Out of Bounds

When Wild Means Elite

I don’t think it’s elitist to be a wild bird hunter. I can make an argument you’re either hunting wild birds or you’re not hunting.

By Rob Breeding

I sometimes wonder if we retain the ability to change one another’s mind, if America is a place that allows for persuasion and where logic and reason still have agency. 

I remember it being like that, but it sometimes seems that sand has sifted through our fingers. I hope not. Sifting the good from the bad is the point of living.

Social media is generally a sift-free zone. Folks bring their research to a discussion and usually leave with opinions intact, though every now and then actual persuasion occurs.

So it goes on the “Wild Bird Hunters” Facebook group I follow. It’s mostly a harmless place. Folks post about their dogs, about hunts, good or bad, and about how they can’t wait until fall. 

From time to time someone decides to stir the pot, posting tailgate shots from a hunt that obviously did not involve wild birds. The most recent example included the usual tailgate pile of pheasants, with more stacked atop dog kennels. The birds were a mix of hen and rooster. The hunters all sported new orange vests, bright and pristine even after that carnage. 

The reaction was fierce. Some asked the page moderators to remove the post. Others argued the page had been created for a purpose, a purpose the photo of the unwild bird hunt aftermath did not serve. It felt like a provocation. 

The post also had its supporters, who chastised critics as snobby elitists. Not everyone can hunt wild birds, they complained. Why they didn’t just start their own “Caged Bird Hunters” Facebook group I’ll never know.

That’s not true. I know why they didn’t. Shame.

Even the folks who blasted critics — arguing they were motivated by envy that they hadn’t been the ones stacking dead birds like cordwood — realized there was something not right about the photo, as they accused others of not knowing their own heart.

There was nothing about that photo I secretly desired. It didn’t look like a fun day with friends. It didn’t suggest a great training experience for the dogs, or even just a welcome chance to stretch their four legs. My dogs don’t need planted birds for that. They’re in heaven anytime I take them for an off-the-leash walk along the river. 

Dogs live in the moment. It’s a miracle they put up with a species as fret-prone as humans.

It’s not illegal to shoot pen-raised pheasants, and in places where wild bird numbers have dwindled, pen-raised birds may be the only game around. Others use pen-raised birds for training young dogs, as I did with my first bird dog, Jack. We lived in Idaho during his first hunting season, and there the game department stocks pheasant on state lands. These not-too-bright birds helped Jack figure things out, and more importantly, helped me understand what Jack was saying with body language and movement.

After that first season he only hunted wild birds. My current dogs, Doll and Jade, have never been on pen-raised birds. 

I don’t think it’s elitist to be a wild bird hunter. I can make an argument you’re either hunting wild birds or you’re not hunting. What Jack and I did years ago might have looked like hunting, but it was training.

That Facebook thread numbered more than 80 comments by the time it grew stale. The debate was a pretty fair bit of sand sifting. The comments were educational, and occasionally testy, but most of it wasn’t too harsh.

If there was any hate expressed, it was toward the public relations disaster of tailgate gluttony. The non-hunting majority are likely to support hunting so long as they see it as being conducted ethically, sustainably. We shouldn’t give them reason to think otherwise.

Non-hunters have their own sand sifting to do.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

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