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!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jim Tantillo Named New Executive Director of Orion

For Immediate Release:
July 2, 2012

Orion, The Hunters’ Institute Names New Executive Director

JOHNSON, VT – James A. Tantillo of Ithaca, N.Y., has been named executive director of Orion, The Hunters’ Institute, an organization that provides leadership on ethical and philosophical issues related to fair chase and responsible hunting.

"Jim's strong management and leadership skills make him the right person to push Orion to a new level," said Mark Hirvonen, chairman of Orion's board. "In addition, the organization will benefit from Jim's expertise in environmental policy and natural resources management as well as his commitment to upholding our hunting traditions."

Tantillo said his immediate goals are to increase fund-raising and to work on shared goals with groups such as the American Wildlife Conservation Partners. In addition, his efforts will include maintaining and expanding Orion's publications and speaking services and strengthening its hunter education services.

An avid upland bird hunter, Tantillo has served on Orion's board since 2009. During that time, he was chairman of the board’s governance committee, and he also represented Orion nationally at conferences and hunter education training workshops in various states.

Tantillo's management experience includes serving from 2006 to 2008 as CEO of Historic Ithaca, a local historic preservation organization in Ithaca, N.Y. Prior to that, he was interim executive director and chairman of the board for the Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also in Ithaca, N.Y.

Currently, Tantillo is a lecturer in environmental history and ethics for the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, where he will continue to teach part-time.  Tantillo holds his Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and doctorate in natural resources from Cornell.

Orion, The Hunters’ Institute is the nation’s leading hunting think tank and provides education and consulting services for hunters and nonhunters throughout the United States and Canada. The organization was founded in 1993 by Jim Posewitz, a Montana big game biologist.  Posewitz put Orion on the map with his book Beyond Fair Chase, which has sold more than a half million copies.

To learn more about Orion, The Hunters’ Institute call 906-362-1969 or visit Orion’s website at

James A. Tantillo of Ithaca, N.Y., has been named executive director of Orion, The Hunters' Institute.

Contact: Mark Hirvonen, Chairman
Orion, The Hunters’ Institute Board of Directors
657 Maple Hill Rd
Johnson, VT 05656