Monday, July 13, 2009

Thoughts on Hunting

I had an interesting experience a couple of months ago. I sold a big Bison painting to a couple, and delivered it to their home. When I got there, the woman asked if I wanted to see where it would hang. Of course I did! But then she stopped and looked me in the eye. “How do you feel about hunting?” she asked. I answered that I was not diametrically opposed to hunting. She explained that her husband is a hunter, and she ushered me upstairs to what can only be called a Trophy Room.

The heads of Pronghorn, Elk, Deer, Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep seemed to watch me as I walked into the room. I couldn’t resist touching the Wolf and Bear “rugs” that stretched out on the floor, complete with heads and claws. In one corner a full-sized brown bear stood guard, front paws poised as if to do battle. They were beautiful and awful at once. “My husband loves the animals he hunts,” she said, as if reading my mind. “Then why does he kill them?” I wondered silently. As I walked out of the room, I could feel the eyes of the Wolf burning into the back of my head.

I grew up on the east coast to a non-hunting family. We lived in a semi-rural area; deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, squirrels and an occasional black bear were all frequent visitors to our woods. I was – and still am – drawn to animals on a spiritual level. For most of my life I was opposed to all hunting. But I did eat meat. Beef, pork, fish, poultry. All beautifully packaged from the butcher shop.

When I moved west to Colorado, where hunting is much more a way of life than where I grew up, I started to understand the logic, lure and importance of hunting to keep deer and elk populations in check and reinstate humans as part of the natural food chain. At the same time I became aware of feedlots - something I had never seen or thought much about back east.) It didn’t take long for me to determine I’d rather eat meat from an animal that has lived a life free of confinement, antibiotics and steroids than from an animal that has lived its life in the dull, depressing and unsanitary environment of a feedlot.

In the natural world, predators will take out the sick, the old, the weak, the injured. Human predators, however, can be a different story. Some hunt for trophy and so they want the biggest and the best. Which means they are taking the biggest and the best out of the gene pool; the antithesis of natural selection. Some hunt for “sport” – like shooting wolves from an airplane. Some, like my neighbor, hunt to reconnect with nature; bringing home elk or deer meat is a bonus. Some (although I’d say this is a dwindling population in this country) hunt out of necessity for food.

Me? I’d rather hunt with a camera instead of a rifle. I don’t need to kill an animal to assimilate its essence into my being. I’d rather not eat meat at all. But that is me, and I have no quarrel with those men and women who hunt responsibly, who are stewards of the environment, who understand the meaning of “take what you need and leave the rest.”

My feelings on hunting predator animals merely for sport, fur or because certain parts are considered to be “aphrodisiacs,” is simple. I’m absolutely diametrically opposed. I added the word “merely” in there for a reason. I do know on rare occasions it is necessary to track and kill predator animals that repeatedly threaten humans and livestock. But it should be the exception, not the rule.

I recently stumbled upon a great blog that addresses the issue of hunting vs conservation. Well written and thought-provoking, it is worth reading.

As for my painting, which is all about the beauty, power and spiritual energy of the Bison – how do I feel about it living amongst heads and hides? I’m glad to see the hunter adding art to his collection.

Kate Dardine is an Animal and Land spirit artist from Ft. Collins, Colorado. She is also the marketing director for Fine Print Imaging and Art for Conservation.

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