The television newscaster issued a warning as she introduced a segment at the end of the firearms season on deer: “Some of the images might be disturbing.”
My, how hunting has changed in my lifetime. When I was young, we would mount our dead deer on the front hood of the car and parade up Winthrop’s Main Street, then hang the deer in the front yard for all to see and admire. Yes, admire. I don’t believe anyone found the dead deer to be disturbing.
As the TV segment was showing, I wondered if people who pass supermarket meat counters are disturbed by all that meat, cut from animals for their dining pleasure. Can it really be disturbing to see a deer killed by a hunter who values the opportunity to harvest his or her own animals and feed his or her family fresh, healthy meat?
I realize that a lot has changed for hunters since I began hunting 55 years ago, some for the good, some not so good. On the good side, hunters today are much more attuned to conservation and actually pay for all of the good work of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on behalf of the wild critters all Mainers enjoy seeing.
The epidemic of No Trespassing signs on private land has been one dramatically negative change, but that has forced hunters to practice good landowner relations in order to have places to hunt, and that’s a very good thing.
For the second consecutive year, I chose not to shoot a deer this year, mostly because I get more pleasure these days out of taking others hunting, particularly new hunters. This year, I took outdoors writer Deirdre Fleming to Steep Hill Farm in Fayette for her first-ever deer hunt. She saw 17 deer in three days and shot a nice doe. Her column on Nov. 22, “Hunting deer — and finding deeper meaning,” is available at centralmaine.com.
I actually posted my land this year so a local family could hunt it, along with my guests, without being disturbed by other hunters, and their 17-year-old son shot a big eight-point, 185-pound buck there. He was so excited! And so was I.
I’ve shot deer nearly every year for the last four decades and have five big buck mounts on my office wall, another reason I am no longer driven to kill a deer every year. And the fact that Dad is gone and no longer hunting with me probably has something to do with this, too. He was so proud every time I shot a deer, and I never wanted to disappoint him. I wore a piece of Dad’s clothing whenever I hunted this year, so in a way, he is still hunting with me.
A report from Responsive Management, the national firm headed by Mark Duda, has done research all across the country about public attitudes toward hunting and hunters. “Americans’ approval of hunting has remained consistently high over nearly two decades that Responsive Management has tracked the issue,” he reports. “A scientific telephone survey conducted recently found that 77 percent of American adults strongly or moderately approve of hunting.”
More troubling is the finding that “support for hunting is conditional rather than absolute.” Approval varies significantly, from 40 percent to 78 percent, depending on species, motivation and method of hunting. At least 75 percent approve of deer and wild turkey hunting, but less than half approve of hunting for black bear, mountain lion or mourning dove.
When it comes to our motivation for hunting, Duda’s report continues: “American adults overwhelming approve of hunting for the meat (85 percent of all respondents expressed strong or moderate approval), to protect humans from harm (85 percent), for animal population control (83 percent), for wildlife management (81 percent), or to protect property (71 percent). However, approval diminishes fairly considerably when respondents are asked about hunting for sport (53 percent approve), to supplement income (44 percent), for the challenge (40 percent), or for a trophy (28 percent).”
Responsive Management also found that “attitudes change as people gain direct experience” with hunting. No real surprise there. For example, people in rural areas are more supportive of hunting than folks who live in urban areas, men are more supportive than women, and older folks are more supportive than young people.
The best news is that “any prevailing negative attitudes toward hunting may be mitigated through the positive impacts of mentoring experiences and strong social connections.” I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is correct. My three days of hunting with Fleming turned her into an enthusiastic hunter. I am sure Deirdre was not disturbed by that television video.