Thoughts on hunting and being vegan
I know next to nothing about hunting, but a random man in the gas station got me thinking about the sport. We were both waiting in line at the cash register. He turned to me and struck up a conversation about finding a severely injured deer while hunting in the woods.
Archery season opened this past weekend. He killed the deer with a second arrow and took it to the game warden. Interestingly, the original hunter’s name was on the first arrow. The game warden contacted the individual and fined him for leaving the dying deer in the woods.
This is how I interpreted the story. I may have missed some details because I was simultaneously trying to check out and rush out the door to get to my child’s soccer game. Hours later, the story floated through my mind, and I began to feel sorry for that deer and curious about hunting in general. When expressing my emotion to my boyfriend and older son, both said hunting is necessary and not a bad thing, even though neither of them is the hunting type, per se.
We moved on from the conversation, but again, I kept thinking about it. Logistically, I understand that the sport helps regulate the wildlife population, and it feels like a timeless sport, considering hunting has been part of the human survival story since the beginning of mankind. What I didn’t think about until I conducted some research is that hunting is also a significant factor in terms of wildlife conservation.
Although some animal lovers see hunting to be cruel or unethical, it remains the “backbone” of U.S. wildlife conservation, according to N.C. State professor Chris DePerno. In an article published by N.C. State titled The Role of Hunting in Wildlife Conservation, Explained by Andrew Moore, the connection between hunting and conservation dates back to the late 19th century when unregulated killing and habitat destruction pushed many species, including bison, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, to the edge of extinction.
In direct response, sportsmen began organizing conservation groups and advocating for more regulations. “Hunters do more to help wildlife than any other group in America,” said DePerno, who is a professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology at the College of Natural Resources. “They not only provide financial support for state wildlife agencies, but they also play an important role in wildlife management activities.”
Meanwhile, I have been moving toward a plant-based diet. I am learning that eating primarily plants, nuts and seeds is not only good for everyday health but also for longevity. According to a 2020 analysis published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, a higher intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and also coffee is associated with a reduced risk for all-cause mortality, while a high intake of red or processed meats was associated with high all-cause mortality.
This circles back around to the topic of hunting. Evolutionarily, we were not eating meat every day because hunting was dangerous and challenging for our ancestors. The bulk of our nutrition came from nuts, seeds, berries and plants. Meat was an occasional luxury. Further, we ate more fish than red meat, and in today’s world the countries that eat much more fish than red meat live longer and present less cases of cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Several life experiences lately have helped me appreciate the circle of life, and this is another one. Perhaps we can glean some wisdom from hunters, past and present. Our ancestors knew their bodies needed protein but ate meat sparingly. Today’s hunters have a high respect for game and honor both wildlife and the use of the animal’s entire body.
Both scenarios are better than modern mentality, which seems to feel very little connection to wildlife or agriculture. Modern consumers simply shop in bulk at chain grocery stores and night after night cook high-fat, high-sodium meals with no thought to the food on their plate or the way the animal was slaughtered and processed.
For me, encounters such as the one at the gas station feel serendipitous, as if running into the chatty hunter was merely part of my current metamorphosis and journey toward a more sustainable and conscious way of eating.
I leave you, the reader, with two pieces of advice. First, never discount a conversation with a stranger. No one is put into our lives by accident. Second, begin thinking about the food you eat and where it came from. The only way we’ll ever improve the state of Mother Earth and our collective well-being is to consider how all living things are interconnected.
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I highly commend you for taking a topic that can (and usually does) polarize so easily and open your eyes to see it from all points. Even though I don't "hunt" regularly any more, I have a strong and life-long appreciation for hunting and the HERITAGE it has to my family.
I started hunting before I can really remember. My dad and my brother would get me ready and into the woods we would go every fall (we fished during the spring/summer which is fundamentally also a form of hunting). Hunting was more than just "walking in the woods and slaughtering an innocent animal". We learned about nature, hiking, wilderness survival, First Aide, land/animal conservation, as well as hunting, processing, and preserving the whole animal so nothing goes to waste. Through this process I developed a great APPRECIATION for the animal we had taken and for what it will provide to our family for months to come. We were taught to respect that animal and only take what you must and leave the rest to the land for future generations.
There is something very surreal and enlightening about sitting in the woods, quietly watching, listening, and "absorbing" every thing around you for hours on end waiting on the sought after animal to come into view. I look back at some of my days hunting with my father and my brother and I realize those memories helped make me into the Nature Lover I am today. My wife and I still go "into the woods" now but it's only to fly fish or hike. Not because I'm anti-hunt but because I can't afford the time etc to hunt and process the animal. Now I "hunt" with a camera or merely observe the animals and leave the "hunt" to those who are prepared and willing to invest the time and efforts to properly harvest those amazing creatures.
