The thought that a game animal, in this case an African lion named Cecil, may have been killed unethically is an affront to all law-abiding sportspersons. As a hunter myself, I know this: Given the information we have about Walter Palmer’s activities in Zimbabwe, it seems he acted as a poacher, even if that’s not what he intended.
In my world, a poacher is not a hunter any more than a guy who smashes the windows of a car with a baseball bat is a baseball player. The two have nothing in common. One plays by the rules. The other is a criminal.
Whether you can ever see hunting, when it’s done legally, as an ethical sport is a different question.
Humans have played a part in the harvest of animals since the beginning of time. It started as a means for survival, but like everything it evolved. The health of wildlife, and that includes big-game trophy hunting, is maintained by keeping numbers in check to prevent overgrazing, which leads to disease, starvation, and excruciatingly painful deaths for animals.
I’m fortunate to have been brought up with an understanding of the part I play by being a hunter in this country, and I have friends who hunt lions legally in Africa. Whether using black powder’s single shot, the accuracy of a rifle or shotgun, or the ultimate challenge of a bow and arrow, hunting has brought me the adventures of a lifetime.
I’ve stood in remote places wondering if another human ever trod there. Then, looking to the horizon, I saw boulders Inuit hunters stacked in a human form thousands of years ago. It was in part their attempt to herd the migrating caribou, as they tried to harvest the bounty of their native land. I feel connected to them: My family and friends have tasted the pureness of meat untouched by the human process of raising it, more natural and healthy than anything at the supermarket or on a restaurant’s menu.
Hunting has brought me into deep contact with nature. In my quests for white-tailed deer, I’ve watched squirrels run up branches, only to end up face to face with me, before fleeing with their warning chatter resounding through the woods. Ermine, or small weasels, have popped their fuzzy white heads out of stone walls and found a human, who had been sitting there for hours, wearing a just-as-surprised expression. I’ve watched arctic foxes dive into snow looking for dinner and salmon leap into the sunshine to grab a fly. These experiences are some of my biggest rewards as a hunter.
Killing can be the final result of the hunt. But the way it’s done makes all the difference.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration instituted modern game laws. Roosevelt was a big-game hunter himself, and he realized the need to limit the seasons and numbers of animals taken for the welfare of all wildlife. “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wild life, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination,” Roosevelt wrote.
Taxes paid by hunters can help, too. The Pittman-Robertson excise tax, a provision of the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Conservation Act, is an 11 levy percent on wholesale prices for long guns and ammunition and a 10 percent levy on wholesale prices for handguns. The revenue winds up with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to be used for educating hunters, for conservation efforts, and for shooting programs.
As a sportsman, I would have loved Cecil. Again and again when watching nature shows, we are reminded that it’s poachers, not hunters, who destroy wildlife. The lion represented a part of the world that needs tourism as a revenue source. True sportspeople put their money where their mouth is to preserve and promote wildlife.
Law-abiding hunters strengthen the health of wildlife populations with ethically controlled hunts that are closely scrutinized by biologists. Much of the work studying animals to learn more about their health as a species is funded by hunting and fishing licenses paid for in Massachusetts.
Similarly, if you enjoy dropping a canoe or motorboat into the water at a Massachusetts public ramp, consider thanking the next fisherman you see. It’s usually free, in large part because of the men and women who lawfully buy their licenses and equipment. Just read the sign at the next ramp you use.
Think of it this way: Ethical users of natural resources are contributors to the overall health, not the overall decline, of our wildlife, and purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses are a major part of that. Zoologist Rosie Cooney recently told The New York Times that wildlife on a large scale has increased in the 20th century in only two places: southern Africa and North America. “Both of those models of conservation,” she said, “were built around hunting.”
So if you want to do something good for wildlife, even if you hate hunting and fishing, go buy a state sporting license for $45. It’s the best donation you could make to preserve our state’s wild resources.
Douglas N. Sousa is a hunter, fisherman, outdoor enthusiast, and writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MASSACHUSETTS HUNTING AND FISHING
> 23,834 — Hunting licenses bought in 2014
> 138,865 — Freshwater fishing licenses
> 47,646 — Combo “sporting licenses”
> $6.7 million — Approximate annual income from licenses, which supports conservation programs, education, and more