a deer stand or duck blind by tossing down a variety of alcoholic beverages, and similar good ol’ boy behaviors. By the end of her year-long quest to “channel the primitive woman” she has learned to wax poetic about the “casual way in which nature treats life and death.” But—when she writes about a turkey filling the scope of her 20-gauge shotgun, or her skill not simply at eviscerating but also skinning and butchering a deer with a pocketknife—well, one just has to wonder about the casualness of her hunting education.
Still, Pellegrini the Girl Hunter comes across as a bona fide Bubbette compared to Lily Raff McCaulou, the thirty-something memoirist who spends much of her Call of the Mild fretting about how dangerous hunting is and how she might really do something terribly stupid, like shoot herself or her hunting partner by mistake. She remembers feeling “relieved” that her first shotgun is a 20-gauge “youth gun.” She says, “It feels safer somehow.” Safer than what? Than a “grown-up” 20-gauge?
The subtitle of McCaulou’s book is Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner—the “mildness” of which she does not explain. I guess she feels she doesn’t need to, it must be self-evident, her being a girl and all. Like Pellegrini, all her hunting lessons come from males. The only stalking she learns from a woman is for mushrooms.
As for Chicks with Guns, a coffee-table collection of photographs of gun-armed women with their personal statements about why they own and use firearms: It is not a bad book, actually. But the title is a tease, as are many of the provocative poses the women are placed in. And the photographic record of women and guns has already been done better and much more forthrightly by photographer and shooter Nancy Floyd, in She’s Got a Gun—a book that attracted far less notice, possibly because it was published by a university press, but equally likely because there is nothing girly about it.
Forgive me if I sound a bit, shall we say, impatient here. But, having come of age as a woman hunter (and, yes, my husband introduced me to it) toward the end of the last century, at approximately the time when women were all of a sudden big news in the hook-and-bullet press—we were going to be the future of hunting, remember?—I have been a part of a generation of women who had to deal with the demeaning displays of cheap guns marketed in sporting goods stores as “ladies and youth models,”  and the shotguns with pastel composition stocks and the cute little pearl handled purse size pistols (Remember Nancy Reagan’s “tiny little gun?”). And being told that if we were looking for hunting clothes, we should check out the boys’ department (even though few of us were shaped like adolescent males). And having to deal with skepticism as to whether we really even filled our hunting tags ourselves. . . as well as about our real motivation for hunting: were we trying to be one of the guys, or maybe to bag one of them in holy matrimony? I thought all of this was, oh, so very yesterday.
And then there is the pink thing. I thought we were over that, too. It was a nice marketing ploy while it lasted, since a lot of people bought into the idea that if an item was pink a portion of the proceeds from the sale must be going to breast cancer research (which may or may not have been the actual case—that is grist for another post).  But apparently pink isn’t just for fund-raising anymore. Browning has introduced a new “High Country Down Jacket” for women hunters. Well, they call it a down jacket, but  it is—as a gear reviewer in Women & Guns Magazine explained—actually filled with polyester “to reduce weight and ensure comfort in all but the coldest temperatures.” It is not waterproof—but hey, what woman would want to be out hunting in the rain anyway? And the real selling point, for the reviewer, was that the zipper and “Buck Mark” logo on the jacket and its matching hat are pink, “which on the Mossy Oak or Realtree AP camo looks sharp.” Really? I think it looks pretty ridiculous myself. But then the reviewer’s name is Scott. Maybe it’s a guy thing.
And maybe that’s what publishers and marketers are picking up on: As a society, we still harbor a lot of ambivalence around the idea of women who are “armed and dangerous,” who can fend for and defend themselves. The idea may go down more easily if it is prettily packaged in pink. Or in girly-girl apologies, like Lily McCaulou’s professed “embarrassment” about even calling herself a hunter.
But it feels to me like a sneaky way of keeping women in their place—as the sexy exceptions that prove the rule that hunting culture really is still a man’s world. And that, deep down, women who hunt and shoot prefer it that way. Funny thing is, none of the female hunters I know subscribe to that view. Nor, and I truly want to believe this, do my male friends who are hunters.  

