Discussion: A Right To Hunt?

The Boone & Crockett Club recently posted a video to their Facebook page that got the gears in my head turning a bit. The video features renowned conservationist Shane Mahoney discussing a true paradox of modern hunting.

The video, which discusses the rights of hunters (or perceived lack thereof), comes as we’ve seen several states enacting provisions to their individual constitutions, giving their state citizens a legal “right to hunt, fish and trap”. According to the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus, Vermont was the first state to adopt a constitutional provision protecting the rights of its citizens to hunt, trap and fish. 18 other states have amended their constitution to protect hunting, angling and trapping, with several more expected to open the legislative floor for discussion.

Now I’ll start off by saying I have immense respect and admiration for the video’s narrator, Shane Mahoney. He’s a wealth of wise words and wisdom, and is an irreplaceable asset to the wildlife management community. I don't think he's totally wrong in the assertion that hunting, as we know it today, is deemed a privilege. A privilege IS something that can be taken away, and as we are all well aware, the lawful activity of hunting can certainly be over-restricted to the point of being "taken". Its why we behave ourselves, try to educate, engage society (for the most part) with respect, follow the laws in place... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Where I tend to disagree with B&C is the assertion that this "privilege" be flaunted to the masses as such - a privilege.

I’ll go there. Let’s face it - Ive been known to rock the boat from time to time.

A Privilege versus A Right

A "privilege" in the broader sense of the word suggests a luxury. A perk. A "recreational" comfort executed at one's own leisure. A "privilege" sends the message to those opposed to hunting & trapping that the activity is purely recreational. It also suggests that if the people opposed fight hard enough, they can successfully snuff out the modern hunter from the natural environment. But can they really?

There was a time when we hunted to survive. We hunted because we needed to, rather than “wanted” to. We still need to hunt to eat. We need to eat to live. And if forced into the primal choice, we'd challenge even our fellow humans to ensure we, as individuals, ate. The coyote doesn't govern its food sources by sets of laws for the greater good of coyotes - the coyote, as an individual, eats to live. Its what it knows. Kill, Eat, Repeat.

Self reliance, self sustainability, food, life; these are not Government-granted "perks" handed down with the contingency that if we "misbehave" they can be taken away by a mob-rule fueled ballot vote. I'm going to eat. I'm going to provide. I'm going to survive. Naturally. At any cost. Period.

The difference between the hunting conducted by our ancestors versus the hunting performed today is that most of our human society "hunts" in the frozen food aisle rather than the woods. The food comes to us, instead of us "killing" the food.

The idea of a "grocery store", "farmer's market", fast food drive thru, or clothing store to attain warm fibers, by contrast, is the ”privilege". The idea of a shrink-wrapped beef steak slapped on a Styrofoam pedestal and presented before the masses in a public refrigerator to purchase in trade for paper money is the "privilege" that so many are programed to believe as the "right". I'm under no obligation to be force-fed what a government entity deems edible, nor am I under any obligation to go purchase it in order to survive. Personally, "killed by mine own hand" trumps "USDA choice". I have an unwritten natural-born right to run as the wolves, and to stalk and take down my prey free of monetary charge in order to consume and nourish. Its a law of nature - not a "law of the land".

Hunting, and by proxy, the modernized tools - rifle, bow, rod, trap, are a natural predatory action. As we evolve, our ways of hunting have also evolved. We opted to trade the stone and spear for the rifle and steel trap; not only for our own benefit, but for the accuracy of humaneness in dispatch these modern tools are designed to carry-out.

“How, given the canine teeth and close-set eyes that declare the human animal to be a predator, had we come up with the notion that oat bran is more natural to eat than chicken?”
— Valerie Martin, The Great Divorce

Instinct Meets Management

With the outright assault on wildlife populations through non-regulated market hunting of the 19th and 20th Centuries, RESPONSIBLE hunters realized that if we didn't come up with a system to "manage" the herd, we'd surely risk losing it all together. Feast or famine. Some deer culled in a regulated fashion was surely better than no deer to cull at all. Same can be said for the bison, the beaver, the mallard, and the trout.

