Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hunting for Food

"I am a meat hunter."

Yes, I enjoy time afield. In fact I enjoy it for a multitude of reasons. Despite the "we enjoy killing, let's just be honest about it and move on" hunter's-lib hype, I really don't like the killing part. What I do enjoy is the deep sense of accomplishment that comes from a pursuit that ends in a quick, clean successful harvest.

But I also love my dogs. And I am honest enough with myself to know that when I see the intelligence behind the eyes of a deer which I am a split second away from dispatching, it's not all that different from what I see in the eyes of my own dogs.

I am alive and sentient. The deer is alive, and arguably, also sentient. I (with the help of my hounds) am predating. The deer is prey. It is morally undefinable. The relationship between predator and prey is neither right, nor wrong. It simply is what it is.

One of the favorite arguments of PETA and their compatriot groups is that no one needs to hunt in modern society. The irony and hypocrisy is too much to develop fully in this post, but I will touch on one facet which is illustrative.

On the one hand I totally agree with PETA's contention. Sport hunting, as practiced by most sport hunters, has no economic rationale as a source of cost-effective sustenance. Factor in the cost of gas for multi-hour hunting trips, the fancy camouflage costumes, expensive firearms or archery tackle, the cost of motel lodgings, state licences and permits (especially out of state), etc, etc... Whatever meat the typical sport hunter does put in the freezer is very expensive meat. Much more expensive then almost any meat you could buy at the local grocery store.

On the other hand, it's pure bullocks. This argument might actually carry some weight if the PETA paradigm didn't actively discourage, and campaign against, corporate farming. Economies of scale are the only thing that keep mega-mart ground pork cheaper than pursuing deer with all the expensive (and frankly unnecessary) trappings of modern American sport hunting. If PETA got its way, and most large commercial livestock operations were shut down, and those few that did exist were 100% organic, free range, family farm operations with distribution channels limited to a single metropolitan area, even hunting the expensive way would offer savings over beef and pork if that system were imposed nation wide.

Don't get me wrong. I am a huge advocate of sustainable, organic, local, family farming. But we are in very tough times as a nation, and in my mind, my own feel-good ideologies come a very distant second to the need for affordable food for poor families. Especially poor urban families. Rural land owning families, and even suburban families have some options for freeing themselves from the teat of the mega-mart, like this family has done on their 1/10th of an acre lot. But for many apartment dwellers this simply isn't an option.

One of my heroes of the working dog community, and the blogosphere, is Patrick Burns. While I agree with him on almost everything, there are a few notable exceptions. For example I disagree with him on his assertion that line breeding is inherently detrimental, that nothing good can come of it... but that's a whole other posting. The other concept that I disagree with him on is this particular idea that hunting doesn't add up for the poor. Quoted here:

Here's a question: If you make $17,000 a year, how do you pay for gas to get out into the field to hunt, and also pay the mortgage, health insurance premiums, prescription drugs, food, heat, water, electricity and the cost of basic truck or car maintenance? Damned if I know!

The insinuation on the part of PETA and (unfortunately) Patrick, is that the poor are wasting their limited monetary resources on hunting when they should be buying food at the grocery store. I've already articulated one of perhaps a dozen reasons why PETA's take on this is schizophrenic. But with Pat's, I think it is just a case of a sincere person, with an intelligent question born from a lack of understanding and/or experience.

Patrick is a hunter/conservationist and a dog man. He gets it. But on this issue he doesn't. I don't know if he has or not, but it makes me question whether or not he has ever actually been poor.

Has he ever experienced a childhood Christmas knowing that one small present per child may or may not be possible because your parents have (rightfully) decided that having the heat stay on in December is more important? Has he ever been on WIC, AFDC, Food Stamps, or Section 8? Does he know what it's like to be unemployed, running out of money and food stamps, and have a hungry baby that you're not sure how you'll feed this week?

I ask because I do know all these, first hand. And so I ask if he has, because then he should already know that in-state, non-trophy meat hunting, on nearby free access public and/or private lands for deer, boar, rabbit, and turkey - and not doing it like you just stepped off the pages of a bass pro catalog - is a viable, and economically efficient way of making some good for your family out of a bad situation.