Livin' Wild Wednesday: "Just a Trophy Hunt"

Drew YoungeDyke Drew YoungeDyke
I really wanted to write this week's Livin' Wild Wednesday without mentioning anti-hunters. Honest. There's just so much good going on for conservation that I'd rather focus on, like the twenty hunters and anglers who volunteered their Saturday to improve deer habitat at Dansville State Game Area this past weekend. But anti-hunting nonsense is like a mosquito when you're fishing a great trout stream: you'd like to ignore it, but when it bites you have to squash it.
The Boone and Crockett Club shared a story out of Colorado this week that some sensitive "wildlife watchers" are raising a stink that a bowhunter legally killed a moose in a national forest open to hunting. Totally legal, totally ethical, totally clean. Double-lunger. It just happened to be near a hiking trail where "traumatized" people saw it.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel were quick to try to quell the nonsense. Let's face it: moose are big wild animals and a quick, clean, double-lung bow kill is something to be proud of. I also hear they're delicious, though I haven't tried them yet myself. But the comments of the anti-hunters were disturbingly familiar.
"This was obviously a trophy hunt," said one of the "traumatized" wildlife watchers.
Debating Jill Fritz on WGVU. Debating Jill Fritz on WGVU.
There it is, the buzz phrase any anti-hunter is quick to bust out on any hunt they attack: "trophy hunt." You've heard Jill Fritz, Michigan director of the Humane Society of the United States, say it a hundred times during our wolf hunt debate over last few years, not that it did her group any good. "It's just a trophy hunt," she'd say, as if farmers aren't losing livestock, hunters aren't losing hounds, and families aren't losing pets.
Back to Colorado. "This was a trophy hunt," another anti-hunter said. Based on what? Does she know what the hunter will do with the meat? If he makes delicious steaks, moose burgers and sausage, is it still a "trophy hunt" to her? Does she, or Jill Fritz, or any other anti-hunter who uses that talking point, have a sixth sense that lets them divine the secret motivation of every hunter they've never met?
Of course not. They use that word because, as Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign manager Ellie Hayes admitted during one of that campaign's first meetings in an Ann Arbor library in early 2013, their polling tells them that non-hunters are more likely to oppose a hunt they perceive to be a "trophy hunt," verses a hunt for any other reason, like meat, population management, property protection or human safety.
George Fenlin and Juan Steibel didn't volunteer George Fenlin and Juan Steibel didn't volunteer "just for trophies."
Anti-hunters almost always claim that they're not against all hunting, just "trophy" hunting. But they reflexively call every hunt a "trophy hunt", as if only they truly know what's in the heart of hunters.
They have no clue what it means to hunt. No clue about the intimate connection between hunter and hunted or the satisfaction of procuring your own meat from the wild. No clue about the endless quest for understanding every facet of the life of the prey species, their habitat and habits, and applying that understanding in the practice of hunting where any little mistake based on a misunderstanding of a wild animal impossible to understand can make the hunt a failure.
But to them it's "just a trophy hunt."
Jennifer Churchill, a spokesman for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, said "It went down very quickly, and that's what we prefer to see when people are hunting animals. It was the cleanest kill you can hope for."
If anti-hunters were truly concerned with animal welfare, and truly didn't oppose all hunting, just "trophy" hunting or "unethical" hunting as they claim, they would have no problem with a quick, clean bow kill of an animal with lots of meat on its bones. But they just don't like hunting, as if that national forest wasn't really nature, but a museum, and humans weren't part of nature, just observers. Spectators. Wildlife watchers.
The difference is that hunters don't try to outlaw "wildlife watching." No matter that it is hunting and hunters who make wildlife watching possible for the spectator set. That's why I was so disappointed that the Michigan Sierra Club joined the Humane Society of the United States' coalition to oppose the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. We don't try to outlaw their hiking and "wildlife watching," so why were they partnering with a group systematically attacking hunting rights across the country?
Nick Nation didn't volunteer Nick Nation didn't volunteer "just for trophies."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife tried to set the record straight on moose hunting. "That's why these animals are here," Churchill said. "Those hunter dollars help us maintain habitat and protect wildlife habitat in Colorado and reintroduce animals in Colorado."
