Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hunting Ethics and Terriers

A repost from June 2005.

The hunting community has given a LOT of serious thought to ethical hunting and perhaps this is a topic over-due for discussion in the arena of working terriers.

As the folks at Boone and Crockett note:
"We live in a democracy where in the rules by which we live are determined by majority vote. For those who value hunting, it is fortunate that the majority of the population who do not hunt tolerate or accept hunting. If hunting is to survive to be practiced by future generations, we must preserve, enhance, and protect the image of hunting, hunters, and land stewards as a positive force in wildlife conservation."

Every person will come to their own place when it comes to ethical hunting. I do not like canned bird shoots, for example, while others may find nothing wrong with them. Each to his own.

I broach the topic of ethical hunting, not so we reach the same place, but so people will think about this topic a bit more. How do we represent our sport? How do we do right by the dogs and by the quarry?

As stewards for a type of hunting that is hundreds of years old, how do we make sure terrier work is passed down, intact, to the next generation?

There should always be respect for honest differences of opinion, of course, but opinion should be grounded in thought and information.

I am always amazed that so few people in the U.S. know the history of hunting and wildlife management in this country. A small start at education can be had by visiting the "Fair Chase" web site which notes that:

"As hunters and land managers, we are in the 'image business' - even more so now than at the turn of the century when 'fair chase' was proposed as the underlying foundation for hunter ethics. For sportsmen to continue to be the dominant force in setting wildlife resource policies we must, and foremost understand our role as conservationists. We should take pride in accomplishments and recognize, and assume the responsibilities that have been passed to us by our hunting forefathers. If we don't stand up for wildlife and its habitats, who will? We are, in the end, a 'band of brothers and sisters' in that what we do individually affects us all."

Standing up for wildlife and habitats is not something we hear much about in the terrier world for some reason. Perhaps knowledge of quarry and habitats is what is missing.

Perhaps it is what should be added.

I am always amazed to find hunters
who have never taken the time to learn about the animals they hunt. For these people, terrier work is not a commune with nature, but a proxy for dog fighting or a paper certificate. A deer is nothing but a target and a trophy. A duck is just a feathered clay pigeon.

The true hunter knows the difference between a rat and a raccoon, a squirrel and a fox, a groundhog and a possum. They know what each animal eats, how often they breed, their population densities in various habitats, and their natural mortality rates.

A true hunter knows that you cannot hunt out all the rats on a dairy farm or shoot out all the squirrels in a 200-acre oak woods, but that you can knock all the raccoon or fox off a farm in a single weekend.

An ethical hunter does not bleed the land white.

A smart hunter thinks twice before dispatching a fox or a raccoon. Is it really necessary to terminate this animal? What harm is this animal really doing? If it is a nuisance animal for some reason, make dispatch swift and offer no apologies. But think it through. A released raccoon and fox can be hunted again. If the animal is not a true pest, and it otherwise unscathed, releasing it is more than good ethics -- it is also good hunting.

A lot of ethical hunting is just good manners -- close fences you open, don't trespass, fill holes you dig in the fields, park out of the way, don't rut the fields, and keep a low profile.

Ethical hunting is mostly about respect -- respect for the farm and the farmers, respect for the crops and the livestock, and even respect for people that do not hunt (waving a bloody shirt is no way to preserve hunting).

Respect extends to dogs and quarry. Respect for the dogs means that you work to reduce the incidence of injury to the animal. Once you get down to the quarry and it can be reached, you pull the terrier and do the job YOU are supposed to do, which is swift dispatch or quick release.

A seriously injured dog is not treated as a "red badge of courage" but as a failure of either the dog or the digger to work in a sustainable manner. Routine injury is not a sustainable way to hunt -- and the goal of the serious digger is to hunt next week, as well as this.

Respect for the quarry means you dispatch it as quickly and humanely as possible, and if pictures are taken for posterity, they are tasteful. Remember that killing the enemy is part of war, but displaying disrespectful pictures of the dead and wounded is a war crime. There is a lesson there, and the ethical hunter gets it.

