How one who loves animals, admires their beauty and believes there is a moral imperative to treat animals humanely, also enjoys hunting.
Raised farming/ranching and having chosen to live in rural areas all my life until the last couple of years, I naturally love and appreciate livestock. I have a special affinity for horses, often preferring my horses’ company to that of many people with whom I have crossed paths. Believing God placed us upon this earth as stewards of all He entrusted to us, I believe animals should always be treated humanely and find myself angered when I witness any animal abuse.
Ok, so how do I find it so easy defending hunting?
I am as passionate about hunting and fishing as I am about horses and livestock. And I realize the bulk of those who attack hunting ordinarily attack livestock production as well, and in fact often oppose humans using horses as animals of burden or for recreation. It is the same misdirected attitudes in either case. I don't ever feel defensive about hunting. (or livestock production, or riding horses or keeping dogs) I believe those males who don't hunt are the ones who need to explain their thinking or lack of it.
I believe hunting is not "justifiable", I believe it is essential both for our earth's sake and for being what God created us to be.
City-bound human males ordinarily become business or social predators for they are still instinctively predators. I am not as strong in my conviction that every man should hunt as some I know who believe any men who do not hunt should not be permitted to eat. I explain why I believe it is possible for man to go against his God-ordained role in the creation and still be acceptable toward the end of this article as I explain domestication of animals, crop production, and massing of populations creating a different economic circle. However, those men who do not hunt are still predators by creation. The instinct ordinarily manifests itself in some manner in their lives. They would ordinarily be better spouses, fathers and citizens if they would take a couple of weeks of vacation and go hunting each year. Perhaps it should be mandated by law to benefit our society? Not likely to happen, but an interesting thought.
I have lived in the outdoors and around wildlife all of my life. I love wildlife of virtually every kind and thoroughly enjoy watching, studying, learning about and interacting with animals every chance I get. I feed birds and rabbits outside my office window and love the wildlife which lives in the immediate vicinity and ventures within feet of my desk as I sit working. I’ve counted over twenty varieties of songbirds outside my window as well as four species of doves, bobwhite quail and roadrunners. I enjoy the Canada geese and a dozen species of ducks that spend time on the lake 100 yards from my office window. I have armadillos, opossum, and coyotes in my yard regularly and love watching all of them.
I have no idea how many thousand coyotes I have seen in my life or how many hundred I have killed, but I still love seeing them and watching them around here. There is no animosity in me at all toward those animals which I kill. I know that sounds unfathomable to many people. But I sincerely believe with most of my killing of wildlife that I am actually taking the higher moral ground than the individual who buys chicken, beef, pork, fish etc. in the grocery store. I am not hiring someone else to kill for me so I can look down upon those who do their own killing. I am honest and forthright about my interaction with the animals and all of the earth about me. I recognize my impact upon both wildlife and livestock. Although it thrills me more to see a huge bull moose or elk, there is nothing inherently more sacred about his life than the life of a Hereford in the pasture beside the road.
Inhumane is a word used in relation to hunting only by those who do not understand either hunting or the earth and nature.
I have watched nature up close and personal all of my life. I have experienced every season first hand many times. I have no hesitation at all when I squeeze the trigger about whether my action is "inhumane". Nature has never figured any way to bring death to hardly any creature in the world as quickly and humanely as I have just done. (lightning might be the exception, but few animals are killed by lightning) “Natural death” comes to animals through a very limited number of causes. To consider whether hunting is "humane" one must understand the alternatives an animal faces.
How does an animal die in nature? Three ways: (99% of all deaths in nature fall into these 3 categories)
Every animal on earth has some other animal that is a predator upon it.
Man is a predator even of the biggest other predators including the great white shark or the grizzly or lion. Whether it is a preying mantis catching a fly, a cat killing a mouse, a coyote killing a deer, a wolf killing a bison, or a man killing whatever... the process is the same and the moral question is the same. If it is not a moral question for the fox to kill the lamb (and I believe it is only an economic issue not a moral one) or for the hawk to kill the snake, then it is not a moral question for the man to kill as a predator either. That is not a moral issue. It is the way God created this earth.
