Since when did hunting become target shooting?


It started over the long Labor Day weekend and went on from dawn to dusk -- the constant report of gunfire echoing against the Organ Mountains here in southern New Mexico. Another dove-hunting season had descended upon us, and all lovers of wildlife could do was wait for it to end while so-called hunters blasted into smithereens as many birds as their permits allowed --15 per day, 30 in possession at any one time. As I listened to the barrage of gunshots, I must admit I wondered about the mental stability of those shooters.

I know that many responsible hunters exist. Members of my father’s family, who live in upstate New York, were avid deer hunters. They owned a hunting cabin in the Adirondack Mountains, and trophy heads featuring huge antler racks were proudly displayed on the walls. But they also utilized everything they could from those kills, making hundreds of pounds of venison steaks and roasts, and, according to the stories, using the intestines to make sausage.

I’ve been a hunter, but never that kind of devoted hunter. It only took one incident to convince me I was not a killer for sport. I was a teenager when I shot a cottontail in the woods of northeastern Ohio, but when I went to pick up the dead rabbit, it was gone. The wounded animal had dragged its bloody body into a dense thicket where I couldn’t reach it. Although I’d never intended to skin the rabbit to bring it home for dinner, the idea of leaving an animal to suffer and die in the underbrush made me feel sick. I decided then that if I wasn’t going to kill for food, I couldn’t be a hunter.

The naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch once said, ”When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God we call him sportsman.” I may not be that radical in my assessment of hunters, but I’ve begun to think that hunting doves brings out the worst in people.

A few days after the season began, my dog and I went for a hike in the desert behind a mountain outside of Las Cruces. The first thing I saw was what looked like a tornado of turkey vultures – 15 or 20 birds spiraling at various heights above the desert floor. Then, not 20 yards off the paved road near a new subdivision called Tierra Escondida, we came upon hundreds of 12-gauge shotgun casings, an empty 24-pack of beer and a dozen assorted wings and other body parts of decimated doves. Whoever had hunted here had blasted away, relishing something other than the taste of succulent dove meat.

That’s what’s unsettling. How do you educate these people? And what can be done about them? If officers from New Mexico Game and Fish had made contact with these shooters, the hunters could be cited only if they failed to possess valid licenses and stamps for that specific area. If game wardens returned later and found that the site had not been cleaned properly, the hunters could be cited only for littering. But short of having psychologists doubling as conservation officers, there’s no way to determine a hunter’s motivation. Even if an officer could cite somebody for an illegal motive, what would it be -- taking too much pleasure in the kill?

Perhaps if the requirements for getting a license were more stringent, some of these miscreants could be weeded out of the system. Maybe if all applicants were required to take the hunter education class, which is mandatory for potential licensees under the age of 18 here in New Mexico, people would balk at the inconvenience and lose interest in dove hunting. Or perhaps we need a more draconian measure -- banning dove hunting in the state, as Michigan did in 2006 -- to reduce drastically the number of shooters who kill doves for target practice. But as it stands now, anyone 18 or older can go to a local Wal-Mart and buy a license.

I favor a ban on dove hunting, but there is no chance one would ever pass in this gun-loving “land of enchantment.” All I can do is wait out another September-December hunting season, and pray that my dog and I don’t happen upon too many other scenes of slaughter.

Robert Rowley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( He is a freelance writer and photographer in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Nov 27, 2007 04:17 PM

I have hunted a great deal near the Organs and the Rio Grande. Dove hunting is a great tradition among the people in and around Las Cruces. Rowley obviously hates hunting. He should pack up and move to Michigan. Drinking and hunting is already illegal. Littering is illegal. Non hunters litter and drink irresponsibley as well. Killing a dove and not keeping the meat is illegal. The wings and body parts were the carcasses or cleaned doves. What Rowley wants is to make hunting so inconvenient that no one wants to do it anymore. This is left wing social engineering at it's finest. The dove population in the southwest is very healthy, and hunters have done more than anti hunters to protect natural habitat.

Dove hunters
to cayo
to cayo
Mar 15, 2009 02:37 PM
Although I don't agree that killing an animal is fun or exciting, I do agree with allowing licensed hunters the opportunity to hunt. Fines for exceeding bag limits are extremely high. Laws governing how close to a road or building are also in place.
Hunters (and fishermen)contribute a tremendous amount in fees that go toward game management and studies.
If not for hunters (and fishermen) many species would be depleted or weakened.
Finally, hunting hones the skills of young people and helps them understand that the Second Amendment is not just for hunting. It is to protect ourselves against an oppressive government much like the one forming now in the White House.
Hunt on! Be responsible and shoot straight!
Nov 28, 2007 11:16 AM

I live in upstate NY and I can't really believe that hunters here are that different than hunters elsewhere. Like Rowly, I don't hunt a lot, but I was taught that you ate what you killed and that you didn't hunt just to kill things.  Most of the hunters I know believe that.  That's not left wing social engeneeering.  It's sportsmanship.

Dec 06, 2007 11:17 AM


Well. there they are again, two of my favorite comments in one comment- 'tradition' and 'go back to .....' How very New Mexico, how very ignorant, and as we all (should) know, ignorance is a voluntary misfortune.

Tradition is a subject that could use some serious research.  How often people rely on 'tradition' to support their poor choices and chosen lifestyle.  A good example of 'tradition' is the practice of female genital mutilation.  Shall we ensure that tradition such as that continues?

And the good old New Mexico adage of 'love it or leave it'.  Well, I live in the area that Rowley writes about myself, and as I have written in the past, if those who were told to leave did indeed leave, we would have to take all of the people that moved here to make the locals tawdry lives of desperation better--such as medical providers, police officers, et al--with us.  Then you could stay here and play with your silly little guns and kill everything that you haven't killed already. 

Gosh, dove hunting.  How manly.


Jan 21, 2008 04:27 PM

Wow, way to go, Anonymous!  Did you just compare dove hunting with genital mutilation??!!!!  What an idiot!  And people think we hunters are stupid.  Sheesh, dude, when are you gonna graduate from 6th grade?

doug smith
doug smith
Mar 18, 2011 11:18 PM
This is a very old "article", I understand that. However, Rowley and Anonymous from upstate NY are way off base. Prove the hunters are not eating what they harvest! Yes, harvest is an appropriate term, to catch, take or remove for use. Comparing female genital mutilation to hunting is the one of the most absurd comparisons I have heard made from someone that does not work for MSNBC. Some of us are not content paying top dollar for grocery store meat from animals that have been pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and mistreated. And don't fire back with some comment about becoming vegetarian, very clever, but not a very imaginative answer. In New Mexico we value the outdoors, wide open public lands, and ability to buy a license and hunt. Guess what, we've been doing this (hunting) since way, way, way long before you New Yorkers left your god-forsaken homeland and came here to beautiful New Mexico. Frankly, if you don't like our freedoms, go somewhere else. I would say the same to someone that believes that we should think, act, and live just like people in Europe... if it is so great over there or anywhere else... Why are you here? Go!