Hunting for Understanding

While watching a flock of wild turkey hens I began wondering how many non- hunters have enjoyed doing the same since the fantastic success of the turkey reintroduction initiatives in North America.  And this effort has all been hunter funded and driven.  Do non- hunters even know they have hunters to thank if they enjoy seeing turkeys in the wild? Watching those hens reminded me of an encounter with some non-hunters while grouse hunting and a good way to handle such scenarios.

Every meeting between a hunter and a non-hunter is a chance for hunters to improve their public image. Much of the anti-hunting stance is emotionally charged but short on logic and science. However, many non-hunters have no opinion about hunting until they have a positive or negative experience with a hunter or some aspect of hunting. A thoughtful hunter has a good chance of convincing someone who is still neutral on the issue, of the value of hunting.

My dog and I had just returned to my car, parked on a bush trail, after a few hours of grouse hunting. I’d been skunked. The birds had been fast and shifty, covering their escape by putting thick spruce trees between themselves and me a millisecond before I had them lined up. That’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it as long as dogs can’t talk. Two guys and a gal in their early twenties pedaled up to us on mountain bikes. They stopped and asked if anyone else was hunting in the area. They seemed a little nervous about cycling near hunters. I told them I didn’t think so but even if there were, they were in greater danger from their bikes than from hunters. They laughed and told me they had all taken mean bails.  I took that to mean falling off.

One fellow asked me if I got anything while hunting. I told him the grouse had beaten me three to zip. Right away the other fellow said, “Good! I’m glad you didn’t murder anything.” I knew right there I was dealing with at least one anti-hunter. I kept the encounter light, choosing not to react strongly to his judgmental labeling. I smiled and replied; “I know you’re just saying that because you haven’t tasted my recipe for boneless breast of grouse amandine.

The young lady chimed in asking, “Oh, do you eat what you catch?” I love it when someone refers to “hunting” as “catching” because then I know I’ve got someone with a clean slate – someone who has everything to learn about the value of hunting. I explained that modern hunting laws forbid wanton killing and wasting of game animals.

Perhaps she thought hunters were “kill for thrill” maniacs. She asked what ruffed grouse tastes like. I told her in mouth-watering terms.

Then the “anti” demanded to know what I going to eat after hunters killed all the animals. Oh how sweetly he played into my hand. Slowly and gently I explained to them the great irony that the hunter is the best friend that wildlife has. The hunter’s license fee pays for the management of sustainable populations of wildlife. Regulations and bag limits allow only surplus animals to harvested leaving healthy populations for the future. Hunters, more than any other group, defend and develop the habitat without which many species would not survive.

I further explained that hunters pay for reintroducing species.  The wild turkeys they saw often were the proof of that. Hunters like Audubon founded the modern conservation movement. Hunting continues to pay for conservation unlike hiking, nature photography or bird watching. Those types of activities put little or nothing into conservation. I tactfully left out mountain biking.

They had quite a chunk of new knowledge to chew on and wanted to be on their way. The young lady gave my dog a friendly ear rub. One fellow wished me better luck next time

. Then the “anti” said “You know those birds that fly right up in your face? One of them wiped me out once. I hate them. Why don’t you blow them away?” I knew he was talking about the noble ruffed grouse, which I had just been hunting. I smiled inwardly thinking, he wants to wipe out a species because they scare him. He just flipped like a pancake between opposing logics. Some you can’t win.

I think I made a favorable connection with two out of three non-hunters that day. I wish I’d done as well on the bush chickens but they’ll be there another day. So will the opportunity to get out after them if hunters carry themselves well in the public eye.

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