But don't get confused my friends - we accept these laws and regulations and don't blink at the thought of paying our Government a license fee, because we, in trade, have the understanding that the resource will always be there for us to enjoy and "utilize" if we contribute our share to have it governed and "managed". Let's not beat around the bush - as selfish as it may seem, we manage wildlife for our benefit, not necessarily theirs. I will humbly pay whatever price is needed to ensure I can enjoy that resource in a sustainable manner - because, well, other than simple enjoyment for nature's vast beauty, its just the right damn thing to do.

“Moose Hunt” by Karl Uchermann (1904)

Frankly, modern hunting and trapping, as we know it, is a privilege not because we may "lose" the ability to hunt, but because "we the friggin’ people" collectively SAY it is. And "we" determine its in our best interest to manage and regulate, rather than plunder and pillage.

That said, what would happen if the wrong cross-section of my species decides said "privilege" of regulated "use" is suddenly null and void? If you ask me, our non-hunting neighbors don't decide what we eat. Our non-hunting neighbors don't decide what we wear. And our non-hunting neighbors don't decide what we prey upon. We do. Individually. As the apex predator.

In the case of wildlife management, the reward for compliance far outweighs the risk. And how thoughtful it really is. We, as the so-called "consumptive" users of the land, not only contribute to conservation efforts for our usage, but we also conserve and regulate in order to manage these resources for the non-hunting public to enjoy.

When you remove the grocery stores, the governance, the regulation, the proverbial safety net that has desensitized so many from the natural world, its All or Nothing. Kill or be Killed. You Eat or you get Eaten.

So why is advocacy and constant legislative testimony for regulated hunting & trapping so important? Because sometimes our government needs to be reminded of the points above. Hunting, Fishing and Trapping is regulated for EVERYONE'S benefit - not just the hunters, anglers and trappers. 

The regulation of hunting is implemented to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to utilize natural resources with equal odds. Public Trust, as they say. Regulation was implemented to ensure adequate stock and conservation of the resource - not to literally hoard or stockpile it.

So when the hunters who “play by the rules” are finally shut out... well... there's really no need for anyone to "follow the rules" now is there? A closed hunting season due to the potential detriment of a species, we can all agree, is warranted.

Alternately, a hunting season closed due to someone's emotional aversion to killing an otherwise abundant prey species is not.

Alas, we shouldn't be promoting the ideology that hunters are a minority which should “fall in line” and “respect the wishes" of a mob-rule democracy. On the contrary, we should be promoting the idea that wildlife diversity is totally screwed without our man-made regulations in place.

Frivolous restrictions on hunting isn’t going to kill the idea of hunting; it will simply put an unfortunate end to measurable regulation: The Right - self reliance, versus the Privilege - regulated management.

Participating in the food chain as a member of our ecosystem is a natural right - No government approval required. If provoked enough, I have no doubt many would be trading their trigger finger for the middle one in the face of politics and "emotional feels". Understand that you, as a hunter or trapper, should follow the rules, take the moral high ground, and act as a steward and educator to the neutral "80% middle ground" full-time grocery shoppers. But understand in the same regard, YOU are under no obligation to simply "fall in line" and behave like the prey species you pursue.

Like it or not, the human hunter is an apex predator with a primal instinct to hunt like any other apex predator. And that, boys and girls, is what separates a "privilege" from a RIGHT.

Where the B&C video excels in it’s mission is the essence that we, as hunters & trappers, need to do a much better job of communicating the societal benefits of these regulated activities. In the past, even I’ve been guilty of taking a “defensive” or “reactive” stance when faced with criticism or threats to my way of life; but more recently I’ve realized stooping to the same level as the “anti-hunting mob mentality” only furthers to bolster our societal divide. Perhaps rather than an “us versus them” stance, hunting’s culture base is better served to discuss why we’re still woefully needed today, more than ever. Nothing cuts deeper than the cold, hard, facts. 

What do you think? Is the idea of hunting as we know it in North America a human right, or a societal privilege?