Janesville69.5°

The dying deer hunt

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Joel McNally
November 26, 2007

Is it just my imagination, or is the outpouring of gushing boosterism over the Wisconsin deer hunt tinged with a little more desperation than usual this year?


For years, I’ve been one of the few columnists to present an alternative view as the glories of the hunt are extolled by every newspaper in the state with full-frontal pictures of middle-aged men proudly holding up the lifeless heads of formerly magnificent creatures.


Call it my personal contribution to hunter safety. Who knows how many lives have been saved because of all the extra target practice hunters receive by nailing my column to a tree and blasting away at it. I’ve always believed that whenever a gun is fired, nobody on either end of it is ever improved.


But as deer hunters become so desperate over declining numbers that they’re again talking about recruiting 8-year-olds, you have to feel a little sorry for them. The good news this year is that not a single race war has broken out so far over who has the right to blow away wild animals that belong to no one.


We have not always been so fortunate.


The Department of Natural Resources also reports hunter fatalities are down although there were plenty of close calls. One young man got his hat shot off. An adolescent sitting in a car playing a video game while his elders were out hunting had a narrow escape when the windows of the car were shot out. We warned kids that video games were becoming too violent.


Some heart-breaking events did occur. An 18-year-old in Waushara County was fatally shot by his grandfather, a devastating tragedy for both of them.


Hunters prefer to gloss over such events as collateral damage. With 630,000 deer hunters swarming through the woods with deadly weapons, hunters point to all the people who weren’t killed.


Hunters are used to marshalling positive, upbeat arguments to defend their sport by portraying everything they do in absolutely glowing terms.


For years, hunters talked about how they were doing the deer a great, big favor. If they didn’t shoot a lot of deer, there would be too many deer and not enough food for deer to eat during the long, hard Wisconsin winters.


Humanitarian hunters were saving deer from dying of starvation by killing them. It’s hard to believe the Nobel committee has never awarded a prize for such selfless contributions to the planet.


Of course, the whole argument sort of fell apart with the spread of chronic wasting disease. No one rejoiced that at long last a drastically reduced Wisconsin deer herd would enjoy improved nutrition throughout the winters with bountiful food.


When the gaping holes in their other arguments become too obvious, hunters turn to the clencher the state always uses to justify turning control of our natural resources over to rampaging hordes shooting up the woods—the economic benefit.


The claim has long been used to justify destroying our natural resources. Clearing forests and pumping toxic waste into our rivers, streams and the air we breathe was the economic legacy of the paper industry in Wisconsin.


Deer hunters don’t befoul nature nearly so permanently, but it’s doubtful they really pour as many billions of dollars into the economy as their supporters claim every year. Hunters can’t possibly drink that much.


It’s true some dying little towns up north and some of the working girls who live there may get a little economic bump every year from hunting parties. But that doesn’t change the fact that such towns are rapidly disappearing.


In fact, there’s very little that hunters or small-town merchants can do to save their dying enterprises. The industries that abandoned those towns are now abandoning the cities and even America itself.


Some of those small towns will survive, ironically, as a result of city folk moving in and driving up the cost of land. In a global economy, people can live anywhere they want. Some will choose the unspoiled countryside.


You know the first thing they’ll do when they move in, don’t you? They’ll post “No Hunting” signs.



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