I sometimes wonder if my capacity for shock and disgust will ever be extinguished, replaced by the emotional vacuum of having seen it all, or at least the worst of it all.
I haven’t reached that point yet.
I was reminded of this by a story making the rounds online. It was first published on the website Mountain Journal under the title, “A Death Of Ethics: Is Hunting Destroying Itself?”
While some of the material in the article was concerning in and of itself, the shocker came when writer Todd Wilkinson explained a pastime for some Wyoming snowmobilers is running down coyotes with their machines, in deep snow, repeatedly slamming into the struggling critters, crippling them with the first pass, then applying the coup de grâce on subsequent collisions.
If you’ve got the stomach for it, look it up. There are links in the story. These are certainly not mercy killings.
I wasn’t happy to see videos of such behavior in a story under a headline focused on hunting ethics. These are not hunters — sadists is the correct label — and there’s nothing ethical about what the videos depict. “High Country News” republished the story, and its treatment was even more concerning. In HCN a subhead reads: Gruesome social media videos show how far modern hunting has drifted from its roots.
Wilkinson’s piece is a provocative examination of the non-hunting public’s perception of our sport. I think he painted with too broad a brush, but within it are warnings hunters should heed.
For instance, the story goes on to examine the growing popularity of predator killing contests. I can make a compelling argument these contests, as well as the sport of small-game plinking, aren’t hunting at all, but rather activities rooted in agriculture. My fine distinctions won’t matter, however, if the general public views these activities as gruesome and senseless, and also comes to view them as hunting. Such a conclusion will only undermine support for the fair chase pursuit of food species such as deer and elk.
The Long Walker, a bird hunter friend who views politics and conservation issues from a frame of reference the polar opposite of mine, suggested I temper my contempt. If you ban predator contests, he asked, what’s next, pheasant long-tail contests?
It’s the “first they came for” argument first penned by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller about the Nazis’ rise to power in the 1930s. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist,” Niemöller’s poem begins. Subsequent verses are identical only “trade unionists” or “Jews” replace “socialists.”
The poem concludes, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Various hunting adaptations start with “trapping” or “predator contests,” then conclude with some version of “Then they came for the pheasant hunters, and there was no one left to speak for pheasant hunters.”
This is not paranoia. The hunting community is now a minority community, even in Montana. But there are distinctions between random predator killing and long-tail contests. Pheasant hunting is managed, scientifically. Landscape level predator contests are not. That’s not to say there’s never a rationale for predator management, but random killing contests are the land-based equivalent of bucket biology. Just because you think killing coyotes (or moving around your favorite fish) will allow preferred game species to prosper doesn’t make it so.
Neither the Long Walker nor I are predator hunters, but there’s insight to be gained from both our perspectives as the hunting community learns to better police itself.
Of this much I am certain: if society comes to view game bird hunters as no different than those snowmobile-riding sadistic outlaws, bird hunters will soon be outlaws too.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.