The reality however is that animal predators not only have no concern about humane killing but often prefer methods which keep their prey alive as long as possible to die as slow and agonizing a death as possible. It is the way every predator trains its young. The coyote will bring down a deer by hamstringing it, then rip its bowels out while it is alive, then have its young "fight" with the fatally injured animal however long it takes them to rip its throat or heart or liver to kill it. They do the same with rabbits or whatever... the death screams of the prey are actually educational tools in the development of young predators. Have you ever watched a house cat catch a mouse or a bird and then play with the injured animal for an extended period of time? That is a small glimpse into what non-domesticated predators do. I have sat on a ridge and watched through a spotting scope for over an hour while coyotes worked over a deer that had been brought down but was still very much alive and struggling. Virtually every predator does the same. Only the human hunter strives for an instant and "humane" kill. We are the only species of predators on earth that feels any moral or ethical inclination to spare the animal unnecessary pain or suffering. That is because we respect and appreciate them, holding their lives as sacred and recognizing our God-given role as stewards of this earth.
If you have any question how the “prey” feels during this assault, perhaps you should visit with anyone who has survived attack by either a shark or a grizzly.
Another misnomer related to predators and man as a predator is that it is often said man is the only animal that kills for sport or fun. That is completely erroneous. Virtually every predator kills for the pleasure of killing. A coyote in a flock of sheep will kill every lamb that runs and bleats... what fun! A fox will kill every grouse in the covey and a weasel will clean out an entire chicken house even though it will eat only one of them. (like shooting fish in a barrel... someone penned them up for him!)
Do you really believe the reason a well-fed house cat lies in wait for a bird or a small critter is anything other than pure hunter instinct and the joy of killing? It comes with being a predator.
I list starvation prior to Freezing because too many people believe starvation is only a by-product of winter. It is not at all. More species starve due to drought than due to winter.
Have you ever watched people who are reported on the news in famine and drought stricken lands? The pain of a body consuming itself for fuel hollows out the eyes creating a crazed look. In every one of those countries where drought related starvation is depicted, there are millions of animals in worse shape than those people are. The reason the people are in the shape they are is because the animals have been suffering worse and longer and are no longer there to provide sustenance to the people.
Of course, when drought gets bad and starvation sets in, the predators do very well for a time. Animals concentrate to the few water sources that remain making a predator's work simple. (Humans didn't start the idea of lying in wait near water sources.) With drought then, death comes either by predation (refer back to #1) or by thirst and starvation. The tongue swells, the throat cracks, the blood thickens and no longer carries blood efficiently to the muscles or the brain. Muscles constrict into permanent cramps (ever get a cramp in your leg when you’re dehydrated? how would you like to spend your last days with every muscle in your body cramping?) and the mind goes insane with pain. Finally, as the fluid level drops below critical the muscles seize up altogether and will no longer function and the animal goes into seizures and finally finds relief in death.
Now, as prey species die of lack of food and fluids, the predators no longer have a source of food. In arid regions, it is the coyotes who start starving shortly after the rabbits and other rodents have died off during even a year long drought. Migratory predators such as eagles or hawks can just move somewhere else very quickly. Large predators are forced to range further and further burning increasing numbers of calories in their search for precious life sustaining calories. Large predators kill smaller predators to protect their own food supply. All predators begin to kill one another over territory as the necessity to range further causes them to invade a neighbor's hunting grounds and makes them rivals... they can't both live. It is a vicious circle.
But also, please realize not all starvation is drought related. This is also nature's answer to old age. The number one reason horses in the United States have a shorter life expectancy than horses in Europe is lack of ordinary dental care. As a horse gets older, its teeth become less and less efficient (just kick around in your horse apples and pick them apart looking at the amount of grain that is not processed by horses in their teens) and they miss key nutritional value from their feed. This is the reason horses will live longer and prosper better on rolled grain or processed feeds. Cows are culled for age by "mouthing" them... checking for worn and lost teeth which will result in lower feed utilization, thereby lower calf birth weight, lower milk production and lower weaning weights. A cow that begins to drop in production has lost her economic value as a mother and now we salvage as much of the economic value as possible by slaughtering her before she starts losing lots of body weight. What a favor we are actually doing her!
