Debating “sport hunting” with anti-hunters is an effort in maddening frustration. This is because most antis won’t actually debate. Calling someone a bloodthirsty murderer and asking why he or she enjoys “torturing innocent animals” isn’t debating (putting forth facts with logical consistency and then discussing them). It’s character assassination based on preconceived biases and false assumptions.
The best way to handle such irrational ideologues is to ignore them. Save your debates for rational people willing to listen, entertain ideas, examine facts and discuss those facts. A rational animal lover can be opposed to killing, yet understand that decades of regulated hunting have not wiped out the whitetail population. Rational folks can also agree that hunting has nothing to do with the near extinction of the Kirtland’s warbler or the western prairie fringed orchid, for obvious reasons.
Here’s a reasonable approach for discussing hunting:
Establish Nature as common ground. Most animal lovers revere Mother Nature, believing She is perfect. Hunters and anti-hunters should be able to agree that Nature’s system for perpetuating life on planet Earth has worked for millions of years, creating a rich abundance of thriving plant and animal communities.
Establish that humans are the children of Nature. Again, most rational animal lovers will admit that humans were created or evolved here the same as other mammals. There’s a reason we have 96 percent of the same genes as chimps. We weren’t beamed down from a distant spaceship.
Establish that all Nature’s creatures fall under Her laws. We all breathe, drink, eat, bleed. No one gets out alive.
Establish that an essential part of Nature’s cycle of life and death is predation. Herbivores eat plants and carnivores eat herbivores and omnivores eat both and none is better than the other. A mountain lion is no better nor worse than a deer. Nature made it this way. This is her system of checks and balances, the cycle of life. Predation (meat eating) by Nature’s carnivores—including humans—is essential to the perpetuation of life on Earth.
Ergo, if Nature is perfect and humans are children of Nature, we have the same natural rights as any other carnivores to hunt and eat fruits, vegetables, kudu, quail and bunnies.
At this juncture a passionate non-hunter once suggested to me that humans have evolved beyond the need to kill.
“We know better,” she said.
“How can that be?” I asked. “You’ve already agreed Mother Nature knows best. Isn’t it rather arrogant to suggest we humans know better than Nature?”
“But we don’t need to kill to survive,” she pleaded. “We know how to live on plants alone.”
“Surviving on vegetation is possible,” I agreed. “It may even be healthy. But that doesn’t make it morally better. Not according to Nature. She created carnivores. Her system demands meat eating. So how can plant eaters be morally superior? Isn’t that a personal value judgement?”
"Well, yes. I guess. But humans are so selfish and greedy and cruel. They mess everything up. They would kill the last whooping crane on earth and not even bat an eye.”
“Don’t you mean wolves?” I asked.
“What?” She looked confused.
“You mean wolves would kill the last whooping crane and not bat an eye, right? Wolves don’t know whooping cranes are endangered and couldn’t care any less if they were. In fact, the only predator on Earth that has ever shown any concern for other animals is the one species you’re condemning. Us.”
Here she paused, so of course I pressed ahead. “Look, I know what you’re driving at,” I said. “Humans have a long, sordid record of abusing natural resources. Dodo birds, passenger pigeons, heath hens, the bison slaughter ...”
“Exactly!” she exclaimed.
“All too true. But let’s put that in perspective. Paleontologists tell us 99 percent of all animal species that have ever lived on earth are extinct, most of them wiped out long before humans even appeared. T. rex, Triceratops, Saber-toothed cats, hundreds of species of shrews and rodents and fishes. Whose fault is that?”
I could guess what she was thinking, so I pressed ahead again. “You guessed it. Old Mother Nature herself. One way or another, whether climate change, asteroid strikes, diseases—whatever the mechanism, kindly Mother Nature is the all-time queen of extinctions.”
“Yes. I guess. But …”
Now, here’s the surprising part,” I continued, “Truly surprising. When you think about it, you realize that humans, despite our history and selfish natures, are the only species that has ever proven to be unselfish. And the unpopular ‘sport hunters’ may be the most self-sacrificing group of all.”
You can bet her eyebrows shot up at that. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“I know it sounds crazy, but think about it. Sport hunters were instrumental in stopping market hunting, the kind of greedy overharvest that had killed off so many species in the past. Sport hunters like Teddy Roosevelt are the ones who called for closed seasons, bag limits and total protection of females and young. Sport hunters were at the forefront for creating wildlife refuges, national forests and parks. They pushed for government fish and game departments with trained biologists and game wardens. In short, sport hunters have taken and maintained the lead in limiting human harvest of wildlife. Can you name one other carnivore that does that? One predator that restricts itself to hunting a limited number of days a year? That limits the species it can kill? That protects some species, nurtures and reintroduces others to restored habitats?”
“They just do that so they have more live targets to shoot at.”
“Some do, I suppose, but very few. Most sincerely love wildlife and wild places. But let’s pretend they only spend their annual millions in license fees and tags for ‘live targets.’ This still results in an increase in wildlife numbers, and that’s what we want, isn’t it?”
“Not if we’re just going to kill them all!”
I bit my tongue on that, guessing that she knew she was grasping at straws with that retort. “Look, I agree with you,” I said. “Many people are selfish and greedy. Humans have raped and pillaged and burned and plowed and killed across the planet. Even today too many supposedly educated and enlightened people don’t care about their impacts on the environment. They aren’t willing to recycle, conserve, reduce their energy consumption … This includes hunters. There are too many people who don’t always play by the rules, who try to cheat the system. Nonetheless, humans are still the only animal on Earth that has sacrificed for other species. And hunters are the driving force that has saved and restored North America’s wildlife. They’ve paid the bills and they continue to pay them—and hundreds of species are thriving because of this. That’s something to celebrate, not be ashamed of.”
I doubt that this woman rushed home to grill a venison loin and convert her family to hunting for their food, but I’ll bet she’ll think twice before automatically agreeing with typical anti-hunting rhetoric. That’s what can happen when people eschew name calling, listen to one another and share information.