Musings of an Old Hunter

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    Musings of an Old Hunter
    by Bart O'Gara, 1997. Written while on a hunt for Marco Polo Sheep. Successful hunt given him by Bob Lee of Hunting World. Late October, early November.

    Marco Polo Sheep Skull

    That there no longer is a need to hunt is a common theme in writings by those who oppose hunting. As a rational act, hunting, indeed, is not a necessary human activity in most parts of the world today. However, hunting is more an urge - like sex and gluttony - than a rational act. Hypothetically, with rapid population growth and the trend toward small families, there is no longer a rational need to have sex more than a few times in a lifetime. Likewise, with the trend toward inactive lifestyles and -obesity in developed countries, neither is there a rational need for three meals a day. The primary differences between the desire for sex or to satisfy hunger beyond necessity and the urge to hunt lies in the fact most people enjoy the former two, while only a minority have the urge to hunt. Imagine, if 80 percent of humans did not enjoy sex, the scorn that we in the minority would endure? Hunters can well imagine.

    Much has been written asserting that youths learn to enjoy hunting in rural settings and from family and friends. This is logical, and such youths certainly hunt more than do those from cities or those not exposed to hunting by family or friends. However, many such hunters enjoy the sport until they move to the city, become too busy or lose contact with family and childhood friends. In other words, many of those hunters - for whom hunting was convenient and socially satisfying - were not avid (genetic?) hunters.

    Avid hunters seem to be born with the urge in their genes. I wondered about this as a child, why my brother - raised on a farm by the same non-hunting parents, educated by the same teachers in the same one-room schoolhouse and playing with the same peers -could take hunting or leave it. Hunting was my avocation; no game, pastime or social function provided the same satisfaction or feeling of elation.

    As I write this, sitting in front of a tent at 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) in the Tien Shan of the Kyrghyz Republic, I again ponder why I must hunt. At 74 (I would have taken better care of myself had I known I would live this long), I can hardly struggle over the treacherous talus slopes at 14 to 15 thousand feet (4,267 to 4,572 meter) where the great rams thrive. The 12 to 13 hour days in a crude wooden saddle, negotiating slopes and slides that no one should ask even tough mountain ponies to attempt, have become torture. Yet, I love this endeavor more than anything in life, except my feisty little wife.

    During three years I spent in Africa, I was surprised to find that only about 20 percent of the men in many villages were hunters. The others farmed, gathered or herded. A few women also hunted - mostly snaring small mammals and taking gallinaceous birds with throwing sticks - or fished. The hunters were honored members of tribal society, providing most of the meat for their villages. They had the most wives and, consequently, the most fields and beer. With the obvious advantages, why did only the minority hunt? Genetics?

    For 25 years, I was associated with a university wildlife biology program. Most students had experience with wildlife or hunting because of family, friends or rural backgrounds. Increasingly, television nature programs has kindled interest in wildlife (not hunting). A few students came from large cities, had never handled a gun and did not know anyone who hunted. Some had parents or a parent who were (was) violently anti-hunting. Yet, those students came to a wildlife program in Montana primarily because they wanted to hunt - something they had read about in a magazine. Genetics?

    Anti-hunters generally cannot understand how hunters can admire and love wildlife and still kill the most beautiful. I have seen no entirely satisfactory explanation and cannot offer one. I have cried every time I had a dog euthanized, quit farming largely because I detested inflicting the pain of castration and dehorning and have stayed awake all night with remorse - and nearly quit hunting - when I lost a cripple. Yet, I always went back to hunting. The only rational defense I can offer, if one is needed, follows. During more than 55 years of wildlife watching and hunting around the world, invariably the countries with sport hunting programs – programs that promoted sustained-yield harvests and benefited local people - had the healthiest wildlife populations and best habitat. Can this be wrong? The welfare of populations seems more important than the fate of surplus individuals.

    One argument sometimes heard against hunting contends that non-consumptive use is increasing while hunting is decreasing, and the latter interferes with the former. Mention is seldom made that much wildlife watching takes place on wildlife refuges and winter ranges bought and managed with sportspersons’ dollars. A recent survey revealed that during 1991-1996 there was no change in the number of hunters but wildlife watchers decreased by 17 percent. This fact should not be viewed as positive by hunters. The welfare of wildlife is benefited by the broadest support possible by all segments of the public.
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