(Editor Note: Shane Mahoney joined Conservation Force’s Board upon the death of founding Board Member Bart O’Gara. He is perhaps the world’s foremost authority on caribou as Dr. O’Gara was on pronghorn antelope. He is part of the “think tank” of Conservation Force as well as a gifted speaker and writer on the philosophical underpinnings of hunting. We first recruited him to help define and express “why we hunt” in human terms, i.e., “why is it so important to us that it should be afforded protection and respect in its own right aside from its conservation benefits?” This is an important step in defending the morality of hunting if hunting is to remain part of the wildlife conservation paradigm. This month we have included an article Mahoney wrote for Outdoor Canada. We suggest you read it twice, save it, and read it again from time to time. It is about you.)
Across the wide belt of the North American continent a profound debate surges. It is a collision of world views; a refinement of man’s view of himself; a reinterpretation of Eden; a great contemplation of the future of mankind. Yet, despite this profound nature, the debate in question is delivered to the public as a clash of soft sentimentality and rigorous rationalism, the central theme portrayed by both sides as something so far removed from its essential self that it is at worst belittled, at best trivialized. The evisceration of man’s greatest achievement, naturalness, is the work of two opposing forces, each wrapped in the cloak of conservation, striving for supremacy in a tournament of frauds and follies. The problem for hunting today is that nobody will tell the truth.
On the one side, there are those who are opposed to hunting, who obviously do not hunt, and who portray the activity as barbaric, unnecessary and inappropriate to today’s society and mankind’s future. They concentrate on the suffering of the individual animal and upon the behavior of persons who might inflict it. They portray nature as more benign, more right, without man than with him; and hunters as fermented juveniles who enjoy killing as a diversionary sport and who see animals as targets for their violence. To persons who argue for animal rights, hunting is a cruel wastefulness and the hunt an anachronism, something we should have put behind us, as we have bear baiting and cock fighting. Hunting is empty of merit, devoid of value and without deep meaning. Its adherents are therefore the same. The activity is personified and therein lies the target. The concept, the rich idea, of hunting, becomes displaced. For the public, the gruel is watered down until it can be bottle fed. The question is asked: “Why (do you) hunt?”
On the other side, stand those who support hunting, primarily hunters themselves, but not exclusively so. They fall for the trap. Their arguments in support of hunting are that it helps manage wildlife populations, it provides healthful recreation, physically and socially, it provides meat and it generates wealth, especially in rural economies. Supporters argue it is their right, and not the animal’s rights, that are to prevail, and because their activity harms no one, but benefits many, they should not be interfered with. Hunters don’t discuss animal suffering, but concentrate on the health of populations. They rightfully point out the contributions, financially and politically, hunters have made to conservation, often when other voices of support were not being raised. They trot out the balance of nature, without ever defining natural balance. They portray anti-hunters as misguided extremists whose views would have mankind being overrun with tick infested deer, drowning in goose macaroni, or starving so other predators might thrive. Hunters argue simply, or simply don’t argue. They too keep the debate easy ...to digest....or dismiss. One thing they conscientiously avoid however: they never, ever answer the question, “Why (do I) hunt?”
Why is this? What is it about this short little question that is so ponderous, so daunting? What is it that hunters fear; what is it they do not comprehend? And, if they do comprehend, why won’t they offer an explanation? Why so quick to identify the benefits of hunting but so reticent to at least try and describe their true motivation for engaging it? This is a conceptual divide that must be breached. We have been treating the two as though they were the same. They are not. Explaining the benefits of hunting does not in any way explain why we hunt, and why we hunt is the question, really, that society is asking. We confuse and avoid the issue...but we will either answer it, or we will be dismissed. The one thing we must protect and define for hunting is its relevance; notoriety and debate will not kill it. Fabrication and irrelevance will. Once deemed irrelevant, hunting will no longer be debated; nor will it be engaged in. If we want continuity and recruitment, if we want respect and tolerance for what we do, then we best get busy earning it...by explaining to the reasonable majority what hunting really is.
Hunting is not simple. It is the generator of our human condition, the crucible of intellect, and the fire of creativity. It is our mirror of the world, the image maker of wild creation; it has defined how we see, literally and figuratively. It is the only absolute rediscovery mechanism available to human beings; the mind-body fusion of all meditative, spiritual experience is derived from its pasturage. Those who return there know full well the sense of universal intimacy it gives over. Explaining this odyssey is our greatest challenge; but succeeding will be our greatest achievement. The world remains perpetually absorbed by this search, yet hunters know the way. Why not celebrate the truth for a change? Hunting is a deliberate journey to the union of birth and death; it cannot but create a deeper perspective and appreciation for the glorious importance of both. What society does not dream for such citizens?
Like it or not we have to search deep within ourselves, journey to the place where the mind is floating free. We have to voice what is silent; capture what is shadow. The hunt is a universe of emotion that overwhelms, scatters all notions of other preoccupations, and delivers the persona complete. Hunting is a love affair; turbulent, gnawing and all possessing. It is composed of lives, but has a life of its own; a life held precious by the participant who, in part, creates it. But then there is the “other,” unpredictable, honored. Yes! An affair of the heart; and like all such affairs it drags the mind along, a great force subjugated by the senses engaged to their fullest; but alive just the same, and capturing memories and creating fantasies that are nearly one and the same. Hunting is an immersion; a drowning in connectedness that squanders pride and privilege; the true hunter is the humble man, the enthralled child, and the knowing prince. All is ready, nothing is restive; all is rhythm, nothing is in friction. Hunting is knowing why the senses were made! It displaces both the practical and the excess. It represents evenness, oneness and the knowledge of self. Hunting is a cataclysm of inward progress. We hunt for spiritual reasons; we hunt to find inner peace; we hunt to understand the world. Hunting is our first great myth! The true hunter is both the alert and the meditative man. Thought and action combined in purpose; a hymn for the unity of world and self. Hunting is a search for all.
Truth makes a great message, not an easy one! But saving the preciousness of life is never simple. We need remember, however, that if hunters are viewed as dopes, hunting is viewed as a pass time for the dim witted; if hunters are viewed as slobs, hunting is a wasteful debauchery; if hunters are viewed as juvenile, hunting is deemed delinquent. Only hunters can change such stereotypes. The task at hand is to articulate the relevance of hunting; not its correctness, nor its practical service to human kind. Rationalizing the mythology is both a tactical error and a diminishment of pride. Lies and excuses usually are.