The Absurdity of Anthropomorphism

This post was influenced by an essay by Paul McCarney published on www.truthaboutfur.com

 

According to Merriam-Webster, anthropomorphism is “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.” In other words, it’s giving human qualities or characteristics to something that is not human.  Animal rights activists are the professionals at this, treating everything from amoeba to horses as if they were just like you and me.  As it happens, they’re not like you and me and seeing them as such is viewing nature through a distorted and perverted lens.

This is not to say we don’t have things in common with other animals, especially other mammals.  Other mammals give birth to live young and the mothers nurse the young from their breast milk.  Coyotes can be loners but can also choose to work together in certain situations for the common good.  It has been said that bears, when skinned, look so much like a human, many people refuse to eat bear.  There is nothing wrong with accepting, and even admiring, these commonalities in other animals.  

However, this reminds me of a picture that has gone around the internet for years. It’s a copy of a letter to an editor that a person wrote about a wildlife crossing sign that was recently put up in their town.  The writer complained that they should move the wildlife crossing to some place safer because that was a very dangerous section of highway and it wasn’t safe for the wildlife to cross there.  Because in this person’s mind, the wildlife can see and read the sign and will cross wherever the sign tells them to.  

I hope we can all agree that deer can’t read.  Let’s just start there.

Why can’t we love animals for all the ways they’re different than us?  Humans are one of the few species on earth where the female is more attractive than the male.  I love seeing mallard drakes in the creek behind my house, their majestic green necks and heads standing up proud and tall.  Or a mature bull elk that carries around eighty pounds of antlers on his head like it weighs nothing at all.  Or the way a pronghorn can hit speeds of up to sixty miles per hour and maintain it for miles, but yet can barely jump over a log.  A person does not need to invent ways to admire and appreciate wildlife, God gave us reasons to love every creature, even if it is only as basic as spiders that eat mosquitoes.  

Treating animals as if they’re human neither benefits the animals, nor the humans.  We cannot tell the whitetail deer not to run out in the middle of the road or stay out of the soybean fields.  Once the population is past carrying capacity, the animals will just starve to death from lack of sustaining habitat.  Then there are coyotes, wolves, winter, disease and many other ways for animals to die.  Sure, humans can starve to death, but in America, that’s rare and of course, all animals are susceptible to disease, but not too many humans these days being killed by predators or winter.  Because we are not like other animals.

I truly believe that accepting and appreciating the differences in animals, specifically between humans and other wildlife, drives a deeper desire for conservation than anthropomorphizing them does.  Those of us who do admire those traits we don’t share spend a lot of time out in nature observing and, at least part of the year, interacting with them. The type of folks who anthropomorphize, with a few exceptions, are the type that just want them to be left alone, they’re just happy they’re out there, somewhere where they don’t have to deal with them.  

True love, just like with your spouse, is loving them because of how they’re different than you.  And just like with your spouse, you can try like hell to make them just like you, but it never works.  

The Future of the Outdoors on Social Media is Now

I am a lot of things, mainly a father, husband, friend, hunter, conservationist and I’d like to believe, a thinker.  One thing I am not, however, is a media expert.  I know some media experts and I’ve learned a thing or two from them, but I think the thing that matters when it comes to the future of media and social media is human behavior, which I do know a little bit about, and I believe the technical aspects will follow human behavior.  

We used to live in a world where we could hold our beliefs fairly privately, go to the voting booth and not tell people who we voted for.  That same world allowed us to learn from our mistakes without, for the most part, screwing up our entire life or reputation. Unfortunately, those days are gone and they’re not coming back.  

Examples of this are in our newsfeed every single day.  Sometimes, the crime is egregious, such as Michael Richards being recorded saying a word he shouldn’t have used.  I understand why people were upset at that, however, earlier this week, a professional baseball player was questioned about a five-year-old social media post in which he supported the 2nd amendment. He had to give the obligatory, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” but refused to back down from his support of the Constitution.  

Those of us involved in hunting, or most of us anyhow, are always involved in two hot button issues: guns and hunting.  

The world is now such that if you were to go apply for a job, you could be denied because there’s a photo of you teaching your child how to safely shoot a gun on your Facebook page.  All that needs to happen is there to be someone in Human Resources who is anti-gun or a vegan.  It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s the world we now live in.  Some of us, we choose to be outspoken about our rights, our passions and we’re not afraid of the consequences.  I honor and respect that choice and it’s a choice I’ve made myself. I applied for a ton of jobs in the time we’ve lived in Colorado and didn’t even get a phone call for about a dozen that I was perfectly suited for.  Is it because of my social media presence?  I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in at least a few cases.  

Another recent issue is social media censoring or banning conservative content.  I keep hearing conservatives say, “Why won’t a billionaire conservative step up and create a platform that honors free speech?”.  It’s a good question, it really is.  The good news for outdoors enthusiasts is that some non-billionaires have stepped up to the plate and created a platform for us, it’s called GoWild. 

GoWild is more than just guns, hunting and fishing.  It encourages you to share your gardening, hiking, ATVing and other experiences as well.  They want to see you and your kids outside.  It’s also a place where you can share without worrying about hate mail and threats from those who disagree with you.  If someone is not into hunting, the way the app works, they’ll probably not see your picture unless they’re following you.  If you don’t like a picture you see, you scroll right past it. However, if you see something you don’t agree with, the folks at GoWild encourage its users to talk about it in the comments.  Maybe it’s a new hunter or a young kid and no one told them what they’re doing isn’t ethical. Instead of having them banned or saying nasty things to them, we (the users) encourage them to think about what they’re doing and to make better decisions in the future.  They’re trying to keep some of the old school mentality of using mistakes as an opportunity to grow and be mentored rather than an opportunity to shame the person.  

One of the cooler things about the app is the ability to connect with folks outside your core group.  While most of us hunters prepare for hunting season all year long, the things we do also overlap into other hobbies.  We backpack, canoe, target shoot, train our bodies, and just generally love being outdoors. We also appreciate the responsibility of producing our own food and often have gardens.  These other activities, the way the app is built, allow us find common ground with other folks who might not be hunters.  This is of the utmost importance, because as I and many others have written, we’re about 5% of the population and both hunters and animal rights activists are small minorities fighting for the approval of the vast majority.  

So, the question is, are you going to focus your social media energy on apps owned by California urbanites who are trying to control what you see and hear so that it fits their agenda or are you going to engage with others in the outdoor community in a way that grants you the freedom to share what you choose to share?  I’m not saying you should leave Facebook or Instagram, those are still great places to be connected to people personally and professionally and share parts of your life, I’m simply asking if you want to be a part of the solution to the attacks on our lifestyle and be a part of growing the next generation of conservationists?  

We might be waiting for a long time for a place of political free speech on social media, but for a place where you can share your grip ‘n grins without fear of death threats on your family, the future is now.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way professionally involved in GoWild other than as a user.  I do know a couple folks from the company and they are based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky so I would be a big supporter of them even if they had a knitting app because I’m always supportive of good people doing good things.  However, my passion for their product and the community it fosters is legitimate and I encourage anyone reading this to go to Apple, Google or wherever you download apps and give it a try and I also recommend checking out their podcast, Restless Native. 

Are We Really Being Honest with Ourselves and the Public When We Use “Whole Foods Buzzwords”?

This post was inspired by the 2nd hour of The MeatEater Podcast Episode 125: Live from Tempe featuring Steve Rinella, Janis Putelis, Matt Rinella and Dr. Karl Malcolm and can be found here as well as on iTunes and Stitcher.

I’m obsessed with ethics and morality.  If I’m honest with myself, I can honestly say that a time or two it has probably been more of a vice than a virtue and in my younger days it probably came across as judgmental.  Maybe I still come across that way sometimes when I believe in something as passionately as I believe in ethical hunting.  While I feel the need to stand up and speak out on what I believe in, especially here on this page, I do think there are more approachable ambassadors for hunting than me and that is why guys like Steve Rinella, Randy Newberg and others are so popular and are really inspiring both current hunters to do better and to bring new folks into our ranks.

Recently on The MeatEater Podcast, there was a conversation about the sincerity of many hunters these days who throw around, what Steve Rinella called something like, “Whole Foods Buzzwords”.  It’s true, growing up, I never heard anyone use words like “organic”, “free range” or “humanely killed”.  I grew up in a fairly rural area and I think we just assumed at the time all meat fit these three criteria.  It was only in the last ten to twenty years that many less than humane practices have come to light and we’ve started talking about the humane treatment of our domestic animals.  The guys on the show started questioning these words and I had to admit to myself, that although I meant it when I’ve told people how much better game meat is and why that is, I had definitely been looking at the issue with rose colored glasses on.  

So, let me break down a few of these buzzwords when it comes to wild game:

Organic – This is relative to the animal and the place where you hunt it.  Are you hunting caribou in the Brooks Range?  I’d call that pretty organic.  Whitetail or turkeys in Indiana?  Damn near impossible to call that organic when it is living amongst and around so much agricultural land.  You have to honestly ask yourself, what is this animal eating given where it lives?

