Because I am fairly vocal, people often ask me to participate in debates at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, I find myself in an area where I am woefully unqualified or not really prepared, but I often have a gut feeling that provides some indication to feel a certain way, and I’ll weigh in. Such was the case when the opening of a dove hunting season in Iowa was being debated in a local bar.
I was asked how I felt and my position was, “If you allow for pheasant, duck or quail, why wouldn’t you allow for doves?”
There was a cheer from those who were hunters, but the person who asked the question assumed I would be against it since I am a known “liberal.” Why wouldn’t my bleeding heart extend to the symbol of love and peace? They are, after all, awfully cute for rats with wings.
Personally, I am not a hunter, but I don’t chastise those who are and I left the conversation with “I’m fine with it, my arguments center around gun controls and restrictions but not to outlaw game hunting.”
But something kept nagging me. There are reasons I’m not a hunter, and they are more profound than not wanting to get dirty, or the fact that I look like Barney Fife in waders and camouflage; it is a different kind of person from me who hunts.
My rejection of hunting can be traced back to cartoons from my childhood when I first realized that if Bambi had a mother why wouldn’t Phil the Pheasant or Daffy the Duck? But…if that is truly my aversion, why do I enjoy Daffy l’orange or Phil under glass? Am I a hypocrite, and is anyone who rebukes hunting, yet enjoys game, one as well?
Several of my friends and relatives are hunters and, as I said, I don’t reject them for it. My own grandfather, whom I adored, was an avid hunter and he was as jovial and gentle as they come. They consume what they kill and so what is my objection?
The differences between ethics and morality are in play here. Ethics are the codes by which we have, as a society, organized concepts of acceptable behavior; morals define personal character. Hunting purely to kill for the thrill of the hunt, without consumption, is neither ethical nor moral, in my opinion, and even though there are hunters who would disagree, I am talking about the hunters I respect. They are on solid ethical ground, but, not necessarily…moral ground.
I’m not, for the record, traipsing into an argument with regard to carnivorous versus vegetarian consumption because I am “morally” fine with eating meat; I believe in the concept of the food chain (I even have an older brother who is a strict vegetarian and shames me every time I eat a hamburger in front of him, and while I respect his point of view, I am considering a steak dinner at Montage tonight).
The argument from the NRA is that hunting has existed since the dawn of humans as a necessity and it is within the Constitutional rights of our free nation to defend ourselves. Certainly, in Colonial America hunting was necessary to survive, and militias were necessary for defense, but it is also from this historical context that I find my position.
In the early 19th century came the commoditization of food and a transformation of hunting from primary means of survival to primarily recreation. With refrigeration and rail transportation, food, as an industry, expanded quickly and as grocery stores sprang up in every corner of America, it became more convenient to buy the products of corporate slaughterhouses than it was to hunt for the family dinner.
Hunters have pointed out that the slaughterhouse is still “killing” and a very reasonable argument can be made that a hunter is more humane, but the slaughterhouse, while killing animals, is not killing for the thrill of the hunt, whereas, I contend that is a primary objective of most modern hunters.
My assessment is that the modern hunter primarily hunts for the camaraderie, the seductive grasp of nature, the thrill of marksmanship and an attraction to the focused power of a lethal weapon. The consumption of their prey, while being another primary objective (and making it ethical), is somewhat of a moral deceit.
Here I may leave some people confused, yet I am crystal clear in my own mind– I don’t judge the hunter as bad or corrupt at all. What I am saying is that it is a distinction of character that allows a moral ambiguity; different but not better or worse.
My personal code will not allow me to kill a living creature for any degree of sport, plain and simple.
If you can, then I accept that you are different, but it will remain a different person from me who can choose what animal will die in a single moment and to squeeze the trigger, be it a duck, a deer…or a dove…