Friday, December 14, 2007

Hunting Cranes

A link at Home Range sent me to the blog of writer and NPR commentator Julie Zikefoose, who recently posted on the topic of Sandhill cranes and her consternation at the thought of hunting them. Zikefoose's good writing piqued Henry Chappell's interest some time ago when she admitted sometimes not releasing the house sparrows she traps on behalf of her bluebirds...

Her tone here, as Henry notes, is a little bit grouchy. But the range of replies from her regular readers takes grouchiness to new vistas. It's fair to say that most found the thought of hunting cranes repugnant. Much of the bile centered around the phrase "sport hunting," (a pet peeve of mine, too!) and disbelief that anyone would kill cranes for fun.

Zikefoose writes: "The thought of bringing these long-lived, monogamous, family-oriented and highly intelligent birds down for sport or roasting makes me physically ill. But then a lot of what's done in the name of sport hunting makes me ill. I know I'm getting crankier as I get older, and more conservative about speaking out because it might just be crankiness at work. But there's something about sport hunting of sandhill cranes that strikes me as fundamentally, indefensibly, sickeningly wrong."

After reading the list of comments and Julie's lively (and less grouchy) replies, I screwed up my courage and jumped into the pool. Given the interesting exchange that followed, I'm pleased I did!

Carefully, I wrote to Julie:

I enjoyed your sincere piece on the Sandhills and the prospect (or the horror) of hunting them. I am a hunter---not of cranes, but of other birds I'm sure we both would agree are beautiful and wonderful and worth protecting.

It's a conundrum, the hunter's worldview, and an old one. Michael Pollan called it "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," which expands the implication to all of us---even those who choose not to hunt or eat meat.

My aim here is not a defense of hunting. But I would like to comment on the use of the term "sport hunting," which, like you, I also find offensive and difficult to reconcile.

A few years ago, the USF&WS proposed a review on the "sport hunting of migratory birds," which included an opportunity for public comment. My comment (as a hunter of migratory birds) was obviously in support of continuing the Service's hugely successful wildfowl conservation programs, which are funded in large part by hunting permit fees.

But I took objection to the casual use of the term "sport hunting," which I view as implying that the activity has no practical purpose or intrinsic value and is thus merely an exercise in cruelty.

From the comments posted here, I think a lot of folks feel the
same way.

It may be that some hunters kill only for sport, meaning they
have no intention of eating the animal, and that, moreover, they view killing it only a test and proof of their skill. Large white men in safari hats standing over dead lions come to mind.

But believe it or not, such people are rare. Whether they should properly be called “hunters” or “shooters” is a point of some debate in hunting circles; the fact is, most people who hunt wild animals eat them. Securing food is a necessary component of hunting for most
Americans, even in this “time of plenty,” when plastic wrapped meat can be purchased from Wal-Mart.

I said this was no defense of hunting, but I suppose it is a defense of eating animals, generally. If you choose to eat animals, then you must choose either to kill them yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.

On a small scale, paying someone else to do the killing is a practical and long-held practice among people in small communities everywhere. It is no cruelty or moral cop-out to let a small local farmer provide your meat.

But to buy meat from huge corporate supermarkets is to buy meat from animals almost certainly raised in horrifying squalor and
crushing density and killed with indifference to every value except profit.

Yet I do this, and most Americans do too. It is not particularly pleasurable to think about.

In high contrast (to me at least), is my seasonal hunting for meat. An animal still dies to feed me and my family, but it is not one raised in a pile of manure, penned tight against a thousand others and pumped full of drugs so that it can die young in a factory rather than even
sooner from stress and disease.

Avoiding the support of such horror to do, instead, only what the cats and hawks and coyotes do for a living is a pleasure and an honor.

As long as I choose to eat meat, I will choose to hunt (clean, and cook) as much of it myself as I can.

Julie sent back a welcome, very friendly reply, restating her central question in a way a hunter might be able to address it:

{snip}...I hope you appreciate that, as a carnivore, I can't and won't criticize hunting for food. I admire people who can kill, clean and prepare their own food. I've been inside hundreds of dead birds and animals in preparing specimens, eaten lots of venison given to me by hunter friends. I buy local, humanely raised meat as well as the Styro-packaged stuff. I completely agree with you on those points (and have a series of sustainable farming posts now) No problem there. The point I'm trying to make is that I don't understand why sandhill cranes should be subjected to hunting, when herons and egrets aren't.
Why not shoot roseate spoonbills? Why not wood storks? They're coming back. There are probably enough of them to support shooting a few every year. That's my point....

Mike from (Sometimes Far Afield) and I both replied, making our cases for the hunting of cranes, he with some actual experience to share and me with none (but plenty of hot air to fuel us both). If you're interested to follow along and perhaps weigh in, click here.

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