On Feb. 8, Mike Covey, executive director of the Vermont Traditions Coalition and trapping lobbyist, wrote an opinion piece that said, in sum, if you don’t like fishing, hunting, or trapping, then just don’t do it. As if fishing, hunting, or trapping were beyond thinking about for anyone who happened not to fish, hunt, or trap. He went on to suggest, “...can you imagine anyone wanting to deprive Vermonters of what is perhaps the least carbon-polluting and most organic food source? Wanting to force dependence on a polluting and often poisoned industrial food supply chain? Denying their neighbors the health and mental benefits of their connections to the outdoors? Discriminating against what are, for many, spiritual rituals?”
No, this wasn’t an argument to promote healthful eating. Or spiritual rituals. It was about hunting.
But who is trying to ban hunting? Or deprive anyone of food? (I like venison, and, happily, my family hunts. But that’s neither here nor there.)
Almost everything we do, after all, has some sort of qualifier or limit, on how that activity may be carried out. There are laws, societal ethics, and our own personal sense of morality that usually keeps us from taking things too far, or behaving in ways that are unacceptable. These curbs changed over time: hunting was once indiscriminate, the supply of wildlife imagined to be somewhere short of infinite; there were bounties on various creatures that were cycled in and out of periods when they were labeled ‘varmints.’
We have moved on from those days. To a degree, at least.
We read that the number of hunters has been declining for several years and is fully expected to continue declining. How, one might wonder, will new people be motivated to become hunters if it means joining a group that believes itself vilified and threatened and reacts with anger toward anyone who speaks of mitigating harm to wildlife?
No one is working to ban ethical hunting. We should be promoting it. Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether setting a pack of dogs after bears or other animals is an ethical way of hunting? Shouldn’t we be asking why some animals are allowed to be killed at any time in any manner and still to this day are scorned as merely ‘varmints?’ Should we be asking why trapping is conflated with hunting? Besides the fact that traps can kill animals, how does that connect it to hunting? And shouldn’t we be asking for what essential purpose animals are being trapped? (Who wears fur anymore, anyway?) Why are body-crushing traps or leg-hold traps — banned in over 100 countries — used in the first place? Obvious in their design is the infliction of prolonged suffering. Unlike hunters who are expected to know their targets before they shoot, traps don’t discriminate which animal’s leg or body they seize.
If indeed the hunters Mr. Covey writes about so furiously are outdoor enthusiasts, where is their concern for the life that makes its home in that supposedly much-appreciated outdoors? Somewhere in that sense of appreciation, and respect for the entire chain of life, lies a true spiritual ritual.