It’s a Question of Character
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
If you own a dog, imagine this nightmare. He somehow gets shot while on the run in a field. And the sudden impact is so painful and intense that he literally does not know what hit him, only that it’s excruciating and horrible, the worst pain that’s ever come upon him.
Spooked and terrified he runs fast and far from the danger, and he doesn’t even know what it is. Slowing down he begins to crawl, after running several hundred yards with a hole in his belly, as the life slowly drains out of him. He struggles and pants, dragging himself pitifully, this animal you so admire—this best friend of yours who you know has a mind of his own, a good heart, and the love for life that all creatures have.
The he collapses somewhere, far from where the shooting happened, and he whimpers and suffers until he dies—maybe after a day, maybe in the darkness of night.
And who shot him? Maybe you, because that’s what you do. Only it’s not a dog, it’s an elk, and you flock shoot. You lob rounds into mobile herds at places like Trail Creek and Divide, and elsewhere in Montana, without the respect for life and decency to choose a single target, so that you might get a quick, clean kill. Instead you unnecessarily create a desperate nightmare for the creatures you shoot, sometimes several at a time, and an ordeal of suffering that ends in slow death.
Others practice hunting ethics. The do not shoot indiscriminately into herds, or repeatedly, not knowing which animal they hit, which to track and kill should it be wounded.
It is that time of year, and yes there are hunting ethics, and responsible hunters follow them and extol them to irresponsible hunters. There is the awareness of a fellow creature, another with eyes, a brain, and a perception of life, and a family. Hunting has consequences, and remaining unconscious has consequences. Many will not know how to take this, some will get it entirely. But it is a question of character and ethics, and the character and ethics we impart to our children and peers.
At the very least, no one should ever shoot wantonly into a herd of elk, leaving the wounded to struggle and die, unaccounted for. There are ethics. We are human beings, and this is not an acceptable practice simply because it is tolerated.
Notable proponents of hunting ethics ought to be disseminated, read, and honored, and the mindset that hunting is a beer party to be conducted from the window of a pick up, or over the hood, ought to be replaced by a sense of the solemnity of taking the life of a creature that otherwise would have lived, born or sired offspring, and been a part of the natural order—for if unnecessary killing is bad, then there is nothing more shameful than senseless killing.
Wildlife managers, environmentalists, and hunting groups think in terms of populations and species, about ensuring the numerical and genetically diverse health of a herd. Particular individuals often haven’t much meaning, a stark contrast to the way we usually behold others personally, and within our families, our neighborhoods, where we might bend over backward to help someone in need. Does not our humanity, then, also require that we practice ethics and compassion for the individual across the board, including the one who suffers and dies for sport, or as food for our table?
The Native American ethos seemed to have recognized the inherent nature of wild creatures as those sharing the land with people and possessing a spirit. In our scientific wisdom, we now see, mostly, only species and numbers. And while Native Americans extolled the collective spirit of creatures, they did so in a way that allowed them to respect the dignity of individuals. There cultures may have become romanticized, but this basic understanding ought to prevail.
In our pursuit of meat and trophies, let’s bear witness to the plight of other creatures, individuals with eyes, ears, brains and hearts, and appropriate to the killing of them, if we must kill them, the respect they deserve, and along with that our own self-respect as human beings.