Fergus fires back

  Dear HCN,

The letter from Scott McIntyre Feb. 19 in response to my essay "Hunting: Get Used to It" (HCN, 1/22/96) displays all the prejudice that makes a rational dialogue between hunters and antihunters so difficult. Although McIntyre claims that he is "not for ... or against" hunting, his implication that he's too mature to understand the "adolescent" nature of the sport is precisely the superior attitude that I was referring to in my essay.

I, too, am concerned with the abuse of high-tech devices in the field sports, especially when, as in the case of four-wheelers, this crosses the line of fair chase. However, hunters are not trying to emulate our ancestors as McIntyre maintains; in a very real sense we are acting out a primal genetic code in which human beings are still fundamentally large predators at the top - or in grizzly country, near the top - of the food chain. McIntyre suggests that he would be more impressed if we went back to hunting with clubs and spears. It is useful to remember that as soon as the repeating rifle became widely available to the plains Indians, they largely gave up the bow and arrow.

Randy Bangert's letter in the same issue makes the blanket condemnation of game and fish agencies and modern wildlife biology as tools of the hunting minority at the expense of nongame species and the general public. This is a tired argument of antihunters that has no sound basis in fact and in support of which Bangert offers not a single example or one shred of biological evidence.

I would be interested to learn, for instance, where all these nefarious introductions of exotic species by wildlife agencies are taking place - and to what detriment to native species and habitat? At the same time, where is the statistical information to back up Bangert's claim that "non-game species have seen a concomitant decline'? Which non-game species? Where?

It has long been understood by professional wildlife biologists that hunting, properly controlled and ethically pursued, is a valuable land-management tool that in no way threatens the well-being of the environment. In nearly all cases, game animals - particularly game birds - serve as excellent "indicator" species. By providing nesting and cover habitat, food and water sources, many other species - both game and nongame - benefit. This has been made clear by the resounding success of the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. A healthy wetlands is not only good for ducks, but for all other denizens of that ecosystem - from shorebirds to songbirds to raptors to foxes to frogs to water bugs, et al.

I offer another example: The hunting community, in cooperation with various state fish and game agencies and private conservation organizations, has been largely responsible for protecting a few remnant populations of prairie chickens in several Great Plains states. These birds, whose once prolific numbers have been decimated by loss of habitat due to modern agricultural practices, depend for their existence on large blocks of relatively undisturbed prairie. Once again, by protecting critical habitat for prairie chickens, all the other species specific to the prairie ecosystem benefit.

What is perhaps most tragic about this debate is that we are all on the same side here - or, at least, we have common interests and we should be on the same side. As a bird hunter and, I might add, a bird watcher, I am interested in far more than just "targets' as Bangert charges. I'm interested in maintaining healthy, viable habitat for all wildlife species.

As to Bangert's claim that hunting is a sport for "insecure egos," tell it to Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Little Wolf; tell it to Sitting Bull, who once said: "When the buffalo are gone we will hunt mice, for we are hunters."

Jim Fergus

Rand, Colorado