I have to admit I was conflicted. Actually, the appropriate word was probably “dismissive.” This is when I initially fled the city some 5 years ago to take up residence in a semi-rural area: an area where hunting was, while not the norm, an acceptable part of the seasonal landscape. The idea of setting out into the wilderness, armed to the teeth with any number of firearms, crossbows, and blades, seemed less like a means of suitable and responsible stewardship than it did a barbaric example of fixed bloodlust. While I hardly felt real disdain for hunters, I surely didn’t hold a lot of regard for them either.
Since being in the field for the better part of a decade, I have changed my mind. This shift was not due to gathering a taste for the sport/practice myself (I still have yet to participate in any form of hunting) but delving into the issue and gathering information through conversation with hunters, environmentalist, and former vegans alike. My read on hunting: while hardly a necessity, nor is it an effective way to feed the entire population, it is an opportunity for humans to gather food and sustenance in a fashion that can be responsible, and even respectful.
Most people see hunting as a barbaric relic of humanity’s pre-agricultural past, and therefore are highly dismissive of the practice and those who gear up to engage in the practice. If you want to have your mind changed, you could read James A. Swan’s In Defense of Hunting (somewhat outdated, but still relevant) or, if you are short on time, check out Tovar Cerulli’s excellent article, “Hunters are People Too” in The Atlantic (Cerulli also wrote the book The Mindful Carnivore). In the article, Cerulli fires shots at omnivores and vegans alike. As he says, “Most burger-wolfing Americans don’t want to know what happens in slaughterhouses. Most yogurt-scooping vegetarians don’t want to know that dairy farming depends on the constant butchering of male calves for veal.” He goes on to speak to his own experience as a former vegan and say, “I knew that clearing crop land wipes out wildlife habitat, that grain harvesters mince birds and mammals, and that farmers kill to protect virtually every crop grown in North America. Cerulli’s conclusion was that the practice of rational, responsible, and environmentally aware hunting could benefit humans, the environment, as well as beleaguered animal populations (but decidedly not “the hunted”).
In a large part, our discomfort with hunting comes from our greater discomfort with the idea of killing animals in the first place. But if hunting can be done with mindfulness and humanity (if this is possible), then wouldn’t this be a significant improvement upon what is the meat-eating norm for most (factory farms)? Is it time to revisit our ideas and preconceptions around hunting, or is it best to leave hunting to the history books and a niche part of the population?