It's not just hunters' dollars that conserve wildlife, though: it's their commitment, too. Here in Michigan, hunters and anglers have been busy volunteering their time, about every other weekend, improving fish and wildlife habitat. Just this weekend, twenty of them gathered at Dansville State Game Area to hinge-cut trees to improve food sources, cover and bedding shelter for whitetail deer.
Members of the Michigan branches of Quality Deer Management Association, MUCC and the Michigan State University Forestry Club joined Department of Natural Resources personnel to hinge-cut trees across approximately twenty to twenty-five acres in four locations on the game area. The locations will enhance bedding areas near food sources, screen trails and provide more food.
When trees are hinge-cut, they stay alive, providing additional food where deer can reach it, opening canopies where sunlight spurs the growth of young trees (even more food), sprouting vertical shoots to provide screening cover, and providing bedding shelter from tough winters for the deer.
And before you think that these hunters did this just to improve hunting for themselves, realize that many of them have their own private property to hunt. They volunteered because they are obsessive about deer habitat, deer behavior, and doing right for deer. And they are obsessive about deer and deer habitat because they hunt them. It's part of the connection between hunter and quarry that anti-hunters will never understand.
We're part of the natural world, not separate from it. We require habitat, too: food, water, shelter, cover and space, just like other wildlife species do. Our shelters are just a little more elaborate. But we've been hunting since our species existed. It's what made us who we are, developed our brain function, prompted us to make tools, innovate new technology and create art. A few of us have gotten away from it in recent centuries, but that's just a sliver of time in terms of human evolution.
These hunters didn't volunteer These hunters didn't volunteer "just for trophies."
If some people think that modern delivery systems for human habitat needs means that we can separate ourselves from nature, then go ahead. If they want to pretend that nature is a museum and hiking trails are aisles through a display exhibit surrounded by velvet ropes not to be crossed, go ahead. I have no problem with people staying on trails and viewing wildlife managed with my hunting license dollars and thriving in habitat enhanced by the volunteer labor of hunter conservationists. But I have a definite problem when anti-hunters try to legislate me into their emotional, sheltered and sterile worldview.
If you're "traumatized" by hunting, go to a zoo (just not the Detroit Zoo). Leave the wild to wildlife, which includes hunters, human and otherwise. We choose not to be idle spectators. We choose to live in the natural world, to be a part of it, to engage in it, to learn its ins and outs, the ways and habits of our fellow wildlife. We choose to accept the natural world on its own terms, not those that some people have invented based on too many Disney cartoons. We choose to volunteer to enhance wildlife habitat, to purchase hunting licenses and pay taxes on hunting equipment that pays for wildlife conservation and the wildlife lands where you can watch and we can hunt.
We don't choose to hunt, though; that we have to do. Because it's in us as humans. We hunt because we're hunters. Is it for food, fur, management, conservation, the application of knowledge, the quest for perfection, the continuation of a heritage and way of life, the synchronization of our souls with the natural world and every hunter who has ever walked this earth since the beginning of time? It's all of that, and much more that most of us could never fully explain.
sayYES2wildlife Vote "YES" on Prop 2 to beat HSUS on their meaningless anti-hunting referendum.
But to those anti-hunters it will always be "just a trophy hunt." Just ask them. You're going to hear that talking point a lot this fall. The HSUS Legislative Fund took out a $750,000 media buy for their Keep Michigan Wolves Protected front group, according to campaign finance reports. They're going to run a lot of ads telling you to vote "No" on Props 1 and 2, the anti-hunting referendums, to stop the wolf hunt because it's "just for trophies," according to them.
We've already beaten them with the passage of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. No matter how much they spend in November, future game species and hunting seasons in Michigan will be determined by the Natural Resources Commission using sound science, including wolves. They'll come back to attack another hunting right, though, and they'll say that right they attack is "just for trophies." You can send a message to HSUS, though, that their hollow talking point won't work anymore. Voting "YES" on Proposals 1 and 2 won't change the state of the law, because we've already done that. But it will send a message to HSUS that their money can't mislead Michigan voters anymore.
And that actually would be "just for trophies."
Livin' Wild Wednesday is the weekly blog from MUCC Grassroots Manager Drew YoungeDyke, who considers beating HSUS by passing the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act the best trophy of all. 

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