Free Range – Unless you’re hunting a high fenced farm, I’d argue wild game is free range.  Some animals move very little (whitetail) and some migrate hundreds of miles (caribou), but if their movement is unrestricted, they’re free range.  You could argue that human infringement such as housing additions and energy development impede their movement, and I’d agree with you, but barring removing humans from the landscape, I think it’s hard to argue against this.

Humanely Killed – This was the topic on the show that really hurt me and stung my pride.  I’ve always made the argument that a double lung shot was as humane as it gets but as the guys on the show so eloquently pointed out, (1) agricultural practices have evolved a long way in this area and are much more humane these days and (2) how many times do you put your animal down by dropping it where it stands?  I have to be honest and say hunting is sometimes incredibly humane and sometimes devastatingly inhumane.  

As the conversation evolved, they came to the same conclusion that I ultimately have come to through the years, that there’s something you cannot put on a label or whittle down to a buzzword, what separates hunters and wild game as a food is our connection to the animal, our connection to the land and the bonds that are strengthened through the food at our dinner tables.  It’s doing the work and getting your hands dirty, just the same as you’d have more pride and more of a connection to a car you built from the ground up than a car you bought off the lot.  When you eat that food, you think of all the hours scouting, the nights in the cold tent, the camaraderie of your loved ones you went with, the field dressing, the pack out and finally, for many of us, the butchering.  You remember the folds of the earth, the feel of the wind, the ache in your back and the smell of the animal because there can be much more to food than how it tastes on your plate.

Dr. Karl Malcolm touched on something and the end of the conversation that I constantly preach about: gratitude.  He shared a story about his family and their practice of saying something they’re grateful for at the dinner table and his three-year-old daughter saying she was thankful for the moose that they were eating.  While I know there are plenty of people who are thankful for their food no matter where it comes from, I do suspect most Americans take this for granted.  I’m not throwing stones, it’s easy to do when you’re so disconnected from the source.  You go to the supermarket and there’s hamburger meat already ground up and packaged in a one meal container.  Or you go to a restaurant and you just verbalize you’d like a filet cooked medium and twenty minutes later it shows up in front of you. Our modern world can be magical in that sense, but there’s magic in doing it yourself as well.

There’s something powerful about putting food on your own table whether it is an elk steak or vegetables from your garden.  There’s a lot of work that goes into it, a lot of time that you sacrifice that you could be doing something else and so many opportunities for it to all go wrong, whether that is your mistake or Mother Nature not providing the right conditions.  That food is something to be proud of, something you are more willing to share, something you’re more likely to remember and, in my opinion, it just tastes better. While it’s important to have this conversation on a wide platform where words like “organic” are going to be thrown around, I’m not sure there’s a better way to share our love and passion for wild game than at the dinner table.  Our stories and arguments are much more convincing when we can tell them over the fruits of our labor, if for no other reason, our non-hunting loved ones can see how grateful we are for the animal and the chance to interact with it in order to feed our families.

Public Lands and Manufactured Outrage in the Era of Trump

DISCLAIMER: I hate that this is even necessary, but unfortunately, in the current culture of “agree with me on every issue or you’re my enemy”, I must disclose that I did not vote in the 2016 election.  I lived in Los Angeles at the time and there was not one single candidate on the ballot for any office that I could morally support pulling the lever for.  I thought of writing in a candidate, but figured that was the same thing as abstaining.  What follows is merely me trying to separate the truth from the propaganda.

We currently live in a time of divisiveness.  There is a loud group of people who troll the internet looking for people who say things that are either careless or that don’t fit their narrative and world view and then try to destroy their lives in, what I can only imagine they view as an all-out war. This war is not fought on the battlefields, but it’s fought on social media and, though in a slightly different way, through the mainstream media as well.  Some of these people are simply fools thinking they are doing the right thing, but a majority of them know better, or should know better, but feel like changing the world to fit their views needs to be done by any means necessary.

This has happened in the outdoor world as well, namely surrounding the issue of public lands.  Anyone who knows me knows how important public lands are to me and my family, however, I do not believe that telling lies to achieve my means is morally just. The theme has always been that conservatives, or Republicans specifically, don’t care about the environment, they only care about big business.  Some of this reputation is warranted, however, let us not overlook the contributions of two Republican presidents who did an immense amount for the environment; Theodore Roosevelt who, along with several other high-ranking conservationists, created public land in this country and Richard Nixon, who signed into law the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Many sportsmen where hopeful when Donald Trump was elected president and when he chose Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of the Interior.  Zinke had a pretty good record in Congress on issues we care about and Don Jr. is an avid outdoorsman and has the ear of his father. Things have not gone as well as many had hoped, especially the liberal contingent of the outdoors community (though this is not surprising).  I have disagreed with several policy decisions they have made (including the first topic I will discuss below), however, I feel like their wins have gone mostly overlooked, unreported and or flat out lied about and even their failures have been maliciously lied about.  So, I am going to break down two of the most controversial decisions of the Trump administration’s outdoor policy and try to separate fact from fiction.

1.    Shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Escalante Staircase National Monuments

First off, let me say, I couldn’t have disagreed with this decision more, however, when Patagonia changed their homepage to say, “The President Stole Your Land” they outright lied to their consumers.  The land that was removed from the national monument is still federally managed land owned by the American people, albeit under the control of the Bureau of Land Management and provided less protections than a national monument designation afforded it.  Not one acre of federally managed land under the Obama administration is gone, in fact, Zinke, along with several other folks helped add to the number of acres of federal land when they managed to gain land in New Mexico that opened up the previously landlocked Sabinoso Wilderness Area to recreation and hunting.

Maybe you want to make the argument that hyperbole was necessary to get people to pay attention.  Except when you lie to people, it’s like the little boy who cried wolf, eventually people stop paying attention to you.  Right now, Utah Sen. Mike Lee actually wants to transfer all public land to the states, who in turn can sell it off to private parties. This, while highly unlikely to pass, is much scarier than changing the designation of two monuments, yet, it’s getting next to no attention outside the usual circles.  Where’s the outrage from the mainstream media on this one?  I know the idea of losing the land permanently is much sexier than just opening it up to mining, but it shouldn’t be (also, if you’re against mining, you should probably put away your iPhones and MacBooks because these things, as well as many parts of your automobile and homes are not possible without mining, at least be honest about your reliance on mining while you’re fighting to innovate and create more sustainable options).

Whether or not it was “illegal”, as Patagonia claimed, remains to be seen.  I’ll leave that one up to the lawyers and judges.

2.    Turning Management of All Wildlife Refuges in Alaska Back to Alaska Department of Fish & Game

This was only sexy for five minutes, but the amount of horse doo-doo spread by the media, social media and lobbying groups like the Humane Society of America was enormous for this short period of time. This outrage was entirely from people who didn’t understand wildlife management, how the states manage wildlife, hunting or the realities of Alaska.  The good people and scientists of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game already managed over 85% of the land in Alaska, most of which is federally managed land, and all this did was restore the responsibility of caring for the other 15% back to them.  

Most of the claims were completely based in the imaginations of animal rights activists, such as one national story claiming that people would now bait bears with “doughnuts and bacon”.  This never happened before and it will not happen now.  Other, small exceptions were exaggerated, such as it being legal to shoot caribou as they were swimming or shooting bears in their dens. These things are done, but in isolated places by indigenous groups with traditions of doing these things out of necessity.  These folks also have exceptions to hunting seals and other protected species for sustenance and tradition, this is nothing new.  I am not going to Alaska this fall to shoot caribou in the water, nor is any other hunter from the Lower 48, and though I can’t say this for sure, nor will any non-Native from Alaska.

For more details on this issue, please see Sam Cotten’s excellent rebuttal here, or check out Steve Rinella’s response on the MeatEater podcast.

Personally, I think Trump and Zinke have done some good things and some bad things.  I’ve spoken up both in support and in criticism and I suggest you do too, no matter whether you agree with me or not.  However, please be honest about things.  If you speak before you fully understand an issue, that’s forgivable, it’s a mistake, but one that we all make every now and again.  What is unforgivable is maliciously giving people false information in order to sway their opinion, their vote or their donations to your cause.  

Either win on the facts and the truth, or it’s no win at all and it’ll end up hurting everyone and the very things you seek to protect.

This Is Who We Are

A short message to my fellow hunters…

I got my first anti-meat hate on Instagram the other day.  Ironically, it was from someone I met once when she was brought to my house for Christmas Eve dinner.  At this dinner, she ate fish, so apparently “taking innocent lives” and being “disgusting” only applies to the things she chooses not to eat, not to living creatures of the sea.  When I went to respond to her comments, they disappeared because she had blocked me.  This is fine and I do not plan to respond to every piece of hate I get from animal rights activists.  People who are willing to engage in conversation with those of differing opinions do not open those conversations with hate and threats of violence.  Ninety-seven percent of people eat meat and the hateful folks are (I believe) a minority of that three percent.  There’s absolutely no need to engage with anyone who shows you right off the bat they are not interested in a conversation.

Hunters have a responsibility to know the facts.  “We’ve always hunted” is not a good argument nor is “my licenses pay for conservation”.  We have to know more and we have to do more.  We’ve been the stewards of wildlife for a long time but we cannot rest on our laurels.  We have to continue to be leaders and understand the complex and nuanced ecosystems we live in and hunt in.  

