Image credit: Jenni Grover (with thanks to Kris, and the fish, for the fish.)
The gun rights advocates who got upset at my post about 5 Things I Hate about the USA may be surprised at this, and the vegans who despised my post on urban farming and backyard slaughter will be no happier, but I am an increasingly big fan of hunters and fishers. In fact, (responsible) hunting and fishing may make it on my next list of 5 things I love about America. Here's why. Now this topic has been covered before on TreeHugger—from surveys on whether hunting can be green to debates in the forums about TreeHuggers' attitudes to hunting—and it is always likely to raise a spirited debate. But I keep finding myself surprised at how many green-minded meat eaters I talk to who have a moral problem with hunting. Only the other day I was having a conversation over dinner with someone who felt squeamish at the idea of locally shot wood pigeon, and was surprised I didn't feel the same way. On further discussion, it seemed to me that the opposition was more based on a dislike of "the type of people who hunt" than it was any real argument for why his meat eating habits were better.
Now don't get me wrong, there are those who oppose any and all forms of animal killing for food, including the inherent death involved in the dairy industry. These folks have a strong leg to stand on. If you believe that animal killing is wrong, then of course hunting is cruel and inhumane. But if you eat meat, I can't see how you can oppose hunting for food—as long as it is done responsibly with due monitoring of wild populations, and every effort is made to avoid unnecessary suffering. And as long as it's not called 'sport'. (Catch-and-release fishing and shooting animals without eating them are both unfathomable activities to me.)
John has already noted that hunters, fishers and trappers are often strong advocates for climate legislation and other conservation measures. But to my mind the green case for hunting is about more than that. After all, we know that animal agriculture often makes inefficient use of plant-based feeds that could otherwise feed many more human mouths. Not so hunting and fishing, which allows wild animals to forage freely on crops that would most likely be of little use to us humans otherwise. Similarly, the animal rights angle is dubious too. Is it cruel to let an animal roam free all its days, following its natural instincts to its very last moments? I suspect that confining an animal to a farmyard, then transporting it to a slaughter house for 'humane' processing involves a lot more suffering.
And I think a case can be made for more intangible benefits too. Most hunters and fishermen I know have utmost respect for the species they hunt, and they hate to see waste, unnecessary cruelty or any other form of disrespect. If you're going to eat meat, then having looked the animal in the eyes and taken responsibility for killing it yourself is, I think, a useful check on just what you are getting yourself in to.
Of course, in its present state, the whole word can hardly go back to hunting and gathering to feed itself, especially if predictions of future population trends prove to be correct. But then the question of whether or not it can feed itself through agriculture is equally troubling.
I should note that I have not (yet) hunted, and it is years since I have fished. My reluctance is not a moral one, but a practical one—I have zero experience, and poor coordination. One day I do hope to try my hand, but I want to be 100% sure I know what I am doing so I don't a) injure an animal that then suffers a slow and painful death, or b) do a Dick Cheney and take out an unsuspecting homo sapien.
I'll leave the last word to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, British eco-chef, who back in the day produced a program called Cook on the Wild Side, in which he took aim at hypocritical meat eaters.