Brown: Hunting is more than just killing

Phil Brown

Fall is well underway and that means one thing for many Iowans: hunting season is here. Whether they go dressed in camouflage or blaze orange, thousands of hunters have already started their yearly harvest. Many more are eagerly awaiting the final seasons of the year, namely, early and late shotgun season for deer.

To those possibly unfamiliar with the practice, hunting can seem like nothing more than the barbaric slaughter of innocent animals. Even though the deaths of wild animals is undoubtedly the result of hunting, there is so much more to the process.

To an avid sportsman or woman, the benefits of harvesting game are clear. Not only do hunting seasons act as population control and information gathering events, but the act of hunting itself imparts a deeper respect for the natural world, and the lifeforms that constitute it.

Here in Iowa, there are a number of wild game seasons that are open for hunters to engage in. From waterfowl to turkeys to deer to coyotes, Iowa is still an abundant source of game. “Still” is an important qualifier, for much has been done in our state to reduce the populations of game species.

There are those who would see hunting eliminated. Various reasons for this view exist, but none is more apparent than the simple desire to treat wild animals as fellow beings, worthy of life at the very least.

It is certainly understandable to not wish suffering on any living being. It would seem nearly impossible to reconcile such a concern with actively shooting firearms at those very living beings, but that is precisely what occurs.

Wild animal populations are fairly stable, yet are not immune to rapid and devastating changes. In a world devoid of humans, animal populations would very likely show far greater resilience. But such a world does not exist, especially here in Iowa, where we have literally the most altered landscape in the United States.

With the massive effect our modern existence has on wildlife, we have already come far beyond a policy of leaving animal populations to themselves. The only reasonable course of action at this stage of our development is to recognize the consequences of our presence and respond accordingly.

For populations of deer, waterfowl and a host of other game, that response is one of population control. Even with current hunting levels, animals still starve, freeze and otherwise die due to habitat loss. It would be a cruel joke indeed to subject more innocent game animals to a slow and natural death than to allow for responsible and productive harvest by a fellow animal.

Beyond acting as a means of population control, hunting also allows individuals to engage in a natural process and become a part of the ecosystems they hunt in. It is no secret that some of the biggest land and water conservation organizations in the United States are also proponents of responsible hunting. From Ducks Unlimited, which preserves wetlands across the nation, to the National Wildlife Federation, which has the simple goal of conservation in all of its forms, hunting and sportsmen find good company with those seeking to preserve our environment.

Of course, it could easily be argued that hunting is not required in order to love the outdoors. Many enthusiasts simply engage in nature walks, safaris and other passive modes of wildlife interaction. No matter how these activities are portrayed, they still maintain a barrier between nature and ourselves.

In this sense, hunting and fishing are akin to gardening in that they connect us with wildlife in the same way personal agriculture connects us to our land. When you are hunting, the world is not some terrarium intended to be placed on a shelf like a photograph, it is an ecosystem in which you participate.

Of course, hunting and fishing also come with other, more direct benefits to environmental protection. Every hunting and fishing license is an opportunity to collect revenues that can then be spent on increasing wildlife habitat and other conservation needs.

The Dallas Safari Club made headlines earlier this fall when it announced that it would take this idea to a more extreme extent. This January, they will be auctioning off a chance to hunt a black rhino in Namibia — even though the black rhino is a critically endangered species.

The club has made clear that the target of the hunt they are selling in cooperation with the government of Namibia will be an older male, incapable of breeding. Despite projected revenues in the hundreds of thousands, some still see this kind of conservation as counter intuitive.

It may very well go against common sense to say that systematically killing and harvesting animals is actually in the benefit of wildlife and their habitats. Those familiar with it, however, will recognize the value hunting has for us as humans and our untamed counterparts.