When non-hunters see us, they see hunting as something we do.  They think, “Why can’t you just get your meat at a supermarket like a normal person?”. The reality is, it’s not what we do, hunting is who we are.  We feel a connection to nature that others don’t feel.  Some non-consumptive users will say they’re connected to nature as well, and maybe some are, but most non-consumptive users see themselves as tourists in the wild.  They’re visiting.  Hunters know we are more than that, we are a part of the environment, just like our fellow predators, just like our prey and just like all the other pieces of our ecosystem.  We are not separate, we are not visitors, we are home.

I’m proud to call myself a hunter.  I will never back down from that.  While there are exceptions, hunters are incredibly well versed with land management and wildlife biology issues and we have an excellent understanding of all the legal components of our lifestyle.  We’re as knowledgeable on the things we do as anyone else is on their passions, if not more so.  However, there’s still more work to do.  Volunteer with a conservation group, take someone new hunting and fishing every chance you get, reach out to those who express an interest and let go of the “I don’t want to show anyone my spot” mentality.  In fact, when you take them to your spot, you teach them, “Hey, hunters don’t swipe another hunter’s spot”.  Teach them ethics as well as how to field dress an animal.

We have a great message and I think we do a pretty good job of telling the story but we live in a world where people no longer want to listen.  It’s time we show them who we are.  There will always be those who will hate and who will ignore good science in the name of ideology and false moral supremacy, but there will be a lot of people watching. Let’s show ‘em who we are.  The future of hunting depends on it. 

God, Transcendentalism and Modern Conservation

In the woods is perpetual youth…In the woods we return to reason and faith… I am part or particle of God.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

 

Almost every religious or philosophical tradition has at least a few stories of their heroes going into the wilderness to seek answers or to seek the truth.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the story of The Temptation of Jesus, and, according to Jeffrey Ryan Dickson in Deserts of Development: How God Shapes His Leaders in the Wilderness, “according to Jewish tradition, an entrance into a wilderness meant that God was preparing the individual for a new beginning.”  It should not be a surprise then that immediately following Jesus’ temptation he started his ministry (Matthew 4:12-17).  However, it is arguable that no school of thought lobbied more for the interaction of man and nature as a mechanism for communication with the divine, than Transcendentalism.  While its heyday might have come and gone a long time ago, I think there are some tenets that are more relevant today than ever.  

What is Transcendentalism?  

Roderick Nash, in his legendary book, Wilderness and the American Mind, wrote,

The core of Transcendentalism was the belief that a correspondence or parallelism existed between the higher realm of spiritual truth and the lower one of material objects… Transcendentalists had a definite conception of man’s place in a universe divided between object and essence.  His physical existence rooted him to the material portion, like all natural objects, but his soul gave him the potential to “transcend” this condition… he could discover his own correspondence with the divine being and appreciate his capacity for moral improvement.  Every individual, the Transcendentalists emphasized, possessed this ability, but the process of insight was so difficult and delicate that it was seldom exercised. The great majority was indifferent, yet even those who sought higher truths intuitively found them in frustratingly brief flashes (85).

Nash also discusses, in the same chapter on Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s frustration with civilization.  “By mid-century American life had acquired a bustling tempo and materialistic tone that left Thoreau and many of his contemporaries vaguely disturbed and insecure (86).”  Walden was first published in 1854, and if that’s how Thoreau felt then, how do you imagine he’d feel about America in 2018? By any definition, we live in a more materialistic, more distracting and faster paced society today than ever before. 

It’s also true that society has never been more secular and an even greater majority is indifferent.  Although many people will say they are “spiritual” even if they’re not “religious”, very few people (whether they call themselves “religious” or “spiritual”) actually put in any spiritual work because spiritual work means a great amount of time and effort with intermittent tangible returns.  Deep, purposeful work on one’s self requires a lot of discipline and effort.  For a society constantly chasing the next, hippest, instantly gratifying, shortcut to happiness, making a trek into the wilderness, whatever that might mean for each person, is not a popular pastime.  

I Never Considered Myself a Transcendentalist Before

Wilderness, to me anyhow, always seemed like the closest I would ever come to the Garden of Eden.  Sin is something of man.  Man is in civilization.  Avoid civilization, avoid man, avoid sin, or at least that’s how I’ve always painted the picture even if that is not entirely true because my sin travels with me. God created Man after the Heavens and the Earth were complete.  It was perfect, at least until that fateful day at the forbidden tree.  

I’ve always imagined what life was like in the Garden prior to the Fall of Man.  Adam conversing with God like they were old pals.  I think that’s something every human being has been envious of since that time; we pray, but we really don’t hear that voice talking back to us, not like Adam did anyhow.  

So, what does God sound like today?  I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but there are moments, as Nash said, “frustratingly brief flashes”, where I hear God loud and clear.  Right now, in my office with the window open, a swollen Coal Creek is carrying God’s voice to me.  The difficult part is interpreting it.  That’s why I’m envious of Adam’s conversations with God.  I really wish it was easier to understand what he was saying.

As frustrating as it is to have to decipher what God is saying to me sometimes, I take an immense amount of comfort in the fact that God talks to me. Me, an incredibly flawed mortal. No matter what, when the trail gets quiet and I can hear the creek, when I am out in the woods backpacking, hunting, fishing, or whatever I’m doing, if I’m out there, really out there, going places other people rarely or never go, I hear God loud and clear.  I just wish that was the case all the time, but either I am not able to drown out all the noise of humanity or perhaps the wilderness is just the place that God has chosen for the two of us to converse and it is up to me to get out there more often.  If nothing else, it is a good excuse to get into the mountains more.

I would never actually call myself a Transcendentalist because there’s a lot of things about the philosophy that don’t fit me (Indian religious influence, the idealism, etc.) but I believe they were pretty spot on in their belief in the possibility of transcendence through nature and the belief that institutions often corrupt the purity of the individual (as much as one can be pure).  In the wilderness we can take our place amongst all of God’s creation and, if we are alone, we can get a taste of what those first moments must have felt like before God gave Adam a partner.  In those moments, we can be alone with God.  

So, What Does This All Mean?

I believe that wilderness, those last refuges of land uncorrupted by man, are the closest that most of us will ever get to the Garden of Eden and that open conversation with God, at least in this life.  I believe that protecting these wild places are one of our most sacred duties.  In Genesis 1:26 God gives us this responsibility, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  This is our sacred duty and it is entirely a self-serving one, as it is ourselves who most benefit from the places and things were entrusted to protect.  The land provides resources to make and heat our homes, the animals provide food to nurture our bodies and the places they come from nurture our souls.  

People always ask me why I go to such remote places, so far away from other people and it almost always ends with, “but what if you get hurt out there?” or “aren’t you scared of bears?”.  The truth is, our local parks are nice, but they don’t recharge me or fill me up with peace like the wild does.  In the parks, when I pass large groups on the trail, their stereos blasting, I always wonder why people are so afraid of the quiet?  Why can’t they leave the trappings of civilization behind for a few hours?  I wonder what it is that they think they’ll hear that fills them with fear?  Are they afraid of their own thoughts?  Or is it that when their mind is unoccupied for long enough they will start to dwell on their failures and shortcomings?  I don’t know, but I know for myself, I do often dwell on those things, but instead of fear, in the quiet, I find answers.  

We should always be searching for the truth, just know that it may come to you by the sound of the wind through the trees or of water coming down the mountain making its long journey to the ocean.  In this post-modern world, we hear more things than we can comprehend, but are we listening?  Our wild places are great places to go listen, whether it’s a small issue you’re struggling with, or you’re Thoreau venturing off into the wilderness multiple times to seek enlightenment, or you’re Cheryl Strayed trying to re-set your entire life on the Pacific Crest Trail.  What we have to ask ourselves is whether or not these spiritual journeys are important and whether or not it is important to still have wild places to run to for peace and quiet.  If the answer is yes, and I think it is, then there is nothing more human than protecting these places.  

Women, Masculinity and the Future of Hunting

If you pay attention to Hollywood and the Mainstream Media, you’ll know that right now, everything female is good and everything male is bad.  Well, that maybe an oversimplification but you know what I am getting at.  Just the other day, the University of Texas declared masculinity to be a mental illness. We’re at a strange time in our society and there’s definitely a culture war going on in America.  Much like every other topic to discuss, people want to make things simpler than they are, to put them in neat little boxes labeled “this” and “that” or “good” and “bad”.  Gender and hunting are no exception to this.  However, I feel like trying to simplify gender and hunting issues actually complicates them much more than need be.

It’s simple.  Women make great hunters.  Women have always been great hunters.

Okay, let me unpack this.  I won’t go into a great amount of detail about the history of women hunters because there’s a plethora of great stories out there for you to explore yourself. Whether it was in ancient Greek or Roman mythology, Celt or Nordic tribes or in the Wild West, there are countless examples of women hunters.  Just look at the Wikipedia page of hunting gods for examples to get you started.  