We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?

Mary Zeiss Stange is the author of Woman the Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997), Gun Women (New York University Press, 2000), and most recently Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch (University of New Mexico Press, 2010). She also edited Heart Shots: Women Write about Hunting (Stackpole, 2003) and Stackpole Books' "Sisters of the Hunt" series of classic works about hunting by women, and has published widely on women's and environmental issues in both the commercial and academic press. 
A professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Skidmore College, she teaches in the gender studies, environmental studies and international affairs programs. She divides her time between her "town job" in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the bison ranch in southeastern Montana that she and her husband Doug share with six Peruvian horses, two Springer Spaniels, a tuxedo cat and various wildlife.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nuse: No link between hunting and violence

Here's an article quoting Eric Nuse, former executive director of Orion and current Orion board member. The article was written in response to a reader who is opposed to hunting and equates teaching hunting to youth with an increase in violent crime.
From the Sunday Rutland Herald
Jensen Afield, for Sept. 23
By Dennis Jensen
The doe came out of the thicket behind the house and was feeding on the luscious tops in the flower garden, not 20 yards from the back door.
We had company that morning and I called one young woman over to the kitchen window.
“Take a look,” I told her. “Is she beautiful, or what?”
“Yeah, so beautiful you’d like to blow her brains out,” was her response.
I didn’t take the time to explain to my rude visitor that I can hold a wild animal in high esteem and still value it for the venison it could provide.
I didn’t go off on how she came from a very populated state where hunting is viewed as something of an aberration and that she, like so many other people these days, have lost touch with the natural world.
Instead, I just shook my head, knowing that there was no way I was going to change her suburban mind.
Even here, in rural Vermont, there are folks who hate the fact that, every fall, men, women and children of all colors and backgrounds take to the woods to hunt wild game.
The people who oppose hunting are, of course, entitled to their opinions, as misinformed as they may be, and they sometimes sound off on their views in letters to the editor.
But one recent letter got me thinking about how truly removed from reality some people are, these days.
It’s one thing to disagree with hunting, to take a stand against it. But it’s quite another to go so far as to suggest that maybe there is a correlation between taking young people into the woods to teach them about hunting and the growing incidents of violence and crime.
“And we wonder why people in this area are preying on each other more and more,” she wrote. “Maybe they learned the love of killing from their tender youth.”
Of course, she could not back up that bizarre theory because there is nothing out there to suggest that young people who are introduced to hunting go on to become violent criminals.
In fact, for one guy who should know, it is quite the opposite.
Eric Nuse, a former Vermont game warden, is a board member and former executive director of Orion, the hunter ethics organization out of Ithaca, N.Y.
Here is the basic Orion take on hunting, in a nutshell: It calls for safety first, obeying the law, the clean kill, an “if you kill it, you eat it” philosophy, fair chase and supporting conservation efforts.
Nuse said that studies have shown that hunting and violence simply do not go hand in hand.
“I know there has been research, through the use of brain scans, that the part of the brain that lights up when a person is involved in hunting activity is completely different from the part of the brain that is stimulated through those violent video games,” Nuse said.
“If you’re involved in hunting and you have a mentor that is teaching you the right way to do it, that increases your reverence for life because you understand the whole circle of life,” he said.
The bottom line is that death is part of the cycle of life, Nuse said.
“If you’re going to live, survive as a living organism you have to eat other things that are alive or were alive — plant or animal — so you understand where you are in the circle of life,” he said.
So where do these opinions linking violent behavior and introducing kids to hunting come from, Nuse was asked.
“It comes from ignorance,” he said. “These people see all killing as violent. But in the context of hunting it isn’t, especially in the context of how we hunt and why we hunt.”
Hunting is a whole lot more than taking an animal’s life, according to Nuse.
“They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that hunting is about the hunt and the final act of pulling the trigger is a goal of hunting but it’s just a very small part of hunting and, quite often, it doesn’t occur.”
The data surrounding Vermont deer hunting backs up what Nuse says. In 2010, hunters shot 6,663 bucks during the 16-day firearms deer season. More hunters take part in this season than any other.
While there is no way of knowing, for certain, how many people who hold a hunting license take part in the buck season, data from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Departments shows that 79,603 resident and non-resident licenses were sold in 2010.
It is well known that the vast majority of those holding hunting licenses do partake in the buck season and it is widely believed that well below 10 percent of those hunters are successful at tagging a buck each year.
Yet, every year, those deer hunters go back into the woods. If hunting was about killing, then there’s an awful lot of unsuccessful “killers” out there.
There must be something else going on.
Nuse said he believes that most of the people who oppose hunting have lost touch with the world of nature.
“It comes from people who are disconnected from nature,” he said. “You wouldn’t hear that kind of talk from some farm family. I suspect this is a person who never had a connection with nature, other than looking at it from a screen, the Bambi, Walt Disney view that one day the lions will lay down with the lambs.”
People who have never hunted often have a distorted view of what hunting is, Nuse said.
“It’s quite different than what they think. A lot of people think that when a hunter goes out he kills something,” he said. “But the reality is every hunter knows that is not true. A lot of people don’t understand about the preparation and the effort and how much satisfaction comes out of it without a kill at the end of the hunt. If somebody wants to call that fun, well and good. I call that deeply satisfying.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hunting Awareness Training for College Students

