I come from a family that is against guns and hunting. From what I gather this is because guns mean causing harm and hunting causes harm to animals. To many this is viewed as one of the worst things anyone could do. As a teenager I found it contradictory because we raised cows and chickens that were slaughtered and then we ate them. How was this any different from going deer hunting and then feeding your family venison for 6 months? It was also a contradiction to the way of life where I grew up – an area dominated by farming and logging where people take natural resources and use them for survival.
At age 20 I left the east coast and moved to the Colorado mountains. After spending time hiking and observing wildlife in the local National Park, I decided that my calling in life was to help wild animals. My reason was that I loved to see them and like the naive, uneducated young person I was, I just wanted to help there be as many wild animals as possible in the world because that was a wonderful thing. I enrolled in a Fish & Wildlife Management degree program in Montana so that I could save the pandas.
I got much more of an education than I could have ever imagined…
During the first year of classes, I discovered that those who worked to keep or save wildlife and wildlife habitats were the very people who hunted them! These hunters are the ones who fully fund our government wildlife conservation programs. This is done through sales of hunting and fishing licenses. My tax dollars do not fund these government agencies whose job is to keep our wildlife populations healthy. I was stunned by this! The people who were hunting these animals were the same people spending money and voting to keep the animal populations around and their habitats intact.
As my education progressed, I learned how humans have wiped out nearly all natural predators which results in animal populations getting out of control and causing imbalances in the ecosystem. This leads to more rapid spread in diseases and an increase in human-wildlife conflicts, among other serious issues. I learned that today’s hunters fill the role of no longer existing predators by keep populations and ecosystems in balance.
Outside of school I began to investigate further. I spent considerable time talking to everyone I could about hunting and their experience with it. I subscribed to Field & Stream magazine and I started reading what animal rights groups were saying. I took a job with my local state wildlife agency interviewing hunters about their most recent hunting experience. I started watching my friends hunt and practice at the shooting range. I learned about falconry and small mammal trapping. I read about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and how they survived living off the land and by hunting wildlife. I listened to stories of hunters about the culture of hunting, the connectedness they feel to the natural world, and how they feel about conservation.
In 2005 I went to my first shooting range and fired a rifle. A few months later I tagged along with a then boyfriend who lives to hunt while he hunted for ducks, and then deer and elk. In 2007 I worked at a hunter check station in Nebraska where deer and elk are brought once harvested during the hunting season. Here they are tested for Chronic Wasting Disease and other data on each animal is collected in order to help determine current population sizes, tell biologists how healthy the populations are, and determine if there is enough land and other natural resources to support the number of animals living there. I survived seeing hundreds of animals dead in pickup trucks and much to my surprise, I did not feel sadness for them. My emotions were actually of excitement for the success of each hunter and appreciation for the hunters helping keep healthy wild animals around for me to enjoy.
After roughly 8 years of listening, researching and participating, I realized that my beliefs about hunting as a child were not based on any solid information. Because of my experiences, I was able to look objectively at the sport and understand the many differing perspectives surrounding it. I could form my own opinion about it and choose to support the activity or not.
I’ve come a long way in gaining a complete understanding of what hunting and wildlife management are. I have truly undergone a transformation in my beliefs, attitudes and perspective. People do not just run wild in the woods with guns killing all wildlife in sight to be cruel to animals or because they are bored. Wildlife are monitored, studied, and managed using
hunting as a tool.
Today, when I teach wildlife biology or ecology, I include in a piece about the importance of hunting for population control and disease prevention. I support organizations working with hunters and fishermen to keep wild places and wildlife from being wiped out by human development. I volunteer doing research on projects searching for an understanding of wild animals and what is needed for coexistance with humans. All of this helps me stay connected to the natural environment on which I also depend for survival.