Just think about it simply.  Who provided food when men went off to war or left home to work as miners or railroad workers?  In the Wild West, who provided for food when the men died of disease?  The Wild West as a great example because any place where people were free from law, free from the pressures of “civilization” or the rule of the Church, women had more rights (because no one was infringing on their God given rights that they were born with).  Utah, long considered a very conservative state, gave women the right to vote a long time before women won their suffrage in other, “more civilized”, places.

But I digress.

The main reason hunting has been considered “masculine” in America is because traditionally men have been a large majority of the hunters and it was usually a set of skills handed down father to son out in the field while the women stayed home.  Hunting itself is neither masculine nor feminine, it’s human.  However, a boy’s one on one time with their dad is masculine, is healthy and odds are those boys learned a lot more about being a man during those hunts than they did about hunting.  That is why I still find that to be an important tradition and I believe we need strong men to raise boys in a way so that we will continue to have generations of strong men.  I am not attacking that at all, I am in 100% support of that and am committed to getting more young men into the outdoors.

So, what of me?  The lone man in a house with two women?  While my girls don’t go along on every hunt, we’re a hunting family.  Hunting is one of the many things we do together.  At our daughter’s age, it’s small game and fishing right now and when she’s older I’ll take them on turkey and big game hunts as well.  As far as I’m concerned nothing changes except the lessons we teach our daughter. I don’t need to teach her about being a man because she’s going to be a woman.  Her mother is doing an excellent job of teaching her how to be a great woman. I will teach her to hunt.  I will do my part as her father to teach her about being human because there is far more to learn outside than how to be a man. 

It’s of the utmost importance that we hunters take our daughters afield just as we would take our sons afield.  The future conservationists are just as likely, if not more likely, to be female than male.  It shouldn’t matter if that woman wears make up or doesn’t, or if she uses blaze pink or blaze orange, or if she wants to fish in a bikini or in waders.  All that matters is that she’s outdoors and we pass along our ethics and love for the wild.  Getting all wrapped up in tangential aspects of what a woman wears etc. is avoiding the most important thing; that women are a growing segment of the hunting community.

For those fathers who have sons, take them hunting, insert masculine traditions and rites of passage into your hunting trips.  Take your uncles, buddies or grandfather and have some male bonding, that’s awesome.  But if you have daughters, take them along too (and their mothers if they want to go), treat them the same, give your daughter her first beer or snort of whiskey when the time comes.  I promise you she’ll remember those times with her dad the rest of her life just like your son would.  

 

 

Taking Comfort in Feeling Small

My family and I used to do a lot of car camping in the desert when we lived in California.  Our favorite spot was in Anza-Borrego State Park though we also enjoyed Death Valley National Park and Johnson Valley (BLM).  When we go camping, our daughter likes to go to bed as soon as the sun goes down (as opposed to a normal night at home when she wants to stay up all night watching MeatEater).  Usually when she goes to bed, my wife and I will enjoy the time to ourselves, talking quietly around the campfire and perhaps enjoying an adult beverage.  If any of you have ever camped in the desert, you know how impressive a clear night sky can be.

The one thing that always comes to my mind, always, is how massive our universe is.  You look out upon an infinite number of stars and know that they are so far away that it’s incredibly hard for most of us to fathom. Knowing that I am such a small part of the universe, especially given the history of time, is always oddly comforting.  

We humans like to pretend we’re important.  We like to pretend we’re special.  We shout our opinions into already loud echo chambers and feel validated when we hear our voice coming back to us in a slightly different tone. In today’s world, with social media so prevalent in everyone’s life, we know that we don’t even have to have talent to be famous, many people are famous just for being famous.  We crave that attention that will make us feel special and validate our insecurities. 

The truth is, we’re not special.  None of us are really.  Sure, there are those who make an impact that seems incredibly large to us in our time and place, but even the greatest of leaders are mere ripples on the ocean of time. The knowledge of this could be disheartening to some, they may view this as nihilistic, but nothing could be further from the truth.  

Another place that gives me great comfort in spite of making me feel so small is the Rocky Mountains.  When walking through some ancient canyon between mountains that are millions of years old I can see the layers of time on their faces.  I imagine the millions of stories those mountains have in their collective memory and if I get quiet enough and really listen hard, they will tell me some of those stories.  I also know that one day my time with the mountain will be a story it can tell to those still in the “womb of time” (stole that one from Theodore Roosevelt).  

Our goal in life should not be to aspire to be the brightest star in the sky, but to be the Sun in our own solar system.  We should give light and warmth to those in our orbit; our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors.  We are all important in a very real and impactful way, but not in the superficial way that our televisions and iPhones tell us we should be.  Man’s desire to be immortal is as old as man himself, but I challenge us all to be better building blocks of life, rather than aspire to conquer death.  Even Marcus Aurelius once said that even the greatest Roman Emperor will be forgotten in but a few generations.  

There is power in feeling small.  Once you view yourself in the proper context to the universe, your purpose becomes crystal clear.  You know what things you can change and what things you must accept that you cannot change. In feeling small, you become aware of how important you really are.

And the next time you have a clear, dark night, or the next time you’re standing alone next to a mountain, take a moment and listen closely.  You never know what wisdom might be bestowed upon you.

Baiting: Fair Chase? Ethical? What is baiting?

This topic is one that can be broken down into three questions and answers, each one getting more complex and more complicated.

1.     Is baiting fair chase?  No.

2.     Is baiting ethical?  Maybe, sometimes.

3.     What is baiting?  Well… we’ll attempt to define that shortly.

There is nothing about baiting that is “chase”, forget the “fair” part.  Dumping a bunch of corn or carrots underneath your tree stand so you can sit your lazy ass in one spot and let them come to you isn’t hunting, it’s just killing.  A situation such as this one is pretty clear, but beyond this, things get muddy.

Baiting might be ethical in certain situations, but those situations I wouldn’t call “hunting”.  If you are looking for a nuisance animal or it’s a culling situation in an urban or suburban environment, it is better for all parties involved for the animal(s) to come to a safe spot, rather than some guy with a bow creeping through backyards in search of said animal.  Whether we call this hunting or pest control or something else we can debate at another time, but if it’s not hunting, then fair chase goes out of the equation.

Now, as to the question, “what is baiting?”, well, different people have different ideas about that.  The example I gave above is an easy one, but some people believe the following are all baiting:

·     Sitting on a cornfield

·     Habitat improvement for the express purpose of bigger deer

·     Sitting on a watering hole

Many of these examples are unique to certain animals and locations.  If you’re hunting elk in Colorado you might sit on a watering hole, but there is no cornfield to sit and you’re most likely on public land, so you’re not improving the habitat.  My best attempt at defining “baiting” would look something like, the placement of attractants with the explicit intent of bringing game animals to a certain place for immediate or short-term harvest.  

I think most hunters would agree sitting over a watering hole is just smart hunting.  Not every watering hole gets used, so you’re looking for sign, and if your method of hunting is still hunting, I can’t think of too many better places to sit than over a watering hole.  As for the cornfield scenario, I think it could go either way.  If you’re sitting on a cornfield that is for the explicit purpose of agriculture and you’re taking advantage of the deer pursuing the few pieces of corn not picked up at harvest, I think again, you’re hunting a natural food source and that’s smart hunting.  However, if you or the landowner, purposely don’t harvest all the corn for commercial or agricultural reasons, but rather leave some to attract deer, then yes, I think that fits my definition of baiting.

Habitat improvement is something I think all hunters and conservations should pursue.  Will helping the herd help your hunting?  Sure, it will.  However, your intention in this is to produce habitat to support the herd all year long and well into the future and not just to lure a big buck near your tree stand. Habitat improvement is something we all should care about for the long-term health of our herds and all the other animals, game or not, that live alongside the game animals we are chasing. 

Having grown up in Indiana and having hunted white tail deer in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, I understand the complications of this issue. My friend’s dad’s property that I hunted in Kentucky was a small piece of land with a small vineyard on it.  The vineyard attracted turkeys and deer to the property (though the grapes were long gone by deer firearm season).  Considering the relatively small range of a white tail, was I baiting?  I’d say no because the grapes were long gone by late November.  However, being a small property, I had no idea what the neighbors were doing.  Did they have bird feeders that were attracting deer to the neighborhood?  And if so, was I hunting over bait?  I would say the answers are “no” and “no” because in two seasons hunting out there I didn’t see one damn deer and if the neighbors did have some attractant out, I had no knowledge of it.  You can only control what you can control and that is the essence of this question.

I think this all boils down to whether you are manipulating nature to affect your hunt.  Yes, we use technology to improve our odds, which we have since we started hunting millions of years ago and which without, our species would look very different today. With all of that technology is it really necessary to bait?  Shouldn’t the hunt be about the pursuit and the time in the woods?  If you just want to walk a few hundred yards to a tree stand and sit in it for 90 minutes to kill something for food, why don’t you just drive five miles to the grocery store and buy a steak?  Where is the passion?  Where is the participation in the natural world?  

I think there are a few black and white truths in this world, but baiting, like almost all questions of morality and ethics, is made up of a lot of gray. There are only two limitations on you as a hunter: state and federal wildlife laws and your conscience.  The first one you have to answer to your fellow hunters and citizens on.  The second, you only have to answer to yourself, your community and your creator. All I hope is that hunters take the time to consider the second as much or more than they take to consider the first.

