by Stephen Capra, Executive Director, Bold Visions Conservation
So, it has begun in earnest, this thing we call hunting season. The traffic on our highways is one trailer being pulled by a truck with at least one off-road vehicle. It seems fewer hunters hike or ride a horse to hunt anymore.
What was once a means of putting food on the table has become a time for many to try out their new toys, which now include rifles that can kill from ranges one could never have imagined. Some use bows and arrows that can cut through steel. For hunters today, there is a fleet of calling devices, drones, cameras, GPS, scents, and traps with bait in some states, all designed to make killing easier. What is lost in this noise is the destruction of a Leopoldian ideal of hunting that made one clean shot a must.
No, today, there is truly no fair chase. Perhaps some hunters employ such an ethic, some who we know demand such a standard, but for the masses, there is a need for an easy route to kill, take a photo, and ethics be dammed. Major sportsmen's groups do not uphold such standards but rather support slob hunting. They push for the killing of predators, and they lobby for the longest possible hunting seasons, which in Montana and Idaho are enough to leave any animal full of stress and unable to move with any sense of security. They control the actions of our state Fish, Wildlife and Parks despite the overwhelming number of people that show up and push back against their turn of the last century racialism against wildlife.
We often talk these days about mental health; imagine living for more than six months a year under the stress of being hunted. Hunters like to talk about all the money they bring in by "paying their way," but the reality is far different. The people who hike, bike, backpack, and view wildlife have far more skin in the game than hunters; our tax base is far greater and does more to fund the government since non-hunters represent 94% of Americans.
This time of year, images of dead wildlife fill the pages of Facebook and other social media pages, and the focus is often on encouraging young men and women to learn to kill wildlife. Fall breaks are given in some states so kids can be out of school to hunt. God forbid they are let out to work at a wildlife sanctuary or other such noble means. The push to grow hunting appears relentless, though the numbers continue to slip as people come to terms with the reality that wildlife suffer and feel pain, that the deer, elk, or bear you kill may have young offspring that is now left alone. Also, fewer people desire meat in their diets. Hiking in the fall is now filled with danger; hunter's control what can be the most pleasant time of year to recreate. Going down to Council Grove State Park in Missoula, I have constantly confronted hunters running down the banks of the river wildly shooting at ducks. This while trying to walk my dogs. The sounds of gunshots are a consistent part of the fall and remind me more of war than recreation. Most hunters I speak to tell me of the fresh meat and how they save money. But most economists who have looked into this say when you factor in guns, travel, ammo, food, booze, and gear, the cost is far higher than a steak you purchase in a store. Hunting is not going to end anytime soon, and Bold Visions Conservation is not calling for it to end. It just it seems that once again, a minority of people have complete control over the fate of wildlife, in this case, 6% of the American population. The agencies of most states do all they can to ignore those of us who want some sanity in this process. The legislature and our Governor do all they can to extend seasons and push for the killing of mountain lions, bears, wolves, and any predators. Also, why is it that hunters can never use bear spray? It needs to be law, for they shoot at every bear they see, and there is no real investigation, just another bear that found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time. They seemingly lack the courage to use a simple, proven, non-lethal solution. We continue to lose far too many bears to this and a railroad that ignores the killing.
The push to delist grizzlies will allow yet another species to live in fear and stress. It must be stopped. The real question to me is when does the moment come when you kill an otherwise innocent animal that you as a person begin to question: why am I doing this? Many before you have stopped placing traps or sold their guns, but today, there appears to be pressure to keep killing wildlife and to not stop with deer and elk but to expand into species many would have never considered before. Game and Fish is making it that much easier with multiple tags.
Such pressure is at the heart of groups like the Foundation for Wildlife Management in Idaho that wow people with the idea that killing wolves is a responsibility and positive. Groups like this and so many major hunting groups profit off the killing of species that most people simply want to co-exist with and share the land. They also lead the charge to destroy grizzly bears.
I mention this because we at Bold Visions have launched a new sportsmen's organization. Our goal is to make a change in the ranks of those who continue to hunt with these concepts in mind. I will not talk about it again, but we encourage you to look at our new group and site, it is designed to make hunters think about to perhaps not desire to kill wolves or bears. To take a hard look at Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and how they continue to mismanage wildlife. To look at Pittman-Robinson funding and the North American Wildlife Model. To ask sportsmen- why do you feel there is a need to kill predator species?
Dave Stalling is one of the finest writers on these issues, and you are encouraged to read his thoughts and experience as a hunter on these critical issues and how it can be done so much better. The organization is Hunters in Defense of Predators; the website is defenseofpredators.org. Please take a moment and see that Bold Visions Conservation is working and developing new ways to protect wildlife and doing all it can to change perceptions and keep precious wolves and bears in the wild!