No one does that for wild animals, protecting them from the starvation that results from aging and the inability to forage or hunt and process food efficiently. They just go downhill until they starve to death. You see no one and nothing ever really dies of old age. Death in nature is always the brutal impact that accompanies aging. No one puts tubes in them to provide nourishment or cans special foods to sustain them in old age or provides drugs to alleviate the pain of a body slowly ceasing to function. The death you would never dream of allowing your dog to die is the natural fate of most predators and the vast majority of other animals.
The population control of hunting not only prevents those individuals harvested from experiencing these horrors, it provides for a sustainable population on the territory available by preventing the over browsing and over grazing that results in starvation. I believe hunting is a necessary moral and ethical pursuit anywhere a human population exists. The existence of humans in any significant numbers precludes the existence of the other large predators as they simply do not coexist harmoniously. Actually, no large predators ever coexist harmoniously, man is just more efficient at eliminating competition and many of the large predators will not remain where humans arrive. Grizzlies, wolves and large cats prefer to not live in the same regions with man if given a choice... they will simply move.
I separate this from starvation although it ties together with both of the first two natural causes. The only thing unique with freezing is that in the cases where a long hard winter is a factor freezing effectively shortens the suffering experienced by starvation. Of course, winter creates a whole second scenario for starvation that goes beyond drought.
In winter climates, food may become unavailable either by becoming covered and inaccessible or by creating a situation where the animals cannot travel. Ironically almost all predators can travel on top of snow or ice. So winter creates a bountiful harvest for many predators as the prey become hampered in their movement and the predators can move freely. Back to the reality of death by predation; which may still be preferable to starvation or freezing as the horror lasts only minutes or perhaps a few hours while in starvation or freezing the painful horror may well last for days or weeks.
In actual freezing situations, the body is unable to produce enough heat to keep the blood flowing adequately. Thus blood slows allowing tissue to begin to turn to ice crystals as there is fluid in every cell. An animal that moves once its tissue begins to freeze, including lung movement related to breathing, experiences the terrible pain of ice crystals slicing the nerves as the tissue destroys itself. Picture a million tiny razors inside your muscles and chest and head. The agony of frostbite people experience occasionally is just a small experience of the beginning of this death. You don't rub frostbite because the ice formed in the tissue will create major damage that will result even in the loss of limbs. But I have never seen an animal with the option of running a bathtub full of warm water and soaking in it to enable the tissues to gradually thaw. The next time you take a steak out of the freezer and unwrap it, pause for a moment and look at the tissue and the ice crystals in every cell. Realize for a moment this is exactly what is happening inside the bodies of millions of animals dying every winter.
The animal that dies instantly in the autumn from a hunter's bullet will never know the pain that those who escaped may this moment be feeling.
Is hunting inhumane? Not by any rational standard, it is not.
Sure, a few animals die other ways. Some drown. Lightning does get a few. Many are run over by cars. (hardly an act of nature) But the vast majority of deaths in nature are either by predation, starvation, or freezing.
A myth about predation (and to a lesser extent about starvation and freezing): "The herd is kept strong and healthy because predators only take the weak or sick." The weakest animals of most species or in a herd by actual numbers both of existence and of those killed by predators (and starvation and freezing) are:
Anyone who argues natural selection through predation or freezing or starving is either disingenuous or has not spent significant time observing the realities of the wild world.
