A Time to Kill: Defending hunting.


December 25, 2002, 12:56 PM
December 17, 2002 9:00 a.m.

A Time to Kill
Defending hunting.

On 60 Minutes on earlier this month, Andy Rooney called the decision to use archers to cull urban deer herds in Burlington, Vt., "barbaric" — because: "Imagine all the places you could hit a deer with an arrow and not kill it." Andy, where you hit the deer depends on how good a shot you are. The archers who participate in such hunts are carefully selected, skilled marksmen — for the safety of humans, and to spare the deer.

Most deer killed by archers are shot at 18 yards or less. At that distance a good archer can hit a baseball consistently; the heart-lung "kill zone" of a deer is the size of a paper plate. A broadside or quartering-away shot in the kill zone with a razor-sharp arrow will kill a deer in less than 30 seconds. It lies down and passes out from loss of blood — sometimes without running away or even showing much of any reaction to the arrow. Deer don't practice birth control, Andy. Even the New York Times editorial page recently agreed (December 2, 2002, "Bambi's Mother in the Cross Hairs") that deer are out of control and need thinning by means of more hunting.

It touches deep emotions in the human soul to take the life of a beautiful animal. My answer to Rooney's concern is my instructional video about how to use sports psychology to help hunters shoot accurately in the intense excitement that follows when a deer appears. The difference in his and my approaches to managing the deer-population explosion is rooted in our attitudes about killing.

Next on the show, Rooney talked about the 23- to 25-lb. turkey his family eats for Thanksgiving, and how he can't understand how anyone could cook a turkey any other way than he does. Rooney's turkey no doubt is a big, overweight, genetically engineered bird that cannot fly, lives in a factory-farm pen, and is bred to grow rapidly and die quickly (if not be killed) — not the majestic wild turkey that Ben Franklin thought should be our national bird. I doubt if Andy kills his turkey himself. He leaves the "barbarism" for someone else.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says there is a right time and place for everything, including killing. The question of what is the right time, place, and purpose for killing animals, wild and domestic, is one of mankind's ongoing challenges.

Deer are forcing us to reexamine social mores about hunting and killing. This analysis is made more difficult because hunters are a frequent target of stereotyping and misinformation. But let's look at the facts.

There are now nearly 30 million whitetail deer herd in the United States, possibly more than there have ever been in the history of North America. For as long as deer have existed, they have been prey. For at least 10,000 years North American deer have been man's prey. Venison has been a popular dish elsewhere even longer than that. Beyond providing food, hunting also reduces the chances of car-deer collisions, which kill more than 100 people a year and cause more than $1 billion in damages. Exploding deer herds also account for another $1 billion in crop damage, and the spread of Lyme disease and bovine tuberculosis. If you want to see suffering, go into an over-browsed deeryard in the dead of winter and watch the slow, tortured death of deer that results when there is no hunting. The mushrooming deer herd causes now-fearless cougars and coyotes to invade suburbia and devour pets and even an occasional two-legged. And let's also not overlook the outbreak of chronic wasting disease, a "mad cow"-like illness in deer and elk that could have far wider implications if the disease can jump the species barrier.

Andy Rooney is not alone in his anti-hunting beliefs. Matthew Scully has recently written a book called Dominion about his opposition to killing animals, and advocacy of vegetarianism. Many share his concerns about factory farming and treatment of domestic animals, but these are not new. In the late 1960s — when I worked with Margaret Mead, Barry Commoner, and others drafting statements for the American Association for the Advancement of Science about how science should address social issues — feedlots and factory farms were identified as significant potential sources of pollution, as well as for inhumane treatment of animals. In the 1960s we added scientific data to back up the arguments for humane treatment and ecological balance, and some more laws were passed.

Maybe Scully's book will advance our relationship with animals. He is a journalist and former White House speechwriter. That doesn't make him an expert on ecology or ethics, but it does get attention — for both Presidents Bush are hunters, and many in the media are as attracted to people who appear to break rank as bears are to garbage.

As opposed to animal-rights gurus like Wayne Pacelle or Peter Singer — who openly admit they do not care much about animals, but only care about "cruelty" — Scully seems to actually care about animals. But he wants to twist the knife of guilt in your stomach so you will agree with him that we should not kill animals for food. Many of Scully's outspoken views are at odds with those of well-respected scholars of psychology, religion, and philosophy — including Margaret Mead, Erich Fromm, Karl Menninger, Freud, Jung, Melvin Konner, Marie-Louise von Franz, Rene Dubos, William James, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and the Dalai Lama, who incidentally eats meat.

I respect someone who becomes a vegetarian for health or spiritual reasons, so long as they don't think that it makes them better than others. I once tried vegetarianism as I studied yoga and for some months. At the end of the time the master told me that I was being "too holy" and should go back to eating meat, because I needed it.

Anyone is capable of hunting and killing an animal, but not everyone may feel called to do so. That is fine. When and how to take a life is as important a question as when and how to make a life. Both can be done for right and wrong reasons. Killing can even be a form of compassion. This is why most religions offer ethical guidance, ceremonies, and rituals for hunters, farmers and butchers. (The patron saint of hunters and butchers, by the way, is St. Hubert.)

Scully engages in lengthy examinations of the Bible to determine why we treat animals as we do. Historian Lynn White Jr. named Christianity as a source of environmental problems in his 1967 article in Science, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis." Al Gore took the opposite side in Earth in the Balance. These kinds of debates keep writers and scholars employed. They also show that a holy book can be as much a Rorschach blot to project upon as a text to study.

