It’s official: Fall is here, and winter is coming. The leaves have changed color and are falling from trees. Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving is on its way, and soon, we can expect to see the first snowflakes dusting the ground.
For many Michiganders, the coming of fall also marks the beginning of a long-standing tradition passed down through family and friends: hunting season.
I grew up in a family of hunters. I spent my childhood waking up and wondering if my dad had bagged the big buck that morning. I used to wait on the front porch to see if I could catch a glimpse of that bright hunters’ orange coming down the lane behind my house. If Dad got a deer, that meant venison, and venison meant burgers, sausage, tenderloin and liver — the whole works for the entire winter. No more beef from the grocery store for us.
However, hunting can be a controversial subject, particularly in Michigan. Recently, pro-hunting groups have been facing off against animal rights organizations over the law passed by Michigan’s legislature naming wolves as a game species — opening the door for a possible wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula. Animal rights organizations, such as The Humane Society of the United States and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected have rallied in an attempt to stop a Michigan wolf hunt — one that will begin with the rest of the hunting season on Nov. 15 — eliciting the attention of hunting advocates determined to assert their rights as hunters and trappers.
I recently read several articles published in the Michigan Out of Doors magazine and was struck by the pervasive rhetoric throughout many of the opinion articles, asserting that the campaign against a wolf-hunting season is a direct attack on the rights of hunters everywhere. In an article published in the magazine’s November/December 2013 edition titled “Support House Bill 4993,” the author discusses the very real possibility that “anti-hunters” could strip hunters of their rights, outlawing certain hunting practices and waging a campaign against all hunters and trappers across America.
There is a clear line being drawn in the sand when it comes to the Michigan wolf debate and a clear message being sent to Michiganders: Pick a side — either you’re pro-hunting rights or against them.
But such a division between pro- and anti-hunting proponents is not so clean cut. Standing in opposition to a seasonal Michigan wolf hunt doesn’t indicate an opposition to all hunting, nor does it mean that anti-wolf hunting campaigns are geared towards the destruction of hunters’ rights.
I learned as a kid that respecting the animal is the most important thing you can do as a hunter. You never take a shot unless it’s a clean kill, and you never let anything go to waste — never should you kill for simple pleasure and never should a life be taken without purpose.
But wolf hunting is a practice done for little more than trophies and thrill — hunters don’t eat wolves. They might skin them or stuff them or mount their heads, but they’re not a game species.
Do these assertions mean that I am an anti-hunting advocate? That I believe the practice of hunting is wrong? No. Hunting is the most natural and sustainable way to consume meat in our hyper-industrialized society, and by hunting, we’re supporting the timeless cycle of predator and prey that has defined our species as long as we’ve been able to stand on two feet. In our modern society, the sales and profit of hunting licenses provide a steady stream of revenue for the funding of local conservation projects, habitat and species restoration and protection. Hunters are some of the best conservationist and environmental activists out there because hunters, for the most part, spend a good deal of time actually interacting with the natural world.
So why has the issue become so polarized? Why are those against the wolf hunt seen as so radically “environmental” to pro-hunting groups, and why, in many cases, are hunters seen as cruel killers to those who have never been exposed to hunting? These questions are important to answer as we, as a state, strive to lay down a legacy of conservation while at the same time carrying on a long hunting tradition. It’s important to remember that there are not only two sides of this debate, but a large gray area in between — I myself can testify.
Kate Laramie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.