- 3 Things I Want Anti-Hunters to Understand About Hunting & Fishing - September 24, 2021
I’m perched on the cool edge of southern Idaho’s Boise River on a hot August afternoon, at a rocky river spot I call Medicine Bank. Medicine Bank is named for the rich variety of medicinal summer plants I’ve found here on its shore: wild mint sun-warm to the touch on the water’s edge, St. John’s Wort glowing gold, and bright evening primrose opening and clasping shut in faithful rhythm with the light-play of each passing day. My husband Forrest stands beside me with our border heeler River. We’re after fish today.
“Fish on!” Forrest shouts into the silence. Before his voice can finish echoing across the valley, he reels in the rainbow trout du jour, a large mature fish with gorgeous markings.
This trout is our harvest, our “keeper”. We toast to our success with gratitude for the trout’s life, place him carefully on ice in our cooler, and spend some long hours fishing at that stony shore. We catch and release several smaller, less mature rainbows before heading homeward, gleefully quiet, sated by the river’s-edge memories and the promise of fresh-caught dinner.
Once we arrive home, we gut the fish, stuff his body cavity with generous pats of grass-fed butter and spoonfuls of fresh-minced garlic, grill him whole, flake his meat off the bone with a fork, and whip up field-to-table fish tacos on flour tortillas with chipotle mayo, fresh red onion, citrusy cilantro, and lime. The meal feels fresh and light, with crisp, delicate flavors that we savor on the patio between cold sips of mellow golden beer. The tacos are so fresh that they don’t have even the tiniest hint of “fishiness”. This fish is pure flaky, buttery goodness.
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We share the leftover fillet with the dogs and feed the head and tail to the cats, who devour it reverently. Nothing goes to waste. In moments like these, harvesting nature, living slow and eating slow, I find myself acutely aware of just how precious these field-to-table moments feel. These moments can’t be bought, manufactured, or rushed into. They must simply be experienced and enjoyed as the priceless, timeless treasures they are.
Many anti-hunters, including those who are vegetarian or vegan but also including omnivorous anti-hunters who buy their weekly meat neatly bundled up at their local grocery stores, hold the perception that hunters and anglers are murderers, or get off on some kind of bloodlust that fuels them to kill without remorse. And although those hunters do unfortunately exist, in my experience, they’re the extreme outliers.
Most hunters and anglers are deeply conservation-minded people who share an intense connection with the land they steward and the wildlife they help manage. That being said, there are 3 things in particular that I want anti-hunters to understand about the lifestyles and choices of those who choose to hunt and fish:
1. Hunting and fishing are conservation.
“Hunting is conservation” is a common catchphrase amongst hunters, but is it true, and if so, what does it actually mean in practice?
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, is designed to position hunting and angling as participatory acts of conservation by empowering hunters and anglers to manage game species in scientifically-supported ways that aim to keep these species at optimum levels in perpetuity.
In this model, fish and wildlife are held by the public in a trust with hunting and fishing to be regulated at the federal and state levels. Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife are prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations, and game must be hunted or fished only for food, fur, self-defense, or the protection of property, including livestock.
The North American Model recognizes science as the basis for informed wildlife management and decision-making processes. This science-based approach draws from the writings of Aldo Leopold, who in the 1930s called for a wildlife conservation movement facilitated by trained wildlife biologists who make decisions based on facts, professional experience, and commitment to shared underlying principles rather than strictly interests of hunting, stocking, or culling of predators. The decisions that are made by informed wildlife biologists impact hunting and fishing seasons and regulations each and every year across the United States.
In this way, hunting and angling as direct actions unto themselves promote conservation that is rooted in informed management; the number of tags issued each year dovetail with wildlife science, complementing research about which types and what scope of hunting and fishing are required or allowable each year to maintain stable populations of wild game species. Conservation-minded hunters and anglers practice sustainable harvesting of animals in alignment with this data-driven system. The end result is wildlife management prescribed by science and played out by hunters and anglers in the field.