Those who still deny "hunting is conservation" need to take the time to actually research statistics and think.... would you rather see an animal population controlled in a manner that promotes a healthy population or see the herd population controlled with starvations, disease, and malnutrition? Our wilderness is much like a garden. If left "untended" it will grow over and become a mess in a short time. Animal Herds are the same way because we have altered their habitat, predators, and food sources for our animals with our Civilizations. Without careful and controlled "Conservation/Harvesting" our herds will quickly become very unhealthy and their #'s will greatly decrease due to the severe conditions of over population.
Thank you for researching/writing this story and thank you deeply for triggering the trip down memory lane with my long-gone family members. Very well done.
Even though less than 4% of the U.S. population hunts, most of us have heard the familiar lines that hunters recite to make their bloody pastime sound more palatable. Their stories have more holes in them than their victims do. Despite hunters’ assertions that their gory hobby reduces “overpopulation” and “starvation,” research shows that they actually cause both.
Take the case of deer, the most commonly hunted animal in North America, for instance. Deer reproduce based on food and habitat availability. Does can even reabsorb a fetus when resources are scarce. When they're plentiful, reproduction increases and deer have more twins. This is what happens when hunters snuff out a significant number of them—food and habitat are in greater supply, meaning … more deer.
Adding to the notion of “overpopulation” are wildlife management agencies, which are partially funded by hunting fees and have a financial interest in keeping the 4% happy. Officials routinely kill natural predators, including wolves, bears, and coyotes, in order to ensure that there will be plenty of targets.
Unlike natural predators, who keep populations healthy by preying on the sickest and weakest, hunters go after the largest animals—the ones they want to brag about shooting. After these strong, healthy members of the herd have been killed, animals who depended on them for survival often have difficulty finding food and putting on enough weight to make it through winter.
Hunters also use chronic wasting disease (CWD)—which afflicts deer and elk and is similar to mad cow—as an excuse for eradicating these species. However, disease-tracking data show that CWD is often spread when captive-bred animals are shuffled from state to state to become hunting targets. A recent Penn State study also found that hunters were likely spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to deer, potentially creating a reservoir for the disease to mutate. Of the white-tailed deer they examined in Iowa, 80% tested positive.
"Hunters pay for conservation," is another popular chorus, but it isn't true either. Despite the narrative that hunters consistently try to sell to the public, wildlife organizations and non-hunter efforts have played key roles in bringing back and protecting America’s iconic species—after hunters pursued them with reckless abandon.
While the Pittman-Robertson Act has contributed large sums to habitat restoration and other initiatives, it didn’t do so with hunter dollars. The 96% who enjoy nonlethal outdoor recreation still pay the federal excise tax on sporting equipment that the act established. They also spend large sums at parks and wilderness areas, including on entrance, camping, and parking fees. Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife Management analyzed funding for U.S. wildlife programs and found that about 95% of federal funding, 88% of nonprofit funding, and 94% of total funding for wildlife conservation and management come from the nonhunting public.
Hunting has greatly contributed to the extinction of numerous species with differing reproductive capabilities, including the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the sea mink and the Steller’s sea cow. Lead poisoning from the carcasses of hunted animals drove California condors nearly to extinction before decades of recovery efforts and the state’s ban on lead ammunition helped them rebound.
Many threatened animals are still being hunted. It took nearly 50 years of Endangered Species Act protection to save gray wolves from extinction after hunters and trappers pursued them with reckless abandon. But after the Trump administration stripped wolves of their protected status, we’ve witnessed what can only be described as a bloodbath.
What hunters are great at is wounding animals but failing to kill them. Estimates by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, members of the Maine BowHunters Alliance and other groups put the “wound rate” for bowhunting at an astounding 50%. An article in Bowhunter Magazine admitted, “It is disquieting to know that we probably wound one deer for every animal harvested.” A piece in Western Bowhunter admonished, “Don’t talk to anyone about wounding animals, especially in public places or among non-hunters.”
The model of “conserving” animals by killing them has been a disaster. It’s time we called hunting what it is: a massacre of America’s treasured species. And it’s time for the 96% of us who don’t hunt to get a seat at the table.
I appreciate this interesting piece as a fellow vegan. Yes, hunting may have been essential to human life in the distant past. But nowadays, most people go hunting for the joy of it rather than for food. When hunters miss their targets, this needless, brutal kind of "entertainment" shatters animal families, leaving numerous animals orphaned or seriously hurt.
Hunting has nothing to do with "conservation" or "population control," despite what hunters sometimes claim to defend their terrible hobby. On the contrary, the delicate balance of nature's ecosystems ensures the survival of most species if left unchanged by humans. Natural predators contribute to the preservation of this equilibrium by only taking the sickest and most vulnerable victims.