I just got back from instructing at the New England Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow workshop. The college student in this picture went from having never shot a gun (or having hunted) to this. Twenty students from Maryland to Maine attended. All are wildlife-related majors that have never taken hunter ed or hunted.

It is great to be part of the great awakening about the joy of hunting that nearly all of the participants experienced. The notion that hunting equals killing went away pretty fast. This bird is probably still running around after a few shots sped him up!

Congrats to the Wildlife Management Institute and the Max McGraw Wildlife Institute for developing and rolling this program out nationwide. Check out the CLfT website for more info.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Which Way to Kojjuuaq?

34 days, 400 miles, 43 portages, miles of pushing and lining upstream and lots of alder tunnels - I'm back from my canoe trip in the Nunivik region of northern Quebec. Great sparse and wild country, lots of white water, abundant waterfowl and excellent fishing. We went nearly 3 weeks without seeing any sign of man on the ground in the area north of Shefferville until we reached the Whale river.

It was great meeting lots of Innuit people and talking about the life of hunter/gatherers that their parents lived and how things have changed for them. The great thing is the hunting culture is still strong. It was wonderful to be among them even for a short time we were in Kujjuuaq.

It is great to see that Orion is flourishing under our new Executive Director, Jim Tantillo, and the blog is going strong. Thanks to the posters and commenters!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Good news about hunting. Yes, actual good news!

Well, hot diggity, the preliminary numbers are out and the number of hunters in the U.S. has increased over the past five years.

The numbers come from the mammoth U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey, which I've found to have the most reliable numbers (i.e., biggest sample size and  lowest margin of error) on hunting in America.

Total hunter numbers up 9.6 percent. Big game hunters up 8.4 percent. Migratory bird hunters up 13 percent. Hunters of other animals up ... wait for it ... 100 percent! The only number that dropped was small game hunters, which were down 6.3 percent. Good. More rabbits for me.

Here's a look at the numbers (you can click on the image to see it a bit larger):

This is as much detail as USFWS has released so far. There's no breakdown yet for the numbers of kids, women and various ethnic groups hunting. The 2006 survey showed that the number of girls 15 and younger who hunt had nearly doubled over the previous 15 years, so there are a lot of potential gems in the 2011 numbers.

But unless FWS has changed its survey, we won't ever see answers to what is, to me, the most important question: WHY?