“A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
– Aldo Leopold

Conflicts, Contradictions & Conundrums

When discussing hunting ethics, the number of questions is limitless:

·     How far of a shot is ethical?

·     How much technology is acceptable, if any?

·     Is baiting ethical?

·     If baiting isn’t ethical, what’s the definition of baiting?

·     Is urban or suburban killing of nuisance animals hunting?

·     Is shooting an animal on a fenced game farm hunting?

These are just a few of the number of things that can come up when the topic of ethics and fair chase is discussed.  Eventually, I plan to post on all of these questions and more individually, but to open the discussion I want to point out the inevitable conflicts, contradictions and conundrums.  This isn’t exclusive to hunting, life is complicated.  As Thomas McIntyre writes in What the Hunter Knows, “The neohunter understands that the natural world, the real world, the realest world we can have in this life, is chock-full of conflicts and conundrums and that between the moment of our birth and that of death there are no absolute truths out there, at least none that we can claim full comprehension of, because this system we call the wild is forever changing, as all vital systems do. And so we are obliged always to be on our toes.”

As I’ve mentioned recently, we all want to be “back to nature” but we use modern technology like GPS map programs on our smart phones.  Some use more cutting-edge technology than that, but where do we draw the line?  What’s ethical?  What’s fair chase?  And conversely, those who are anti-technology out there shooting traditional bows, why didn’t you carve your own shafts and make your own arrowheads?  What about using an atlatl?  Why not go out in a loin cloth with nothing more than a rock and try to kill a wooly mammoth?  One extreme is fair chase but doesn’t make much sense in the 21st century, the other extreme is not fair chase, and quite frankly, in my opinion, not even hunting.  So we’re all stuck in the middle somewhere arguing over where the middle should be.

Again, this isn’t limited to hunting, it is something that permeates all of our culture.  I don’t want to get into politics or even anything that can be construed to be political outside of conservation issues, but I bet if you think hard enough you can come up with a handful of examples pretty easily.  We’re uncomfortable in these gray areas.  We like things to be simple, black and white.  We like our ethics to fit on a bumper sticker. Sorry, but that’s not reality.  

The difficult part is trying to live in between the two main veins of hunting philosophy: “all hunters should stand in solidarity, no matter what they do” and “what I do is better than what you do”.  I feel solidarity with other hunters, but I can also be a judgmental ass sometimes.  It’s difficult, but we need to discuss these things if we want to protect the future of hunting.  It is important to ask questions and to consider that just because things have always been done one way doesn’t mean it’s still the right way.  Sometimes a tradition still holds true, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Some things are obvious, some are less so, but the key is to be questioning things. Always be trying to do what’s right. Accept that sometimes you’ll be right, sometimes you’ll be wrong, and sometimes you’ll change your mind about what’s right and wrong.  

I know, easier said than done.  

Thoughts from Boise – Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous 2018

Every time I am in the woods I am reborn.  Cleansed by campfire smoke and baptized by the rivers and streams. Heaven is America’s wild places and I’m never turned away at her Pearly Gates.  

There is a deep spiritual difference between watching nature through the lens of a camera and watching it from between the pins of your bow or through your rifle scope.  It’s the difference between watching your kids play and playing with your kids.  It’s about participation.  It’s about being engaged.  It’s about being present.

All those who criticize do so because they don’t understand.  Those who say, “you think that makes you a tough guy?” don’t understand the vulnerability it takes to emotionally lay yourself bare to nature, to failure, to rejection and to the cold and frustration.  They don’t understand the internal conversation you have when you decide to take a life, that the life you take is so you and your family can live.  People like simple feelings, but hunting is a complicated mix of responsibility, sadness, thankfulness, appreciation, frustration, joy, calm, peace, relief and more frustration.  

That having been said, it takes a certain fortitude to endure the elements, gain the skills to succeed, get blood on your hands and turn all of that into food. However, I don’t view that as some machismo based in insecurity, I see it as becoming fully human and not being afraid to fully engage in the natural world.  I choose not to delegate the dirty work in life to others.  I don’t see that as being “tough” or “manly”, I see that acquiring basic human skills, skills that are quickly disappearing from our species.

The modern world is supposed to be connecting us, but is it?  We’re quicker to judge, quicker to hate others different than us and quicker to hole up in our bubbles.  Whereas the natural world, when you engage it, connects you to all of creation including other humans.  When I return from the woods, I’m less concerned with the worries of the day, such as politics, money, etc. and more concerned with the overall well-being of my fellow man and our world.  Things become clearer, priorities readjust themselves to their proper places and what was dark all of a sudden has a beam of light in the distance.

In short, time in the woods makes me a better man, a man searching for meaning and a man who carries a little peace in my heart.  As the time in between my trips to the wild grows longer I become more of a man of the modern world; angry and empty.  The time in the woods calms me and fills me to the brim with goodness.  

Conservationists, Let’s Not Get Too Big for Our Britches

“I’ve pretty much given up on old white guys solving problems” – Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia.

 Also…

 “I’ve pretty much given up on old white guys solving problems” – Old White Man Sitting on a Panel Talking About Solving Problems

About five minutes before that was said in Boise at the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous on Saturday, Tom McGraw (BHA Board Member), eloquently spoke about how he didn’t care about your other politics, or about your religion or anything else, he was committed to conservation and if you are too, then he’s ready and willing to work with you.  Then Chouinard went on a rant about old white men, compared President Trump to Hitler and talked about how conservatism ruins everything.  

That’s too bad.

In spite of me not having a favorable opinion of Patagucci going in, I kept an open mind listening to the man speak and for 45 minutes, I almost liked him.  He is a likable guy and he has done a lot of good stuff in his life.  However, he’s also a part of the problem.  A man who flies all over the world in an airplane talking about shutting down the petroleum industry “tomorrow”.  Hellfire and brimstone is good for putting asses in pews and therefore cash in the collection plate, but it doesn’t solve problems.

It’s easy for us to get wound up about things we care about, but we should be cautious about following leaders blindly.  Leaders are human and therefore make mistakes.  Especially in issues of conservation, these things are incredibly nuanced.  As sportsmen, we drive gas guzzling trucks to haul elk out of the woods or carry our canoes, but yet we still fight the federal government on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  We incessantly talk about “getting back to nature” while at the same time not being able to get our face out of our smart phones, and using whatever technology is available to us to increase our odds at catching a fish or killing big game.  

Do not fret, we are only human.  However, in order to make progress we must accept our contradictions, not ignore or justify our own faults while making adversaries out of possible allies in order to lay the blame at someone else’s feet.  Somewhere in our contradictions is a conversation that will lead to a way forward. The world is not black and white and neither is conservation.  Conservation is for liberals, conservatives, libertarians, centrists and others. Conservation is for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus and Pagans. Conservation is a big umbrella that can fit all of us, so don’t throw stones from inside your glass house.  

And we all live in glass houses.

Five Questions for My Vegan Friend

When I started this website, I asked an old friend who is a vegan and an animal rights activist, to have a conversation with me, either on camera or over the phone.  He said he’d “have to think about it” and I haven’t heard from him since.  I’m not going to speculate about his motivation for not agreeing or for not following up with me – I’ve always known him to be a loyal and generous man and I’ll trust he had good reasons.  In spite of our obvious differences, it wasn’t my intention to verbally beat him up, but I wanted answers for some questions and I trusted him to have an open and honest conversation with me.  Since I’m still curious, here are those questions.

1.     Since PETA runs kill shelters and kills thousands of animals every year, by the same logic of killing a few to protect the many, wouldn’t it make more sense to support hunting where the hunter feeds their family, than it would to allow populations to grow to the point cities are having to cull animals, or animals die in traffic accidents (killing humans as well) or dying from starvation and disease?

2.     If everyone went vegetarian, we’d need a lot more land for agriculture; for example, soybean fields for tofu.  How do you justify the animal deaths that would occur due to loss of habitat?  What would you do with the animals who would inevitably come to eat out of those fields?

3.     If Big Ag let all those cows and other farm animals go, they’d need even more land for grazing than we have now.  What happens to those cows, pigs, chickens, etc.?

4.     Hunters and anglers account for over 80% of conservation dollars in this country.  What do animal rights activists contribute now and what would we need to do to support these animals and their habitat in a world without hunting and fishing?

5.     The argument I usually hear from vegans regarding why it’s okay for other omnivorous or carnivorous animals can eat meat, but homo sapiens should not is that we are more highly evolved and can make the choice, they cannot. Considering most scientists agree that our consumption of animal protein is why our brains developed the way they did (and our facial structure and teeth changed) isn’t it somewhat arrogant, or perhaps, unfounded, to declare that we shouldn’t eat meat today? I will allow that some cultures have always been vegetarian and evolved to be so, but for the rest of us descended from omnivores, doesn’t it make sense to eat what our body is designed (through evolution) to eat?

