It’s autumn, the time of year when millions of Americans renew their love affair with guns and head for the woods in a preemptive strike in their war against wildlife. Hunters justify this slaughter by claiming to reduce incidents of human/animal conflict. They tell us they must kill to protect Americans from automobile/deer collisions and save animals from certain starvation. They would have us believe that hunting is not only good for people, but also good for the animals they kill. Yet in reality, hunting is neither useful nor necessary. It is an environmentally and socially destructive practice historically grounded in racial injustice.
There is no truth to the myth that hunting reduces human/animal conflict. In fact, automobile/deer collisions actually increase during hunting season as deer are flushed from forests and onto roadways. The presence of wildlife in our yards, cities, and highways is due not to an increase in the number of animals, but to a staggering decrease in wilderness. We live in a culture that has accepted hunting for so many generations that we can no longer see the forest through the disappearing trees. The animals are not invading our territory we have increasingly invaded theirs. It is our society’s constant destruction of wilderness that causes human/animal conflict. In an age of water shortages and global warming our natural resources merit a sophisticated ecosystem protection policy a policy in which humane wildlife management is one important aspect.
The tragic histories of the passenger pigeon and the American buffalo show us that hunters are sometimes the last to realize the delicate nature of animal populations. Hunting is not an effective method of wildlife management; the “need” to hunt on an annual basis is proof itself of hunting’s ineffectiveness. Hunters’ claims of conservationism are necessary because admitting that you enjoy killing is a less than flattering attribute. Hunters make the cruel choice to shoot animals instead of skeet or targets. And cruel it is.
There is nothing as heartbreaking as the sight of a bird shot from flight or witnessing a gunned down deer’s last moments – the blood, the panicked breathing, the struggle, the recognition of what is happening, and the animal’s visible desire to survive.
While some people may view hunting as a harmless cultural tradition, in fact, hunting is a stubborn holdover from our country’s racist past. While many still consider it an annual rite of passage for white children to stalk through rural communities with loaded guns, it is a crime for a minority child to possess a gun in his urban neighborhood. A gun remains a traditional right for many boys in white, rural America, a tradition that would get a Latino boy killed or imprisoned in our cities. That we allow, even encourage, one segment of our population to run amuck with guns, while imprisoning others, is blatantly racist.
In a year when many cities are struggling with a disturbing reemergence of gun violence, America must rethink the continued glorification of guns and killing. The cruel reality of hunting blurs the message we deliver to our children about guns and violence in this country. We cannot simultaneously discourage gun violence and encourage hunting. Both cruelty and compassion are contagious, and it is our responsibility to plant the seeds of a compassionate culture for future generations. Children who learn to empathize with animals are much more likely to become empathetic adults. There is nothing good that comes from the murder of vulnerable creatures. Hunting teaches it is acceptable, even admirable, to kill a defenseless creature. Hunting is the opposite of caring.
We should celebrate when our children plant their first tree or spend their first day volunteering at a homeless shelter not when they gun down their first animal. By abandoning hunting in favor of state-of-the-art methods of ecosystem management we can save two birds without picking up a single stone. We can forever improve the quality of life for both humans and animals while teaching our children a crucial lesson about compassion, mercy, and living in harmony with all of the earth’s creatures.
KELLY OVERTON is Executive Director of People Protecting Animals & Their Habitats. Email: KhoPhaNgan@aol.com