From where I sit in Northern California, I can tell you we're seeing a huge interest in hunting from non-traditional groups, primarily urban foodies (often liberal) who are trying to opt out of the factory-farmed meat supply. Thank you, Michael Pollan, for sparking that interest with "The Omnivore's Dilemma." But I haven't yet seen any data that would back up that anecdotal evidence with real numbers.

I also can't ignore the fact that the Great Recession may have sent more people into the field just to put meat in their freezers. It might not have anything to do with the noble aspirations of foodies.

The other question the National Survey won't answer is what is the upshot of this increase? I hope it means that support for hunting is on the rise. More people hunting = more non-hunters being exposed to hunting = stereotypes getting crushed.

I see that personally. Hell, I live it - I'm a female college journalism professor, and when non-hunters find out I hunt, they're almost always surprised, and they almost always walk away with an image of hunting that is no longer the caricature peddled so effectively by the Humane Society of the U.S.

But realistically, the only thing we can assume with reasonable safety is that rising hunter numbers means rising revenue for, and interest in, conservation. That's a good thing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ted Nugent hunting hogs by helicopter: Yay! or Oh No!

During the 2008 presidential election, we learned that aerial hunting is controversial. Nary a single critic could blast Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin without making a point of her support for hunting wolves by helicopter.

On Aug. 26, anyone who gets the Sportsman Channel will be able to watch Pigman and lightening rod Ted Nugent hunt hogs from a helicopter.

Will this be another blow to hunting’s image, or will America’s disdain for pigs render this episode PR-neutral?

It’s not a rhetorical question. In California, pig hunting is noticeably absent from the bill that would ban hunting bear and bobcats with hounds. Bear and bobcat are charismatic megafauna, and it’s easy to convince the public that hounding them is mean. Pigs, however, are despised. They have bristly hair and scaly skin, and they’re mean and invasive. No one wants to protect them from houndsmen and -women.


POSTSCRIPT: Phillip over at the Hog Blog has written a great piece on this topic - definitely recommended reading.

POSTSCRIPT NO. 2: Phillip has now gotten an advance copy of the show and written a new post on it.

Holly Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hunting nakedly: A twist on a classic hunting ethics test

Photo illustration by Holly Heyser
One excellent measure of your hunting ethics is asking yourself this question: How would I feel if what I’m doing on this hunt was blasted onto TV screens across America? If the answer is “like a total loser,” then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Recently, though, I faced a flipped version of that test: I actually was being followed by a filmmaker who had the potential to blast what I was doing onto TV screens across America, and I faced a situation that I thought would look bad, but that passed my personal ethics test.

The question I faced was this: Do I do what I’d do in this situation if I were hunting alone and present myself honestly, or do I alter my behavior rather than explain myself on camera?

If you’re familiar with my old blog NorCal Cazadora, you’ll be able to answer this question easily. If you don’t, allow me to explain: I’m so unflinchingly honest that my mother once aptly described my writing style as “naked.”

The scenario I faced with the filmmaker in tow was a small pack of jack rabbits a good 100 yards ahead of me on a trail, out of range because I was using a shotgun. When they spotted me, most started heading up a levee for an easy exit, but one of them inexplicably began hopping toward me.

While this scene met a literal definition of fair chase--this was a wild rabbit, not confined in any way--there was a good chance that this was an animal somewhat habituated to humans, and therefore in a poor position to exercise his ability to escape. I've watched a lot of animal-rights videos and I knew this was right up their alley: Mean ole hunter shoots a tame bunny.

I stifled a groan. Why this rabbit on this day?

And when he got close enough, I shot him.

You can read the full story here at Shotgun Life – including exactly what the filmmaker caught on camera – but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would your decision change depending on the presence or absence of the filmmaker? Did I make hunters as a group look bad?

I’ll kickstart the conversation by saying this: One of the reasons I’m ridiculously honest in all aspects of my life is that it’s easier to be honest than to perform perpetual maintenance on lies and omissions. When I first started hunting, I wasn’t so open, but I quickly learned that lying or even holding back about any aspect of the hunt only cedes points to anti-hunters in our great ongoing debate about hunting.

