Blood sports. An unethical, unsustainable stain on the landscape. Blasting defenceless animals out of the sky. Sounds harsh right…?
More on field or so-called “blood”-sports, from a British perspective:
It is not a question of human rule and dominion but a case of stewardship. I am deeply concerned about the environment – I wouldn’t splash out on free range eggs or endure the seven hour train journey instead of a flight home if I didn’t – but providing species as a whole are conserved I won’t lose sleep over the death of an individual animal.
And if anything, shooting offers a more honest relationship between man and beast than the average consumer could ever hope to have with their beef lasagne (or was it horse?)… When you eat game meat you know where the animal has come from, how it was killed and that it enjoyed a free and wild life – something that cannot be said for much of the meat coming through our industrial abattoirs and supermarkets.
I am reminded of one of the great Aldo Leopold’s essays in his seminal A Sand County Almanac, “Wildlife in American Culture,” where he notes the value of hunting, as inculcating both knowledge and respect for the food chain – much diminished if the only thing we are “hunting” for is the best price on styrofoam-and-plastic-wrapped supermarket meats – and what he calls “split-rail value,” or anything that reminds of of our national (or more broadly, cultural) origins and evolution.
Hunting, and related disciplines like fishing, trapping, etc., are not the only ways to inculcate these values, of course, but they are particularly poignant and visceral means of doing so. They allow the practitioner to be a participant in what is sometimes called “the circle of life,” rather than a mere observer of it, in a way which no other activity save agriculture can do. And of course, farming (or gardening) and hunting are two activities which have always been very closely linked, in human history.
The whole question of field sports is made out to be a class issue. It isn’t. It is a city vs countryside issue.
I am sure the majority of those 80% who condoned the fox hunting ban were city dwellers with little appreciation of the tradition hunting carried for hundreds of years. ‘Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s right’ I hear you say, so let’s look at it another way.
To people in the city, who have never come close to anything wilder than a cat, the concept of an aggressive fox seems alien, but in the countryside, foxes are vermin. Straight up. They terrorise lambs causing real damage to farmers. Growing up in the countryside, foxes were not some fluffy creature. They were the stuff of nightmares, crawling into the chicken run and butchering the lot for fun.
Unfortunately many people, both here and abroad, have grown up with a more-than-a-little “Disney-fied” version of how the natural world works. I have spent years working and teaching in environmental, outdoor, and conservation education, and I can assert with 100% confidence that predator (including foxes, coyotes, and even those adorable “masked bandits,” raccoons – ever seen one ticked off? they’re not adorable then!) numbers need to be controlled, to limit the spread of disease and protect domestic animal populations.
And prey animals (“game animals,” to us) need to have their numbers controlled, also – especially in the absence of “top predators” like wolves, bear, and mountain lions – to avoid overpopulation, resulting in starvation, disease, etc. In a totally natural environment, absent the influence of human beings, of course, that would not be necessary; nature would maintain the balance – but the means it would use, namely the aforementioned tools of predation, starvation, and disease, are hardly cute and cuddly. Again, this is not “Bambi,” this is the real world.
Again, those who are opposed to field sports like hunting (“shooting” and “stalking,” in British parlance), trapping (more of an economic activity than a sport, per se), and mounted foxhunting tend to have an excessively romanticized, fictionalized view of the world. It is particularly ironic when those opposed to field sports are willing to eat packaged meat! Such animals frequently live much worse lives, and suffer less humane deaths, than those hunted ethically (poaching, of course, cannot be defended under any circumstances).
Finally, from a philosophical viewpoint, the reality is that we are not separate from Nature, either above or below it; we are part of Nature. We may have abilities of self-reflection, cognition, and communication that are greater than our fellow-creatures, but we are still what Leopold called “plain members and citizens of the land community.” And we are, biologically and evolutionarily, predatory omnivores, like raccoons, opossums, and bears. Pretending otherwise is dishonest, and does both us and our fellow-citizens of the land community a disservice.
Unless we evolve the capacity to photosynthesize, we will be dependent upon killing something – whether animal or plant – to survive. And what many people do not realize is that vegetable production, even organic vegetable production, is not benign. Many animals are displaced or killed to plant, cultivate, harvest, and protect those fields of greens, roots, and other veggies. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, please be clear-eyed enough to realize that this choices does not remove or immunize you from the deaths of animals, it merely makes those deaths less visible.
(Just as “Leave No Trace” camping relies heavily on extractive industries to produce the synthetic materials, stove fuels, etc., that replace more traditional camping techniques… but I digress.)
We cannot escape from our mutual interdependence on the rest of the natural world, and we cannot escape from the fact that a portion of that interdependence requires us to kill in order to survive. We may as well – in my view – do so in a way which is ethical, and which teaches us other lessons about the proper way to interact with the rest of the rest of the natural world, and with each other.