Hunting: Just a right or does it come with responsibilities?



photo credit Laurie Iverson USFWS

Seventeen states constitutionally recognize the right to hunt and fish and eight more are planning to introduce amendments to guarantee  this same right to their citizens in the 2014 legislative session.

Recently, there have been numerous high profile cases of hunters enjoying their right to hunt,  but clearly failing to understand the responsibility that goes with that privilege, when they end up “mistakenly” killing an animal they do not have a license for.  Large carnivore hunting seems to generate more excitement and as a result, more mistakes.

Examples of such “mistakes” range from  shooting a five hundred pound adult grizzly that was misidentified as a black bear, to the more recent slaughter of three cougar kittens in South Dakota. Their combined weight was less than ninety pounds, but they apparently looked liked “trophies”  in-the-moment.

We might expect there to be a reasonably simple equation when it comes to the right to bear arms to kill animals…

License+ gun + required hunter safety certification=knowledge of your target +willingness to wait for a shot that is close enough and accurate enough to identify what you are shooting.

Sadly, what should add up to accountability often becomes 2+2=5, with 5 being  “it’s not the hunter’s fault”.  So the dichotomy becomes: who is the victim -the hunter or the 25 pound kitten?

The Cougar Fund was interviewed by The Rapid City Journal following the deaths of the three kittens in South Dakota. We emphasized the avoidable tragedy of non-target killing and also started to look for solutions to prevent the situation being repeated.

South Dakota and several other states that allow “sport hunting'” actually have no education or identification programs to prepare hunters for the unexpected spatial illusions that they claim to experience. An opposing comment to the newspaper interview  stated:

“These lions could well have been the hunters’ first encounter ever with a mountain lion, and judging the size of a lion in the woods, especially at a distance and without other lions nearby to help make a size comparison, can be a difficult thing to do.”

This kind of comment makes the hunter appear to be the victim, and nothing could be further from the truth. When you accept the right to use a lethal weapon you must also expect to be held accountable for how you use it. Are you excused when you have not taken a particular route before or cannot see clearly, or cannot judge distance,  when you are driving a vehicle?

Just as distracted driving is not socially or legally acceptable, then “distracted hunting” by poor light, distance or excitement must,  logically,  be equally unacceptable.

The precursor to accountability must not only be claiming your state sanctioned right to hunt but also not to hide behind the excuses of  perceptions being ‘different’ in the field. After all, isn’t this what hunting actually is?  Being in the field!

Colorado and New Mexico have already adopted  programs that  expect the hunter to accept the responsibility that goes with the right to hunt. Both of these states have mandatory education and identification certifications for mountain lion hunters. When there is no doubt that someone has achieved a standard of knowledge through a course administered by their state, then there is no longer an excuse to avoid the consequences of poor judgement or inexperience.

The questions that are asked AFTER  the kittens were killed in South Dakota..

“wildlife officers and biologists who review each mountain lion kill quiz hunters about the distance of the shot and the available lighting to determine if they should have known a mountain lion was too young. Hunters may be new to the sport or get overly excited in the field and that sometimes makes animals look bigger at first or from a long distance,”

full story here

…should be answered BEFORE the hunt, by hunter education and identification standards.

Sport hunting is not predator control or a management tool. “Sport” is actually defined as a competitive physical activity, an amusement, a hobby or entertainment. We could question whether killing vital components of our environment should be considered amusing or entertaining in the 21st century, but we can certainly challenge whether any other competitive physical activity has such unequally matched players. A mountain lion, especially a kitten, or three are no match for a pack of dogs, a high caliber weapon and a whole bunch of excuses.

The Cougar believes  that every wildlife agency must provide education that will reduce non-target killing, and they must have consequences, not excuses, for the hunters that violate the responsibilities that accompany their rights.