Before you read, watch this:
Growing up in the country, I was fortunate enough to have acres of cedar forest in my backyard to explore, a pond in my front yard, and numerous wild animals that frequented our property. This helped to foster not only an affection for nature, but also a great deal of respect for it. I understood basic biological processes from a young age because I was constantly exposed to them and didn’t have to rely on pictures in a book or websites to show me what a frog looked like or what deer ate.
As I grew older and moved into university to pursue a degree in biology, it became clear that many of my urban classmates did not have the same exposure to the wild that I did, and often shuddered at the prospect of field work or going outside for a lesson or a lab. I got visibly excited at even the idea of going out of doors to conduct scientific observation. Thanks to my childhood, I was offered a greater exposure to nature and how complex and fascinating it is. The more you are exposed to something, the greater your understanding of it, and the higher your level of respect for it will be.
The Primitive Tribe
Throughout history, humans had to be very familiar with nature in order to survive. We first evolved as hunter-gatherer societies, with our survival hedged on our understanding of the behaviour and ecology of our prey, both flora and fauna. The time-honored tradition of hunting has been more than a way to provide food for your family; many societies and tribes initiated young males into manhood based on the result of a ritualistic hunt. The best hunters were local celebrities, revered for their strength, knowledge, bravery, and ability to provide for the tribe and their family. With all of the apparent savagery of hunting for food or sport, there is also a deeply rooted mutual respect for the hunted.
Nothing can increase your respect for an animal more than when you are pursuing it as prey. You learn about its behaviour, study its movement, groan in frustration when it eludes you, but that one magical moment when the animal is successfully harvested produces a moment of great admiration for your quarry.
Today, hunting is viewed by the majority of the population as a savage, cruel, and archaic mode of gathering food. Why waste all that time and money to carry around a lethal weapon to kill an adorable animal? As mentioned before, the less you know about something, the less you respect it. Our population has gravitated from relying on great hunters to provide their food, and we now rely on great businesspeople to construct supermarkets to do the same.
Heading to the supermarket is a very sheltered experience. An incredible amount of harvesting, transport, and modification goes on behind the scenes of food production that many of us are not aware of. Even organic food, which I have previously argued is no better than traditional food, is not free from these processes. Organic chickens are still housed in massive chicken farms with cramped conditions; the only difference is the food and perhaps a lack of antibiotics. Regardless of something being labeled organic or not, meat at the supermarket is more likely to be produced in a crowded, stress-filled environment that is a nightmare for the animals’ well-being.
Contrast this with deer hunting. A wild white-tailed deer has lived a happy life, free to roam and eat whenever it pleases, and there are no strange beings injecting it with hormones or antibiotics. It has lived well into its prime, produced a family, and cared for its young. Like all animals, it has a lifespan, and regardless of whether it will be harvested for consumption or not, the animal will eventually die. What is so ethically wrong about harvesting a deer near the end of its life that it has so happily lived?
What also needs to be taken into account is the population biology of many of the animals currently being hunted. There is currently a population explosion of white-tailed deer in many parts of North America, largely because their natural predators, such as wolves or coyotes, have been driven away due to humanity’s fear of these animals. We are not scared of deer, so we have allowed them to stay in and around our urban areas, and white-tails are flourishing as a result.
Canada geese and snow geese are also flourishing due to ample food sources being provided to them in the form of cash crops like feed corn. These waterfowl have migration stopovers in corn fields on their way to summer breeding grounds, and very few die from starvation as a result. The issue with this overabundance of geese is that these are ecological pests. Geese overgraze vegetation and ruin habitat for other species.
Snow geese have been particularly harmful in the north where they breed, outcompeting other species for nest habitat while diminished fragile food reserves in the process. This also decimates the vegetation of the fragile northern tundra.
Hunting is one of the only ways to effectively control these booming populations of game animals, otherwise the carrying capacity of their ecosystems will reach a breaking point and the population will suffer as a result of starvation, crowding, and stress. We can’t stop farming or growing our cities, so hunting is the most viable human solution to this human caused problem.
