The Hunter’s Moon is upon us, and the frost at dawn, the flying leaves and the migrating flocks call and resonate to the very marrow. People all over the world share a hunting tradition rooted way back. European migrants to Wisconsin during the 19th century were fleeing a deforested homeland ravaged by epidemics, torn and bloody from unending wars and from violent suppression of the common people by the aristocracy that kept them poor, uneducated, powerless and landless. In much of Europe you had to be a titled lord in order to own a gun and go hunting. Game was only for the ruling class.
In America the common people had a right to own a gun and could hunt for food for their families. It must be stated, however, that this right was not extended at that time to all people in America. It was among the many human rights denied those of African descent who were slaves, and denied many of those whose ancestors called this land home for thousands of years before the European invasion. Nevertheless, the right to hunt is considered an important part of what makes us “Americans”, and I’m sure glad I can pack some venison away even though I’m not descended from a duke, and I’m not listed on the Social Registry.
Some people who’ve lost touch with their roots think hunting is cruel and violates animal rights. But predators are critical to the life cycle, and without them, populations of ungulates like deer will rapidly expand before succumbing in droves to disease and starvation. I can think of few more cruel ways to live and die than by starvation or untreated maiming and crippling by vehicular collision. Would I be more acceptable to those who are squeamish about hunting if, instead of slaughtering and butchering the meat we eat myself, I were to pay someone else to do it and wrap it in plastic for me?
In spite of misinformation that hunters and environmentalists are enemies on opposite sides of the fence, the truth is that most hunters know that in the U.S.A., wildlife populations and endangered species are threatened not by hunting but by habitat destruction and by toxic pollution, and the truth is that most non-hunting environmentalists know this too. When the rest of us realize that hunting and fishing is not the problem, we’ll have a chance to accomplish real solutions.
Gun ownership and hunting is not only one of the rights won by our revolution against European aristocrats, hunting is an important part of the Wisconsin economy and a source of government funding. Some communities restrict hunting, and then spend tax dollars to hire out-of-state snipers to shoot deer with rifles when the population predictably mushrooms and Beemers start bashing Bambis. Those snipers are undoubtedly good shots and are insured, which, I suppose, covers everyone’s backside in the event a ricochet causes collateral damage.
But bowhunting is safer. The deer must be walking slowly or standing still and be unobstructed by twigs which would deflect the arrow. The bowhunter only draws the bow when the undisturbed deer is twenty yards away, moments before releasing the arrow. In these circumstances, no-one could mistake a person for a deer. No hiker or wanderer, without employing painstaking deliberate stalking techniques, could even approach that close range without being detected first by the hunter. No deer in the vicinity would remain undisturbed if a wandering person approached within a hundred yards. It would sound the alarm, raise its white danger flag and bolt. There is no danger whatsoever presented by the bowhunter to any other outdoor recreationist. If you happened to walk right by one in the woods, you wouldn’t even know he or she was there, and the patient hunter would relax and wait a half hour for the disturbance caused by your passing to subside. Bowhunting should be permitted in all natural areas.
This year begins a total ban on feeding of deer. Sick and road-killed animal brains and metals such as selenium are processed for sale as animal feed and supplements. This stuff is the only proven cause of outbreaks of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy, including Creutchfeld-Jakob disease in humans. TSE has never been proven to be caused by contact between animals. (And it’s a good thing. A TSE that can spread by contact, and can mutate to cross the species barrier, would be very ominous, indeed.) In Great Britain, these feeds made of rendered carcasses caused the outbreak of Mad Cow disease and over a hundred human fatalities so far. These feeds are still being produced there and here. Since they can’t legally be fed to cattle here or in Britain, they are used for pet food and processed baits and are being exported as cattle feed! Even natural foods concentrated in feeders or piles provide an opportunity for spread of infectious viral and bacterial diseases.
We should all support the new ban on feeding deer. However, any fair-minded person would find objectionable the inequity in penalties for violations of the ban depending solely on whether the perpetrator is a hunter or not. If a hunter scatters a few apples in the vicinity of his or her stand the fine is over a thousand dollars! If a suburban homeowner does the same in the back yard, or a restaurant catering to the tourist trade dumps a truckload outside the picture windows, the maximum fine is a few hundred dollars. That just ain’t right.
Good luck hunting!