Why Do You Hunt?

BY:  Tomme R. Actkinson


You're at work or a party.  The talk moves to your favorite subject, deer and deer hunting.  Then someone asks the question.  "Why do you hunt?"  Someone else says, "Deer are so beautiful.  How can you kill Bambi?"  Next thing you know you're on the defensive, trying to justify that you're not a heartless, vicious killer.  Why do you spend all of that time, energy and money just to get a deer?  Is it simply blood lust or is there a deeper reason?    Why DO you Hunt?

Probably every hunter has been asked (or has asked himself) "WHY?" and knows how difficult it is to put the answer into words.  Perhaps it's because the answer is personal and emotional.  Emotions are hard to explain logically (If you don't believe this, try explaining to someone why you love them.).  Difficult though it may be, you need a logical answer.  Your answer may well be critical to the future of hunting. Eighty per cent of the population are not hunters nor are they antihunters.   A good answer to a member of this group may gain us a supporter.  A bad answer may create an antihunter.

As a boy growing up in central Texas, I assumed that everyone loved hunting.  Later, as I learned otherwise, there was a tendency to become defensive. At times I have overreacted, automatically assuming that the questioner was against me and against hunting.  I now know that this is often not the case and try to fit my answer to the motivation of the questioner.

John Lippincott in a a very interesting article which appeared in the August, 1987 issue of "Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine" wrote that there are three groups of people who ask the "Why do you hunt?"  question. Some simply want to understand you better.  They know you love to hunt and are trying to understand what motivates you.  When a member of this group asks, "Why do you hunt?", they really want to understand you better.  They are potential allies and deserve a serious answer.

A second group is really asking "Why do you kill?"  Lippincott notes that this group wants you to justify or at least address the killing aspect of the sport.  I also feel that this group has bought off on the myth of an idyllic natural existence.  They picture "Bambi" and his family in an almost human home environment.  An answer which simply addresses the enjoyment you take from the hunting experience, and doesn't deal with killing, especially of such beautiful creatures, will be regarded as a poor response.  This group is sometimes open to logic and may be willing to listen.  While you probably won't convert them to hunting, they may decide that it's O.K. for others to do so.

A third group consists of antihunting moralists, just waiting to label you a barbaric killer.  They take a moral position that life is sacred and that all killing is wrong.  A sport which has killing as its final goal, and that people enjoy, is enough to really get them going.  You won't make any converts from this group.   By their definition they are morally right and therefore you are immoral.  What you can hope to do is show others that the "antihunting moralist" is a fanatic and that their position and tactics run counter to the principles on which our country was founded.

But how do you know to which group your questioner belongs?   One good technique is to ask the questioner how he or she feels about hunting. This will let you know who you are dealing with.

If you are dealing with an anti-hunting moralist, and are at a social gathering, Lippinncott suggests you may simply choose to defer the debate.  There is nothing wrong with saying  "I believe that we both feel strongly about this matter.  But this is not the time nor place to discuss it.  Rather than bore these people and perhaps ruin the evening I'll be happy to meet with you at a time of mutual convenience to discuss the matter."

Antihunters want an audience.  Remove the audience and they often have little to say.  There is nothing that says you must get into an argument on a social occasion.  If you don't feel confident in your ability to win a debate; or if you simply don't feel that the other people at the party want to hear one, then there is no reason for you to argue.  If the antihunter persists and you play this right, others present will be mad at the antihunter.  It also gives you a chance to make comments like, "I have said that this is not an appropriate time or place to discuss this, while I admire your passion, I deplore your fanaticism on the subject.   As I said earlier this time is inappropriate, let's drop the matter now and I'll make an appointment to meet you later one on one.

At times you will feel a need to respond directly, but try not to say too much.  Deer hunting is a subject I can, and often do, talk for hours about.  Most people, however, do not want an hour long dissertation on the merits of hunting and I've undoubtedly bored a few to death.  On the other hand I believe in an active defense when an anti-hunter tries to tar the entire hunting profession with disfavor.  We don't want to surrender the floor simply because we're not ready.

If you choose to argue the issue directly, you need to be able to answer the question of "Why do you kill?".  You may be told by nonhunters and antihunters alike, "All killing is wrong.   Life is sacred."  There are some obvious replies to this statement.  You might point out that all humans kill many times each day.  If you eat meat, it was killed, if not by you, then for you.  Most vegetarians kill plants, as does anyone who weeds their lawn.

