Hunting season brings people from around the country and even across the globe for Wyoming pronghorn, bear, sheep, moose, deer, pronghorn, and elk. The camo clothes and orange hats render the hunters easy to recognize when they come into town to gas up and replenish supplies.
When I first moved here, hunters appeared exotic, carefree, out for nothing but some daytime shooting practice and nighttime parties. At that time, I shunned killing innocent animals and at one time I agreed with this statement from PETA:
“Hunting might have been necessary for human survival in prehistoric times, but today most hunters stalk and kill animals merely for the thrill of it, not out of necessity”
Well, hunting for survival sustained people beyond prehistoric times. In twentieth century America, western homesteaders still survived on hunting as do people in many developing countries. And, with few exceptions, the people I know here eat what they kill. And thrilling? Learning how to be self-reliant rather than hitting up the store for hormone-tainted pink slime is exhilarating. I am happy to report, also, that a number of local hunters donate frozen meat to our food bank.
Hunting for food makes sense to me now, especially in a state with a low population of people and large numbers of game animals. A mile from town, deer and antelope are plentiful, lean, and delicious. Besides, how can we somehow justify slaughterhouse killing and not hunters searching for a winter store of meat?
I first began to soften when I learned that hunting is highly regulated. Game animals are monitored and managed all year and licenses issued according to population sizes. Thinning herds is part of ecosystem management. Good hunting comes from good management. Consider the following statement about managing deer:
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for the conservation and management of the state’s native white-tailed deer population. The department’s primary deer conservation goals are to ensure the well being of the species and its habitat while maintaining populations at levels compatible with human activity, land use and natural communities. Hunting remains the primary method for maintaining deer populations at appropriate levels, both in Maryland and throughout North America, despite vocal and visible protests of animal rights organizations.
Last year I went hunting with my son. A friend guided us and shared centuries old hunting skills. The first evening, as we toured the area by 4-wheeler and truck, my son took a few misplaced shots, but the next day, he took down a beautiful pronghorn. We learned how to field dress the animal, and after hauling it back in, how to skin the carcass and cut up the rich red meat for the freezer. That snowy October day and into the winter, we gobbled the healthy meat, prepared with our own hands.
However, on the matter of trophy hunting, I agree with PETA. Once in a lifetime a hunter may get a bighorn sheep, bear, moose, or even a mountain lion license. Most of these are indeed killed not for eating, but to obtain a stunning head mount for the wall above a fireplace. I have seen magnificent moose, mountain lion, bear, and bighorn sheep gazing down on me from a wall and animal hides strewn across a floor as rugs, all to create that old west ambiance. The glass eyes on the head mounts give them a strange, disoriented look, reflecting my sentiments exactly.
So, I understand hunting for meat but not trophy heads. I wish the passion about shooting animals ended with this matter. In Wyoming, though, we are consumed with the issue of two big predators—man and wolves—and their fight to rule the rangelands. Coyotes clashed in that same fight but lost long ago, and can be shot at any time without a license and transported to authorities for a $25 bounty.
More on that next time!