An ethical hunter is the opposite of the slob hunter. The slob hunter drives his truck down the middle of the field and mows down the hedgerow. He leaves gates open and drives into the 7-Eleven with a bleeding doe in full view in the back of his pickup truck. The slob hunter does not know the difference between a gray fox and a red fox, and does not spend more than 30 minutes tracking his gut-shot deer.

Ethical hunters tend to be better hunters than slob hunters for the same reason that people who handicap themselves in golf tend to be better players than people who want a "gimme" at every hole.

I am happy to report that ethical hunting is on the ascendancy in the U.S. As wildlife has roared back from the edge of extinction and finding game has become easier, more and more people are affirming the hunting experience by turning to black powder and bow. When Colorado decided to ban hunting bear over bait (steel drums filled with jelly donuts and pizza), bear hunting increased because it was no longer seen as "slob shooting" but real hunting that required wood craft and skill.

Those that fish will understand. When we were five years old our fathers or grandfathers took us to a stocked trout pond and we were guaranteed a catch (paid per pound). A few years later we were mad fishermen killing everything we caught. As over-enthusiastic youth, we used live bait, tail-snagged fish during Spring runs, and bought packages of hooks with multiple barbs.

As we got better at fishing, most of us turned to catch-and-release and artificial lures. The best of us crushed the barbs off our hooks. We may have turned to fly fishing. No one bought a fish finder.

There is nothing wrong with killing -- it's part of hunting, but as we get older and better at wood-craft we realize that killing is not hunting in and of itself. We do not say a slaughterhouse worker is hunting, though we say a man who returns without a buck has been out hunting hard and "better luck tomorrow".

Those of us who love this land and the creatures on it recognize that hunting is a necessary part of game management and an important economic and political engine protecting America's wild places and farms. That said, we also need to recognize that just as it is important to protect the land and the streams, so too is it important to instill in the next generation a sense of hunting history and hunting ethics, and a sense of decorum when dealing with the non-hunting public.

It is sad, but true, that honorable minority communities are often scandalized and victimized by ugly and criminal elements within their midst. That is true for immigrant communities and racial minorities, but it also true for hunters.

It has been said that a minority community knows it has come of age when the worst acts of a few can no longer be used to characterize the larger whole. The good news is that we may be there with hunting in general. It remains to be seen as to whether we will get there with terrier work in particular.


Anonymous said...

Hear him!

I find it amazing how many people will consider the effort spent killing a wild thanksgiving turkey a exercise in unnecessary cruelty without thinking of the suffering that was necessary to produce the supermarket butterball that they prefer. Animals taken by a hunter for food are allowed to follow their instincts for their entire lives and are dispatched in the quickest most appealing way that nature allows. Meat from the market is almost exclusively produced in cruel disgusting conditions.


FrogDogz said...

He leaves gates open and drives into the 7-Eleven with a bleeding doe in full view in the back of his pickup truck.

I INSTANTLY thought of this satement when I saw this photo --

Does it still apply if it's his trunk, and at a Walmart?

Donald McCaig said...

Dear Patrick,
My farm lies between 160000 acres of National Forest and 18000 acres of Virginia wildlife Commission land. It has been years since I hunted but we are not posted.

In 40 years we've made enduring friendships, been given deer and rabbit meat and encountered just two yoyos. One merely fired within fifty yards of the house, the other was (I think) a couple city kids who'd seen nothing on their hunt and thought it would be fun to shoot a couple sheep. The two ewes had lambs on them and watching a lamb try to nurse its dead mother brought Anne to tears. I wrote about it (The boys in the lime green chevrolet) for NPR and it was picked up by Virginia newspapers.

For several years after, I was asked "Did they ever catch those kids?"


But one hunter shook his head, "Maybe not. But some hunter knows who they are and they won't do it again."

I think he was right.


geonni banner said...

I have a number of vegetarian friends, (I myself do not eat pork or poultry because of the horrific conditions those animals are raised in) And I have had occasion to talk with them about hunting.