A case study: (actual)
In farm/ranch country where pheasants live, winter poses a special problem for the population only human predators can address. If there is limited cover and the weather is severe, the roosters will dominate the most protected spots and the smaller, less aggressive hens are forced out of the protecting habitat. The following spring there will be few pheasant hens remaining to breed, predators will harvest the same number of nests, nesting hens, and chicks as always which is now a huge percentage related to the decreased population and the following year will see virtually no pheasants at all and the predators will be starving. It takes only one rooster for about every 25 hens, so there will never be a reduction in pheasant population related to legal hunting. You could harvest 95% of the roosters each fall and still have an increasing population every year. It is necessary to harvest a high number of pheasants every year in order to maintain the population. In other words, and this is not overstating it at all, if we don't kill them there will be fewer every year until there are virtually none. Their population flourishes best where hunted the hardest. This is a simple matter of being stewards of the land and nature. (only roosters are legally harvested in every state to my knowledge) Natural predators also do the best where pheasants are hunted the hardest. There is never a day in great pheasant country you aren't kicking up coyotes, fox, bobcats and watching overhead eagles, hawks and owls. The really savvy hunter does not ever shoot these predators out of concern for the pheasant population. If there is no overwhelming economic issue present then the predators are ordinarily left alone by those who understand nature.
Case study 2:
Antelope, deer and elk populations are never maintained stable with only killing males. In fact this is one area where hunters undermine themselves often preferring to shoot a bull or buck when they would be better served over the long run by taking a cow or doe. Besides providing better meat for the table, unless a bull or buck is truly a trophy to be revered over a period of time, then it is preferable where there is a need for population control to harvest a female and allow the male to mature into the type of trophy the hunter would be proud to take. Shooting immature males is no more challenging than shooting cows or does. They do not have the wariness and cunning the mature bulls and bucks have developed due to their intense competition with one another. The young males are still following their mothers even through the first year or two after they are weaned and so are no challenge at all to take. As it takes very few males to sustain a herd, true population control must involve the taking of females.
Trying to tell a cat to quit desiring to hunt mice or birds, a fox to quit hunting lambs, a lizard to quit hunting bugs, is no more foreign to its nature than trying to tell man not to hunt. Man is by creation and design a predator. Animals which are primarily predators wear their eyes in the front of their skulls. Prey wear their eyes on the sides of their heads so they can see behind as well as in front. This was God's design. To me, questioning God's design in making man a predator makes no more sense than questioning his design in making women mothers. Would you argue that maternal instinct is not genetically based? Predation is not a moral or ethical question.
Stewardship IS a moral and ethical question.
Stewardship requires managing resources and caring for them. When our presence creates any imbalance in nature, as it always does, it requires some measure of active stewardship to rectify that imbalance so the domino effect doesn't continue and destroy all of God's creation. Domesticating livestock, for instance, has created multiple impacts upon nature. It creates easier prey for wild predators. That is largely the object with domestication... cows are easier to manage, kill and eat than deer. But making the prey easier creates a conflict between man and other predators. “These are our prey! Raised by us to harvest systematically! If you kill them, you threaten our population and individually our economic security. Conflict!!!” And so the larger and, in this case, more efficient predator kills the smaller or less cunning predator. It is nature.
The predator conflict is happening everywhere whether man is present or not. Domestication just introduces an economic factor. Man is able to cluster in communities only because of domestication. Were there not the ability to provide meat to the masses, there would never have been the first city. A few can feed the many, so the many can pursue other livelihoods which provide compensation for the herders. The jobs of computer programmers in the city would never have existed, nor continue, without the cattle rancher, pig and chicken farmer and sheepherder. He produces excess food which is marketed to those who produce no food. Those who do not produce food pay for their food. The circle expands and is mutually beneficial.
We might go the next step and say large scale livestock production would never have existed and would serve no purpose without the cities. Remove the non-food-producing population masses and you bankrupt every rancher in America and starve all his cattle this year.
I hope that through this article you have come to understand the mindset of one who reveres wildlife and yet has no qualms about picking up a gun and going afield. I feel better about doing this, in fact, than I do in picking up a menu in the restaurant or a package in the grocery store. The only satisfaction I derive from either of those is the knowledge I am participating in a part of the economic circle that makes the ranching lifestyle I love possible. And though I am not able to live that lifestyle right now, I am making it possible for someone else to do so.
Jack was raised in a Christian home where he spent his youth preparing to preach God’s word. First published at thirteen, writing and speaking became Jack’s passions. Whether through newspaper columns, magazine articles, radio broadcasts or public speaking engagements, Jack continues to share his heart with his readers. His life’s motto: To Know God, and To Show Him To Others.