So now I’ve had my say. What say you?

Holly Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beagling For Bunnies

(I thought a story about hounding rabbits would sit well next to a story about hounding bears.) I started to learn about rabbit hunting after Nancy’s dad introduced me to beagles and Adirondack snowshoe hares on our first Christmas together. Within several weeks I had my first shotgun and a beagle pup, but barely a clue how to bring a brace of bunnies home for dinner.

Jupp was a “brace beagle;” he slowly, carefully followed a hare’s track. His tortoise pace, and his use of nose rather than eyes to follow the hare, meant that my hunting buddies never accused him of chasing a rabbit.

One of my many rookie mistakes, however, was chasing after Jupp as he was bawling behind a bunny. I learned from experience that rabbits more or less circle from where they were first sniffed out, and that “dog the farthest, rabbit the closest.” So my strategy became a waiting game at the point of first contact. When I heard Jupp far away but just beginning to track back, that’s when I’d finally pump a shell into the Mossberg 500’s chamber and start looking for that tell-tale beady black eye.

I think that the beagle may have been engaged in fair chase; I’m pretty sure that beagles and bunnies don’t “understand” what “fair” is, so how can they elect to engage in a fair chase? At any rate, certainly the beagle had no unfair advantages. But is a stationary rabbit hunter also engaged in fair chase? If so, maybe Orion’s Small Game Division needs an alternate phrase to characterize how its hunters honorably engage in their sports’ traditions. Claiming there’s “fair chase” when there is no “chase” may, I fear, offer a cheap opportunity for an anti hunting critique. As a hunter, I’d hate to cut the switch for hunting’s critics to whack my own arse with.

After I’d hunted bunnies for more than a few years, a new wrinkle to my strategy seemed right. So when a rabbit back tracked the first time, I’d let it scoot by, and hope for a shot on a second, or third, pass. By this time I’d learned that my favorite part of the hunt was listening to “beagle music,” a realization that’s definitely not mine alone. As more time went on, I was shooting at only every third rabbit or so that went by, just, as my father in law taught me, “to keep the dog interested.” Looking back, that’s about as close as you can get to “catch and release” hunting. Would some consider this only-occasionally lethal behavior as wrong headed at best?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

HSUS California Bear Hounding Video

This is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) video about the California hounding bill, California SB 1221.

Thoughts, anyone?  Is this a fair treatment of the issue?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Duck Hunting Ain’t SEAL Hunting

Our friend Michael M. has some interesting thoughts about duck hunting advertisements on his blog, Cold Duck:
. . . I’m not a fan of recent advertising campaigns touting certain hunting products. Pictured in these campaigns are strapping young men badly in need of a shave who appear to be frighteningly earnest about shooting ducks. My buddies and I head out to forests and fields just to enjoy being there with our dogs, and, if we’re lucky, to bring home a bird or two for the weekend’s meal. An old fashioned hunt might plumb tucker our aging asses out, but it’s never confused with a grim and deadly slog. And we certainly don’t pretend we’re SEALs.
In fact, suggesting that hunters are like “special forces” diminishes both groups. The sooner these advertising campaigns are discontinued, the better. I’d rather that advertisers seek to connect a technologically enhanced present with a past that’s rich in tradition.
I have to say, I'm pretty sympathetic to the argument Mike is making here.  And I don't believe I've heard anyone else make the point before.  Are militaristic hunting ads disrespectful in some ways? And if so, to whom?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Does HSUS need hunting to continue?