I have no issue if one chooses a plant-based diet, none whatsoever.  Hell, I even admire their conviction, but the argument seems to always be about morality, never about facts, science or the practical issues that surround the issue such as a few that I’ve named above.  If we want to protect animals, we need to have an open and honest conversation about it.  Hunters are just as likely to get emotional in their defense of hunting, and while I understand that, I don’t believe we’re going to prevail with emotion.

Hunting, tradition, and our diet can all be emotional topics because they do intersect with our morality.  We’re never going to agree with vegans or animal rights activists in these areas, but I would like to know how they’d deal with the practical issues if they got their way.  I would also like to know, why when predation is so common in nature, that the predator is always the bad guy?  In the words of John Reiger, former executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, anti-hunters “would prefer to condemn the hunter who shoots a dozen ducks every waterfowl season in a swamp that in many cases only sportsmen’s money has preserved from the dragline and bulldozer, rather than (condemn) the developer who obliterates another swamp and takes it out of wildlife protection forever.”*

*Lifted from “The Hunter’s Eucharist” by Chas S. Clifton

What is Pittman-Robertson?

Often you will hear hunters talk about Pittman-Robertson and how much hunters give to conservation efforts through licenses, fees, excise taxes, etc.  In fact, you’ve heard that from me before.  So, as we continue to briefly look at the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, today, we look at Pittman-Robertson.

Pittman-Robertson is the common name for the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.  It was sponsored by Senator Key Pittman of Nevada (D) and Representative Willis Robertson of Virginia (D).  This piece of legislation collects an 11% excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment and places it into an account for several uses:

·      Administration of the program

·      Multi-state conservation grant program

·      Hunter education enhancements

·      Anything left over after a certain time period automatically goes to migratory bird programs

Pittman-Robertson money cannot be re-appropriated by the states, it must be used to fund approved conservation projects.  According to Dr. Scott Shalaway, “Funds are distributed to the states based on a formula that takes into account each state’s land and water area and the number of paid hunting/fishing license holders. This insures that larger, sparsely populated, western states can compete for funds fairly with smaller, more densely populated eastern states.”  The money does not have to go specifically to game animals, but any conservation project deemed necessary by the state wildlife agency. 

In summary, hunters (and other archery and firearm enthusiasts) don’t just pay for the conservation and preservation of game animals that they hunt, but habitat improvement for all species and many projects directly aimed at non-game animals.  Pittman-Robertson dollars are in addition to funds received from hunting licenses and tags, wildlife habitat stamps and other programs and fees necessary to hunt. 

Find out more directly at the USFWS site.

An Introduction to the North American Wildlife Conservation Model

This is the first of several articles I will post on the North American Model. 

 

Whenever I end up talking about hunting with a non-hunter, I usually hear one of two comments that lead me into talking about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. I either hear: (1) “but there used to be so many more animals here before the white hunter” or (2) “It seems like I see a lot more deer than I used to.” Depending on whether they’re referring to the number of species or the number of total animals, the first could be either true or false. Either way, it opens the door to the conversation. The second statement is absolutely true and it’s because of the North American Model. 

So, what is the North American Wildlife Conservation Model?

The North American Model has its roots in an 1842 Supreme Court decision, Martin v. Waddell that created “The Public Trust Doctrine.”[1] This means that wildlife is a public resource and animals are not owned by individual landowners. This was in stark contrast to the situation in Europe, where only the wealthy owned land, the landowners owned the wildlife on their property and therefore only the wealthy could hunt. With a few notable exceptions, this is still true in Europe today. Therefore, The Public Trust Doctrine made hunting available to all Americans in good standing.

As the 19th century went on, many species became endangered or extinct. The American Bison, or buffalo as its commonly known, is the best-known example. There are many reasons this happened, as domestic cattle brought diseases, loss of habitat as people and domestic animals moved west, market hunting by both whites and natives, as well as several other smaller factors [2]. Not surprisingly, many conservation organizations started at the same time, such as The Boone and Crockett Club formed in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt.  Boone and Crockett are known for creating the idea of fair chase hunting, an ethical code by which all hunters should abide. For further information on fair chase hunting, Jim Posewitz’s Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting is a short, but fantastic resource.

The conservation movement and ethic continued to evolve into the 20th century with landmark legislation like The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (aka Pittman-Robertson), which placed an 11% excise tax on all archery and firearm equipment. This was followed by The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950 (aka Dingell-Johnson), which is even wider in scope for marine life and fisheries. The excise tax even goes as far as gasoline at boat docks. I will write more on these two landmark pieces of legislation in the near future.

Today, we recognize seven core tenets of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model [3]:

1.     Wildlife is a public trust resource. Wildlife is owned by no one until it is physically possessed.

2.     Market hunting is illegal. It is illegal to buy and sell meat and parts of game and non-game species. If you’ve had venison or elk at a restaurant, it was either imported or raised on a game farm. If you had wild pig, it was captured and then transported alive to a USDA approved facility where it was butchered. 

3.     Allocation of wildlife by law. State wildlife agencies determine the number of animals to be harvested, not market pressure.

4.     Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose. Meat (or in some cases fur) must be harvested from the animal.

5.     Wildlife species are considered an international resource. Many animals, especially birds, are migratory and do not recognize human political borders. This is why the US and Canada (especially) work together on many issues surrounding migratory animals.

6.     Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy. State wildlife agencies employ many scientists to determine how to properly use Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson money for their state. 

7.     The democracy of hunting. Anyone in good standing can legally hunt in America. One does not need to be wealthy or own land in order to participate in hunting, fishing or trapping.

The North American Model is the most successful in the world but it is not without problems. It has been so successful at recovering some species that in spite of human encroachment, populations have grown tremendously. It is now believed that there are more white tail deer in America than at the time of European contact. There are approximately 1.5 million car accidents every year caused by deer leading to around 200 deaths, 10,000 injuries and higher car insurance premiums [4]. Deer, turkeys and other animals are often considered pests and nuisances in suburban areas where they wander into people’s backyards to eat out of gardens and flower beds. This leads to issues like Ann Arbor, Michigan is facing right now in regards to sterilization and culling, but has also opened up bow hunting to many urban and suburban hunters (more on this at a later time as well). 

In conclusion, we have something to be very proud of in the North American Model. It’s something that has not only been wildly successful but has historically been bi-partisan as well. Every day sportsmen contribute over $3,000,000 to wildlife conservation efforts through taxes, licenses and fees [5]. However, we cannot rest on our laurels, we must continue to support the land and wildlife we love if there is any hope of it being here for future generations.

 

[1] Wildlife.org

[2] MeatEater podcast

[3] Colorado Hunter Education Manual, which sourced from an article from New Hampshire Wildlife Journal by Eric Aldrich

[4] Culture of Safety

[5] Colorado Hunter Education Manual

Food Waste in America

According to the National Resource Defense Council (article from 2012), America wastes up to 40% of the food it produces. This number comes from all points from farm to table. It’s claimed that less than half of domestic beef is consumed by humans with the waste being dumped or fed back to the cows. I cannot say that hunters do not contribute to this as well. I admit that there have been times I’ve had business lunches for multiple days in a row and then ended up having to throw out leftovers at the end of the week. Also, I cannot (or rather will not) take home and reheat egg or fish leftovers if the portion size provided at a restaurant is too big (at home I simply only make what I will eat). 

However, hunters are far more likely to consume more parts of an animal and appreciate the meat, than non-hunting omnivores. We routinely eat organs, tongue, jowls, neck and other parts of an animal -- including caul fat. These all go into our freezer, or at the very least, are made into sausage. The parts of an animal used to make hot dogs that grosses everyone out? Yeah, we eat those happily. The idea that hunters kill animals, cut off their heads for the antlers and leave the body to rot is not only preposterous, it’s illegal. It’s called wanton waste and it’s against the law in all 50 states.

Overall, I think this tendency toward food waste, especially meat waste, occurs more and more because as time goes on, we become more and more disconnected from the Earth. All of us like to talk about how much we love the planet and how much we want to save it (or there are those who don’t want to open their eyes and realize we’re negatively impacting our planet). However, it’s not from the perspective of saving ourselves, it’s from the perspective of we’re above it all and we feel better about ourselves if we’re doing something. We feel good about ourselves because we eat organic, drive a Prius or we “rescued” a dog from the pound, and yet we waste food or buy a new house on the edge of town that used to be prime deer habitat, etc. We view ourselves as being separate from nature and above it all because we’re the most evolved. 

I’m a hypocrite, it’s damn near impossible to investigate every decision we make, nor are ideologues fun to be around. I’m not advocating for everyone to go without their HVAC or switch from automobiles to bicycles, but I am asking everyone to spend a little time thinking about how you waste resources. Go for a hike and don’t look at your phone. Halfway in, sit down, drink some water and listen. After about ten minutes you’ll hear a noise, you’ll think a moose or a bear is headed your way. You’ll realize it’s just a squirrel. There’s so much noise in our lives that once you tune it out, you’ll realize how much you’re missing every day. Once you spend time on their turf and on their terms, you develop a greater appreciation and respect for the animal and its habitat. You don’t have to anthropomorphize an animal in order to love it, but you do need to understand what it is in its own habitat – and zoos are not an animal’s native habitat.

