Hunting, poaching and witch hunts

Fallow deer There has of late been an awful lot of fuss in social media and the press about the death of a retrospectively famous lion called “Cecil”, I’ve generally kept out of it. However as I was (by coincidence) taken hunting at the weekend which has resulted in some discussion amongst my group of friends I thought I might as well comment.

First lets deal with the really really easy bit, as far as I’ve been able to determine from the reports I’ve seen “Cecil” was killed by a poacher who did a really bad job of it. That the poacher was a rich white American dentist doesn’t make it any more or less of a crime, and both Zimbabwe and the USA have laws to deal with that crime. That this crime should be punished by the law is I hope not in any doubt. See that was nice and easy wasn’t it.

That of course isn’t enough for our modern-day witch hunters, I’ve seen normally reasonable people calling for all kinds of cruel and unusual punishment for this man way beyond what even the inquisition might have inflicted, and people braying for the destruction of his business regardless of the impact that would have on the mans family and his employee’s who it would seem likely are innocent parties in the matter. Then again collective punishment is all the rage in this day and age and mobs aren’t known for being reasonable, which is of course why we generally consider the rule of law to be a good thing and mob rule to be less so.

Whilst the outrage bus is running full throttle there are some questions that I’ve seen asked that our social lynch mob really should be asked to answer, such as could they actually recognise “Cecil” who they care about so much from amongst other pictures of lions, could they have done so before he got killed? He was after all apparently famous. As it’s actually possible to care about more than one thing at a time, were they equally outraged about the killing of Sandra Bland, the Lafayette shooting and the numerous people being killed by Daesh*, or are only photogenic animals worthy of outrage. Talking about furry animals “Cecil” was a lion, these are not cute cuddly defenseless creatures, rather they’re apex predators and not terribly friendly – just ask a Zebra. This doesn’t make the illegal killing of this lion any less wrong but lets at least try to be honest about what was killed.

The outrage mob of course doesn’t like to confine itself to actual criminals though, not when there’s virtue signalling to be done, so we have other hunters who’ve done nothing wrong being plastered over the press to be tarred by association. Which makes about as much sense as implying that anyone who buys medicine from a pharmacy is on a par with people running crystal meth labs. In this lynch mob the only people who have their hands clean are the Vegans. If you eat meat or fish, wear leather or benefit from any animal products then someone has killed that animal on your behalf. Just because you didn’t do it yourself you don’t get to disavow the act (you are after all keen on collective guilt). The reasons for hunting vary from place to place and from animal to animal – but in most cases hunting contributes to the local economy either directly as food or due to the money charged to hunt and spent by those hunting. In many cases as well hunting is a vital part of population management, animal populations are largely limited by scarcity of resources or my predation – and the task of apex predator falls firmly on the shoulders of humanity. By all means lets condemn poaching and unnecessary cruelty, but if we’re going to eat meat and control animal populations by means other than resource scarcity (starvation) then someone has to do that job.

All of which brings me to my experience and why I have skin in this game**. I’ve previously worked in kitchens and butcheries, grow some of my own vegetables and do most of my own cooking, so I like to think I’ve few delusions about what I’m eating or where it’s come from. However a common challenge from those of a vegetarian persuasion is:
“You wouldn’t eat it if you had to kill it yourself”
Or words to that effect, which quite frankly I think is a reasonable point to make and I always liked to think that I wouldn’t have a problem with doing that task. Theory is though a long way from practice, and if something is going to die for my plate then really I want to know that I’m willing to get my hands bloody and take responsibility for that task. So when I had the opportunity to go deer stalking I took it. This was a managed population, in the south-east of England in typical mixed fields and woodland, really picture postcard traditional rural England. Just spending the day in that environment and watching all the wildlife was a treat and worth the effort. I’d visited before to prove that I could do better than hitting a barn door at 10 paces, and had to demonstrate that again before I was allowed to actually point a gun at anything alive. This being the UK where we have laws about such matters I was accompanied at all times by someone who knew what they were doing and would make sure I didn’t screw up. This also told me which animal to shoot and when – after discussing on quite a few occasions why a certain animal shouldn’t be shot or why a particular shot wasn’t safe to take. There were also discussions about how beautiful the animals were and the damage the deer do to the crops, and that yet again Fallow deer were an introduced species that was causing problems for the native Roe deer – really it was a terribly informative day. When it came to actually taking the shot, I didn’t feel any great thrill or rush of excitement I was far too concerned about not screwing up and causing the animal to suffer. I didn’t enjoy killing the animal, though the day as a whole was most enjoyable, but was greatly relieved that I didn’t get it wrong, that I hadn’t caused the animal to suffer. Everything that got shot that day is on its way to someone’s plate, and the herd is being kept at a healthy level both for the animals and the environment they’re in. My education is far from complete but I learnt a lot and have even more appreciation of the food I eat – and now I can honestly answer the challenge of if I’d still eat meat if I had to look an animal in the eye and kill it. So dear social lynch mob unless you’re a vegan go ahead and condemn the poachers, and I hope also be outraged at the numerous people being killed everyday, but don’t tar every hunter with the same brush when you’re still happy to benefit from their labours.

* Formally ISIS
** Puns not intended but not apologising.

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