If the person says that plants don't count but animals do, you might ask, "Is the life of a cockroach sacred? or a Termite?".  These are both animals, yet most people would kill them without question.  When we walk down the street, drive our car or build a house we make a decision which results in the death of many animals.  The simple fact of our personal existence causes the death of thousands of creatures over our lifespan. Yes even antihunters kill.

If they say "Those don't count, those are insects."  "Ask where they draw the line: Fish, birds, mammals?"  You might also add, "Oh I see, Life is not sacred.  It's only the lives of animals they choose.  Those that they value.".  Ask, "What gives them the right to impose their values of what lives are valueless and what have value on you?"

You might also point out that people who label hunters simply as killers are engaging in simplistic thinking.  I have caught a moth in my hand and carried it out of the house rather than kill it.  I have also decided to kill a deer as one means of feeding my family.  It is a value judgment either way.  You might end by asking the person who says "Life is sacred."; what they'll do the next time a mosquito lands on their face? If they say they'd simply brush it away, nod, smile and say, "Sure you would."  Most people will see anyone who says this as ridiculous.

If you wish to go further, you might borrow a question from Lippincott who suggested that you ask people wanting you to justify killing a deer the question "Is a Catholic wrong?"   When they say that that is a ridiculous question, you are set to move the discussion about hunting from one of killing to the true question, one of values.

Ask them to explain how hunting is wrong, without using value laden words like beautiful, cute, gentle, mean, cruel etc.  Then point out that America was founded on the idea that people with different values would be allowed to peacefully coexist.  As Americans it is important that we understand and respect the rights of others to hold views different than ours.  You may disagree with Catholics, Baptists, Moslems, etc., but as an American you must respect their right to hold a value different than yours.

I greatly value the hunting experience.  A nonhunter may not share that value, but in America, he or she has to respect my right to hold a different view.  What I object to about antihunters is not that they hold a different view from mine, but that they feel that everyone must conform to it.   Adherence to a single viewpoint is demanded by fanatical believers of any totalitarian regime, but its not the American way.

You may also want to share some facts about how hunting has contributed to the conservation movement.  We need to point out that antihunters don't do much of anything for wildlife, while hunters have carried a major part of the responsibility for rebuilding game populations to an all time high.  Unfortunately we have done a poor job promoting the idea that wildlife have been paid for in large part by the hunting and fishing community.  We all need bumper stickers, which say something like "IF YOU LOVE WILDLIFE, THANK A HUNTER - WE PROUDLY PROVIDED THEM." or "HUNTERS --AMERICA'S GREATEST CONSERVATIONISTS".  Those should provoke some discussion.

A person who is not an anti-hunter but who speaks of "Bambi" and killing those beautiful creatures could be met with a different approach. I've made some headway by smiling and saying "You know in the real world a buck is not a proud stay at home papa like in Bambi, but more closely resembles a multiple rapist who abandons his pregnant brides without child support.  You don't mind me taking out that sexual harasser do you?"  What do you think about fathers who don't provide child support anyway?  They know I'm kidding them, but it also gives them a more realistic picture of wildlife than the anthropomorphic view that Bambi portrays. On a logical level you might also point out that you don't kill cartoon creatures. I've yet to shoot a talking deer, especially one with all of those cute characteristics the cartoonist put into Bambi.  You might ask, if they've seen "The Littlest Mermaid"?  If the answer is yes, ask if they've given up eating crab, shrimp and those cute fish.

Perhaps telling them that you think that deer are beautiful too might be helpful.  Tell them how many hours you spent simply watching deer last year.  Also tell them the other sights you saw, that you would have missed if you hadn't gone hunting:

Iíve seen wildcat kittens playing pounce tag, a spider spinning a web in my tree against the background of the setting sun, a squirrel who  couldn't quite figure out what was in his tree and  who came up close to look.  Share your memories, your love of nature and how much you cherish each moment in the woods.

Ask how many hours they spent in the woods last year enjoying the beauty of nature?  If they spent more hours than you did in the woods (doubtful), say you envy them.  If they say that they didn't have the time, tell them that hunting is your excuse to make the time.

