Every year bike season starts to wind down, the days get shorter and I start to dream about the hunt. The perfect hunt where I sneak through the woods silently, pop up over a ridge, the wind in my face and sneak up on a herd of elk, lining up the perfect shot.
I don’t know where I get this storyline, because hunting never goes like that. There is a lot more shivering sweating, and shivering again, then getting some major adrenaline rushes and pure tiredness. Hunting is a lot like Calvin and Hobbes’ Calvinball. As soon as you think you know the rules, the game changes. This season was no different.
Before I get too far into the hunt, I would like to clear the air on my opinion about hunting. This is just my opinion, and I have nothing against other opinions. Do humans need to hunt for food? No. We have created a system of industrial farming and industrial meat. Don’t fool yourself though. Every steak, chicken thigh, and burger you eat comes from an animal that was killed and butchered by someone. That someone is just not you.
The world has commercialized the killing of animals so everyone can enjoy meat without having to deal with the concept of killing. The success of this system allows most humans to never go hungry. There is no bad crop year, or bad hunting year globally. We can always bring food in from somewhere else. This allows us to continue to prosper and live further and further from city centers. This in turn encroaches on wild animals’ habitat. We don’t like having predatory animals near our children, biking trails, crops, or farmed meat, so most predators are killed. This in turn upsets the balance between wild predatory animals and wild prey. The population of the prey grows beyond the land that is left for them. We at this point have created not only an abnormally nurturing environment for humans, but for prey animals too. We have three options:
- We can let the prey animal population go unchecked. This will lead to herds outstripping their food supply, and the animals will die off in droves either from a harsh winter’s starvation, or herd diseases. These herd diseases are called chronic wasting disease and are not good. CWD can take out an entire herd, and may be spread to humans via consumption of the meat. Think mad cow disease. Imagine if this disease got transmitted to our cows that we eat, or somehow mutated to travel through other means like water. This isn’t a great choice.
- We can reintroduce predators. This is being done in Yellowstone to great success from an ecological viewpont. Herds of elk and deer are once again acting like prey. Plants are starting to grow back along the banks of rivers and streams. Smaller prey can once again compete against the elk and deer for food, and scavengers are thriving. The ranchers don’t like it. They claim that wolves are eating their cows. Some hikers are terrified. This solution works in a place as remote as Yellowstone, but near population-dense towns? Not so much.
- We can control the herd populations with human predators.
- In dense towns (NJ) this looks like deer runs, where the deer are herded up and shot in a group. The meat is donated to homeless shelters generally. The alternative to this is increased deer ticks, auto accidents, and deer eating your expensive landscaping.
- Wild game could be sold and people could make money filling their tags. We have a population of animals that we need to control, why not give families a means to provide meat locally for their community? Wild game meat is only legal in Vt., likely because of a powerful beef lobby.
- States can control their herds with hunters like you and me. We buy tags hunting that are regulated and either fill them or not. They expect a certain percent to be filled, so they know how many to sell. The states have enforcement against poaching. This is how the animal population is controlled currently in more remote locations (like Colorado), and how I hunt.
With that in mind, I hunt. I am acutely aware of the pressures that animal herds experience from construction projects that encroach on their migration routes, the pressures from campers, hikers, and mountain bikers like myself that are getting more numerous by the day.
I enjoy the experience and work of the hunt, but I also know that when I can no longer stomach shooting an animal, quartering it, carrying it out of the woods, and butchering it myself, I will stop hunting and will probably become a vegan. Every year when I pull the trigger, it is a little sad, but by going through the full process, I know that I will appreciate every calorie I get from my animal all year. How many of you know the story and history behind your food?