Personally, I’m going to make some adjustments. If the menu at the restaurant doesn’t say how many eggs are in the dish, I’m going to ask. If I think I might get busy, I’m going to throw the leftovers in the freezer until I can get to them. Much like we placed laws on ourselves to end market hunting over 100 years ago for the betterment of wildlife, it’s time we reigned in our own behavior again.

Maybe there aren’t mountains of buffalo heads like there were in the 1870s, but there are mountains of food waste out there, we’re just not seeing it. 

10 Questions With Mia Anstine

When I first started putting this project together, the first person I decided I wanted to speak to was Mia Anstine.  I’ve been following her on social media for about a year (ever since I read about her in Field & Stream) and she never ceases to amaze me with her passion and positivity.  She has a passion not only for wildlife, hunting and conservation, but a passion for life in general.  In a world of social media hate and negativity, her posts are positive and filled with love.  I couldn’t have been more excited or honored when she agreed to take time out of her very busy schedule (you’ll see all she does below) and answer ten very lengthy questions from yours truly.  Without inspiration from Mia, Steven Rinella, Randy Newberg and others, I would not be doing this.  Eternal thanks to Mia for getting in on the ground floor here at Mountain Climer!

 

  1. Let’s start with the basics.  Will you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got involved in the outdoors, your favorite activities, etc.

I am a mentor. I’m a certified firearms and archery instructor as well as hunter education instructor. I strive to preserve our constitutional rights with a focus on freedom of religion and the right to bear arms. I work to continue traditions passed down from generations before with an emphasis on conservation.

I’m a freelance writer, podcast host, and guest at a variety of shows and publications, plus I’m a hunting guide.

I grew up in a small town in Colorado where my great-grandfather used to visit for annual hunting trips. My family moved there when I was a toddler. My father hunted to put food on the table and my mom grew a garden and taught me how to fish. I’ve pursued wild animals around the world and guide hunts in southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico for elk, mule deer, black bear, and Merriam’s turkey.

I am the first American woman, and of Latin descent, featured on the cover of Field & Stream magazine. Alongside 10 other women featured, we are “boots-on-the-ground” everyday women representatives of the many women who are making a difference in the outdoor and hunting industry.

I’m currently serving my second term on the Colorado Sportsman’s Roundtable committee. I’m a board member of my local SCI chapter. I’m a board member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association. I’m a lifetime NRA member, and a member of and support many conservation organizations.

Other Associations

I am a member of Safari Club International and the secretary for my local SCI chapter.

I am currently serving my second term on Colorado’s Sportsman’s Roundtable committee.

I am a board member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association.

I’m a lifetime National Rifle Association member.

I’m a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

I’m a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

I’m a member of Ducks Unlimited.

I’m a member of the Pope & Young Club.

I’m a member of the Colorado Bowhunter’s Association.

I’m a member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

2.              What challenges, if any, did you face when you first started to hunt? What are some of the challenges you face today? What do you do to overcome those challenges?

It’s always a challenge to get up close and personal with a wild animal. Over the years I’ve learned techniques and tactics that help to get closer to free-ranging animals for a clear, ethical shot. Today the challenge has evolved a bit as the woods have become filled with more hunters and the animals have adapted to the hunting pressure. I’ve been working on my adaptation techniques. Time in the field allows a hunter to learn how to overcome the challenges and have a successful hunt.

3.              What was it that inspired you to start a website and create YouTube videos?

I used to write about my days guiding hunters and email them to my grandpa. When some of the hunters noticed I would type away every evening they wanted to know what I was doing. I told them and they wanted me to send the stories too. After some time I decided it would be more simple to put my writing on my website for them. This grew to what I do today.

4.              If you could describe it, what is it about being outdoors that really drives you?  Beyond culture, tradition, hunting for meat, etc., from a spiritual or emotional perspective, what does time in the wilderness bring to your life?

Getting outdoors is good for your health. Doctors are even prescribing outdoor time to their patients. The majority of the population lists getting rid of that spare tire as their top New Year’s resolution goal. The connection that we gain while we pursue wildlife is priceless and cannot be replicated by watching TV or movies. I love to explore, discover, and see what’s on the other side of the mountain. I’m fascinated by bear piles, elk musk, rubs, scraps, mushrooms, aspens, and everything I come across in the outdoors.

5.              As you know, hunting numbers are going down at a good pace and the media and college campuses are growing increasingly hostile to hunting, fishing, etc.  What do you wish more people knew about the outdoors and the outdoor lifestyle?  As a follow up to that, how can we get more girls involved in hunting and fishing?  Women are the largest growing segment for hunting but we’re working off of a really small base. 

I wish more people knew that the news doesn’t report about the outdoor programs that we’re putting into colleges. There are hunter ed classes. There are wildlife 101 classes. We are finding ways to connect to the young adults and let them know it’s okay that they grew up hunting, or that we’re here to help them if they never had the opportunity.

I wish people knew how that they are connected to the outdoors and that even though they’ve never gotten to plug in, the connection is there. When they finally get out to hike, fish, kayak, mountain bike, or hunt a primal instinct to their connecting with mother nature will be awakened.

People can get more people, including girls, involved in hunting by following what I and others are already doing. They can step up and teach hunter education. They can offer mentored hunts. They can volunteer for conservation organizations. The sky’s the limit when it comes to taking action and getting people, including girls, into hunting.

Women and men can look to hunting guides, mentors, and conservation officers for help with their start in hunting. Ask questions, book hunts, go with a mentor.

6.              What are some things that we as hunters can do to shine a positive light on what we do?  What are some things we should think twice about doing?  Or perhaps a better way to say it, is what does a good hunting ambassador look like?

Let your light shine and always recognize that YOU are a mentor. Someone is watching. Someone is learning from your actions. When it comes to hunting we have to always consider who is watching what we do. Whether it’s in the field, in town, at the sporting goods store, or on social media, people are watching.

Always consider the non-hunter in what you are doing. Non-hunters are the largest segment of our population. They are the ones who pass votes. They are the ones you need to win over. You may think that everyone likes the pictures of your dead animals. Do they? A good hunting ambassador will consider their audience before posting on social media.

Many non-hunters don’t have a problem with hunters pursuing animals for food but they don’t want to see it. They don’t want to see the blood and especially not the guts. A good hunting ambassador will clean the blood off their truck and their clothing before they go to town. A good hunting ambassador will have an immediate answer to the question “Why do you hunt.” The answer will encourage a non-hunter to vote in favor of maintaining hunting traditions.

7.              Is there an experience you could tell us about where you talked with a person who had never been exposed to hunting, perhaps they grew up in an urban area, and you were able to open their minds about it?  Not saying they had to go out and buy a rifle and a bunch of camo, but where you were able to educate them and explain things in a way they’d never heard before?  Conversely, has there ever been a time when an anti-hunter made you either change your mind or re-think an opinion?

I’ve had numerous conversations with people who don’t hunt and those who don’t understand hunting. I always work to inspire them. I don’t necessarily tell them the “need” to hunt. I always encourage them to ask me future questions. I always give them my contact information so they can get in touch.

I’ve met people who say they’ve followed my writing for years and one or two used to oppose hunting. Other than that, I don’t have much interaction with anti-hunters. If I receive a death threat on social media I document the incident and report the profile to the authorities. I don’t attempt to engage in irrational debates. Violence is never an answer.

8.              What do you think are the biggest issues or threats facing wildlife and hunting today?

There are numerous issues facing wildlife today. Get out and go to your sportsman’s roundtable meetings. Attend the public meetings offered by your Department of Natural Resources. Get involved with conservation organizations. I don’t mean become a member. I mean get involved. You’ll learn about all the work that is done and needs to be done. You’ll also see where the money goes. So many hunters complain about license fees. You need to become engaged to see where that money goes. Maintaining habitat, wildlife, hunting access, waterways, and more takes a lot of funding.

9.              If someone was interested in learning about hunting, shooting, archery etc. but didn’t have anyone in their life to teach them, what would you suggest to them?

You can always follow my website, YouTube, and social media outlets. If you don’t see answers to your questions, message me and ask. I’ll be happy to help. After that, look for mentors in your area. You can find these at Hunter Education class. You can find them via conservation officers. You can join shooting clubs. You can partake in group hunting events. You can hire a hunting guide. In all of these scenarios, ask them to teach you.

10.           Lastly, a favorite book and your favorite adult beverage?

My favorite book is the Bible. It’s the first thing I read every day. Adult beverage? I rarely drink beverages with alcohol so I’d have to list the one cup of coffee, which I sip as I read in the morning, as my adult beverage.

 

Find Mia online at https://miaanstine.com and all the usual social media platforms.

What is Trophy Hunting?

If there’s one phrase regarding hunting that will turn a non-hunter into an anti-hunter, it’s “trophy hunter.” The disconnect is between what that phrase means to a hunter and what the non-hunter perceives it to mean. Understandably, some hunters also shun the label and refer to themselves as meat hunters. While I appreciate the sentiment, I think we all have to admit we’re trophy hunters. However, almost none of us are what non-hunters perceive a trophy hunter to be.

Dictionary.com gives the following definitions of “trophy” (I have omitted the ones that do not apply to the conversation at hand):

1.     Anything taken in war, hunting, competition, etc., especially when preserved as a memento; spoil, prize, or award.

