MAYBE IT WAS THE IMAGE OF the Trump boys hefting the body of a small leopard one of them had just shot, or maybe it was that infamous shot of Trump Junior holding up the severed tail of an elephant—whatever the impetus, hunting has been on my mind lately. This time of year it’s a natural topic of conversation around many tables, when questions like “Did you get your deer yet?” or “How many turkeys have you seen?” or even “Are you going for a bear this year?” tend to come up when things get slow. But the fact that, as we go to press, the president is considering overturning a 2014 ban on the import of animal ’trophies’ brought the subject front and center, albeit in a context that doesn’t foster reasoned discourse.
I am not a hunter—never have been, though I’ve slaughtered more than my share of trout, bass, pike, perch, bluegills and catfish in my time. Many, no, most, of my friends hunt. They are, as far as I’m aware, responsible about how they approach it, respectful of property rights and laws governing kill limits, seasons, gun regulations and so on. One friend used to occasionally leave a grouse on the front porch on his way to work after a good morning bird hunt, and our friends have shared many warm dinners featuring their harvest of venison, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, grouse, duck, quail and goose.
We’ve never really examined or sanctioned hunting in these pages, however. What venison recipes we’ve printed applied to farmed animals and commercial products. I don’t subscribe to the shallow philosophy that says if you don’t kill it, gut it and skin it yourself then you shouldn’t eat it, though I’ve done that, and I believe that most people come out of that experience with a greater respect and appreciation for life, ironic as it sounds.
That said, the issue of hunting becomes blurred by two words: bozos and trophies. A neighbor, using fluorescent paint, used to spray “horse” on the side of his horses every deer season, after losing two to wahoos with rifles. It might be funny if it weren’t such a common occurrence. For too many, “deer season” means it’s time to dust off the ol’ .30-06, put on the Carhart vest, drive upstate and kill something— anything—that has four legs and wanders into their sights. Tracking ability? Survival skills? Only if they came packaged with the premium stereo in the new SUV.
The concept of trophy hunting is another bewilderment. I like a good argument as much as the next guy, but I’ve yet to hear convincing proof that shooting an animal from a distance where sight begins to falter, then nailing its head to the living room wall certifies that a person (man or woman) has superior skills as a human being, better hormones or a larger sex organ. This is particularly apropos when it comes to those “hunters” who are helicoptered in to managed habitat, fed, outfitted, guided to their game (or, if they can afford it, have the game guided to them), assured that their kill is good population management practice, then flown home first class, comfortable in assuming that the meat of their kill will feed the local population while its head is being stuffed, mounted and readied for shipping home.
With the very rare exception of some troupes of chimpanzees, no creature on this earth other than homo sapiens kills another species simply for pride or pleasure.
And there’s the rub. To hunt for sustenance or survival is, let’s face it, human. Unfortunately, to pose laughing next to a creature you’ve just killed for no good reason other than the photo op apparently is, too.