Hunting the Country

The North American Model remains the best system of wildlife management in the known universe

By Rob Breeding

One of the reasons I so love hunting is that when you spend time hunting in a place, trying to understand the contours of it, and how the animals you’re hunting exploit those contours, you develop an intimate connection with that landscape.

Hunting excites us because it flips the switch on powerful, prehistoric instincts, instincts locked in the DNA of all of — and I do mean all of us — from Gonzo hunter Ted Nugent to his doppelgänger, some PETA activist fighting to end meat as we know it.

I won’t tell you my relationship with place is deeper or more intense or more meaningful than those of non-hunters. It’s foolhardy to assume you know better the authenticity of another’s experience.

What I can say is that hunting is just my way.

Hunting is the convergence of most of what I love about the West: the exterior landscapes, wildlife, the nutritious and sustainable food you take from the field when all goes well. Hunters, after all, are the ultimate localvores.

But I worry that in this modern world we almost seem to want to launder away any traces of our role as predator at the top of the food chain. It’s a little Brave New Worldish, this shame society attaches to the savage. In my mind, the anti-hunting movement imagines a fantasy world, sanitized of the moral messiness of eating other animals for food.

I don’t share that shame. I’m not afraid of a little moral ambiguity or complication. Rather than scrub hunting from the human experience, I embrace my role as hunter. I also embrace the other role hunters have played in the United States as defenders and stewards of our natural resources. Remember, it’s hunters and anglers — through excise taxes we pay on firearms and fishing equipment, as well as the licenses and fees we pay each year — who shoulder the financial load for managing wildlife across much of the West.

Our system of wildlife management and access to public lands, a system that is the most egalitarian on the planet, is under assault from those who would privatize both the land we access, as well as the wildlife we hunt.

We have a unique system of wildlife management in the United States — it’s called the North American Model. While wildlife, as well as fishing and hunting rights, are often privatized elsewhere on the globe, the North American Model is founded on the principle that wildlife is a public resource, owned by none and managed for the benefit of all. The foundation of this management is science. We don’t make decisions based on our gut, or what we’ve always done: we follow the science.

It’s critical that in the West this management occurs on vast tracks of public land. Selling, transferring or privatizing public land — as many are advocating right now in the statehouses of the West and in our nation’s capitol — will ultimately cause the North American model to fall apart, taking with it that essential freedom to hunt our own damn food without having to ask someone’s permission.

It was hunters, after all, who were the ground troops of the greatest ecological restoration success in world history: the restoration of North America’s big game populations after they were nearly wiped out in the 1800s.

It was hunters who footed the bill and provided the manpower to capture and relocate big game to places where those animals had been eliminated. And it was hunters who provided support to the nascent field of wildlife management in the early 20th century.

The North American Model isn’t perfect, but we can’t allow ourselves to forget that, these imperfections aside, the North American Model remains the best system of wildlife management in the known universe.

And that, my primitive hunter instincts tell me, is something worth fighting for.

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