Do HSUS and other anti-hunting groups need hunting?  From an excellent 5-part series on "The Vanishing Hunter," which appeared in 2008 in Delta Waterfowl's magazine:
"Perhaps Jim Posewitz of Orion—The Hunter's Institute summed it up best when he wrote in Pheasants Forever magazine, 'The animal rights and anti-hunting campaigns occupy more of our time and attention than they deserve. While they raise a lot of money and live well, they have not done much serious damage. They are a parasite and we are their host. They are an irritation, but are not likely to kill us—they and their business model require us.'"
Have anti-hunting organizations done any lasting damage or are they, as Jim Posewitz suggests, merely an irritation?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Canned Hunts, Fair Chase, and the Sorites Paradox

In a recent article, “Canned Hunting: Don’t Call It Hunting!” outdoor writer David Petersen discusses the difference between fair chase and canned hunts, and he quotes Orion founder Jim Posewitz approvingly. 

“A fenced shoot,” Posewitz writes, “is just the sale of a fabricated image to people who have neither the skill nor the inclination to obtain the real thing.”

Petersen agrees, and argues, “There is honorable hunting, and there is cowardly captive killing. The motivations and characters defining each are as distinct as day and night.”

Petersen is wrong.  The motivations and character of hunters are NOT as distinct as day and night.  There is no distinct line between canned hunts on the one hand, and fair chase on the other.

The difference between honorable hunting and cowardly hunting does not depend on the presence or absence of a fence.  Ideals of honor and cowardice, however, as well as ideals of fair chase, depend crucially on the hunter, and upon the hunter’s skills and aptitude. 

Fair chase has traditionally been defined relative to the animal—in particular, to the animal’s ability to escape. 

What’s missing in most debates about fair chase is the awareness that we need also to define fair chase relative to the human hunter—and to be specific, to the individual hunter’s ability to hunt. (And here we also know that hunters come in all shapes, sizes, interests, and abilities.)

Furthermore, we must acknowledge that there is a fundamental ambiguity to the very concept of fair chase. This ambiguity involves the philosophical problem of vagueness, a problem that has long been identified by philosophers as the sorites paradox, from the Greek term meaning “heap” or “pile.” 

The paradox is this:  start with a pile of sand, and begin removing the sand, one grain at a time.  At what point does the pile or heap become a “non-heap”?

The thought experiment can also be run in reverse: start with a grain of sand, and add to it another grain of sand. Do you now have a pile of sand?  Of course not.  Now add a third grain.  Is it a heap yet?  Of course not.  Now, continue adding sand, one grain at a time . . .  at what point do you have a heap of sand? 

The upshot is that there is no clear dividing line between having one or two grains of sand (that might constitute the concept dust) and having a pile, or a heap, or even a mountain of sand.  Thus the very concept of heap or pile or mountain is ambiguous.

Baldness is another inherently ambiguous concept (my own baldness, however, is clearly unambiguous). Begin with a full head of hair and remove it one hair at a time. When do you cross the line from having hair to being bald? (For me, it was around the age of 20!) 
Author Jim Tantillo
Trying to define fair chase is exactly like this—like trying to define “baldness” or “pile.”

So what does all this have to do with hunting?

On the one hand, or to be more precise, on one end of the spectrum (and spectrum, a term from physics, is exactly the right term to use) we have hunting practices that are clearly akin to a single grain of sand or to my gloriously bald pate. 
To illustrate the point: imagine a deer chained to a post in a 10’x10’ chain-link enclosed pen, being shot at close range. Clearly this is not fair chase:  the deer has no ability to avoid death, and the hunter needs no ability at such close range either to pursue or to shoot the tethered animal.

Remove the tether.  Now the deer is in a 10 x 10 enclosure, but can move around.  Is this fair chase?  Clearly the hunter is at more of a disadvantage than in the first scenario: the deer may jump at precisely the same moment as he/she squeezes the trigger, and the hunter may wound the animal or possibly even miss entirely.  It may take two shots to bring the animal down, particularly for a poor marksman.

Does this second scenario constitute fair chase?  Clearly not, the animal is still enclosed, and little to no skill is needed on the part of the hunter.

Let us now imagine that we expand the enclosure—how about a full acre?  And while we are at it, let’s add an acre’s worth of brushy vegetation.  The deer has the ability to roam about, but the hunter must still stay out of the fence to shoot the animal.

