When 'hunting' becomes staggeringly stupid


"Canned hunting" is the term critics use when referring to the "sport" of paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of executing "wild" animals trapped in escape-proof enclosures on "game ranches."

The term is overtly derogatory, but hardly derogatory enough. "Pay-per-kill" or "execution by contract" are more apt, as there's no hunting involved, canned or otherwise.

If this sounds like standard anti-hunting rhetoric - you're wrong. I'm a passionate hunter. My point is: game-ranch "hunting" is not hunting.

Practitioners of this sick indulgence literally buy their "trophies," gunning down helpless animals ranging from native deer and elk, to imported "exotics" (the latter being a Texas game-ranch specialty).

At the upscale end of the operation, designated "shooter" males are selectively bred to produce large, ornate antlers (or horns, or skulls, or tusks), wear pet names ("Goliath" and the like), are tame enough to eat from your hand, and fall to fat-cat freaks who gun them down like steers in a pasture, for which "accomplishment" they are granted recognition by the sick Safari Club International (SCI), the only major hunter's record-keeping group to recognize, and openly encourage, can-killed "trophies."

While 85 percent of Americans approve of meat hunting, according to Yale researcher Stephen R. Kellert, only 15 percent endorse trophy hunting, even when it's conducted under the rules of so-called "fair chase" (a voluntary code of conduct that forbids such blatantly unsporting activities as shooting from vehicles, spotlighting, cheater technology and canned killing). And essentially no one - save those who do it themselves or profit from it - endorses canned killing, not even fair-chase head-hunters.

So why is it legal?

All the usual reasons: Landowner rights. States rights. Institutionalized Cartesian dualism. Profit. Agri-politics. The American Way. As a serious, ethical hunter, this makes me furious. As an American, it makes me ashamed.

"What stories would they tell?" asks Mule Deer magazine editor, old-growth forest defender, and hunter Scott Stouder, regarding today's pay-to-play game-ranch wimps. "From the campfires of the ancients to our living rooms, stories have been the glue that binds generations of hunters ... It was through the power of story that I first heard (expressed) the love of mountains and animals. And it was by that power that I eventually came to love them myself. What love would come from the stories told of shooting animals within fences?"

Love of anything beyond self is a foreign concept, I suspect, to such pathetic individuals. As biologist/philosopher C.H.D. Clarke, "the Canadian Aldo Leopold," notes: "It is, of course, self-evident that there must be pervert hunters, and even fishermen, just as there are pervert clergymen, or boilermakers. No group is exempt, in spite of Xenophon, and we have to watch out for the pervert who deliberately takes up hunting."

To be scrupulously fair, not all canned killers are "perverts"; some are merely profanely vainglorious and staggeringly stupid.

In his classic Meditations on Hunting, Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset observes that "the hunter knows that he does not know what is going to happen, and this is one of the greatest attractions of his occupation."

As I can attest from more than 40 years of hunting experience: Indeed it is! If hunting were as easy as stepping out the door and killing something, I wouldn't touch it. Nor would any true hunter.

There is honorable hunting, and there is cowardly killing. The motivations and characters defining each are as distinct as day and night. A game ranch "hunt," with "success" guaranteed, is no hunt at all and should never be spoken of as such. It is a festering sore on the face of honorable hunting; a craven act of manic immaturity and self-confessed incompetence.

It is a rich man's illness, a loser's game, and one more ugly omen that something is horribly wrong with our unconscionably commercial, pathologically competitive, nature-controlling culture.

David Petersen, who lives in Durango, Colorado, is the editor of A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport. His latest book is Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America.

The continued existence of hunts on elk farms in Montana will be decided by voters Nov. 7; see related story in this online issue, "Montana hunters blast game farms."

Copyright © 2000 HCN and David Petersen

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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