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December 3, 2010

Look past hysteria surrounding deer hunting

By Michael Kane

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There are pursuits in life that attract the best and worst of people. Those pursuits usually are described or written about with the attachment of great deals of misinformation and unsupported emotional opinion. Hunting is one of them, and the guest column by David Irving in the Nov. 27 issue of The Daily Star is a good example of the hysteria that is attached to the pursuit of deer hunting.

I am a deer hunter. I have been at it for nearly 30 years now. I have spent a lot of time walking in and sitting in the woods. I am a keen and patient observer of the forests, the fields and the waterways, as well as the animals that are supported by them. I have a great love of the outdoors and a great respect for life in all its forms. I contribute to the preservation of a healthy ecosystem by following sustainable practices in my daily living and in the stewardship of land that I own, and I am as avid a practitioner of traditional agricultural practices as I am of hunting game. I have read extensively about the habits and biology of deer, and I have studied the politics of the hunt, from different sides of the issue. Like other pastimes I enjoy, I have pursued deer hunting with an eye to its traditions, history and purpose. The hunting of deer is something that has been passed on to me by those who were here before me. I think it is a component of what has long sustained Americans, and through hunting, I feel more closely connected to where the food comes from that nourishes me.

I have been hunting deer each fall in New York State for nearly 30 years. Like most things I have done continuously in my life, I look back at my early hunting efforts and cringe a little. Time has passed; I am older -- more mature and patient. In the time that has passed since my first foray into the woods to go big-game hunting, though, I have become an astute scout, a practiced observer of game habits and a fairly good rifleman. I spend much of my free time in the woods and fields around my home, and I have been rewarded with seeing much that nature has to offer by blending into my surroundings and quietly watching the flora and fauna that surround us here in New York state.

I am a careful gun owner, and I regularly practice my skills with firearms. I have seen many deer in the field while holding a rifle in my hands, but have brought the sights up for a small percentage of those animals, and have killed only a few. I stopped hunting for a while because for a time I did not have the need for the venison provided by a whole butchered animal. I did not, however, stop going into the woods, or increasing my proficiency with firearms. To me, these are separate pastimes I enjoy that go together with deer hunting. Most of my friends who hunt deer approach hunting with the same quest for knowledge and desire to excel that I have.

Deer hunting is a pursuit that does attract those who seem to go out of their way to give it a black eye. They are aided and abetted by corporate interests that seek to become enriched by selling products of dubious use in the field or beer in orange and camouflage-colored cans. My experience, though, has shown me that the majority of hunters approach hunting as conscientious practitioners of any pursuit do -- with a desire to excel and succeed at what they are doing. Do we color the whole of deer hunting because of the poor conduct of a few, as Mr. Irving suggests? Should it be added to the lengthening list of other banned activities in an increasingly locked-down society?

When I hear or read arguments against deer hunting I find myself wondering about the personal beliefs and habits of those who make the arguments. Do they use personal care products, and have they considered that the testing of these products is done on animals? If they or their loved ones had a serious medical condition, would they have the same objections to a life-saving medication that caused the death of animals in the laboratory before it arrived at the pharmacist's counter? When they buy products manufactured in developing countries, do they stop to investigate whether those products were made in factories that employ humane labor standards? When they propose banning anything that is cruel to animals, do they also propose as vehemently a ban on the abortion of human fetuses?

As with the issue of gun ownership, there is much hysteria surrounding the annual deer hunt. Those seeking information that is less emotional might read "Heart and Blood: Living With Deer in America" by Richard Nelson, a fine book that examines many facets of the deer issue. Mr. Irving and others like him might try calmly engaging the quiet majority of American deer hunters and gun owners. We are a significant part of stewardship and sound practices that sustained Americans long before rampant greed, technology, cheap energy and hubris separated us from the woods, the fields and the waters. The knowledge and skills we possess and pass on will continue to sustain what is left of us long after i-pads, bio-engineering and frozen pizzas are a history lesson.

Michael Kane is self-employed and lives in the town of Kortright.