I confess. I once had an addiction. In an earlier life, I was a hunter and trapper of wildlife. Later, in the service, I extended it to humankind.
I’ve been in self-inspired recovery since being hunted, nearly trapped and shot at myself and witnessing first-hand too much bloodshed, agony and death.
I’ve concluded at my advanced age that life is too precious no matter what its form. I have no right to choose when life ends for any living creature no matter the reason or justification short of self-preservation. I believe we will have to answer, if there’s a Great Beyond, for deaths that we bear responsibility, human or animal.
I now live in semi-wilderness not far from the St. Croix River. I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s on the North Hill in Stillwater in a familial culture where hunting and trapping was an annual tradition. One learned the trade early on, imbued with the belief that one had to learn to hunt and kill as a sacred right of masculine passage. Returning home with the slain was proof of your skill, and a trophy kill a badge of personal honor and achievement.
I stopped hunting and trapping long ago. For years, I was ambivalent about speaking out because I accepted the cultural and psychological influences motivating those who grew up considering unnecessary killing a sport. I’ve come to recognize how superficial, shallow, fleeting and self-destructive is this violent indulgence.
I’ve come 180 degrees. For me, it is the senseless open seasons on wolves, bears, and in Wisconsin, even mourning doves.
The hunting of deer, upland birds and waterfowl once seemed justified to put food on the family table. Today, the cost of a box of ammunition exceeds the price of meat at the grocery store. In my area, one could easily survive indefinitely on fresh road kill.
Statistically, wolves and bears present no significant threat to people, domestic animals or human habitat if reasonable precautions are taken to discourage their incursions into our domain. The idea of hunting mourning doves is obscenely ludicrous.
What I’ve witnessed in the 12 years at the small Northwoods lake where I live is a dramatic decline of lower -end food chain wildlife, birds and the creatures that sustain the natural infrastructure — dam building, weed control and water quality, erosion mitigation, fish reproduction, small mammal and amphibian shoreline character. This comes from trapping, over hunting and mindless pollution. We now see accounts of dogs killed by increasingly sophisticated traps planted in the woods. This is insane.
Given my evolved feelings about hunting and trapping over the past year or so, I’ve informally tried to get a handle on the demographics, at least in my area, of those actively involved hunting and trapping sportsmen and women. My demographic sampling spanned the regional socio-cultural spectrum for economic status, education, employment and professional background. Minorities represented less than five percent of active hunters and trappers. This is a predominantly homegrown cultural activity that transcends stereotyping.
I found that most sportsmen and women were gun/NRA advocates, dismissive of the theory of climate change and its environmental impact, were ignorant of infrastructure/quality of life concerns, were mostly conservative in their politics and religious views and advocates of right-to-life and other evangelistic social issues. Few have served in the military especially in combat situations.
Where does the right to life idea begin and end and to whom and what does it apply? I’m moved to ask how right-to-life conviction is left at the doorstep when considering the sanctity of life in any other natural conception?
Maybe I’m on the wrong track and should be thankful and relieved when the fall is here, the harvest moon rises in the sky, frost is on the pumpkin and stalwarts with their dogs wearing radio tracking devices, cell phones, high powered weaponry and sniper and skirmish lines to defend the rest of us who apparently live in constant fear of invasion by bears, wolves and mourning doves.
Absent a clear and present danger, there is no compelling need or justification for this killing when other humane wildlife management remedies are available to deal with non-human species of almost any kind. The ego burst for bringing a trophy into the local tavern or getting a photo in the regional paper is not one of them.
For eons, Mother Earth, The Great Spirit or whoever is in charge, has adjudicated the balance of nature and it’s continued to thrive without human interference. It will continue to do so unless we allow the naked ape to upset the balance. Listen to our Native American brethren.
Bradley E. Ayers is a regular contributor on these pages. He is a 77-year-old St. Croix Valley native now living in northwestern Wisconsin, and a former Army Ranger special operations officer and a veteran of CIA and DEA service.