Around the world and throughout history, many people who have never read the Bible or studied Christianity have raised domestic animals, slaughtered them, and hunted. I would say that it is psychological and emotional distance from animals that brings about their mistreatment. But I would also hasten to add that often people who are the closest to animals may choose to kill them and feel no guilt, though they may feel sadness and compassion.

I found more passion than compassion in Scully's book, but I am biased.

I've written three books about the positive psycho-spirituality of ethical hunting: Nature As Teacher and Healer, In Defense of Hunting, and The Sacred Art of Hunting (the latter recently became a Book of the Month Club selection, my publisher tells me). Scully doesn't like what I have to say about hunting. Fine — but the fact is that more than 750 million pounds of wild meat are consumed by humans every year in the U.S.; meat that is low in fat, and high in protein — health food. That's enough real, free-range meat to save two million beef cattle. One way to decrease factory farming is to harvest more wild game, which, I believe, would be good for both man and beast.

As a professor of psychology off and on for 30 years I have poured through the psych abstracts and consulted researchers at the American Psychological Association about hunting. There are no scholarly studies finding that ethical hunting is associated with psychopathology. Period. To the contrary, Prof. Chris Eskridge finds there is actually an inverse correlation between hunting-license sales and violent crime. His work and that of others such as psychiatrist Melvin Konner) suggests that hunting can be a great teacher of compassion, as it forces people to accept responsibility for killing what they eat, as well as providing a source of healthy food.

Psychologist James Hillman reports that when modern "civilized" people dream of animals, most often the animals are chasing them. Hillman suggests this means that modern man has lost touch with his instinctual voices, which are symbolized as animal shapes. Yet those are the very voices we must listen to in determining when it is right or wrong to kill.

It is now hunting season, and I haven't the time to go on, so I will defer to Joseph Campbell, who summed things up all so well in The Hero With A Thousand Faces:

...every creature lives on the death of another. A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that, like Hamlet or Arjuna, one may refuse to go on with it. On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, justified in one's inevitable sinning because one represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads one to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos.

— James Swan is a contributing editor of ESPNOutdoors.com.


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Art Eatman
December 25, 2002, 09:58 PM
Some of y'all will have seen this before: Only gardeners, fishermen and hunters are "do it yourself" folks in providing food. EVERYBODY else merely hires somebody else to do the scut work for them.

When I buy food from a grocery or eat at a restaurant, I have hired a chain of people to grow, harvest and prepare the raw materials for a cook to then prepare for the table: The "scut work".


Mike Weber
December 26, 2002, 12:21 AM
Gotta agree with ya'll here and Art this is gonna be another great board. Many of the non hunters and all of the antihunters, have absolutely no concept of the hunt or the kill. The Animal rights groups such as PETA constantly portray us as taking great delight in terrorizing our game during the hunt,and then somehow taking pleasure in torturing our game during the kill. They would much rather see areas overpopulated with starving and diseased animals that are suffering slow agonizing deaths,or becoming road kill.

Dave R
December 26, 2002, 01:15 AM
Agreed with Art. To put it another way...

Humans are omnivores. Any biologist will tell ya. We have no ruminant stomach like true herbivores. So if there's gonna be meat in your diet, it is either hunted or "farmed".

And if an animal is to be killed, I'd rather it live its live in natural freedom rather than in a farm prison.

January 4, 2003, 04:40 PM
i sort of got board and diddnt read it all but are you for against hunting or only like hunting if your pray 4 the annimals?:scrutiny:

Art Eatman
January 5, 2003, 11:47 PM
sasnofear, I suggest you take the time to read all the posts. Why ignore what's said, just to ask a question? I guess I'm saying, "Do your homework." :) We'll be around for a long time; there's no hurry.

Anyway, I've been a hunter for over 60 years. I like the taste of deer meat. I like the taste of quail and dove. Other folks like to eat elk or moose, as well as ducks and geese.

I've been a farmer and a rancher. I like to believe I know a little bit about the food business, besides just eating. Hunting is merely acquiring food the hard way, rather than depending solely on the good-heartedness or the profit-motivation of others to take your money.

One thing to remember about hunting and hunters: Hunters can only kill those animals surplus to the needs of the continuation of a species. No other group has spent as much money, time and effort in expanding habitat and protecting animals as have hunters.

A birder can have an ultimate thrill from observing the last of a few of some endangered species of bird. The hunter must ensure the continuation of healthy game animal populations in order to have any thrill whatsoever.

As to the morals and ethics of hunting, many discussions have taken place in the "Hunt" forum over at http://www.thefiringline.com and I suggest you search the archives there.



January 7, 2003, 05:28 PM
point taken art, though it was about 1 in the morning here and the thread jus seemed 2 go on & on & on.

i completly agree with u. no-one helps nature better than hunters. ppl look at me strange when i say hunters are prob the best conservationists. their tiny minds are on "but you kill things"


January 7, 2003, 07:19 PM
I am a member of the other PETA - People for Eating Tasty Animals. Don't look for logic from the anti-hunting types. There was a vegetarian woman who wanted the Inuit in greenland to become vegetarians. She had absolutely no clue that first veggies don't grow very well in the arctic and second to deal with the extreme cold the Inuit need large amounts of fats especially animal fats.

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