Those of us raised under a Puritan work ethic often find it hard to make time for fun.  There's always work that needs to be done.  We allow little time for leisure, and many of us work ourselves into heart attacks because of it.  Luckily, I can fool my work ethic by saying I need that low cholesterol venison.  Chili and spaghetti just wouldn't be the same without deer meat and I have to go hunting to get that meat. Suggest that if they really love nature but can't find the time because of "work they need to do", that maybe they should go to work with you out on the lease.

Along the lines of heart attacks and dealing with stress, I've asked people if they like to climb trees as a kid?   When the world got to much for me I'd climb to the top of a big old elm tree in our backyard. There I was free from all the hassles of the world.  I'd feel the breeze on my face, just look at the clouds and let my cares go.  This works for adults too, except for one thing.  As an adult if I go out into my front yard and climb to the top of a tree, people start to talk.  I hear murmurs of padded cells and crazy as a bedbug.  If I go deer hunting, however I can spend all day in any tree I choose, and I'm not crazy, merely dedicated.

There are some other arguments you may want to use.   You can point out that deer are overpopulating most of their range.  This may work better with a rural audience.  Farmers know you can only put so many head of livestock in a given pasture.  Unfortunately, I don't think most urban nonhunters buy the overpopulation argument.  They don't see many deer, so the more the merrier.  Some even believe that deer are an endangered species.  It's worth setting them straight, but emotionally they may not be convinced.  One argument that may work well with a younger urban individual is that venison is a health food.  Point out that venison is about the lowest cholesterol red meat that you can find (and that it's delicious).  This may get you through to the gourmet or health nut in the crowd.  Invite them over for dinner.

Finally, for the person who really wants to understand you, you may want to give a more formal answer to "Why do you hunt?"  Lippinncott suggested writing this down and practicing it several times in front of a mirror.  I realize that each statement is highly personal and many may be more eloquent than mine, but its a statement we all need to be prepared to make.  Here's mine.  It hangs on the wall in my office.

  Why Do I Hunt?

  I hunt because I love it.  Just as the feeling of love is hard to explain, so is the love of hunting. I spend hours reading about deer, thinking about deer and discussing deer with my friends.  I know I am never so alive as when I am in the woods. Yet it's a time of great peace. One of the few peaceful times I enjoy in an otherwise hectic life. While hunting I feel at one with nature.  I realize that I am a predator, much as God originally created man to be. I do not glory in the death of an animal, but do realize that animals will die that I may live.  I take tremendous pride in my skill and ability to bring home meat for the table, much of which I process myself.  Yet I enjoy the challenge of hunting with a bow the most, where the odds favor the animal.  I see many deer.  I harvest only a few, but I have many memories.  Memories of the deer and other wildlife I have seen and the experiences I have shared as I hunt with my friends and family.  Finally, I hunt because I know it's necessary for proper wildlife management. I know that I and other hunters like me have provided the funds to pay for the great resurgence of wildlife in this country.  I know that I am a conservationist and a major tool of game management. I am proud to be a sportsman!  I am proud to be a hunter!

In the past when asked "Why do you Hunt?"  "How can you kill a deer?"; I have not always had a good answer ready.  Often it's because the question came as surprise.  I may have been at a party, at work or simply talking to a group of people about my favorite subject.  Unprepared, I've said too much or too little, and May have not represented hunting well.  This is unfortunate, we all need to be prepared, for I know two truly dangerous "Why?" questions.  The first is when your sweetheart asks, "Why do you love me?"  The second is "Why do you hunt?"  The answers to both questions are personal, emotional and difficult to put into words.  For both, however, how well you answer may have a major effect on your future and the future of something you love.

For the "love me" question you're on your own (or maybe I'd better refer you to Ann Landers), but I hope to help you think through your answer to the hunting question.

Why would anyone spend all of that time, energy and money in order to hunt?  Why would you or anyone else get up at those gosh awful hours of the morning, drive over a wet or even icy road to freeze your tail off sitting on a two by four in the top of some old oak tree?  Is it simply blood lust or do you have some deeper motivation?  They know you love to hunt. What they don't understand is why?  Be careful how you answer these people.  That eighty percent is hunting's future.  They are the ones who will decide at the polls whether we continue to hunt or put our bows away.   As an old boy scout says we need to "Be prepared."

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