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  • Matt Breton

Moving the Needle

This recent article really made the wheels in my head start spinning. It's a long one, but I enjoy long form journalism- it gives time for a well articulated idea to be formed and supported. I'd encourage you to read it, but if you don't, I'll share my summary here:

Humans misbehaving, wolves/coyotes being disrespected, hunters look bad.

There is a bit of sensationalism in this article- we have to look at the desired impact of this writing. Some of the phrases, the 'could's and 'can's within it suggest that while it is allowed, it may not actually happen at all. The gist of this is that recently delisted wolves have no protection outside of the designated WY trophy zone. There are a multitude of factors behind this, some of which are covered in the article. We could even drift into a discussion of the (over?)use of ESA protection; how the protection persists despite population objectives being met. The area of concern may not even have wolves in it. But...folks who are misbehaving have given people something to worry about when wolves drift out of the protected zone. The discussion of the current management strategy on behalf of the people and wolves in WY is for another day.

The label of 'hunter' covers a broad swath of the human population. There are as many different hunters as there are people who hunt. We each have our own thoughts and ideas, approaches and values. And all of this is good for our community- everyone doing the same thing, the same way, all the time would definitely be uninteresting and might even be a bad thing.

Unfortunately, to those outside of hunting, all hunters are the same. We see this in the common stereotype; beer-drinking, truck-driving, conservative, gun-shooting, camo-wearing redneck. As humans, we have to have stereotypes to get through our day. If we didn't, every person we met would need a three hour conversation to be able to make a judgement on whether we should trust them to use their credit card for a purchase or to trust the way they wave us across the street. So, for better or worse, the label allows someone who self-identifies as a hunter to give the rest of us a black eye.

So when a self-identified 'hunter' uses a snow-machine to chase down and run over a coyote, it makes all of us look bad. And if we don't educate ourselves and those around us on the ethical lines we draw, personally and collectively, the label fits.

Over the last few decades, hunters have faced minimal threats to the continuation of our lifestyle. The biggest perceived threat came from the loss of our guns; something that morphed in my mind as a threat to the existence hunting. So I joined the NRA and rallied against any opponent to my right to keep and bear arms. I believed the All or Nothing rhetoric of the NRA, despite knowing, after my time in the US Army, that not everyone should have an automatic weapon.

While I still believe we need to protect our 2nd Amendment rights, I now think that we can, and should, have a nuanced discussion. This nuance should also extend to a discussion of hunting- we should not use the same All or Nothing tactic that we learned from the NRA to support everyone who does things and calls it hunting. Running animals over with a snow-machine is not hunting. It might be legal under current WY law, but that doesn't make it right and it doesn't make it hunting.

We owe it to ourselves, as hunters, to elevate the discussion of hunting, eliminate unethical behavior and move the needle on the perception of hunting in the coming century. There is still room for individual preference, and for debate. But I don't think a community of hunters should let behavior like that talked about in the article bury us. All life is deserving of respect, be it coyote, wolf, human or deer. Hunting for sustenance, of body and soul, is a valuable thing, done right. Wolves and coyotes need to be hunted for a variety of reasons. But the manner in which it is done matters; to us, to them and to our communities.

“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” ― Aldo Leopold

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ― Aldo Leopold

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