I was having lunch the other week with a friend when she stated, “I don’t know how you can hunt deer. It seems so cruel.”
Without much thought, I pointed at the hamburger she was eating and replied, “Somehow I doubt that the cow you’re eating committed suicide.”
At that point, she didn’t appear receptive to a more thought-out response, so the conversation drifted to a different subject. However, it did get me thinking. Rather than just buy beef, exactly why do I go outside and personally harvest my protein? Every person is an experiment of one and so I don’t proclaim to speak for others. After some thought though, I came up with my own individual reasons why I hunt.
There are physical and mental benefits to hunting
My personal health is improved through hunting. I start from the perspective that I am genetically a meat eater and am going to continue to eat some amount of meat. If someone wants to be a vegan, that’s fine by me. However, I believe there is more than ample evidence that humans are designed to be predators. The forward-set eyes, design of our teeth and digestive tract and need for complete proteins in the diet do not match up with that of a typical herbivore. I don’t consider eating meat to be good or bad; it is just the way we are designed.
Since I’m going to eat meat, I do consider what is the healthiest choice. Compared to animals raised on large factory farms, wild game is lower in fat, is free from any antibiotics or growth hormones and has had access to a more natural diet. I remember when a friend’s father was battling heart disease, he was told to stick to a low fat diet and the only red meat permitted was venison.
Beyond the specifics of the meat itself, hunting provides additional benefits, both physical and mental. We are the product of our history. Fossil records show that our ancestors began walking upright and using tools approximately 2.8 million years ago. Evidence of modern humans stretches back 200,000 years. Even just counting modern humans, we have been nomadic wanderers that hunted and gathered our food for around10,000 generations. Our genetics have been honed to those tasks for that entire time. It is the basis of who we are as a species. While some may think we have evolved past the hunting stage, I disagree. We are only a relatively few generations into lifestyles that don’t need to hunt to survive. That is not enough time for our genes to have altered substantially. Genetically, we are still nomadic hunters and gatherers.
As such, in today’s society, we are not living as we are designed. I believe we ignore this fact at our own peril. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv directly links a lack of contact with nature to increases in obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression in children. It’s not much of a stretch to assume a lack of connection to nature causes the same issues in adults.
Now I don’t espouse shunning modern society altogether. However for me, occasionally backpacking long distances or being outside hunting can satisfy a yearning from deep within myself. It is how I immerse myself in the natural world. At those times I am a participant in nature, which is how our ancestors lived. A short hike in a park or a trip to the zoo are OK, but are not enough for me. There you are an observer of nature. I need to be a participant.
While taking another animal’s life is no cause to celebrate, there is a deep (genetic?) satisfaction in directly providing food for the table. Most any hunter (or gardener) will tell you the same thing.
Environmentally, hunting is a better choice
Taking a deer from the local area does not cause any environment damage. Properly managed, they are a 100% renewable resource. In fact, when deer populations are high, as they now are in parts of Ohio, removing some deer actually can improve the habitat for other species. Environmental concerns were a major reason that deer culling and hunting programs were started by two park systems near me (Cincinnati and Hamilton County).
By contrast, a large cattle operation with concentrated paddocks, concentrated excrement and significant acreage planted in a monoculture for cattle feed results in a large footprint devoid of healthy, diverse habitat. Aside from that, cows are just not very efficient at turning feed into animal protein. Ken Caldeira, an environmental scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science has studied the greenhouse impact of the beef industry and has calculated that, “eating a pound of beef causes more greenhouse warming than burning a gallon of gasoline.”
Hunting can provide the ultimate in eating local. I am lucky enough to own a few acres of woods and a small hayfield. Hunting my own land, I secure my meat supply without burning any fossil fuel. Raising cattle and the food they require, along with shipping the beef to local grocers involves burning significant amounts of fossil fuel. Even vegans that purchase food grown across the country incur the environmental costs of shipping the food in addition to clearing of land for the crop.
Hunting is better for the animals involved
Finally, I contend that hunting is a better system than buying meat at the grocery store for the actual animals involved. As I alluded to at the start of this article; if someone is eating meat, an animal has to die. However, before it dies, that animal has a life. A deer is raised in nature, which is not always gentle, but it is where a deer is designed to live. The deer eats natural food, wanders at will and is free to follow its instincts through its entire life.
Speaking for myself, I never take a shot unless I feel certain that it will be a clean, quick kill. I began hunting deer four years ago and am very glad to say I have never “wounded” a deer. Of the four I have harvested, none went more than 100 feet before expiring and two never took a step. In the natural world, few deaths are as quick or as easy as that. Hunters support this structure of life and death through responsible hunting and license fees.
By contrast, cattle spend their entire lives in some level of confinement. In larger, “factory” farms, they are crowded to the point that antibiotic treatments are sometimes used to keep them healthy. They are given hormones so they grow faster. They are fed diets, not for health, but to gain weight as fast as possible. I am not one to give any animal human emotions, but when they are herded into trailers and taken to the meatpacking plant, I find it hard to believe that even a cow doesn’t realize that it is going to have a very bad day. Those that buy their beef at the grocer are supporting this system of life and death with their purchase.
Now I don’t begrudge anyone that doesn’t want to hunt for whatever personal reasons. However, the next time someone makes an offhand comment wondering how I can hunt to feed myself, I hope they have a few minutes to hear a detailed reply.