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Huey D. Johnson

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Hunting in the 21st Century: Its Economics, Politics and Culture

I enjoy hunting; I’m part of a twelve-thousand year old tradition. The question is how long that ancient practice will continue. Before talking about the challenges to hunting, I’d like to talk about the nature of hunting itself.

My hunting and fishing trips give me great satisfaction. The enjoyment comes from the simple art and craft of hunting; the kind of hunting. the prey, or type of weapon is secondary, at best. Hunting isn’t about guns.

I’m never more alert outdoors than when I’m hunting. Each sound, wind change, movement, or shadow sends a message. When I’m hunting, I develop an awareness of my surroundings that city-dwellers cannot imagine. I fear that my grandchildren won’t be able to enjoy this unique experience.

The question I want to address is this: How much longer can hunting survive in a civilization that’s losing contact with the natural world? I believe that hunting needs to be seen as an advocate of a continuing tradition, important to humanity, if it is to survive for another millennium.

My organization—Resource Renewal Institute—hired a researcher to spend a year studying the threats to hunting. He met with representatives of many organization, attended myriad conferences, and read mountains of reports. After reviewing his studies, I concluded that hunting and hunters are under attack because we’ve failed to deal with the changing political, sociological, and demographic landscape. We haven’t taken into account the sweeping urbanization of modern America. Cities are where most voters now live, hunting and its supporters are primarily based in shrinking rural areas.

To save hunting, we need to deal with both the new dimensions of sociology as well as the politics of hunting. Specifically, I see two primary reasons for hunting’s decline: our friends and our opponents.

With friends like these ...

The National Rifle Association’s political focus has all but lost the battle in the cities for us. Guns are equated with murders—and little else—in the urban scene. So now, the very powerful urban anti-gun vote in the nation equates hunting with the NRA.

What to do? We need to get some daylight between the NRA and hunters. I’ll say it gain: hunting is about more than guns. Although I once was supportive of the NRA’s efforts, its intensive political campaigns of recent years have had more negative impact on guns and hunting than many realize. Assault rifles and automatic weapons are the guns of choice for thugs and criminals, not responsible hunters.

We hunters have failed to present the reasoned, impassioned, and informed articles that win hearts and mind. Our collective silence represents a failure to debate, and to vigorously engage our opponents. The failure of our educational system to disseminate our views is handing those who would end hunting victory by default.

And the marketing themes the manufacturers of equipment use isn’t helping us, either. Little of the beauty and philosophy that Also Leopold wrote so beautifully about is heard. The advertisers’ promotion of the trophy hunting “ethic” is not representative of current hunting practices. Increasingly, most responsible hunters I know would prefer a young junior bull elk or buck deer instead of a large, alpha male.

The crass trophy marketing ignores traditions of art, ancient and modern, photography and most literature, all a rich part of hunting tradition in the world. Museums and environmental protection are important aspects of urban living today.

The grotesque trophy-hunting mentality brings us to our next problem, the opposition.

With opponents like these ...

Animal Rights activists are our opponents. They have almost won the battle because hunting interests have been slumbering in the rural past. They have a simple strategy which is to pick off the vulnerable marginal issues in hunting and work their way along. They will eventually end hunting by using ballot initiatives. They are already making good progress.

Can anything be done about this second problem? In a word, yes.

Although hunters started the environmental movement, they have lost that association. Even though one in six Sierra Club members is a hunter, the Animal Rights side has driven a wedge between the environmentalists and the hunters. Animal Rights activists most often focus on individual species, hunters on ecology and habitat. And that comes out in the record: hunters were there to make the Wilderness Bill pass, the Animal Rights activists were not.

The way to save hunting is for environmentalists and hunters to work together.

I believe we have issues in common with animal rights advocates. I disagree with the extremists in their ranks, but support some of their campaigns, such as veal calfs and unmerciful meat packing practices. The majority of people who care about animal rights don’t want animals to suffer. Neither do I. And neither do the vast majority of hunters. I don’t like killing things, but as a meat eater I do. When I hunt, I want to be as merciful as possible. I’ve found that most animal rights people accept my hunting on my assurance that I don’t hunt anything I don’t eat. The majority of them are happy to have allies.

The importance of education

Teaching a child to take on adult responsibility is an important factor. What was true for native people 12,000 years ago is still true for us. This ethic of responsibility was our first taste of being trusted on an adult basis.

A child learns hunting safety and skills from an adult who takes the child along at a young age. Weapon safety is especially important; my father wasn’t about to take an undue risk when I was given my first shotgun at the age of eight. When we walked in the field I was extraordinarily careful and, as a result, very safe. That gun was a serious tool. And the majority of the children in the town and the region enjoyed similar experiences. When we were twelve we rushed home after school jumped on our bikes, whistled in our dogs and were off into the fields around the town hunting. It’s worth noting that gun accidents in our region were virtually unknown then.

We hunters need to address higher education as well. As Dr. Ray Dasmann, a wildlife biologist and professor at UC Santa Cruz, noted, “The traditional conservationist narrows his vision down to those wild species or areas of interest or concern to him. Consequently whether he is a professional or enthusiastic amateur, his visual scope is limited. He may find plenty to do in studying the nesting habits of ducks or the behavior of deer without any confrontation with people who are determined to drain duck marshes. He probably likes to be respectable and acceptable to governments and to the establishment, and welcome in good society. He certainly does not like to raise embarrassing issues.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Dasmann’s approach. Hunting must be addressed within the larger context of the environment. By focusing only on the narrow special interests, we lose sight of hunters’ vital role in the greater ecology.

In summary, I believe that to save hunting we need to distance ourselves from the NRA, raise the profile of responsible hunting advocates by improving hunting education programs. In addition we must focus on working with—as well as against—our opponents in the animal rights community. By taking aggressive and proactive in defense of this ancient way of life, I’m confident that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will also enjoy the unique experience of hunting.

This article was based on research by Tyler Johnson.


Related Reading: Reflections on Hunting by an 84 year old hunter-poet

Posted on November 20, 2006 5:47 PM |

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