All the hunter need do in this case, is wait patiently for the deer to come along within view inside the fence, and take a killing shot.

Is this fair chase?  Probably not, although now the lines are getting a little more fuzzy.  How does waiting outside the fence differ from an archer sitting and waiting in a tree stand?  But I’ll leave that question for another essay.

Let’s keep going, trying to get closer to fair chase.  Let’s put a gate in the fence, and allow the hunter to enter and pursue the animal within the one-acre confines of the enclosure.  The animal can still move around and has plenty of early-successional shrubland (let’s go ahead and fill the enclosure with thorny multiflora rose and honeysuckle) in which to hide.

Now it takes the hunter the better part of a morning to locate, stalk, and shoot the deer.  But after several hours of patient stalking, the hunter is successful.

Does this “hunt” now constitute “fair chase”?  Observe that we have come a fair way from shooting the animal that was tethered inside what was essentially a dog pen.  

Most hunters still would not be comfortable labeling the one-acre stalk on a deer--multiflora rose or not--as a fair chase hunt.  And yet notice that some hunters might . . . .  We can imagine hunters with disabilities, for example, who might be content with such a one-acre stalk if confined to a wheel chair. Or a young hunter, just starting out, may appreciate and learn from such an experience.

Note that I am not implying that this necessarily would be a good hunt, for young hunters or hunters with disabilities.  I am simply suggesting that the hunt might provide sufficient challenge to each individual hunter, and each hunter might possibly go home satisfied with their hunting experience. 

Now let’s continue the sorites part of our thought experiment.  Let’s rerun the thought experiment a thousand times, adding one additional acre with each repetition.  First the hunter pursues the deer in a two-acre enclosure, and then in a three-acre enclosure . . . and so on, and so on, and so on.  (And let’s, for the sake of argument, assume there is only a single, individual deer to be pursued—not legions of overpopulated deer as occur in many areas of the country.)

At what point does the enclosure become large enough that we cross a line between canned hunting and fair chase?

Perhaps never, for some hunters.  For them, hunting inside a fence is always unethical.  But for others, trying to pursue a single deer in a 1,000-acre enclosure, or a 5,000-acre enclosure, or a 20,000-acre enclosure, would be challenging and fair regardless of the proximity of the fence. 

So now let’s just remove the fence.  And imagine the same, solitary, single deer roaming about unrestricted over a 20,000-acre, or 50,000-acre, fenceless area.  Would this hunt now constitute fair chase?

I’m pretty sure if you plunked down a hard-core deer hunter, and took away his tree stand, and made him stalk a single deer over 50,000 acres (that’s 78.125 square miles!), he or she would most likely call that a fair chase hunt.

While I myself might never hunt a captive animal in a high fence setting, unlike David Petersen I am not about to tell someone else that they should not do so.  As long as a hunter conscientiously strives for a clean, quick, one-shot kill, and does so safely while respecting the law, then that hunter acts ethically and morally.

The difference between canned hunting and fair chase is like the difference between a grain of sand and a pile of sand.  When viewed on each end of the hunting spectrum, fair chase and canned hunting are clearly different.  But there is no distinct line, no clearly unambiguous boundary, to be drawn between fair chase and canned hunts, or between honorable hunters and cowards.

Jim Tantillo is the Executive Director of Orion, The Hunters’ Institute. He has M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, where he currently also teaches ethics and environmental philosophy in the Department of Natural Resources.

A grouse hunting purist, Jim will generally argue until he is blue in the face that the One, True, Correct Way to Hunt Grouse is with a 16 gauge Parker double gun over the staunch point of a well-trained English setter.  In the spirit of political toleration, however, he also argues until he is equally blue in the face that his retriever- and spaniel-owning friends be permitted to hunt grouse legally as they see fit, despite their aesthetically misguided preferences for flushing dogs or 12 gauge autoloaders!