And thanks to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, popularly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, when hunters purchase their permits, tags, stamps, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and boat motor fuel, they are taxed a special excise tax that goes directly toward boots-on-the-ground conservation efforts in all 50 states.
“Hunting is conservation” is more than just a catchphrase. It’s a fact. Hunters and anglers, despite their declining numbers in recent years, remain some of the leading contributors toward conservation efforts in North America.
2. For conservation-minded hunters, hunting and fishing are not expressions of barbarism. In fact, the opposite is true: Hunting and fishing are, at their best, profound expressions of care and respect for the natural world.
For conservation-minded hunters, each game animal life is not only highly valuable for the purpose of putting food on the table, but also inherently precious within the greater ecosystem. Why is that? The truth is, the more intimate we are with nature, the more we tend to appreciate its bounty and feel inspired–even obligated–to care for it. By getting outside and hunting for one’s own food, one deepens one’s felt sense of connection and interdependence with nature, inspiring ever-deepening stewardship and respect for its land, waters, and wildlife.
Compare that experience with the norm of the everyday Western consumer who supports the industrial food industry. Even vegans must contend with the reality that death alone has made their food possible: There’s a reason why vultures circle the combines in the fields at harvest time, and it’s not because they love their veggies. It’s because of all the animals killed by the farm equipment.
Food, no matter how it is procured, requires death. Even when gardening at home, the soil cannot stay fertile without being enriched by the decaying carcasses of dead things. For vegans who eat food sourced from monocropped agriculture, entire ecosystems are bulldozed to the ground to make way for new farm fields, causing vast swaths of habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and wildlife displacement. Meanwhile, those who purchase industrially-sourced meat often find themselves financially supporting farms at which animals are crammed into inhumane proximity for their entire lives, meeting torturous ends at slaughterhouses.
If we’re all causing harm in some way or another by being alive and choosing to eat, then what are we to do? Hunters and anglers may have something to teach us in this regard.
Hunters and anglers strive to take responsibility for their ecological impact in a way that can actually ultimately cause less harm: Harvesting animals that have lived full, wild lives quickly, cleanly, and ethically, while preserving the balance of bigger-picture ecosystems.
This assumption of total responsibility for one’s impact on the land while in pursuit of food, paired with the intentional act of ongoing connection with nature, speak to a deep honor and respect for the natural world that is reinforced in conservation-minded hunting and angling communities. Ethical hunters and anglers approach our world–and the problems that face it–with great care and nuance that arises from their perspective: a perspective that interprets protecting balance in the natural world as a matter of urgency.
3. Hunting and fishing, although not currently accessible or sustainable for everyone in the face of a rapidly urbanizing American landscape and all-time human population high, are intensely meaningful paths to connection with the land and a way to live lightly on this earth while putting food on the table.
While I acknowledge and lament the fact that hunting and angling are not currently accessible for everyone who wishes to participate (that’s a whole article unto itself), for those who are able, hunting and fishing are excellent ways to live lightly on this earth–with a lower footprint–and to actively connect with the land while putting food on the table.
Our outdoor heritage, lived out in today’s hunting and angling cultures, has a rich history. This heritage is rooted in nutritional necessity, but it also transcends necessity, having become deeply American in its own right as a celebration of nature, nourishment, and connection sourced in wild kinship.
When we hunt and fish, we’re acutely plugged into nature and all her gifts. We experience the landscape and the living world around us with greater degrees of precision, presence, fascination, and wonder. Procuring wild food nurtures our bodies toward health and our spirits toward greater connectivity with all that is. Time spent connecting with nature on a deeper, more intimate level even makes us better people, promoting greater empathy, presence, contentment, creativity, community, and holistic wellbeing.
I’m not saying you need to become a hunter or an angler today (although if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to point you toward some helpful resources to get you started), but I am saying that hunting and fishing, so often demonized, have negative public perceptions that often prove undeserved. Hunting and fishing are valid, ethical ways of honoring and respecting not just a tradition or ancestral way of being, but also a rewarding and nourishing ongoing way of life that may do significantly less harm than anti-hunters assume.