Aside from urbanization and conversion of human societies from hunter-gatherer to agrarian-based systems, why has hunting declined? Hunting is still largely prevalent in many primitive tribes scattered throughout the world, but it is also prevalent in some areas where Wal-Marts dot the landscape, so urbanization cannot be the only factor at play here. There are two factors at play here: the increase in organized and professional sports, and an overall decline in violent tendencies among humans.
The Modern Tribe
In 1987, Anthropologist Desmond Morris published a book called “The Soccer Tribe”. The book describes why sports are such a universally attractive thing. Sport fuels our primitive desire for competition and violence, and our great hunters of the past have transformed into the great athletes of our present and future. They are strong, brave, and they provide for their family by winning games and championships. We cheer for one team because that team is reflective of our tribe, and we forge our identity in the tribe by supporting it. War paint and banners of the past have become face paint and jerseys of the present. We clash with members of other tribes, and sometimes violence breaks out amongst us.
Riots and other forms of animosity and harassment occur between fans of various teams, but these are nothing compared to the all-out wars that occurred between tribes of the past, and even some in the present day. Organized sport has satiated our desire for competition and violence such that we don’t require the thrill of the hunt as much anymore. For most people, watching sports is enough to satisfy their tribal duty, and hunting has declined as a result.
Steven Pinker is a psychologist at Harvard University, and his work, “Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” describes how throughout history, humanity has been getting progressively less violent, despite how our opinion may be swayed by the media. As a result of commerce, cosmopolitanism, the rise of the nation-state, rationality, and feminization, our violent tendencies have largely been repressed. Conflicts that were once solved with the sword or firearm are now taken care of with the pen. Violent forms of punishment have mostly been abolished. Murder and violent crime rates have decreased 30 fold since Medieval times.
With this decline in violence, hunting is no longer seen as an attractive way to provide food or satisfy one’s sporting needs, and the overall decline in the prevalence of hunting reflects this. Convenience is also a factor, but if violence is not, then why aren’t our supermarkets littered with carcasses to butcher? Consider the possibility of having free-range animals available in urban areas to harvest, much like plucking a lobster from its holding tank at the supermarket. These are both ludicrous suggestions by today’s standards, so clearly our declining taste for violence is a factor.
The problem here is that while hunting may appear violent and cruel on the surface, as I have previously discussed, in terms of biology and animal ethics, it is far more humane than purchasing food at the supermarket. This presumption about hunting has caused a disconnect between humans and nature; we no longer rely on a working knowledge and respect for our natural environment to survive, so our desire to immerse ourselves in nature has waned with time.
The Future Tribe
Despite fleeting cultural attitudes about hunting, there is hope for the future. A recent trend in our media has brought hunting and the outdoors. Reality TV shows such as “Duck Dynasty”, “Swamp People”, and “Mountain Men” have brought the benefit of living an authentic lifestyle in harmony with nature to the national stage. Films such as “Into the Wild” have sung nature’s song as something sacred, almost romantic at its core. If you watched the trailer for “Game of Inches” at the start of this article, you would see how deer hunting transcends the core act of providing food and provides the hunter with an experience like no other.
Recently, consumers have been rejecting mass market companies in favour of local sources to provide more of their food and other products. This has also affected the real estate sector, as more new prospective homeowners are now purchasing condos instead of opting for suburbia, as urban sprawl has reached the breaking point. More sustainable housing is seen as more attractive because Millennials are more conscious of the rapidly changing environment and climate.
Perhaps this cultural shift will culminate with more North Americans heading back to fields and forests to seek out food. Hunting is about as authentic as one can get, and our generation’s quest for authenticity is constantly seeking the next best habit. After this cascade of events, perhaps the majority of us will reconnect with nature, learn from it, grow to respect it, and return to our roots in the thrill of the hunt.