Now that the public has gotten into the habit of regulating bear hunting through initiatives, the issue has become increasingly polarized.
That became obvious this
summer when Colorado bear biologist Tom Beck stepped out of the
hunting culture to write an essay critical of the sport and
attitudes toward it. Among other observations in the essay, which
was scheduled to run in the September issue of OutdoorLife
magazine, Beck had asked: "How fulfilling is it to shoot a bear
with its head in a barrel of jelly-filled donuts?"
Reaction was angry and organized, and Times
Mirror executives pulled the piece from the magazine at the last
moment. In response, the two top editors of Outdoor Life
immediately resigned: "It was one of those situations where you
either sucked it up and quit or you don't and are forced to live
with yourself and represent something that you think is essentially
gutless," Stephen W. Byers, the magazine's editor in chief, told
The New York Times.
Although outraged bear
hunters had never seen the article, which was adapted from a new
anthology, A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, they'd
gotten the gist of what he'd written and that was enough.
Perhaps what alienated hunters most was Beck's
saying that society had a right to become intimately involved in
hunting, and that the real issue was not so much hunting as the
conduct of hunters.
"While the biological rules
set the outer limits for what we kill, the sociological rules
dictate how we kill," Beck said.
his quashed article this way: "I look back with fondness to 1978,
when I first began studying black bears in the wild. I was so dumb:
I only wanted to know as much as possible about bears, which I
found and still find awe-inspiring. Knowledge is what I
"What I've learned is a little about
bears and a lot about human behavior. Most days that makes me wish
I were a bear.
"Today much of my energy goes into
attempting to reform my profession and my fellow hunters. I do so
for many reasons, some of them selfish. I want to keep hunting. I
want to keep learning and living with wildlife. These things can
only happen if we bring a stronger social consciousness to our
roles as wildlife managers and hunters. We must change or we will
cease to exist."
Beck's essay can be read in its
entirety in David Petersen's A Hunter's Heart, $25, published by
Henry Holt and Co., 115 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011
(212/886-9200). Petersen dedicates his book of 41 essays to Tom
Beck, "who embodies all that's good in a hunter, a wildlife
manager, a conservationist and a friend."