2.     Anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valor, skill, etc.

3.     A symbol of success that is used to impress others

4.     Any memento or memorial

The common misconception is the “trophy hunter” only hunts for the trophy, which is assumed to be the antlers of a male animal. One, hunting for just the antlers is against the law in every state. You must take a minimum amount of meat with you – this varies from state-to-state, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s say everything below the neck to the rump excluding organs -- or you can be charged with wanton waste, lose your hunting license, your firearm or bow, as well as face other penalties such as fines and in some cases, jail time. Two, hunting mature males who have proven themselves healthy and been able to pass along their genes for multiple breeding cycles, is good for the herd. Three, the hunter’s definition of “trophy” is often much more nuanced than many would believe.

The illegality of wanton waste speaks for itself, so I am not going to address that here; however, I would like to address the other two points:

Hunting Mature Males Being Good for the Herd – When you think about it, this too is a fairly simple concept. The long-term health of the herd depends on healthy animals breeding with each other. When you shoot a small male or female, it’s hard to tell whether you’re shooting a healthy animal that hasn’t been able to pass on its genes or whether you’re taking an unhealthy animal out of the herd. Antlers are an excellent indication of health and age so shooting a giant buck or bull ensures that he has had ample opportunity to breed and pass along his genes (and if at the end of his life, will not be likely to breed again). I will admit, this isn’t a completely selfless act, this really plays into definitions 2 and 3 because as those males age and survive multiple hunting seasons, they get smarter.  A lot smarter.  So, shooting a huge buck or bull isn’t just about size, it says that you’re a skilled hunter that is able to hunt even the wiliest of animals. It is a representation of skill and, for some, it’s a way to impress others.  You can criticize the desire to impress others if you like, but we all desire to do that in some way, shape or form.

“Trophy” Means Different Things to Different People – To address definitions 1 and 4, a trophy is a memento or memorial, and such, hunting could provide multiple trophies. 

·      Meat – every time you pull meat out of the freezer you’re reliving the hunt. When you share that meat with your loved ones, you’ll often tell a story associated with that animal and that hunt bringing the experience to those eating it and therefore helping connect them to the food that they’re eating.

·      Pictures – every picture you take is a memory of that hunt, a memento of that time.

·      Antlers – yes, if you harvest a male, you can mount the antlers on the wall. Every time you see those antlers you’ll remember: drawing the tag; all those trips to the range working on your shot; spending hours poring over maps; making multiple trips to the area to scout; taking time off of work to go hunt; the cold nights in your tent; the laughs around the campfire with your friends or relatives; the days spent tracking the animal or endless days looking through binoculars seeing nothing; finding the animal and getting into position without being noticed by a very astute animal; the gratitude and relief you felt when the shot was successful; the hard work dressing the animal and hauling it out on your back; and finally, all the meals that animal gave you and how it helped you nourish your family.  In some cases, it might have even more significant meaning, perhaps it was your first hunt, or perhaps it was the last hunt you went on with your grandpa, dad, uncle, brother, friend before they passed away and those memories hold a special place in your heart. Every time you look at those antlers, you remember that time.

“Trophy hunting” is certainly a loaded term. I think we should be careful when using it, but I also think we should accept and acknowledge we are all trophy hunters in our own way. Personally, I just prefer the term “hunter,” which I think most of us do. When we meet other hunters, “trophy” is implied. When we meet a non-hunter, it allows them to ask us if we’re a “trophy hunter,” which then grants us the opportunity to have a conversation with them about it, rather than having them make a snap judgment and walk away and leaving them still unaware of our love of the animal and all the work that goes into a hunt. 

Nature as Healer

 

In the introduction to Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash states, “…civilization created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who represented our species for most of its existence, ‘wilderness’ had no meaning.” He later discusses how as soon as we as a species separated civilization from wilderness, we romanticized and sought out the wilderness for our spiritual needs. The wilderness was a place where Biblical figures went to talk to God or have an epiphany. Thousands of years later, many of us still desire to escape civilization to recharge, mull over a tough situation or heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Just think of Cheryl Strayed and Wild. Obviously now, “wilderness” doesn’t just have meaning, it is where we go to find meaning.

I am certainly no exception to this human trait. Even just a walk outside amongst the trees, prairie dogs and mallards in my neighborhood can significantly change my mood. The bigger the issue, the deeper into the woods I need to go. As I write this, I am preparing for my fourth attempt at my first solo overnight trip (first three I had to turn around for various reasons, more on that in another post). We recently moved to Colorado and only six weeks in, I quit my new job. It was the absolute right thing to do and it allows me to focus on what I want to be doing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. So, I’m going into the wilderness to clear my head, get my mind right and in the process, face my fears. Because make no mistake, though I have spent many, many nights out in the woods, doing it by myself for the first time is going to be a little bit scary. However, everything is going to be fine and when you conquer one fear, it gives you the confidence that you can conquer others as well. 

You don’t have to go into the woods alone to have this experience. I take two trips every year with old friends and it just so happened that in 2017, both of these guys got married. Jeff and I went to the Wind River Range in Wyoming and had a great week-long trip where we mixed backpacking and car camping all across the Northern Rockies. Jeremy and I went to Alaska as usual and spent four days northwest of Fairbanks in the bush and also in a cabin near some hot springs. While I enjoy the trips I take with these fellas every year, last year’s trips were special.  We had lots of heart-to-heart talks about serious topics such as marriage, family and work. We had lots of laughs, both at situations and ourselves. We also had long periods of silence where we worked through our own thoughts. Though perhaps some of the obstacles we overcame provided the most amount of personal growth, whether that was roping up and crossing ice cold rivers, holding each other’s life in our hands or simply me walking eleven miles with fifty pounds on my back, feet bleeding, and deciding not to complain about it. 

Ultimately, whether alone or with a loved one, time in the wild, if you’re open to it, will improve you. Maybe you need a little peace and quiet to deal with a tough situation or maybe you need to challenge yourself in some way because you feel hindered in your everyday life. For whatever reason, until you cut the cord with the civilized world for at least a short time, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. The world is there to fill us with information and noise. In order to know what you have to give to the world, you have to take the time to dig down deep inside yourself.  Wilderness has been there for us since the dawn of civilization and it’s still there for us now if we need it. 

My Story

I did not grow up hunting or fishing, though I have always loved the outdoors.  I did not have a father, grandfather or uncle who were hunters even though we lived in a rural area.  I came to hunting on my own in my 20s (and am only now coming to fishing in my 30s) through several unconventional ways.  I believe that part of it was living in urban metropolises and seeing some people’s negative views of rural people and their practices, it was beginning to care where my food came from and it was, perhaps most importantly, just getting to know myself for who I really am.

 

As a boy, I loved being outdoors and I had a BB gun, though that was the only gun that was in our house.  I liked the idea of hunting and fishing even back then.  I remember seeing A River Runs Through It when it came out and ever since then I’ve had a desire to learn to fly fish and go to Montana.  The books and movies stuck with me and I was always drawn to the Mountain West, it just took me a long time to get here.

 

Living in Chicago from 2004-2009 really hardened me in a lot of ways and forced me to figure out who I really was.  All these people were talking about “organic”, “sustainable” and all the other buzz words but when I’d bring up hunting, many people would become disgusted with me.  It never made sense: deer who lived for 2-5 years, free range, organically, hormone free who were then humanely killed seemed to be a lot better off than some farm raised animal (not that I have an issue with ethically raised domestic animals).  What irritated me more was sharing a meal with these folks and seeing them not eat all their food, especially the meat.  They put up a good fight about humanely treating animals and then they wasted their meat.  Almost unforgivable to me.  I know I’m weird, but when I eat, I eat my meat first and I finish it before moving on to my vegetables.  I try not to waste any food, but if I do, it’s not meat.  That animal’s sacrifice so that my family can eat is sacred whether it was harvested from the field or from a farm.

 

My defense of rural people and practices and my concern about where my food came from slowly evolved over time to something deeper.  As I went small game hunting with friends and hunted for whitetail in Indiana and Kentucky and went on multiple backpacking trips out west and in Alaska, I started to feel more connected to nature.  We humans like to toe the line between being above nature and then feeling guilty about thinking we’re above nature.  When you insert yourself into a role that has been played by man for thousands and thousands of years, you open yourself up to being connected to something greater than yourself.  You feel connected to the natural world – and we should – we are animals and a part of nature even if we happen to be the species that has the greatest impact on all other species. 

 

At this point I’m borderline obsessed.  If I’m not able to be in the wild, I’m reading about animals, habitat and conservation, writing about it, watching hunting shows online, listening to audiobooks or podcasts or at the very least thinking about it every minute I’m awake almost.  If it’s a good night, I even dream about it. 

 

My goal here is to simply try and reach other folks who feel like I do and find common ground with folks who don’t understand where we’re coming from.  Not everyone needs to be a hunter, but I am concerned about the future of conservation and wildlife and I am concerned about a lot of people who seem to be very unhappy with the postmodern world.  I think at least a few of them could find peace in the woods like I did.  If I can help introduce people to that joy and peace, then that will make me very happy.