THE BUZZ: Hunting done right

By on August 4, 2015

A Wyoming perspective on harvesting wildlife

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Facebook blowback in the aftermath of Cecil the lion’s death and the denouncing of the dentist/hunter who shot him has been nothing short of static electricity. Legalities of the killing aside, the incident attracted anti-hunters and their virulent attitude toward anyone who’s ever donned Mossy Oak clothing and shouldered a Weatherby firearm.

Trophy hunting and sport killing rubs many people the wrong way. Judging from social media commentary, those opposed to the bagging of big game are often misinformed or just plain hateful. It doesn’t have to be as polarizing a topic as all that. Understanding what responsible hunters – especially those in Wyoming – do and how they think might just mine enough common ground to begin a conversation of tolerance.

Hunter Education and Safety Instructor Jeff Daugherty saw the aftermath of both the lion hunt gone wrong, a second lion shooting and a recent post of a female huntress (Rebecca Francis) posing with her dead giraffe from Zimbabwe on Facebook. He cringes at some of the comments made by those who were outraged, creating what has become a virtual witch-hunt for camo wearers. But he also has little sympathy for hunters who screw up and give the good ones a bad name.

“Are there bad hunters out there? Absolutely. And I loathe them, too,” Daugherty said. “For every bad hunter, though, there are many good hunters. I’ve seen them. If there was something illegal that dentist [Walter Palmer] did, shame on him. It appears to me he is blaming his PH [professional hunter] for the situation he is in. Well, every hunter is responsible for what you take. You can’t claim you didn’t know. It’s up to you to know the rules. All of them.”

Hunters as frontline conservationists

Every hunter in Wyoming does his or her share to protect the species they pursue and then some. Proceeds from licenses, stamps and other fees help fill coffers that support wildlife and its habitat. A substantial tax (11 percent) on hunting and fishing equipment and ammo at sporting goods stores across the Cowboy State also helps defray costs of conservation efforts nationwide, via the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and the 1950 Dingell-Johnson Act. In addition, dozens of groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Ducks Unlimited and the Muley Fanatic Foundation do their part to protect habitat for species like elk, moose, deer, ducks and more. RMEF alone has conserved more than 6.6 millions acres of elk habitat.

“One of the biggest threats to wildlife today is not the gun but the blade,” Daugherty said. “Development eats up about 6,000 acres a day. In Teton County, this has been partially addressed. When you go in for a building permit your project is always evaluated with its impact to wildlife considered first and foremost.”

Thanks to hunters, numerous species have been brought back from near extinction. Throughout the 1880s, early pioneers threw lead at everything in the new country that walked or flew. By 1889, when the last wild buffalo was killed outside of Yellowstone National Park, Americans were on the verge of blasting away any and all of the continent’s natural creatures.

“Guys were gunning down elk solely for the ivory. Birds were shot simply for the tail feathers. In Wyoming, the beaver population was down to 1 percent of what this country contained,” Daugherty said. “It a was a recipe for disaster.”

Things turned around with the North American Wildlife Conservation Model which went full blown in 2001 with the idea that wildlife belongs to the people and fall under everyone’s stewardship. The numbers tell the story, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department figures. Moose populations in Wyoming went from an estimated low of 3,700 to 14,500. Elk numbered around 22,500. There are more than 100,000 today in Wyoming. Bison went from 2,000 to 4,000 to an estimated 14,500, and deer and pronghorn populations also saw dramatic increases over the past decade.

Daugherty for one knows not everybody gets hunting. National studies have shown a steady decline in the number of individuals classifying themselves as “hunters.” According to Daugherty, the latest polls show about 15 percent of Americans claim they are active hunters or pro-hunting.

“That leaves about 75 percent of the population who have identified themselves as either non-hunters, anti-hunting or simply don’t have a strong opinion,” Daugherty said. “They are what we refer to in politics as the ‘persuadables.’ I always stress to my students to be mindful and respectful of this majority. What we do as hunters and how we conduct ourselves is what they are always watching — to the extent that you might want to think twice about parking that pickup full of elk downtown on the square to eliminate unnecessary vitriol. I have my own Facebook page where I post hunting stuff. It’s by invite only and there are never any gory pictures.”

For the people who think outlawing big game hunting altogether in places like Africa is the way to go, some would argue against that. In places like Africa that have abject poverty, catering to the big game trophy hunter is actually the best way to protect these animals. It helps fight poaching because now you have hundreds or thousands of eyes on poachers instead of a few. The people of Zimbabwe, for instance, are invested in their animals as a source of economy when done legally.

Integrity of the hunt

Gloria Courser is an avid outdoorswoman who is also a shooting instructor with Jackson Hole Shooting Experience. She quickly found herself amidst the social media turmoil and fall out after Palmer’s bagging of Cecil and an Idaho woman’s posts of herself with a giraffe kill.

“I personally find it interesting that many who claim to value life so highly, and profess to value it in a higher regard than others, might have no problem swatting flies or spraying wasps or catching and releasing fish – which often kills the fish,” Courser said. “I also find it ironic that even those who don’t claim to do so, actually do create a hierarchy in their own mind of which animals deserve revering and which do not and are ‘expendable.’  I find it sadly ironic that these same people, while defending the life of the lion or the giraffe, would wish death upon another human being. Many of these same ‘lovers of all living things’ often support the factory farming of chicken, pig and pork (better described as the most torturous life possible for a living creature) with their food choices but then point fingers at the folks who hunt either for food for their table or for a sport that then fills the table of others.”

After an up close and personal look at the slaughterhouse industry, Daugherty was put off by meat altogether until he relied on hunting to fill the freezer. “A big reason why my family switched almost entirely to wild meat is because I know how most of the stuff you buy at the grocery store is treated and prepared,” he said. “I was a vegetarian for a lot for years after that experience. For me, protein now comes with a real connection to the land and what it offers. Some people think meat comes in these neat little packages from the grocery store. But something had to die for that.”

Courser and Daugherty use all they can of harvested animals. Both also enjoy the challenge of the hunt and the fulfillment of putting hormone-free food on the kitchen table.

“I hunt because I know exactly where that animal has spent its years on this earth,” Courser said. “I know exactly how amazing that life has been because I wander the same hills, I wade through the same streams and I witness the same sunrises. I hunt because I want one less animal to be raised in the abominable and inhumane conditions of the average meat farm. I hunt because I love life, no matter how much one might try to argue the opposite.”

Daugherty and Courser also are two of a larger bond of sportsmen and sportswomen who hunt with reverence and respect.

“I am teaching my daughters to respect the hunter and am providing them the opportunity to hunt themselves, if they choose,” Courser said. “They have been with me right after the taking of the animal. They have placed their hands on the fur and heard the prayer I say each time I take a life to feed our family.”

Daugherty does the same. He hates the needless destruction of a magnificent animal, he said. Hunters have an obligation to spend time at the shooting range in order to perfect their aim and dispatch an animal quickly and ethically.

“There is a big difference between a hunter and a killer,” Daugherty said. “If you are out there just to shed blood there is something wrong with you and you ought to get some help. I was taught by my granddad and I teach my kids. We go up to the animal and give thanks to it and apologize for taking its life.” PJH

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