The question that comes up most often - especially when speaking of hunting with raptors - is why do we need to do it? We don't feed ourselves that way, so why do it?

I tell them that the pot-hunter is alive and well, And I have heard pot-hunters say that they would much rather shoot a deer, wild pig or bird than eat the raised-in-filth-and-cruelty meat in the supermarket.

And of course, there is the fact that we have a surplus of wild meat running around, such as wild geese and deer. Why not eat them and send fewer cattle, hogs and poultry to mechanical slaughter?

I don't know about falcons, the only people I know of who do hunting with raptors are the Mongolians. Their eagles are good for both livestock predator hunting and pot hunting. But a dog or horse bred for work (and not pretend work, like horse racing or agility competition)is a better dog all round.

As for terriers, at the very least, we will never run out of rats. And for the dogs themselves? I believe that a dog with a job - who lives to do its work, is a healthy dog - mentally and physically. It's true for stock dogs, and even with no terrier hunting experience, I'd lay money that it's true for hunting terriers.

We, as a species may never rely on the using horse and the working/hunting dog as much as we have in the past. But that could change. As I have heard it said about other things, better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it. People who can't grok that should probably stick to goldfish for pets.

terriergal said...

great article. I did find this though " I do not like canned bird shoots, for example," that's fine. And as you say to each his own. Your dogs aren't really bird dogs I think. But I had contemplated using my airedales for bird hunting for a while, but ultimately health issues really stopped me from doing any of that. Still, one thing that would help in the training process is to go for a canned bird hunt. Especially in areas where there are few birds naturally, to help him make the mental transition from training dummies to live birds. It also can be used to keep your dog on his game in the off season. In my mind this is much like a mother cat bringing home an injured prey animal to teach her kittens what to do with it.

As to something like high fence hunting, I'm not particularly opposed to that either, considering how difficult it is to get overseas to hunt certain types of exotic game. I will probably never do it, but no problem with those who do. It's not really that much 'easier' due to the fence. It might be easier due to the fact that the animals' exposure to people as predators is more controlled and happens less. As long as game isn't wasted, it's fine. Not particularly challenging, but the inherent value of a captive deer's life is the same as a wild deer's life.

What gets me is when a hunter makes mistakes (as we all do from time to time) and it blows up into an international controversy. The whole brouhaha over cecil the lion was pretty shameful. Yeah sounds like the operation was sketchy and breaking some rules, but the rules that were broken weren't the issue for most, it was that he was over there killing lions (or anything else) at all. As a result lots of lion hunting trips were cancelled and not long after, the country was saying now there are too many lions, which is a danger to the people and livestock in that area. Not to mention the lost revenue to the area. This is most of the time what the case is. People have been lately saying that Donald Trump's son Don Jr is a psychopath because he is a trophy hunter. Uh, no, that in itself has no bearing on whether these guys are ethically fit to be our new royal family. (I use the term royal family deliberately, of course). No matter how perfectly we all conduct ourselves in the field, they're going to find a way to tar and feather us eventually. I'm not saying we shouldn't care, but we should not be too hopeful that spotless ethics will matter to those who don't understand where the meat most of them eat comes from.

to the comment made by geonni banner - there is plenty of falconry still going on in the US and all over the world. It's difficult and expensive to get into due to regulations on how the birds are kept and cared for, but people do it, most definitely. It's something I would love to do, but again, doubt I ever will. By the time we have enough money to buy some rural land on which to engage in all my favorite hobbies, I'm almost certain the arthritis in my back/neck will be prohibitive.

Donald McCaig - your story about the kids killing sheep - it happened in central MN that someone shot someone's alpaca during archery deer season. It was in the pasture but was killed by a rifle. Since people usually violate the law to obtain a trophy animal, I suspect this one was simply done out of malice and had nothing to do with hunting/mistaken identification of an animal. Clearly there was no rack to collect! It was so disturbing that someone would do such a thing.